European Countries: Spectacular Filming Locations for Game of Thrones
The Dark Hedges of County Antrim

Game of Thrones is one of the most popular TV series in recent years, being not only one of the most viewed on the American cable network HBO, but also the most illegally downloaded worldwide. Despite being an American production, Game of Thrones is almost entirely filmed in Europe. Northern Ireland has been the main filming location since the first season, which aired in 2011. But other European countries, such as Croatia, Iceland and Spain, also have landmarks featuring in the TV show and are taking advantage from it.

The choice of Northern Ireland as the main filming location had both economic and creative reasons. Northern Ireland Screen, a government agency that provides funding for film, television and digital content projects, lobbied in order to ensure that the filming of the series happened in the region. Throughout the first four seasons, Northern Ireland Screen has funded the TV series with 10.85 million pounds (around 15 million euros). Moreover, the production also benefits from the government’s tax relief on high-end TV drama.

But Northern Ireland had more to offer than financial funding in order to persuade the producers. The studio facilities built on a former shipyard building in Belfast’s docks provided the production with the perfect amount of space to build the Throne Room set, as well as, various sets for other interior scenes. The forests, moors and beaches of Northern Ireland were also considered perfect to shoot locations for the fictional land of Westeros.

The government’s agency Northern Ireland Screen is partially financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland. The key aim of the ERDF is to reinforce economic and social cohesion in the European Union. The filming of Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland has had a positive impact on its economy.

According to the Northern Irish local assembly, the first four seasons of Game of Thrones had an economic benefit of 82 million pounds, including wages for cast and crew, services, hotels and tourism. It has also created more than 900 full-time jobs and 5,700 part-time jobs. When it was revealed that the fifth season of the series, which is now being broadcasted, would also be filmed in the country, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson said that it had a positive impact of more than 20 million pounds annually for the economy.  

Last year, Moyra Lock, marketing director of Northern Ireland Screen, told the British newspaper the Guardian that “the economic impact from Game of Thrones is incredible. But it is more than money. It is also what it has meant in terms of added value”. New companies were developed in order to cast extras and to apply for the post-production services commissioned by the show.

Tourism benefits

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board has even set up a webpage with the filming locations of Game of Thrones in the region. On it the filming locations for Dragonstone, Winterfell, the King’s Road, or Riverrun, for example, are mapped and there are information about which scenes were filmed where. A number of tours to show these locations to tourists are being operated by private companies.

The economic benefits of having landmarks broadcasted on Game of Thrones are not limited to Northern Ireland. The number of foreign visitors to Croatia has increased 6 percent to 13 million in 2014. Dubrovnik, the filming location for King’s Landing, was already a top tourist destination in Croatia, but the number of visitors is increasing. “Dubrovnik’s tourism in recent years is growing at 10 percent a year, and I think Game of Thrones is responsible for about half that growth”, said Andro Vlahusic, the city’s mayor, to Bloomberg Business. Tourism is an important part of Croatia’s economy, as it accounts for up to 20% of the Gross Domestic Product. As in Northern Ireland, travel agencies are doing tours to locations where Game of Thrones is filmed.

When it was announced last year that filming for season five would be taking place around Seville, in Spain, 10 thousand Spaniards applied to be an extra in the show. During the filming, hotels in Osuna were fully booked.

If in Spain and Croatia tourists can visit the sunniest parts of fictional Westeros and Meereen, in Iceland tours are organised to go see the locations where the Night’s Watch are attacked by the White Walkers and the other places of the “Land beyond the Wall”.

Game of Thrones is based on the series of epic fantasy novels A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. The story takes place in the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, which have very varied landscapes: from the icily cold lands beyond the Wall to the hot and arid Dorne. The fact that the vast majority of the TV series is filmed in Europe is a testament to the continent’s diversity.