Game of Thrones is a titan of fantasy drama, with millions of people around the world watching each season, and many still discovering it. A binge-watch sensation, it’s hard to believe the programme’s otherworldly settings are real-life places – albeit with a little help from CGI in many cases. While the likes of Northern Ireland and Croatia starred in the early seasons, and filming also happened in Iceland, Malta, Morocco and Canada, Spain took centre stage from Season 5. Here’s where you can go for a glimpse of real-life Westeros.
Before you read any further, you should know this story contains spoilers.
The lunar landscapes of the semi-desert Bardenas Reales Natural Park in Navarra were an ideal backdrop for Game of Thrones in Season 6, when they doubled as the Dothraki Sea, a vast area of the continent of Essos. The wide plains are covered in green grass, which give them the appearance of a sea – hence the name. In Game of Thrones, the area is home to the Khalasars, horse-riding warriors who travel in groups of up to several thousand.
This coastal town in the province of Castellón, eastern Spain, was used for several filming locations doubling as areas of Meereen, the largest of the Slaver Cities of Slaver’s Bay, ruled by the Great Masters, the heads of Meereen’s Slaving Families who live in great Pyramids. Several areas of the town were used during filming, including the Plaza Santa María, Peniscola Castle and the Parque de la Artillería.
Seville’s iconic Real Alcázar, an intricate and beautiful Moorish palace complex, doubled for Dorne Palace and gardens from Season 5 onwards. Dorne, a region of Westeros, is home to the House Martell and the infamous Sand Snakes, among the most unpopular characters in Game of Thrones history. While fans might have hated the storyline, they couldn’t help but be captivated by the setting; Seville’s Alcázar is one of Spain’s most spectacular palaces and has been a Unesco World Heritage site since 1987. The Alcázar’s Courtyard of the Maidens, with its intricate arches, was the setting for House Martell’s Water Gardens.
The sleepy Andalusian town of Osuna got the Hollywood treatment when the cast and crew of Game of Thrones descended for a 14-day shoot for just a four-minute scene in Season 5. Osuna’s Plaza de Toros, or bullring, was the scene of the great pit fight of Daznak. The scene featured 550 extras, and stuntmen were set on fire in what became one of the season’s most memorable and dramatic moments, culminating in Daenerys flying off on the back of her dragon.
Córdoba’s Roman bridge was originally built in the first century BCE across the Guadalquivir River, and has seen several reconstructions over the years. Most of the present-day bridge dates from the Moorish reconstruction in the eighth century CE. The bridge doubled for the Long Bridge of Volantis, where the severed hands of criminals are put on display. When it comes to Spain, Game of Thrones goes big, and Córdoba’s bridge was made considerably longer and more substantial thanks to CGI, which also added buildings and markets to reflect the built-up nature of the bridge in the drama series.
The beautifully-preserved 12th century Arab baths of Girona are where things get really heated between Arya Stark and the Waif, and where their chase scene through the city culminates in a terrifying climax. The real-life baths were partly destroyed during a siege by the French in the 13th century, but were rebuilt 10 years later. They have been used as mikveh baths by Girona’s Jewish community and as part of a convent over the years, before being opened to the public in the 1930s.
The medieval city in the northeastern region of Catalonia makes up a large part of Game of Thrones. In Season 6, the cobbled streets of the city’s old town were transformed into the Free City of Essos, where Arya Stark was living and being hunted by the Waif. A heart-stopping chase scene takes place on the steps of the city’s Sant Marti convent and a fight breaks out between them on the city’s Bisbe Cartaña street.
King’s Landing, the capital of Westeros, may have been filmed mainly in the picturesque Croatian city of Dubrovnik, but Girona Cathedral doubles as the Great Sept of Baelor, King’s Landings’s largest building, a centre of religion and the setting of some key scenes that culminate with the destruction of the Sept when Cersei Lannister burns it down with wildfire. The building collapses, killing everyone inside. Luckily, Girona Cathedral is still standing – the scene employed a good dose of CGI to depict the building’s destruction – although if you want to visit, you’ll have to tackle its 91 stone steps first.
In the far north of Spain, in the lush green region of the Basque Country, lies the dramatic islet of Gaztelugatxe, which was used as the location for Daenerys Targaryen’s ancestral home of Dragonstone. The island sits in the Bay of Biscay, joined to the mainland by a winding bridge. Daenerys is seen arriving at Dragonstone in the first episode of Season 7; she arrives from the sea, lands on the beach, and walks the winding path towards the imposing castle. Unfortunately, the real Gaztelugatxe is not home to a castle – that was added later – but you can visit the island’s 10th-century hermitage, dedicated to John the Baptist.
This 11th-century Medieval castle in Canet de Mar, near Barcelona, doubled for House Tarly’s home castle in Season 6. Although the castle is private property, it can be visited by appointment. But even if you don’t go inside, the exterior is well worth a look – it’s one of the most striking of Game of Thrones‘ Spain locations.
The wide, dry expanses of Almería in southeast Spain have long been a favourite of filmmakers. The Tabernas desert doubled for the Wild West in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and the area was used during Season 6 of Game of Thrones to depict parts of Dothraki Sea. Vaes Dothrak, Dothraki’s capital, was filmed in Pechina, while part of Meereen was filmed in the Torre de Mesa Roldán, in the Cabo de Gata Natural Park.
The 12th-century Castle of Zafra in Guadalajara is a stunning fortress that sits on a sandstone outcrop, a perfect location for the fantasy setting of Game of Thrones. It doubled for the Tower of Joy – a tower located on the northern edge of the Red Mountains of Dorne – in three episodes of Season 6.