Based on George R. R. Martin’s bestselling fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire”, the HBO television series ‘Game of Thrones’ has taken the world by storm. I first read the books when I heard they were being made into a television series (I always try to read the book before seeing any films or TV shows that are based on them) and absolutely loved them. Then the show began and it was just as amazing as the books. It has become a global phenomenon, becoming the number one most pirated TV show, inspiring countless memes and boosting tourism to many of the filming locations.
One of the reasons the show is so popular are the Noble Houses, the powerful families of the fantasy world of Westeros who have their own distinct forms of heraldry including house sigils, colours and mottoes. People spend hours figuring out which house they would belong to, display their love of certain houses in their clothing or artwork and debate which house is the best. Each of the houses comes from a specific region of the Seven Kingdoms, and they are very similar to places in Europe. As such, most of the filming for the show is done on location in stunning countries, lending an authentic feel to the landscape of each particular house. If you have ever felt that you were definitely a Lannister, Baratheon or Arryn, read on to find out which country you should travel to so that you can perfectly feel like a member of that house!
If you love House Baratheon…
House Baratheon is the nominal ruling House of Westeros (although *spoiler alert* pretty quickly they only become rulers in name, not blood). Represented by a stag, with the words “Ours is the Fury” they command King’s Landing, the capital city of the Seven Kingdoms, and the Stormlands. I think the Baratheons during the time of the story are very much like the typical Kings and Knights of Medieval times. They like to joust, hunt and feast, are fierce warriors, loyal friends and righteous in their anger. If you love House Baratheon you should:
If you’re looking for lovely scenery, ancient castles and fortresses and a history as full of battles, jousts, hunts, feasts, betrayals and alliances as the Baratheons experienced, then visit England. The history of the British monarchy is just as turbulent and fascinating as some of the events of ‘Game of Thrones’ (indeed George R. R. Martin used European history as the inspiration behind a lot of his story) and many of the actors in the show are British as well. You can visit the castles where King Henry VIII lived, Queen Elizabeth I’s hunting lodge and take part in medieval festivals across the country.
If you love House Stark…
One of the most popular Houses, the Starks are known for their loyalty and sense of duty. They hold Winterfell, and rule the North of the Seven Kingdoms, are represented by Direwolves and their motto is “Winter is Coming”. The Stark characters are noble and loyal to both their family and their King. However, when one of their own is killed they are not afraid to rise up in revenge. The landscape of the North is bleak but still beautiful, sometimes snowy, vast and populated by rugged and loyal banner-men of the Starks. If you love House Stark you should:
Visit Scotland or Ireland
The scenes set in the North and around Winterfell are filmed in Ireland, so this is a great place to visit if you want to see the ‘actual’ places from the television series (there are even lots of tours to filming locations) but I also think that the landscape of Scotland feels very much like the North of Westeros. Both of these countries are green but can also be very cold and snowy. They have stunning natural scenery that towers over you and can make you feel very small, much like the North in ‘Game of Thrones’. I also feel that since the Baratheons (to me) are similar to England, then it makes sense that their allies the Starks are located North of them, in Scotland. Let’s ignore the history of strife between England and Scotland for now, as well as the fact that Jon Snow sounds like he comes from Yorkshire…
If you love House Lannister…
Ahh, the lions of House Lannister. Known for being ruthless, cunning and rich, the Lannisters are despised as much as they are loved. Their House motto is “Hear me Roar” although they are equally known for saying “A Lannister always pays his debts”. You can’t deny they have class though. A very powerful family in Westeros due to the gold mines they control, they are always in the thick of schemes for more power, wear rich reds and golds, surround themselves with luxury and (some of them) love their wine. If you want to feel like you are a Lannister you should:
I feel that the Lannister family has a lot in common with stories about the Borgias and other powerful and scheming families from Ancient Italy. Along with beautiful wine and vineyards, Italy is filled with awe-inspiring ancient monuments that attest to the wealth and power it held in ancient times. Stroll through Rome in a red dress and feel like Cersei Lannister or visit the Cinque Terre and pretend you are in Casterly Rock overlooking the Sunset Sea.
If you love House Tyrell…
House Tyrell rules over the Reach, a vast and fertile part of Westeros, from their Castle of Highgarden. Represented by a rose and the words “Growing Strong” they are often mistakenly thought of as simply being pretty and soft, but they are capable of raising a vast army, are very wealthy, and often quietly scheming under their innocent exterior. Nobody embodies this better than the beautiful Margaery Tyrell or her indomitable grandmother, Olenna. Like the rose of their sigil, the Tyrells can be as cunning as the Lannisters, but are more subtle; just like a beautiful rose hiding its thorns. If you love the beauty and cleverness of House Tyrell then you should:
With its opulent palaces and intricate gardens, to me, France best represents the landscape of House Tyrell (particularly Highgarden) as well as the quietly cunning demeanour. Nowhere was this more evident than in the French Court during the Renaissance, when courtiers, nobles and royals alike used luxury and beauty to hide the schemes and political manoeuvrings of the rich and powerful. France is also fertile and beautiful, the perfect place to while away the time in lovely gardens and frivolous pursuits, drink wine and privately scheme for power.
If you love House Greyjoy…
House Greyjoy rules over the Iron Islands and they are pretty badass, especially Asha (called Yara in the TV show). Their sigil is a Kraken and their house words are “We Do Not Sow” because they believe that they should take what they want/need by paying ‘the iron price’, i.e. killing for it. In the show, the Iron Islands are pretty harsh and bleak, but also beautiful with the stormy seas creating waves crashing against the rocks. Greyjoys (and all Ironborn) are skilled sailors and fighters, rightly feared for their prowess on the seas. If you love House Greyjoy you should:
Visit the Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are located midway between Norway and Iceland, and North of Scotland. The islands are rugged yet beautiful, filled with amazing natural sights such as waterfalls, cliffs and inland lakes. If you want to visit islands that feel remote and untamed, and feel like you are one of the Ironborn living on Pyke, then the Faroe Islands are the place to go.
If you love House Martell…
House Martell hails from the Southernmost part of Westeros, Dorne. Dorne is a sparsely populated harsh, desert land; although the Dornish people are known for being passionate, independent and more tolerant and open-minded than the rest of Westeros. Dorne was the only part of Westeros not conquered by the Targaryens; and it produces good wine, citrus fruits and spices for trade. Prince Oberyn Martell best embodies the spirit of House Martell, he is bold, passionate, sexually open-minded and a fierce fighter. If you love House Martell then you should:
Definitely, a no-brainer, the fictional land of Dorne is very similar to Spain in its descriptions of architecture, climate, exports and fashion. The scenes set in Dorne were shot in Spain, around Seville. The Spanish people are also known for being passionate and George R. R. Martin was heavily inspired by medieval Spain when writing about Dorne and the Martells. If you want to dress like the Sand Snakes and experience the climate, food and culture of Dorne, then Spain is the place to go!
If you love House Arryn…
While not the most popular house, House Arryn is noteworthy particularly for its geographical location and appearance in Westeros. With a silver hawk as a sigil and the House words “As High As Honour”, House Arryn’s seat is the Eyrie, a massive mountain-top fortress that is nearly impregnable. The Eyrie is located in the Vale, surrounded by mountains and is protected by the Knights of the Vale. These knights have only recently in the series lent their aid in a way that turned the tide of a battle. If you love the scenery around the Eyrie and House Arryn then you should:
If you are mainly looking to see some of the awe-inspiring scenery and architecture that House Arryn is known for, then Germany is your best bet. With hundreds of stunning medieval castles scattered throughout the mountains, this is definitely the country to visit to get a taste of what it might be like in the Eyrie. As well as the breathtaking views, visiting some of the beautiful German castles such as Neuschwanstein will also give you a taste of the medieval life that the Knights of the Vale lead.
If you love House Tully…
House Tully is known for its embodiment of the house words, “Family, Duty, Honour” and they are represented by a fish because they come from the Riverlands part of Westeros. The seat of the house is Riverrun, a castle that straddles the fork where the River Trident and River Tumblestone meet. The Tullys honour their house words and loyalty very much, and fight fiercely to protect their home and people. If you would love to see the castle of Riverrun then you should:
Similarly to the Riverlands, Hungary has traditionally been defined by its two main waterways, the Danube and the Tisza rivers. Situated on both banks of the Danube, the capital Budapest is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. With geothermal springs, the world’s largest thermal water cave system, and hundreds of cruises passing through on the Danube, it is the place that most seemed like Riverrun to me. One of the most photographed parts of Budapest is the Hungarian Parliament Building as it rises on the banks of the Danube, much as I imagine Riverrun.
If you love the Wildlings…
While the Wildlings are technically not one of the great houses of Westeros, they are still a very popular and interesting group of inhabitants of Westeros. They live north of the Great Wall and are regarded as savage barbarians by those that live South of the Wall in the Seven Kingdoms proper. They pride themselves on being ‘free folk’ and are adept at hunting and surviving in a harsh climate, while not bending the knee to anyone. They are generally divided into many different clans. The land North of the Wall is harsh, yet beautiful and if you have always wanted to be a wildling, then you should:
If you are looking for stunning natural landscapes, snowy firs, Northern Lights and to feel like you are one of the few people left on Earth, then you should visit Norway. Filled with spectacular fjords, mountains, wildlife and interesting people, it is definitely not your typical vacation destination. The actor who plays wildling Tormund Giantsbane is Norwegian and while you will also see and learn a lot about Viking and Norse history and mythology, it is also a great place to go if you love the scenery of the lands North of the Wall.
If you love the Dothraki…
Ok, I’m stretching it a little bit here again as the Dothraki aren’t a house and they aren’t even located in Westeros, BUT they are a very popular and interesting group in the show. The Dothraki are a nomadic race of horse-riding warriors, known for being fierce and even savage. They are also loyal and give fan-favourite character Daenerys Targaryen the first taste of love and acceptance she has known in her life. They live in the vast plainlands of Essos, across the Narrow Sea from Westeros. These plains are known as the Dothraki Sea because they appear to be a sea of grass as far as the eye can see. If you love the Dothraki, the lands they inhabit and horses, then you should:
Bordered by Russia, Ukraine is a country that feels far away from the rest of Europe (similar to Essos), it is the largest European country and it also consists of mostly vast plains and plateaus. If you are looking to experience the landscape of the Dothraki then this is the place to go. Historical accounts also say that the horse was probably first domesticated on the Pontic-Kaspian or Kazakh steppe, and the Pontic-Kaspian steppe extends over a large portion of Ukraine. If you want to see where the Dothraki might have ridden, then a trip to explore the natural landscape of Ukraine is a must.
If you love the Night’s Watch…
Also not technically a house, the military order known as the Night’s Watch are one of the most popular parts of ‘Game of Thrones’. The men of the Night’s Watch swear an oath to hold and guard The Wall, an immense structure built of ice which separates the Seven Kingdoms from the lands (and beings) beyond. Commonly referred to as ‘crows’ by the wildlings for their all-black garb (and crow sigil), men of the Night’s Watch swear an oath to man the castles along the wall, abjuring wives, children and land to protect the Kingdoms from an ancient evil beyond. They spend their lives living in the shadow of the wall, defending it from wildlings and ranging beyond the wall at times. It is a harsh, cold and lonely place, but still beautiful. If you love the Night’s Watch then you should:
I chose Iceland for the Night’s Watch instead of the Wildlings because Iceland is remote, bleak and beautiful. Many of the scenes in ‘Game of Thrones’ that take place at or beyond the wall were filmed in Iceland, and I think it best depicts the landscape one would see if standing on the wall. Iceland is also the most sparsely populated country in Europe, and the Night’s Watch has also dwindled in recent events in ‘Game of Thrones’. If you fancy yourself a brother of the Night’s Watch (or want to visit the hot spring where Jon Snow and Ygritte the wildling made love) then Iceland is the country to visit.
And if you love House Targaryen…
Saving the best (in my opinion!) till last, House Targaryen is one of the most interesting of the Great Houses of Westeros. Partly because they originally came from a land to the East called Valyria (which was destroyed in a cataclysmic event) and partly because of their penchant for riding dragons into battle they are also a very popular house. With a three-headed dragon as their sigil and the words “Fire and Blood” the Targaryens ruled the Seven Kingdoms for three centuries after Aegon the Conqueror rode in with his two sisters on their three dragons. Deposed by House Baratheon during ‘Robert’s Rebellion’ (which occurred roughly 17 years before the events of ‘Game of Thrones’) the last surviving known Targaryen (well *spoilers* apart from Jon Snow) is Daenerys, who has been living in exile and planning her triumphant return to Westeros to take back the throne. However, while she says that the Seven Kingdoms is her home she hasn’t been there since she was a baby, and has instead been living in Essos, with the Dothraki and then as Queen of Meereen and the Bay of Dragons. House Targaryen is rather exotic, of but not of the Seven Kingdoms and if you want to experience the feel of Meereen and House Targaryen then you should:
Similarly of and not of Europe, Turkey occupies the unique position of straddling both Europe and Asia (it is referred to as a trans-continental country) which fits in well with the role of House Targaryen in the world of ‘Game of Thrones’. It is also regarded as rather exotic and the capital Istanbul features stunning and unique architecture that is also a major part of the city of Meereen, where Daenerys has spent the most time building her power and gaining control of her dragons. With a climate similar to Meereen (and old Valyria) a visit to Turkey and especially Istanbul would be the best place to go to feel as if you are a Targaryen, either living in exile or wandering Valyria before the Doom.
Are you a ‘Game of Thrones’ fan? Do you agree or disagree with my choices for European countries to visit based on your favourite ‘Game of Thrones’ House? Let me know in the comments and please pin an image for later if you enjoyed this post!