Explore the ancient city and spot locations used in the TV blockbuster
How do you persuade your teenage daughter to come with you to Dubrovnik for the weekend? I have just three words: Game of Thrones. For fans of HBO’s sword-and-sorcery romp, just starting its seventh season, southern Croatia’s gorgeous medieval walled city on the sea is King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, and I’ve promised her a tour of filming locations, to point out every ancient nook and cranny that has been used on a shoot.Even if you’re not a fan (and I’m not) and couldn’t care less about the bloody rivalry between the great houses of Lannister and Stark, these tours are a brilliant way to see the attractions in this living museum full of fortresses, stone towers and hidden courtyards — and hear about the trials and tribulations of filming among hordes of tourists.
So while my daughter is delighted to be shown the spot where the tyrannical queen Cersei Lannister took her naked walk of shame (permission for a display of public nudity cost HBO a hefty £38,000 a day), I get to admire the elegant baroque stairs leading up to the Jesuit St Ignatius church. And while she snaps a selfie at the site of Littlefinger’s brothel, I peer through the ornate door of the former 16th-century granary that’s now the ethnographic museum.
I also love the gloriously baroque Rector’s Palace, the seat of government when Dubrovnik was the maritime republic of Ragusa (it’s the residence of the Spice King in the show). However, by far my favourite spot is the cove at Pile, which doubles for Blackwater Bay. Next to Pile Gate, the main entrance to the Old Town, the little harbour has cracking views of the forts of Bokar and Lovrijenac (the Red Keep), and is so photogenic it’s easy to see why it’s a show favourite, featuring in several episodes.
The tour is not all Game of Thrones. Our guide also points out a window on Zlatariceva Street belonging to the 15th-century St Claire convent, one of the first orphanages in the world, where women would leave babies in the middle of the night. Infants were left on a rotating platform and would vanish into the building after a bell was rung to alert the nuns. These days the convent, like so many of the Old Town buildings, has been converted into a restaurant — and if they’re not restaurants, they’re holiday rentals.
We leave it until early evening, when the thousands of day-tripping cruise passengers are safely back on board, before we attempt to explore Dubrovnik’s biggest attraction, the mighty stone walls, 3-6m wide and 25m high, that surround the Old Town. We enter from the Ploce side and it’s a surprisingly steep climb. The reward is stunning views of the Adriatic at every turn and a close-up look at the round Minceta Tower, a gothic fort that doubles as the House of Undying, as well as a sobering reminder of recent history. As we gaze over the rooftops, it is easy to pick out the old terracotta tiles of buildings that avoided damage during the shelling of the city in 1991.
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones
You can’t come to Dubrovnik without exploring at least one of the islands near by and fortunately for family harmony, Lokrum, just a breezy 15-minute boat ride from the Old Harbour, is another show location, a stand-in for the city of Qarth. Less than a mile wide and car-free, it’s a surprisingly serene spot given its proximity to the madly crowded Old Town. We find rocky beaches (despite GoT’s love of flesh, we swerve the nudist one), a maze of woodland trails, a small, salt-filled lake and a fort built by Napoleon’s troops in 1806 when the French took control of Lokrum.
The main draw is the medieval Benedictine monastery — part restaurant, part visitor centre with a display on the history of the island (Richard the Lionheart was shipwrecked here) as well as a Game of Thrones exhibit, including video footage of the cast and crew, and the magnificently jagged Iron Throne. Even I can’t resist posing for a cheesy photo. We then explore the botanical garden next door, full of giant cacti and palms from South Africa and Brazil, as well as peacocks (shipped in long ago from the Canary Islands) and hundreds of lolloping rabbits. There’s a groovy looking restaurant too, Lacroma, and, amazingly given its location, it’s not a tourist trap. There’s a relaxed vibe, friendly waiters and excellent shrimp and courgette risotto and grilled squid.
Lokrum is a delight and it would be lovely to linger, but we have to scarper to catch the last ferry back. The island is only open to visitors only during daylight hours for a reason so fantastical that it deserves to be a plotline. Legend has it that when the Benedictine monks were evicted in the early 19th century they held a last mass then marched out, circled the island and put a curse on it. It all sounds far-fetched, but we’re not keen to test the theory that if you stay there overnight, you won’t survive to see the light of dawn.
Safely back in the Old Town, we hunt down dinner away from the tourist swarms. We climb one of the winding, narrow lanes off the main street, Stradun, and find D’vino, a tiny bar with a superb selection of Croatian wines that can be ordered in tasting flights, and tuck into generous charcuterie and cheese platters. It’s a feast; a banquet fit for the House of Stark — minus the bloody massacre.
Need to know
Julia Brookes was a guest of Kirker Holidays (020 7593 2283, kirkerholidays.com). A three-night stay at the Hilton Imperial costs from £548pp in low season and from £936pp in high season. Prices are based on two people sharing and include flights from Gatwick, private car transfers, B&B and the services of the Kirker Concierge to book expert local guides.
Where to stay
The Hilton Imperial (hilton.com) is only a few minutes’ walk from Pile Gate. It’s the city’s grande dame, but behind the belle époque façade is a relaxing bolt hole with spacious, comfortable rooms. It is worth upgrading to a room with a sea view and balcony, but looking out over the gardens is lovely too. There’s a small swimming pool and spa, as well as a decent restaurant — a quiet alternative to the boisterous nightlife in the Old Town. Doubles cost from £102 a night.
Game of Thrones on location
Cast and crew were spotted in the small Basque town of Zumaia, while Seville’s Italica amphitheatre and Royal Shipyards are also set to feature in the new season.
Stay at the Hotel Flysch (hotelflysch.com) in Zumaia, which has doubles from £140. In Seville, GoT walking tours can be booked through Viator (viator.com).
Iceland has doubled as the land Beyond the Wall since season two, featuring various spots around Lake Myvatn.
The Traveling Viking (ttv.is) offers GoT tours from Akureyri for £158pp. Rooms at Center Apartment Hotel (centerapartmenthotel.is) cost from £150.
There has been more filming near Saintfield, Co Down, while interiors are filmed at Titanic Studios in Belfast.
Ait-Benhaddou, Ouarzazate and the epic walled town of Essaouira have been used as GoT locations. Book a tailor-made trip with Lawrence of Morocco (lawrenceofmorocco.com).
The ancient capital of Mdina has doubled as King’s Landing, and scenes have been shot at the 17th-century Fort Ricasoli in Kalkara and the gorgeous gardens of San Anton Palace. Malta Film Tours (maltafilmtours.com) runs a tour every Saturday led by two local actors who have appeared in the show. It costs £53pp. Rooms at Xara Palace in Mdina (xarapalace.com.mt) cost from £177.