“Alexa, tell me about HBO’s Game of Thrones.”
*Begins preparations for binge watching fit for a king (or queen).*
At JustFly, we take travel very seriously. It’s in our water and coffee, written on the walls and coursing through our veins. And we appreciate GoT almost as much.
Fans have been collectively chomping at the bit for nearly 20 months. So many unanswered questions, plot twists and scores to be settled. The season premiere is nearly here. But until then, here’s a refresher on the 9 great Game of Thrones houses and their real-world locations.
Friendly reminder: There are spoilers all over this post.
House Stark of Winterfell – Winter Is Coming
Let’s kick things off with the Starks (including Jon Snow) of Winterfell. In a lot of ways, the Starks are the First Family of all Game of Thrones houses. No literally, they’re the first family/Great House we’re introduced to in the opening episode. The Starks essentially represent all things good in the wonderful incredibly violent world of Westeros. They’re brave, loyal (to a fault) and honorable. Despite being separated for years and each experiencing their own version of hell, the 4 remaining Stark children eventually reunite in Winterfell.
Where is Winterfell in Real Life?
Good news: Winterfell castle really exists, well, sort of. The Winterfell we see on TV is actually a composite. It’s made up of Castle Ward in Northern Ireland and Doune Castle in Scotland. Castle Ward and the surrounding area is the primary filming location for the Stark castle. Doune Castle was only used in season 1 to film the good old Kingslayer pushing Bran from a tower. Either way, get a feel for the real thing on a castle tour of each location.
Planning a trip to House Stark? Here’s a list of accommodations near Castle Ward.
House Targaryen of Dragonstone – Fire and Blood
Next up we have House Targaryen, or more specifically Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons. Sigh. That was a mouthful. By the end of season 7, Daenerys is the last surviving Targaryen (to her knowledge). But what she lacks in kinship, she makes up for in dragons, loyal servants, warriors and even suitors. She’s flawlessly beautiful, and one of the best coming of age stories in the show. What’s not to love?
Note: The Targaryens aren’t technically one of the ‘Great’ Game of Thrones houses. But we can all agree, they belong on this list.
Where Is Dragonstone in Real Life?
Dragonstone was home to the Targaryens until Stannis Baratheon took it. At the beginning of season 7, it’s taken back by Daenerys (talk about girl power). Although the Dragonstone we see on TV is computer-generated imagery (CGI), its surroundings aren’t. The famous steps leading to the fictional castle are real, and you can see them for yourself at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, in Basque Country, Spain. The beaches of Dragonstone are also in Spain, but in 2 different locations: Itzurun beach in Zumaia and Muriola beach as well.
Bonus: All the other locations Lady Stormborn has spent time in or conquered.
- Dothraki Sea – Bardenas Reales, near Tudela, Spain
- Arena of Meereen – Plaza de Toros, Osuna, Spain and Alcazar de Sevilla, Spain
- Astapor – Essaouira and Marrakech, Morocco
- House of the Undying – Minceta Tower, Dubrovnik, Croatia
- Qarth – Lokrum, Croatia
- Yunkai – Ait Benhaddou, Morocco
- Illyrio Mopatis’s mansion (Pentos) – Verdala Palace, Buskett Gardens, Malta
House Lannister of Casterly Rock – Hear Me Roar
Except for Tyrion, the Lannisters are easily the most detestable of the Great Houses. Jaime becomes more likable as the story progresses. But let’s not forget, he pushed Bran Stark to what should’ve been his death in season 1. Tywin tried to have his own son legally executed, while sleeping with his girlfriend. Tied with Ramsay Bolton for the single most ruthless character in the entire show is Cersei Lannister. She poisoned her husband Robert Baratheon, blew up the Great Sept of Baelor with hundreds of innocent people locked inside, and has disposed of anyone who has gotten in her way. But she still sits on the Iron Throne (for now). You have to respect her for that.
Where Are Casterly Rock and King’s Landing in Real Life?
The Lannisters ancestral castle is Casterly Rock. Off screen, it’s located in Spain, and it’s called Castillo de Trujillo. It’s enormous, and yes, you can definitely visit! The Iron Throne however is located in King’s Landing. In season 1, scenes from King’s Landing were filmed in several locations in Malta. For the remainder of the series, King’s Landing was actually Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Here’s a list of the locations you can visit in Malta and Croatia:
- Dominic’s Convent, Rabat, Malta
- The Gate of the Mdina, Malta
- Mesquita Square, Mdina, Malta
- Fort Ricasoli, Valletta, Malta
- San Anton Palace and Gardens, Malta
- Fort Manoel, Malta
- Fort Saint Angelo, Malta
- The Old Town of Dubrovnik, Croatia
House Arryn of the Eyrie – As High as Honor
The Arryns are peculiar. In fact, they’re the most deranged of all the Game of Thrones houses. First there’s Lysa Arryn, sister to Catelyn Stark. She’s basically a crazy cat lady with no cats. She killed her husband Jon Arryn for her secret lover Petyr Baelish. She also helps her sister Catelyn Stark hold Tyrion hostage, wrongfully believing he was behind Bran’s tower incident at Winterfell. There’s also young, sickly and outright strange Robert Arryn. He likes long walks through the castle and sentencing all who bore him to death by Moon Door. By the end of season 7, Robert and his uncle Edmure (captive of the Lannisters) are the only remaining members of the Arryns.
Where is the Eyrie in Real Life?
Of all the destinations on this list, Meteora, Greece is likely the most stunning. It’s no wonder the Game of Thrones location scouts were tasked to film scenes of this incredible landscape as backdrops to the fictional castle Eyrie. For a once in a lifetime experience, visit the Meteora Monasteries. They’re as close to the Vale as you can ever be.
House Tully of Riverrun – Family, Duty, Honor
Most of what should be known of House Tully comes from Catelyn Stark and Lysa Arryn. Sadly, both Tully daughters are dead. The remaining Tully son is imprisoned. Last but not least Brynden Tully, known as the Blackfish, dies in battle against the Lannisters shortly after the Red Wedding.
Where is Riverrun Castle in Real Life?
Gosford Castle moonlights as Riverrun Castle in the Game of Thrones TV show. It’s located in County Armagh, one of 6 counties that make up Northern Ireland. Like most castles, it’s enormous. Now you can certainly visit this castle. But rumor has it; Gosford Castle is up for sale. It’ll set you back nearly seven hundred thousand dollars. But hey, that’s the cost of living like royalty.
House Martell of Dorne – Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
Like many of the Game of Thrones houses on this list, the Martells have taken exception to the Baratheons/Lannisters of King’s Landing. To save Tyrion and avenge the murdered members of his family, Oberyn Martell volunteers to be Tyrion’s champion in trial by combat. His opponent? Gregor Clegane. Let’s just say, Oberyn had a good run. Then he became the victim of possibly the most gruesome killing in the entire series. Back in Dorne, Ellaria Sand and her Sand Snakes, murder Myrcella Baratheon. This ultimately lands them in Cersei’s crosshairs. We all know what that means.
Where is Dorne in Real Life?
Dorne is absolutely beautiful on screen. And the real-world version, Alcazar de Sevilla is just as gorgeous. Did you expect anything less from the south of Spain? Palm trees as far as the eyes can see, perfect weather, and oh, I almost forgot, it’s an actual royal palace. If you’re heading to Europe, this is one place you don’t want to miss.
For more information visit the Real Alcazar de Sevilla’s official website.
House Tyrell of Highgarden – Growing Strong
The Tyrells appear friendly, but they’re always near the action. Unfortunately, sometimes they’re on the receiving end. Remember when I mentioned Queen Cersei blowing up hundreds of innocent people? Well, Margaery Tyrell, her son’s wife was one of them. While on the topic of blowing up Tyrells, Loras Tyrell and his father were also killed in the same explosion. Last but not least is the Queen of Thorns and grandmother to Margaery and Loras: Olenna Tyrell. She’s fed poison by Jaime Lannister during his siege of Highgarden. Needless to say, things have been rough for the Tyrells.
Where is Highgarden in Real Life?
Outside of the Thrones-verse, Highgarden really exists. It’s called Castillo de Almodovar del Rio, and it’s in Cordoba, Spain. It looks like it could be used as inspiration for a castle in a Disney fairy tale. Add this to your never-ending list of reasons to visit Spain.Up close and personal with real Game of Thrones filming locations! Click To Tweet
House Baratheon of Storm’s End – Ours Is the Fury
The Baratheons were arguably one of the most important families when Game of Thrones first aired. After all, it was Robert’s Rebellion that set most of what takes place in GoT in motion. Stannis was revered as a skilled leader and warrior. Renly made claims to the Iron Throne after Robert’s death. Cersei was mother to 3 children, thought to be of Baratheon blood. But by the end of season 7, they’re all dead. The only remaining claim to House Baratheon is Gendry, Robert’s bastard son, a skilled fighter and even better blacksmith.
Where is Storm’s End in Real Life?
Bad news. Storm’s end doesn’t exist in real life. The castle is nothing more than the product of George R. R. Martin’s imagination. But there’s good news too! The land around Storm’s End is very real. You can see it for yourself in Cushendun, a quaint town in Northern Ireland. It’s quiet, scenic and way safer than the Game of Thrones version.
House Greyjoy of Pyke – We Do Not Sow
Lastly we have House Greyjoy, rulers of the Iron Islands. Of all the Great Houses, the Greyjoys are likely the most fierce, but also the angriest. I don’t blame them; the land can barely produce a decent harvest. The sea is constantly battering it. And they’re the smallest of all regions in the Seven Kingdoms.
House Greyjoy isn’t exactly in order either. King Balon Greyjoy seems to hate his son Theon for being too weak. He much prefers his daughter Yara. Balon’s brother Euron, who has pledged allegiance to the Lannisters, eventually kills him. Yara on the other hand, has allied herself with House Targaryen. Finally, after being tortured by Ramsay Bolton for what seemed like an eternity, Theon Greyjoy begins to show signs of life (and courage) by the end of the season.
Where is Pyke in Real Life?
Pyke is another one of the Game of Thrones castles that is completely CGI. The Iron Islands on the other hand are the real deal, except they’re at Ballintoy Harbour, in Northern Ireland. It’s not particularly stormy. No risk of raids. Just a nice, wholesome coastal town.
The action, fantasy and endless plot twists in Game of Thrones are incredible. It’s truly a cultural phenomenon. With that in mind, you’re much better off visiting these real life locations, on the count of, you know, staying alive!
For more posts on European destinations, start here!