If you’re a fan of the HBO mega-hit series Game of Thrones, you know that [spoiler alert] Winter is here. But make your way to Dubrovnik, Croatia — the citywide set for the show’s fictional capital of King’s Landing — and you’ll find scant evidence to support the claim. A stunningly preserved 16th Century fortress seated against the Adriatic, the Old City is quickly becoming one of Europe’s hottest tourist destinations. Yet it remains surprisingly accessible to the American traveler. For now. In honor of GoT’s long-awaited return this weekend, VinePair presents you a portal to pure fantasy: a real life King’s Landing crawl to call your own.
Dubrovnik holds some 50,000 people, but only 1500 permanently reside within the fortified walls of the Old City — a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. In December of 1991, as Yugoslavia was disintegrating, the Serbs bombed the area, in a strike that was filmed live. Theseems like something out of the fictional Battle of the Blackwater. But this was very real, and deadly serious. By the time the Yugoslav wars ended in 2001, over 140,000 lives had been lost. It’s impossible to speak about this now-thriving tourist enclave without considering how far it has progressed in a relatively short period of time. Today, it is much more than safe — it is triumphant, projecting a resilience that heartily outweighs its somber past.
Book a tour with Aljosa Lecic — a local concert pianist who moonlights as a walking guide. He’ll briefly recount recent history before lightening the mood significantly over a three hour excursion, winding its way up and down the cobbled staircases and splintered alleyways of this medieval maze.
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Although he’s not actually a fan of the show, Lecic points out hidden corners and out-of-the-way vestibules where various GoT scenes were filmed. For the best vantage points, you’ll have to fork over a $23 surcharge to climb the city walls — well worth the fee, most of which is allocated towards preservation efforts.
From here, so many of the sights — even some of the sounds — of Westeros unfurl before you. Look out over the sea from the very rooftop deck where Joffrey was crowned the new king… and Sansa begged him to grant mercy to the drunken knight shortly thereafter.
Turn a corner, following a row of parapets, and you might expect to see poor Ned’s head on a spike — right where Joffrey torments his would-be bride with the gruesome scene.
Overlook the oceanside outcrop where Bronn tutored Jaime Lannister in the skills of left-handed swordsmanship. The toning of churchbells and the cawing of gulls will provide a familiar soundtrack to any enthusiast of the series.
When you make your way back down to street level you’ll instantly recognize the sloped promenade where Cersei embarked on her infamous Walk of Atonement.
On the other side of the wall, you’ll find the old harbor where Tyrion was spirited away to Essos under a shroud of darkness. The keen observer will find recognizable scenes in almost every direction, reanimated in the mind’s eye. To those that need a little coaxing, a tour company exists solely for such a purpose.
Under the vibrant Mediterranean sun, an afternoon pursuing Starks and Lannisters is certain to summon a ravenous appetite. All men must dine, as it is known. While pigeon pie anchors the diet of many high-born Westerosi, thankfully in this realm, you can feast on less-feathered fare. Check out the Italian-inspired pies coming out of— just make sure Arya isn’t working the oven. Enjoy it alfresco, in a courtyard beneath the steps where the High Sparrow so prominently extolled the virtues of the Faith of the Seven. If you’re feeling shame, as a non-believer, there’s a cocktail for that! Across the street from Pizzeria Castro, order the “Shame” for $9 at Konoba Koloseum. This unholy arrangement of spirits serves as a potent reminder of why Cersei prefers her wine.
If you’ve managed to hold onto your head, lay it down at the historic Excelsior Hotel, a five minute walk up the road from Old City’s East Gate. Today, it houses five-star amenities within a modern seaside structure. It adjoins the original royal villa — with its traditional, orange terra-cotta roof — that has stood here for over a century. Even a Tyrell would marvel at these accommodations. Many of the more prominent GoT cast members enjoy fine dining, spa treatments, and private access to the crystal clear seawater abutting the property’s outdoor patio. During the low season (November through March, when much of the filming transpires), it’s where you stand a good shot of seeing your favorite actors out of character — many of them with signed headshots framed along the walls of the bar. Rooms start at around $300 during that time, rising to $650 during the height of the summer. From your suite you’ll behold the same site that awaits Khaleesi and her dragons as her armada completes its steady crawl across the Narrow Sea. The Adriatic is hardly an inferior stand-in.
For any fan of this epic drama, the excitement building up to Sunday’s premiere is difficult to measure. But to those fortunate enough to visit this enchanting land, any episode of Game of Thrones becomes something much more than mere fiction. Because in Dubrovnik, King’s Landing is no fantasy. It’s real. And it’s unforgettable.
All photos by Brad Japhe