The ultimate ‘Game of Thrones’ travel guide

1 / 5
The Castillo de Almodóvar del Río is in Córdoba. (Shutterstock)
2 / 5
Dimmuborgir crops up in Icelandic folklore.
3 / 5
Thingvellir National Park is stunning during the winter months.
4 / 5
Downhill Strand is one of the longest stretches of sand in Northern Ireland.
5 / 5
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in Spain boasts incredible views.
Updated 26 August 2017
0

The ultimate ‘Game of Thrones’ travel guide

DUBAI: It is fair to assume that many readers will be somewhat familiar with the ultra-popular saga “Game of Thrones.” It just wrapped up its seventh, penultimate, season, which had more than 25 million viewers in the US alone last year. That is not including global viewership, nor the astounding records being broken for pirated downloads, with several outlets reporting it to be the most-torrented TV program around the world.
Based on George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series, the hit show has created a fresh crop of stars in a variety of roles, but the real scene-stealing characters are often the epic landscapes, quaint castles and other-wordly towns — all entirely tangible places across Europe and North Africa. Here are three regions from season seven where Game of Thrones super fans can book a ticket and go bend the proverbial knee.
The location: Highgarden
Country: Spain

Farewell, Queen of Thorns. We all loved Olenna Tyrell, all the way until she met her fate at the hands and poisoned chalice of Jaime Lannister. The aged but vivacious Tyrell would do anything for her family but sadly was not able to defend Highgarden, the historic seat of House Tyrell, famed for its complex maze and fertile surroundings.
The castle: Castillo de Almodóvar del Río  
The real-life location, on the banks of the river Guadalquivir in the Andalusian province of Córdoba, is equally impressive. The castle dates date to the 8th century when the Moors ruled the Iberian Peninsula, harking back to an era in Europe that truly reflected the bloody feuds in the “World of Ice and Fire.” The good news is the location is open to the public and you can visit the lofty towers and the castle’s dungeons.
The location: Beyond the Wall
Country: Iceland

Hordes of “Free Folk” were united beyond the wall by Mance Rayder and almost besieged Castle Black in season four but were held at bay by Lord Commander Snow and later overrun by Stannis Baratheon’s forces. More recently, Snow and his fellowship of allies returned to kidnap a zombie “wight” for evidence of the war to end all wars.
Some of the show’s most incredible snowy scenes were shot in Iceland. In fact, the “Game of Thrones effect” has been linked to Iceland’s spike in visitor numbers, from 566,000 in 2011, the year it premiered, to more than one million by 2015 — and there are plenty of dedicated travel packages on offer.
Mance Rayder’s camp: Dimmuborgir
In the real world, the main Wildling camp was just south of the town of Húsavik in a lava field with distinctive rock formations. Dimmuborgir is deeply entwined with Icelandic folklore and was believed to be the home of murderous trolls — somehow fitting for a violent fantasy show.
The cave: Grjótagjá
When Jon Snow first went beyond the wall he shared a memorable moment with his redheaded friend, Ygritte, at Grjótagjá, a natural hot spring. The small lava cave near Lake Mývatn is in northeast Iceland and the spring can reach temperatures of 50°C even during the winter months.
Sweeping landscapes: Thingvellir National Park
When not buried under meters of snow, some of the Icelandic filming locations are popular summertime getaways. Thingvellir is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the Alþingi (the national parliament of Iceland) was established more than one thousand years ago in 930 AD. Fans can even find real shards of “dragonglass” here — pieces of cooled lava known as obsidian.
The location: Dragonstone
Countries: Northern Ireland and Spain

The birthplace of Daenerys Targaryen has cropped up a few times throughout the show, both as the stronghold of the ill-fated Stannis Baratheon and where the “mother of dragons” sets up base on her return to Westeros. What is potentially confusing is that “Dragonstone” is not only the name of the castle, but also the island itself, which lies at the outer edge of the fictional Blackwater Bay.
The beach: Downhill Strand, Northern Ireland
Stannis “The Mannis” Baratheon and his devout adviser Melisandre burned wooden idols on this beach in County Londonderry. One of the longest stretches of sand in Northern Ireland at 11km, it is overlooked by the tiny Mussenden Temple.
The footbridge: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Spain
One of the filming units for season seven set up camp near Bilbao, on the north coast of Spain, to film several scenes on the incredible islet. It is far more secluded and peaceful than the likes of Madrid and Barcelona — for now.


Out of this world: The disorientating delights of Singapore

Singapore cityscape. (Shutterstock)
Updated 17 October 2018
0

Out of this world: The disorientating delights of Singapore

  • Singapore feels like a vision of the future
  • A dreamlike sense of utopia accompanies the city

AMMAN: More than anywhere else I’ve visited, Singapore feels like a vision of the future. Sure, there are cities with taller skyscrapers, faster trains and a more fervent embrace of LED lights, but there’s something about the uniform modernity, efficiency — and, yes, cleanliness — of the southernmost Asian Tiger that seems like a very particular glimpse of an imagined sci-fi world. There is certainly nowhere else on earth you can stroll through a simulated cloud forest, in the world’s largest greenhouse, and be back at the roulette table, or sleeping in a five-star hotel, within minutes.
All this is possible within Singapore’s ultra-modern waterside core, which radiates outwards from the skyline-hugging, S$8 billion, Marina Bay Sands resort — an imposing row of three skyscrapers linked by the 340-meter SkyPark. Such brazen disregard for the rules of nature have led to inevitable comparisons with the Gulf’s vertiginous post-globalized metropolizes (which are not always unfounded — the Sands bears more than a passing resemblance to Abu Dhabi’s The Gate Towers).


In front sits the ultra-modern, and excellent, ArtScience Museum, its curved outcrops shaped to resemble a lotus flower (or an open hand). Behind you’ll find the beguiling Gardens by the Bay, a 100-hectare stretch of exotic vegetation that has no business in a tropical climate, punctuated by giant dancing steel “supertrees” serving a nightly lightshow. The real freakery takes place inside two huge ticketed greenhouses, the technicolor splendor of the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest, which eerily simulates climbing a mountain. If feels, of course, nothing like a real forest — but an imagined reconstruction by post-apocalyptic survivors.
But Singapore’s architectural and horticultural conjuring is only part of the story. A sense of post-national futurism feels stamped in the spiritual DNA of the place. Singapore has four official languages — but non-native English is the most widely understood, with 80 percent fluency. In this imagined future, a global tongue overcomes all tribalism.
Singapore’s fabled orderliness really is a thing. After a few hours in the country, spotting a discarded cigarette butt feels like proof of a minor insurrection. It’s notable that one selling point of the famed Long Bar at Raffles Hotel — established in 1887 and named after the Brit who founded the city — is being allowed, nay encouraged, to throw peanut shells on the floor, in some arcane colonial ritual. Fun has never felt quite so organized.
Leisure takes place where and when its supposed to, such as on Sentosa — a former POW camp brutally used by the Japanese in World War Two, now a resort island that’s home to 14 hotels, two golf courses, Universal Studios Singapore and the city’s second casino. A five-square-kilometer super-real whirl of primary colors, it’s hard to imagine a more artificial environment outside of Disneyland.


This dreamlike sense of utopia accompanies one across the city. Most unnerving is a visit to the much-hyped Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street — traditional neighborhoods which have been brazenly gentrified into sanitized tourist attractions. Strolling through the former, I look up at rows of brightly colored banners waving from every window of an apartment building. What looked like a vibrant display of individuality unraveled when I realized every banner was of a uniform size and placement.
But this could teach the Gulf’s rapidly modernizing cities a valuable trick: Rather than decimating low-income neighborhoods, often home to colorful communities — give them a clever name and market them as cultural destinations. Who wouldn’t want to visit Mini Manila or Little Lagos, after all?