The final season of “Game of Thrones” is upon us. There are a lot of questions to be answered. Who lives? Who dies? Who sits on the Iron Throne when it’s all said and done? Will it even matter because everything’s been taken over by the Night King and his army of White Walkers? The most important questions, however, are, “Where did they film that?” and “Can I go see it?” We might not yet know the full implications of Bran’s ability to travel in time, but we know where you can travel to see these incredible Game of Thrones filming locations.
Dubrovnik doubles as Kings Landing, with Cersei’s walk of shame taking place in the streets of the ancient city. Fortunately, even though Cersei took her revenge by blowing up the Great Sept of Baelor, Dubrovnik’s Old Town still stands. Ston also lends its beauty to some of the fortifications of Kings Landing, while Dubrovnik’s Minceta Tower serves as the House of the Undying, where Daenarys sees visions of the past and future. The Riverlands can be found in Krka National Park, while Kliss Fortress and the Palace of Diocletian in Split represent Meereen. Braavos is actually Sibenik, with St. Jacob Cathedral serving as the Iron Bank.
The Dothraki Sea seen in Season 1 is the Glens of Antrim and Ballymoney, while the Dark Hedges lend their eerie intertwining beech trees to scenes featuring the Kingsroad. Castle Ward’s towers will be recognizable to fans of the Stark family as the towers of Winterfell. The Iron Islands can actually be found in Murlough Bay, while Cushendun Caves and Larrybane Quarry are the Stormlands. The Dragonstone beach where the red priestess Melisandre burns idols of the Seven to appease the Lord of Light is really Downhill Beach.
Supplying most of the ice and A Song of Ice and Fire, Iceland supplied filming locations for pretty much everything north of the wall and some portions of the North as well. The Wildling camp is at Thingvellir, which is also the site of Brienne’s sword fight with the Hound. Grjotagja Cave is instantly recognizable to those romantics who saw Jon and Ygritte fall in love over a hot bath. Lake Myvatn and Vatnajokull provide some of the spectacular scenery north of the wall, while a ragtag bunch of heroes traveled to what looks an awful lot like Snæfellsnes Peninsula to bring back a White Walker.
One of the biggest revelations in Game of Thrones has been the true identity of Jon Snow, who was born in the Tower of Joy. You can find the tower in Guadalajara, where it is known in our world as Castel de Zafra. Danaerys needed a dragon ex machina to save her from an assassination attempt in the fighting pits of Meereen, which are actually the Plaza de Toros de Osuna. The Alcazar of Seville and its gardens served as the royal palace of Dorne in Sunspear, where the Martells held sway. The Roman bridge in Cordoba doubles as the Long Bridge of Volantis. Sam cleans some chamber pots and finds out some important truths at the library in the Citadel, which is really the Monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants in Girona.
If you can remember all the way back to Season 1, Malta featured prominently. Khal Drogo and Daenarys were married on Gozo’s Azure Window. Sadly, the rock formation collapsed into the sea in 2017, but the spot is still great for diving. The beautifully preserved medieval city of Medina stood in for Kings Landing in the first season, especially the city gate. Cersei gave Ned her famous, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die” speech at St. Dominic’s Convent in Rabat. Ned, who definitely did not win, lost his head at Fort Manoel, which doubled as the Great Sept of Baelor for his death scene.
Though the final isn’t until Sunday, we do know one thing for sure about the team that will host the World Cup: The winning country will hail from Europe. With the last remaining South American teams, Uruguay and Brazil, ousted in the quarterfinals we’re left with an all-Europe final four. While each team has a unique story of making it this far and its own collection of stars who led the way, we’re making our picks based on what the semifinalist countries have to offer for travelers.
France vs. Belgium
It’s matchup of haute cuisine vs. comfort foods. Cassoulet and escargot vs. waffles and chocolate. Those French fries we’re all so fond of? The origin is highly in dispute. Ask a Belgian, and he’ll say that Belgium invented the delicious potato everyone knows and loves and that the term “French fries” comes from a French gastronomic hegemony that subsumed neighboring cuisine under the French umbrella. One thing’s for certain, the Belgians do fries best. Dip in some garlic mayo and enjoy. Both countries know their way around chocolate very well, with pain au chocolat being one of France’s many contributions to breakfast delights and Brussels being home to an excellent chocolate museum. Actually, Belgium is basically one big chocolate museum.
When it comes to washing down all that food, France and Belgium are locked in the eternal struggle of fine wine pitted against craft beer. Is a Trappist Dubbel or a witbier any match for a nice Bordeaux or Champagne? It’s all a matter of taste. Each nation’s drink of choice pairs well with its food.
When it comes to cities, France, of course, has Paris, the City of Light. A mecca of culture, architecture, and history, Paris is one of the grand cities of the world. Lyon is a gastronomic capital. Provence and the Cote d’Azur are renowned the world over for their beauty. As for Belgium, Brussels has the Grand Place, perhaps the most alluring square in Europe. Bruges is locked in time, a fairy tale town that’s all canals and gabled roofs. Belgium is a blend of French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemings, with a few German speakers sprinkled in.
Overall, Belgium punches well above its weight and deserves to be included in your next trip built around Paris or Amsterdam, but our pick is France.
England vs. Croatia
While France and Belgium are next-door neighbors, England and Croatia have vastly different landscapes. Both have been part of unique political-geographical unions, with England joined with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to form the United Kingdom and Croatia being part of Yugoslavia with what are now Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Macedonia. But England and Croatia have vastly different histories. While England was the head of the mighty British Empire, Croatia became independent only in the 1990s after centuries of outside rule.
England has London, one of the world’s best — but most expensive — cities. It’s a wealth of culture, literature, and history, with the West End, the Tower of London and countless other sites that attract millions of visitors each year. The countryside is strewn with castles, while world-famous universities dominate the towns of Oxford and Cambridge. Ancient civilizations have left the landmarks of Bath and Stonehenge, while Liverpool gave us the Beatles. The charm of the Cotswolds and the Lake District provide a tranquil respite that’s great to combine with bustling London, while the coastal areas offer a surprising number of good beaches.
Beaches, meanwhile, are a particular strong suit of Croatia, which has more than 1,000 islands to choose from. Hvar is famous for its lavender and red wine in addition to simply being a sun-soaked paradise. Korcula is covered in virgin pine forest. The Pakleni Islands offer secluded harbors where visitors can get away from it all.
On the mainland, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more beautiful than the stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park, where waterfalls cascade into the emerald water for miles around. Dubrovnik is a spectacular seaside city famed for its red-tiled roofs and medieval walls. It doubles as King’s Landing on “Game of Thrones.” As they did in Bath, the Romans left their mark in Split, where you can find the ruins of the Emperor Diocletian’s palace.
England is a great place to visit, of course, but while we’re sure plenty of Croatians visit there, the English flock in droves to the sunny isles of Croatia. If even the English pick Croatia, we will too.
Final: France over Croatia. It’s a tight contest, but with cuisine, culture, and diversity of cities and countryside, France takes the crown