Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.
A Travel Guide to Westeros
The immense landscape across which the multiple stories of Game of Thrones unfolds is rich in geography and culture. The continent of Westeros springs from the fertile imagination of novelist George R.R. Martin and provides the sumptuous setting that its vast array of characters and creatures inhabit.
Looking back after the unprecedented success of the eight season TV adaptation and the new spin-off series House of the Dragon, it is interesting to note how much work the production team had to put into globetrotting in order to find filming locations for the various storylines. From the frozen north of 'beyond the wall' to the scorching desert landscapes of the free cities of Essos (the continent next to Westeros), the series was filmed in a variety of countries offering distinct colours, beautiful landscapes and historic buildings.
Any avid traveller and fan of the shows who wants to have a great holiday interspersed with opportunities to visit the locations where the TV series is/was being filmed needs to look no further. This handy guide will give you up-to-date information, maps of locations and pictures of these delirious landscapes. In fact, many of these locations have seen a significant increase in tourism and have benefited from the immense Game of Thrones fandom.
The Appeal of Game of Thrones Geography
When author George R. R. Martin published the original novel from the A Song of Ice and Fire series called A Game of Thrones, the science fiction/fantasy readership rejoiced at the richly detailed world creation, the social and political allegory, the vast number of characters with distinct characteristics, thrilling spectacle, mind-boggling plot twists and assured storytelling.
What really elevates the series to the higher echelons of literary fantasy is Martin's meticulous world-building. He based the fantasy on medieval European—especially British and Irish—history. In order to distinguish the Seven Kingdoms within Westeros, Martin wanted to create distinct cultures, habits, politics, personalities and allegiances. He felt strongly that the nature of the lands where the people originate would temper these traits.
So, the land of Westeros has a bit of everything. There are the frozen and uncharted territories of the rugged north, exotic lands beyond the sea where Essos' free cities reign, stark grey landscapes in the Iron Islands, the fertile Riverlands, the lush Vale of Arryn, the marches and red mountains of Dorne and uncharted territories of grasslands making up the Dothraki Sea.
So come join me as we visit the vast continent of Westeros!
The Crownlands, the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and Beyond the Wall
King/Queen of the Andals and the First Men (the ruler changes depending on where you are within the series plotline. The ruler sits on the Iron Throne within the Red Keep).
The industrial areas surrounding the capital city.
Kingdom of the North
House Stark of Winterfell
Cold, harsh and frozen but habitable.
Kingdom of the Isles and the Rivers (Iron Islands and The Riverlands)
House Greyjoy of Pyke and House Tully of Riverrun
Lush and fertile and rich with minerals and mines.
Kingdom of Mountain and Vale
House Arryn of the Eyrie
Mountains and valleys
Kingdom of the Rock
House Lannister of Casterly Rock
Rich in silver and gold mines.
Kingdom of the Reach
House Tyrell of Highgarden
Fertile, farming, villages
Kingdom of the Stormlands
House Baratheon of Storm's End
Harsh, rainy, forests
Principality of Dorne
House Martell of Sunspear
Dry and arid with red soil.
Beyond the Wall
Cold, harsh, frozen and largely inhospitable.
Game of Thrones' production team set its base up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and there are many reasons for this. The landscape is rich with medieval castles, craggy shores, lush forests and rivers; plus, the government provides ample support and tax rebates for the crew. Additionally, a majority of the cast (in both television series) is from UK or Ireland making travel cheaper and easier. The Irish base also makes it easier to travel north, west and south to further filming locations. For those who don't know, Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom; the Republic of Ireland is a separate country.
Primary filming takes place in the sound stages of Paint Hall Studios in Belfast. Originally a shipyard where parts of the Titanic were built, the vast buildings now form one of the largest film studios in Europe. New extended soundstages have also been built to accommodate the behemoth production work Game of Thrones entails.
Let's have a look at the various locales in Northern Ireland where the series has been filmed.
Tollymore Forest, County Down
This lush forest is the location of the key scene in the pilot episode when Ned Stark and his sons find the Direwolf pups.
Although snowbound in the episode, the forest is renowned for its lush greenery and trickling streams, making this national park a very scenic place to visit in summer.
Magheramorne Quarry, County Antrim
The steep limestone quarry provided a suitable location for filming some aspects of the Wall for the first series. A set was built complete with the gates of Castle Black and the rickety wooden lift that takes the Nightswatch to the top.
Using disused timber and stone from the quarry, the set was built and filmed while CGI was later added to give it the frozen makeover necessary to appear as the mammoth wall built of ice (500 miles long and 700 feet tall according to the stories).
Ballintoy Harbour, County Antrim
The craggy harbour at Ballintoy in North Antrim served as the seat of Pyke and the Iron Islands held by House Greyjoy. Shots of Theon Greyjoy arriving by sea and walking down the harbour were filmed here.
Although visual effects were added to remove some of the modern features from the harbour and to cast a medieval look, much of the original stonework of the old harbour and the coastline was used extensively in filming.
Castle Ward, County Down
The exteriors of Winterfell, especially scenes in the first episode where King Robert Baratheon arrives to meet the Starks, were filmed at the old part of Castle Ward in County Down. Situated on a vast estate, this place is full of character. The house itself is a stunning building (though not used for filming) that has a gothic facade and is surrounded by a vast 820 acre landscape with sunken gardens and beautiful vistas.
Sandy Brae, Newry and Mourne
The vast grasslands of Vaes Dothrak (that's Dothraki Sea in the fictional Dothraki language) needed a suitably vast vista adorned by distant mountains. A location was found in Sandy Brae, Newry in Northern Ireland that fitted the bill. The two large horse statues rearing up high provide a majestic foreground to the landscape as the Dothraki ride onto their homeland. They were added after filming.