• Leslie

Real Life Castles of Westeros

Updated: Sep 6, 2019

I return, once again, to my Game of Thrones’ obsession. Greetings fellow Game of Thrones nerds, sullied and unsullied, Stark or Targaryen devotees.

Who doesn't love Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin's romantic medieval world of lust, murder, and dragons? Well, maybe some of us superfans weren't overly fond of the face paced and teleporting elements of the last season or the clunky ending.

But that won't put a damper on us visiting Game of Thrones filming locations. We are loyal. In a quest for psychological identification, we visit the exotic filming locations seeking to reproduce, personalize, and experience the phantasmagorical narrative. We soak it up.

the philospher king Tyrion Lannister, who "drinks and knows things," like the fact that Bran should be king

It's partly a symbolic experience. We want to cast our eyes on the sites and memorialize them as "our GOT places." It's partly pure escapism and an attempt to connect to the Westeros world up close and personal.

As befitting a medieval drama, Game of Thrones features stunning castles, some CGI'd and some not. What served as the the stunning backdrops for the castle scenes?

If you're a Game of Thrones medievalist, follow the three eyed raven and check out these ten real life castles that were used as filming sites in Game of Thrones. They're located in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Spain, and Croatia and are some of Europe's must see castles.

Shane's Castle in Northern Ireland

1. Shane's Castle


With its abundance of ruined castles, Northern Ireland is Game of Thrones territory proper.

Shane’s Castle is a ruined castle on a 2600 acre estate on the northeast shores of Lough Neagh (lough means lake) in Northern Ireland. Built in 1345, it was formerly called Eden-duff-carrick. It was the manor of the Clanaboy O’Neill dynasty, who were effectively kings of Ulster for a thousand years.

In 1722, Shane MacBrien O’Neill took possession and changed its name to Shane’s Castle. Legend holds that the castle was haunted by the O'Neill banshee, a ghostlike crone that forewarned of death. Unfortunately, the castle was destroyed by fire in 1816 in the midst of a large house party and only ruins remain today.


the Tourney of the Hand in Season 1

Lough Neagh near Shane's Castle in Northern Ireland


Shane's Castle appeared extensively in two episodes of Season 1, “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” and “The Wolf and the Lion," back when Ned Stark still had his head. The fight between Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister in Season 2 was filmed here.

The famous jousting tournament, the Tourney of the Hand, was also filmed here. You know, the one where the Hound actually sliced off a horse's head. The Knight of Flowers, Loras Tyrell, made a grand entrance, and a then insipid Sansa reverentially whispered, “Oh, he’s so beautiful.”

Tyrion and Jorah venture into Valyria, but are attacked by stone men


The area of scenic Lough Neagh was also transformed into the Summer Sea in Season 5, There, Jorah steals a boat, takes Tyrion captive as a present for his beloved Daenerys, and sets sail to Meereen. They scuffle with stone men as they venture into Valyria. Tyrion is safe, but Jorah contracts greyscale.

In Season 2, Brienne also dispatches some bandits while escorting Jaime to Kings Landing around Lough Neagh. During their journey, she's forced to endure his taunts about her appearance (obviously way before his redemption arc).

Practical Information for Shane's Castle:


Address: The Estate Office Randalstown Road, Antrim. BT41 4NE

Note: The castle is not open to the public, but it's open for special events and there are designated days when GOT fans can visit.

Castle Ward aka Winterfell in Northern Ireland


2. Castle Ward

Castle Ward is a crenellated 16th century ruin located near the village of Strangford in Northern Ireland. Castle Ward's been Ward family property since 1570.

Castle Ward is the backdrop for the series pilot and appears in much of Season 1 with the help of CGI. The Game of Thrones team spent 8 weeks at Castle Ward building sets and filming.

Castle Ward is home base for House Stark before the Bolton siege. It's the scene for many Winterfell exteriors, including the courtyard where King Bran the Broken practices with his bow and arrows. It's also where Robert Baratheon returns to Winterfell to persuade Ned Stark to be his hand after Jon Arryn is murdered.

The Castle Ward grounds were also used as generic army camp filming locations for many scenes throughout the series, including both the Stark and Lannister army camps.

the future king, Brandon Stark, practices his bows and arrows in the game of Thrones series premiere

Winterfell gathers to welcome King Robert Baratheon

Castle Ward offers an extremely organized Game of Thrones tour. Everything is dedicated to replicating a day in Westeros. You can don a fur cape or costume and learn to shoot bow and arrows, just like Bran the Broken in Season 1. A replica of the Winterfell Archery Range has been recreated in the same spot where filming took place. Don't miss this must see destination in Scotland.

Practical Information for Castle Ward:


Address: Seven miles north east of Downpatrick, and two miles from Strangford on the A25, Down, BT30 7LS

Hours & Entry fees

Website

Pro tip: When you arrive at Castle Ward, follow narrow roads through the gates. Follow signs for the main car park. Continue straight following signs for Trail Parking/Shore Car Park. Parking is free. SatNav: Use BT30 7BA and follow signs for Castle Ward only. The property cannot be accessed via the Audleystown road.

Gosford castle in Northern Ireland. Image source: Maison Real Estate


3. Gosford Castle

Gosford Castle is a 19th century country manor in Gosford, Northern Ireland. Just an hour outside Belfast, it was built and designed in the Norman revival style for the 2nd Earl of Gosford by London architect Thomas Hopper. It's Northern Ireland’s largest castle.

The 4th Earl of Gosford was a prolific gambler and was forced to sell the castle in 1922. It was thereafter state property until it was sold in 2006 to a private developer. The castle underwent extensive renovations, and was transformed into 23 luxury residences.

Now, six of those apartments are up for sale. A Game of Thrones fan could potentially be the next owner!

Gosford Castle was used for exterior scenes in Season 3 of Game of Thrones, including Robb Stark's execution of Rickard Karstark in “Kissed by Fire." It was a backdrop for the Red Wedding. It also stands in as the seat of House Tully, used for exterior shots of Riverrun. The rather beleaguered House Tully is the family of Robb Stark's mother and an important ally of House Stark.

A CGI'd Gosford Castle as Riverrun

Catelyn Stark, Gosford Castle's most famous resident

Practical Information for Gosford Castle:


Address: 7 Gosford Demesne Markethill County Armagh BT60 1GD

Entry fee: free access for pedestrians

Hours: Gosford Forest Park is open daily 10:00 am until sunset.

Doune Castle in Scotland


4. Doune Castle

Only one Scottish castle was used in Game of Thrones: Doune Castle. Doune Castle is a medieval castle built in the 13th century as the home of Regent Albany, "Scotland’s uncrowned king." It has a striking 100 ft high gatehouse and one of the best preserved great halls in Scotland.

It’s mainly used for Winterfell in the pilot and other scenes in Season 1. The real castle is quite a bit smaller than onscreen Winterfell, but looks larger through the magic of CGI.

You may also recognize the photogenic castle from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It also played Leoch Castle in Starz' Outlander series.

Doune Castle in Scotland, Image source Andrew Shiva

Season 1 Game of Thrones at Doune Castle

Doune Castle renamed as Winterfell for a week

To take advantage of Game of Thrones fever, Doune Castle was even renamed Winterfell for one week leading up to the series finale.

Practical Information for Doune's Castle:


Address: Castle Road, Doune, Stirlingshire, FK16 6EA

Entry fee: Adult $9, Child $5.40

Hours: Apr 1 to Sept 30 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, Oct 1 to Mar 31 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

Website

Castillo de Almodóvar del Río, outside Cordoba in southern Spain


5. Castillo de Almodóvar del Río, Spain

A Spanish castle, Castillo de Almodóvar del Río, makes an appearance in Season 7, standing in for the Tyrell stronghold of Highgarden.

It's located about 15 miles outside Córdoba. And if you're in Cordoba, Cordoba's UNESCO-listed Roman Bridge doubled as the Long Bridge of Volantis, enhanced by CGI. There's a stunning aerial shot of the Roman Bridge in Season 5, Episode 3. Tyrion Lannister and Varys, the court "fixer" are journeying from Pentos to Meereen.

The beautiful and isolated Castillo de Almodovar del Rio, is 1300 years old, dating back to the 8th century. When the castle was originally built, it was called Al-Mudawvar, meaning "round" or  "safe," which is the origin of the town's name, Almodovar. Ruling from the Royal Alcazar in Seville, Peter the Cruel used the castle as a home, prison, and treasury.

Castle Almodóvar was substantially restored over 36 years in the 20th century. It has 8 towers to explore. It's one of the best things to do in southern Spain.

Tyrion and Varys crossing the Roman Bridge, CGI'd into the Long Bridge of Volantis.

the Castillo de Almodovar Del Rio as Highgarden in Game of Thrones


The castle is the ancestral home of the now extinct House Tyrell. It appeared in Season 7 of Game of Thrones. In Season 7, “The Queen’s Justice,” there's a dramatic scene where Jaime Lannister and the Tarlys march on Highgarden and seize control, helping Queen Cersei temporarily best Daenerys and Tyrion in the battle for Westeros.

The castle's dungeon also served as Casterly Rock.

The castle is open to the public and you can explore its rugged walls, musty dungeons, and nine crenelated towers. Because it is a bit off the beaten track, it is delightfully free of the tourist hordes that clog most Game of Thrones sites. The castle also now offers Game of Thrones tours.

Practical Information for Castle Almodovar:


Address: 14720 Almodóvar del Río, Córdoba

Entry fee: € 9, children 4-12 € 5

Hours: Monday to Friday:  11:00 am to 3:30 pm & 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm. (Winter) Monday to Friday: 11:00 am to 2:30pm & 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm (Summer)

Sat, Sun, & holidays: 11:00 am to 7:00 pm (Winter) 11:00 am to 8:00 pm (Summer)

Pro tip: It's a bit of a hike from the parking lot. There are guided tours on the weekends at 12:00 pm and 5:00 pm (4:30 pm in winter)

Castle Zafra aka The Tower of Joy on Game of Thrones


6. Castle of Zafra, Spain

The dramatic Castle of Zafra stars as the Tower of Joy in Season 6. The castle was built in the 12th and 13th centuries and lies between Madrid and Barcelona in the Spanish province of Guadalajara. It's now owned by the family of Antonio Sanz Polo of Molina de Aragon.

In Game of Thrones lore, the Tower of Joy lies near the Red Mountains of Dorne. It plays a pivotal role in the story line of Jon Snow's parentage. It's the home of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark after they elope and secretly marry. And we learn that it's Jon's birthplace.

The Tower of Joy appears in two of Bran's visions. First, guided by the three eyed raven, Bran sees his father Ned Stark confront Ser Arthur Dayne, the last member of the Kingsguard still loyal to the mad king. A battle commences and the last men standing are Ned Stark and Howland Reed. Ned hears a woman screaming and enters the tower.

the three eyed raven teaching Bran to use his greenseer powers

a young Ned Stark at the Tower of Joy promising Lyanna to keep her newborn son safe

Later, Bran has another vision at the Weirwood Tree in Winterfell that breaks the internet, and confirms a longstanding fan theory. He sees Ned reunited with his sister Lyanna, Rhaegar's wife, who is dying in childbirth. Pleading "promise me," she entrusts Ned with her newborn son, Aegon Targaryen, who will grow up as Jon Snow.

Practical Information for the Castle of Zafra:


Address: Castellar de la Muela, Castile-La Mancha, Spain

Entry fee: You can't enter the castle, but you can admire its exterior

Pro tip: The castle is accessed by a dirt road, leading from the village of Hombrados, so you'll need an all terrain vehicle. It's a 2.5 hour drive from Madrid.

The Castle of Trujillo


7. The Castle of Trujillo

Sitting at the town's highest point, the Castle of Trujillo stands sentinel over the town of Cáceres in eastern Spain. It was built in the 13th century on the site of an old Arab fortress from the 9th or 10th century. Built of blocks of granite, the Moorish castle has 8 towers, a courtyard/parade ground, and an albacara. Four of its original seven gates have survived.

In Season 7, the castle was used for two different scenes and portrayed two different Westeros locations. Filming took place in November 2016.

the million dollar views from the walls of Trujillo Castle


The castle first appears as Casterly Rock, the seat of House Lannister. Its high location is the perfect setting for Casterly Rock, which is supposed to be carved out of a great colossal rock overlooking the Sunset Sea. You may recall from the books that Tywin Lannister muttered to himself "Stone, I must be stone, I must be Casterly Rock, hard and unmovable."

In the show, having arrived in Westeros and reclaimed Dragonstone, Daenerys sends her Unsullied army to claim and occupy Casterly Rock. The Lannister army is gone, off to claim Highgarden, so it's an easy task.

Jaime and Bronne make defense preparations at Trujillo Castle aka Kings Landing with the Lannister flag flying in the background

the Unsullied march on Kings landing, Trujillo castle, which is not CGI'd


Later, the castle's ramparts double as Kings Landing. It's the setting for a confrontation between the Unsullied and the Lannister armies in the Season 7 finale.

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Practical Information for the Castle of Trujillo:


Address: Cerro Cabeza de Zorro 10200  Trujillo, Cáceres

Hours: April 1-Sept 30 10:00 am to 2:00 pm & 5:00 to 8:00pm, Oct. 1-March 31 10:00 am to 2:00 pm & 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm

Entry fee: 1.5 €

a drone photo from the castle's website of St. Florentina Castle


8. St. Florentina’s Castle

The adorable St. Florentina's castle is a 45 minute drive up the Maresme Coast from Barcelona Spain, and is an easy day trip from Barcelona. The castle's beautifully situated in a forested area, accessed via a dirt road. In the 11th century, it functioned as a fortification to stave off frequent pirates’ attacks.

In Game of Thrones, St. Florentina's Castle serves as Horn Hill, the seat of the Tarly family. There are scenes shot in the courtyard, a large room called the King’s Room, and a bedroom.

Here, we meet the dour Tarly family patriarch, Samwell’s father Randyll, in a famously awkward "meet the parents" dinner scene in the Season 6 episode “Blood of My Blood.” Randyll's a jerk, and kicks Sam out of the house. Angered, Sam leaves with Gilly, stealing the family's Valyrian steel sword Heartsbane on his way out the door.

The castle currently run tours upon request, where you can experience the medieval dining halls and bedrooms seen in the show.

the nasty Randyll Taryl presiding over a family dinner filmed in the King's Room of St. Florentina's Castle

the awkward family dinner at Horn Hill filmed in the King's Room

Practical Information St. Florentina's Castle:


Address: Avenida Doctor María Serra, s/n, 08360 Canet de Mar, Barcelona, España

Entry fee: 12 €, free for children under 10

Hours: every Saturday and third Sunday of the month, 10:30 am to 1:00 pm, or book a private tour at a time of your choosing

Website

Online tickets

Lovrijenac Fortress aka the red Keep of Kings Landing

9. Lovrijenac Fortress

Dubrovnik of course is divine, an absolute must see UNESCO destination in Croatia. And its doughty fortress, Lovrijenac Fortress, is instantly recognizable as the Red Keep in the fictional King's Landing, the capitol of the Seven Kingdoms.

Herein lies the Great Hall and the iconic Iron Throne forged by Aegon the Conqueror. Above the door leading to the fortress is a famous inscription carved in stone: “Non Bene Pro Toto Libertas Venditur Auro” (“Freedom cannot be sold for all the gold of the world”).

The fortress castle makes many appearances in Seasons 1-3 of Game of Thrones.

Joffrey's lame NameDay Tournament in Lovrijenac Fortress

Littlefinger and Cersei spar in Joffrey's in Lovrijenac Fortress

Most notably, this is where Cersei Lannister confronts Littlefinger in the Season 2 premiere "The North remembers." He opines in his slippery slimy know-it-all way that "knowledge is power." A defiant Cersei holds a knife to his throat and fires back with "power is power."

In Season 1, Tyrion slaps Joffrey across the face in the castle when he won't pay his respects to the Starks after Bran's fall. In the Season 2 premiere, Joffrey also has his small humiliating NameDay Tournament on the fort's porch.

Varys and Tyrion discuss strategy on the walls of Dubrovnik with a CGI'd Fort Bokar in the background

My daughter and I discussing Game of Thrones on the city walls of Dubrovnik


The highest point along Dubrovnik's city walls, Minčeta Tower, stands in for the exterior of the House of the Undying in Qarth during the Season 2 finale, "Valar Morghulis." Daenerys Targaryen searches for her stolen dragons inside, but is kidnapped by the warlocks who, not knowing any better, get fried by a protective Drogon.

The city walls of Dubrovnik were primarily used as a filming location for the King’s Landing’s exteriors.

Minčeta Tower on the Dubrovnik city walls, which serves as the exterior for the House of the Undying

Practical Information for Dubrovnik's Fortress & City Walls:


Address: The main entrance to Dubrovnik town walls is right outside of Pile Gate. Another one is at Ploce Gate.

Entry fee: adults – 200 HRK (about 29 Euro), children and students concession – 50 HRK, under 7 free

Hours: April & May: 8:00 am – 6:30 pm, June & July: 8:00 am – 7:30 pm, August & September: 8:00 am – 6:30 pm, October: 8:00 am – 5:30 pm, November to March: 9:00 am --3:00 pm Online tickets

Pro tip: a visit to Fort Lovrijenac is free with your ticket to the city walls

the 10th century Alcazaba castle in Almeria Spain

10. The Almeria Alcazaba

Almeria is a rough beauty with a magnificent well-preserved castle fortress. It's a bit off the beaten path, a true hidden gem in southern Spain. The 1430 meter walled castle is part of Almeria's UNESCO classification, and well worth a visit.

The Alcazaba was built in 955 by And-al-Rhaman III, the powerful caliph who was also built Córdoba’s Medina Azahara. It's a formidable military fortification with a triple line of curtain like walls and fantastic crenelated battlements with pointy merlons.

The Alcazaba stars as Dorne, seat of House Martell, on the hit HBO series Game of Thrones. The Royal Alcazar in Seville is the main filming location for Dorne, but the Almeria Alcazaba is also used. I'm guessing it was less crowded and more suitable for filming.

a water garden scene in Dorne filmed at the Almeria Alcazaba

Interior scenes, scenes from the Dornish peninsula, and even Water Garden scenes were shot at the Alcazaba. To make the Alcazaba garden look like Dorne, the pool was merged by computer with the grotto wall of Seville's Alcazar, where scenes in Season 5 were shot.

Nearby is Torre de Mesa Roldán, a flat top extinct volcano and part of the Cabo de Gata Natural Park. It serves as Mereen on Game of Thrones, the city of pyramids in Essos. It appears in Episode 9 of Season 6 where Daenerys punishes the Masters for their treachery and rode Drogon into the bay.

Practical Information for the Almeria Alcazaba:


Address: Calle Almanzor, s/n, 04002 Almería, Spain

Hours: Tues-Sat 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, Sun 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

Entry fee: € 3.5

Tel: +34 +34 950 80 10 08

Image source: HBO

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