The ultimate ‘Game of Thrones’ travel guide

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

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.

Riyadh’s Al-Masmak fort stands guard over Saudi Arabia’s past

Al-Masmak fort. (AN photo)
Updated 26 April 2018

Riyadh’s Al-Masmak fort stands guard over Saudi Arabia’s past

  • The Al-Masmak fort is connected with the recapture of Riyadh in Jan.15, 1902, by the late king
  • The SCTH chief Prince Sultan bin Salman developed the exhibits in Al-Masmak Museum that was started in December 2011 to represent the story of its storming

RIYADH: The Al-Masmak fort in the heart of Riyadh holds a prominent place in Saudi Arabia’s history and — 150 years after being built — is telling the story of the Kingdom’s birth via a 3D virtual tour.

The fort is home to a museum that has become an important historical destination and focal point for state guests as well as foreign visitors and local residents.

“As it is a favorite tourist destination, not only the Saudis and expatriates living here appreciate the majesty of this vast architectural wonder, but it draws interest of visitors from outside the Kingdom as well, and most of the foreign guests who arrive on visit here toured the museum,” Majed Alshadeed, a spokesman for the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), told Arab News.

“Masmak” in Arabic means the high, fortified, thick and huge — important qualities for a fort that witnessed King Abdul Aziz’s major initiatives in consolidating the Kingdom.

The Al-Masmak fort is connected with the recapture of Riyadh in Jan.15, 1902, by the late king.

However, the story of building Al-Masmak fortress dates back to the reign of Imam Abdullah bin Faisal bin Turki bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud, who began work on the fort in 1865. 

The use of the fortress changed after King Abdul Aziz recovered Al-Masmak fort in 1902. After its use as a warehouse for ammunition and weapons for two years, it was turned into a prison before being converted into a heritage landmark in the heart of Riyadh.

The the-then Riyadh Gov. Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz (now King) ordered its upkeep, maintenance and restoration in 1980.

As governor, he led the development of Riyadh from a mid-sized town into a major metropolis in the region and served as an important liaison to attract tourism, capital projects and foreign investment to the Kingdom.

After the proper work the fort was restored to serve as a museum and was inaugurated in 1995 as the Al-Masmak Historical Museum, which tells the story of the Kingdom’s unification and establishment by King Abdul Aziz.

The SCTH, led by Prince Sultan bin Salman, developed the exhibits in Al-Masmak Museum that was started in December 2011 to represent the story of the storming of Masmak and recovery of Riyadh by King Abdul Aziz.

Adding more value to the museum, the SCTH launched a smartphone app for “Virtual Tour via 3D images” of Qasr Al-Masmak or Al-Masmak Palace Museum in March 2016, conjuring up Saudi history digitally to show visitors how the late King Abdul Aziz founded the modern Kingdom. 

Now fans of Saudi tourism, heritage and history can make an online visit to Al-Masmak Museum through a virtual tour, navigating different halls and internal areas through 360-degree camera and 3D images.

The virtual tour allows visitors to view exhibits that highlight the cultural dimension of the Kingdom and its deep-rooted heritage, besides touring the different halls and viewing paintings and photos.

The museum contains photographs, maps, models, display cabinets, old weapons, traditional and heritage objects, exhibition and audiovisual halls.

Each month, the museum receives about 5,000 school students and visitors, with numbers increasing during school breaks.

Since its opening in 1995, more than a million people have visited the museum, according to officials.

Speaking to Arab News, Mohammed Zeyad, a student, said the museum was a special place for those who love history and heritage, and wanted to learn more about the country.

The museum recently hosted a workshop to promote patriotism by highlighting the historic and cultural values of the Kingdom.