In the Khaleesi’s throne room
The Adriatic coastline greets me as I drive into Split, Croatia’s second largest city, the water nearly the same shade of blue as the sunny, cloud-free sky. Walking towards Split’s Old Town, my guide tells me that the city gets its name from a common spiny bush with bright yellow blooms that I can see nearly everywhere. Normally, I love such bits of trivia, but right now I only have eyes for the 1,700-year-old Roman palace.
Built by the Roman emperor Diocletian in the third century, it is an imposing structure that takes up nearly half of Old Town, with enormous arched doorways and numerous towers.
Walking its streets, I am lost in a magical medieval world, one ruled by a queen. The lines between reality and fantasy blur as I picture fire-breathing dragons and cobblestoned alleys laced with blood. There are men in masks and murders inside brothels. I am no longer looking at Diocletian’s Palace but at the throne room of Daenerys Targaryen, or the Khaleesi, from the popular show Game Of Thrones.
While the neighbouring coastal city of Dubrovnik has morphed into King’s Landing and Qarth in the television series, Split’s fort stands in for the fort of Meereen, a large slave city captured and ruled by Daenerys. Besides the palace and Old Town, many of the scenes were shot at Klis Fortress, 20 minutes from the city.
There is an eerie silence as I walk through the basement, and I feel as though whispered conspiracies are being hatched all around me. I can hear the murmurs of Daenerys speaking to her dragons. Outside, in the streets, I can picture Tyrion Lannister and Lord Varys walking around the town as the riots begin. I can see rebellion bloody the narrow lanes of the Old Town as the Sons of the Harpy attack the Unsullied Army, even as Daenerys crucifies the original rulers, leaving them to die.
To a Game Of Thrones fan like me, this imagined world feels so real that it’s almost a shock to return to the real world and see families posing for photographs and children running around, their happy shrieks piercing the fantasy world I had retreated to. If I close my eyes, I can easily forget them all once again and picture the dragons flying into the light as Tyron Lannister sets them free.
Top 5 ‘GoT’ tours
GoT tour of Split is No.5 on a list of most popular Game Of Thrones tours on the TripAdvisor website. The travel website analysed its data to find that since 2012, when the show first aired, the interest in destinations where Game Of Thrones was filmed has increased tremendously. In the case of the small Spanish town of Campillo de Dueñas, which has the nearest accommodation options to the Castle of Zafra filming site, interest increased by 2,270%. The second largest increase, a still impressive 1,300%, has been in Vik, a remote seaside village in Iceland.
If you’re planning your own Games Of Thrones fan tour, here’s a list of the top 5 most booked tours on the travel site.
1. Called the Viator Exclusive: Game Of Thrones Walking Tour of Dubrovnik, this 3-hour tour of the Croatian city’s Old Town, a Unesco World Heritage Site where many of the scenes for King’s Landing were shot.
2. Game Of Thrones Filming Locations Tour From Reykjavik—This 6-hour tour in Iceland takes visitors to the Thingvellir National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site, where many of the White Walker scenes from the show are filmed.
3. Game Of Thrones and Giant’s Causeway Full-Day Tour from Belfast—Travel down the stunning Dark Hedges road in the UK, visit the cave where Melisandre gave birth to her shadow baby and see the Giant’s Causeway, a Unesco World Heritage site.
4. Game Of Thrones Film Location Tour from Dublin, including Giant’s Causeway—This tour combines numerous GoT filming sites, including Ballintoy Harbour, where many of the Iron Islands seaside scenes were filmed, with visits to other well-known tourist spots in Ireland.
5. Viator Exclusive: Game Of Thrones Tour in Split—Tour GoT sites in the Croatian city, from the throne room and cellars of the fourth century Diocletian’s Palace to the mountainside fortress of Klis just outside the city.