Everyone is talking about Game of Thrones filming locations. From Northern Ireland to Croatia, it’s all the buzz in tourism these days. Few U.S. travelers know however, that Malta is the Mediterranean’s Hollywood. Despite the island’s diminutive size of 40 km across (with its little sister Gozo which is even tinier, at only 9 km across) there’s a variety of landscapes and cityscapes attracting filmmakers. From baroque to medieval towns, from green hills to barren lands, all hugged by a dramatic coastline, Malta is destination with landscapes frozen in time.
Since the seventies Malta has caught the interest of filmmakers of movies like Munich, World War Z, Troy and Gladiator. Most recently, and perhaps what has really placed Malta on the map with fans is its role as one of the Game of Thrones filming locations.
About Game of Thrones Filming Locations in Malta
The walled city of Mdina doubled up as King’s Landing, the island’s forts served as the Red Keep, and the stunning natural arch known as the Azure Window in Gozo was the setting for Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen’s wedding. During our recent visit to the island we’ve been on a quest to visit the Game of Thrones filming locations. Lucky for us we were helped by Audrey, a Gozitan tourist guide who also worked as an extra in the HBO hit series.
With long dark hair and beautiful olive skin, Audrey was picked for the part of a Dothraki extra. Her scenes were shot mainly around the town of Mtahleb, a location in Southern Malta with a barren scenery and arid climate, making it the perfect location for Vaes Dothrak.
A self-confessed movie buff, Audrey was ecstatic to have been chosen as a Game of Thrones extra, even though in 2010 not many (besides fantasy aficionados) knew what Game of Thrones was. It seems incredible now, but let’s not forget that it was season 1 (which was filmed in Malta) that sparked the Game of Thrones craze. Unfortunately for Malta, Dubrovnik was then chosen as the new King’s Landing location from season 2 onwards, and Malta lost the production. However, Malta is chosen as location for new movies every year, the latest of which is soon to be released ‘By the Sea’ directed by Angelina, shot at beautiful Mgarr El Xini bay in Gozo.
On the way to the beginning of the tour, Audrey told us about her experience on set. She didn’t get to meet Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage and the rest of the actors based at the King’s Landing set, but she became friends with Emilia Clarke, and they remained in touch for years. When I asked her about Jason Momoa, she remembered him as being a really handsome, laid back Hawaiian type, who liked playing the guitar between the breaks on set. However, the meeting that struck her the most was that with RR Martin, whom she bumped into while on a queue to get some food. She asked him why he was killing off all her favourite characters. RR martin shrugged and laughed – but as Audrey said, that was only season 1.
Game of Thrones Malta Locations
#1 The Azure Window, Gozo – Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen’s Wedding
Perhaps the most scenic of the Game of Thrones filming locations is the Azure Window, a natural arch in the sea cliffs on the western side of Gozo, where the wedding of Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen was filmed. The Azure Window was famous long before the show’s connection, and it is visited daily by hundreds of tourists.
Travel Tip: try to visit as late in the day as possible to appreciate the site at its fullest, or take a kayak tour to view the Azure Window from the water.
This is one of the windiest places in the Maltese Islands. The constant whipping of wind and sea is slowly eroding the Azure Window, and the arch is expected to collapse in the next few years. Despite this, thousands of tourists walk across its top every day, ignoring ‘Danger’ signs.
#2 Mdina – Catelyn and Ned Stark’s Farewell, Lannister Fight, Littlefinger’s Pleasure House
The walled city of Mdina was Malta’s first capital city. A maze of tangled streets built in golden limestone, it’s a favourite of film directors looking for a medieval-looking location.
Mdina’s main gate, now chockablock with group tours and horse carts, was the setting for one of GoT’s most moving scenes, the farewell between Catelyn and Ned Stark when she set off from King’s Landing after the death of King Robert. You can barely make out the lions on either side of the gate, as she gallops off bound for the North.
Another Mdina location is Mesquita Square, a quiet place that is often overlooked by tour groups. GoT nerds will recognize the trellised balcony of Petyr Baelish’s bordello. The fight between Jaime Lannister and Ned Stark that concluded with the latter’s capture was shot here – you all know what happened afterwards.
#3 San Anton Palace -The Red Keep, Ned’s Head on a Spike, Dragon Skulls
Located in the town of Balzan, this Palace is the residence of the Maltese president and one of places chosen as a filming location for the Red Keep. Not all sections of the palace are accessible to the public, but you’re free to wander around the entrance patio that doubled as the Red Keep stables in the series.
On your left walking in, you’ll see a balcony – this was where Joffrey took Sansa to see her father and her septa’s head on a spike.
Further down the entrance there’s a covered corridor leading upwards – I recognized instantly as the place where Arya chased cats, before ending up in the Red Keep’s underground chambers.
#4 Fort Ricasoli – The Red Keep’s Entrance
Up until that point, all locations we visited were easy to get to, but as a result, they were full of people. It took some imagination to picture them as Game of Thrones scenes – Daenerys’s hair swept by the wind at the Azure Window, Lannister soldiers circling Ned Stark where a restaurant now stands in Mdina.
The following location, Fort Ricasoli, was probably the best of the whole tour. The fort is in the city of Karkala, a pretty seaside town completely devoid of tourists. Fort Ricasoli was right at the edge of town, by the sea, a Panamanian oil tanker in front of it. It took our driver two laps of town to find the way to it.
When we got there, it was sadly fenced off – but determined to see it, we climbed through a hole in a fence, encouraged by two local ladies who told us ‘it was ok’. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the Tortile columns of the Red Keep’s entrance, surrounded by wildflowers. The place was stunning with its wild, windswept feel – the Great Harbour of Valletta in front, and the blue Mediterranean all around. I remembered the scene where Arya tried to get back into the Red Keep, only to be shooed away by the guards who didn’t believe she was the daughter of the King’s Hand.
#5 Fort St Angelo – The Red Keep’s Prisons and Underground Chambers
A short drive from Fort Ricasoli, Fort St Angelo in the city of Birgu was the location for the Red Keep’s prisons and underground chambers with dragon skulls. The Fort is undergoing restoration and it’s currently closed to the public, but you’re free to wander around the outside and imagine Ned Stark living out his final days in the bowels of the fort, before being carted off to nearby Manoel Island – that served as the Sept of Baelor, where Ned Stark was beheaded.
Audrey told us that Ned Stark wasn’t the first illustrious person to be imprisoned in the Fort St Angelo’s gaols – five hundred years before the filming of GoT, painter Caravaggio was kept there, after being arrested for the murder of a Maltese Knight.
Where to stay in Malta
Malta has accommodation for all tastes and pockets, and if you love fairy tale places you’ll be spoilt for choice. Here is where we stayed during our time in Malta – three very different properties, one more atmospheric than the other.
Hostel Jones – Sliema
Run by charismatic young owner Trev, who has is passionate about recycled and street art, Hostel Jones is a budget hotel and hostel located in a period mansion in Sliema, a few minutes ferry ride from Valletta, Malta’s capital. Every room at Hostel Jones was decorated by a local artist – we stayed in pretty Lovers room, with all furniture made out of salvaged wood.
Palazzo Prince d’Orange – Valletta
Set in a lovingly restored Palazzo in the centre of Valletta, Palazzo Prince d’Orange offers luxury apartments with a million dollar view over the Grand Harbour and the three cities – including Fort St Angelo. We stayed in the Wilhelmina Suite, named after a young Dutch queen, including two double rooms, a full-sized kitchen including wine coolers and American fridge, a dining room and roof terrace – from where you possibly get the best views in the whole of Malta.
Ta Cenc Hotel and Spa – Gozo
This five star property is in a stunning location, on a cliff top on the southern shore of Gozo, Malta’s little sister, offering great views over Malta and Comino, the smallest of the Maltese islands. At Ta Cenc you’ll find the very best old-world hospitality – charming bungalows in a lush garden, a spa with sauna and warm water pool and a scrumptious breakfast with bespoke omelettes.
A Final Thought
Malta is filled with dozens more of the hit series’ filming locations – several of which are closed to the public, like Verdala Palace, Illyrio’s mansion where Daenerys and Khal Drogo met for the first time, and Manoel Island. But the star attraction of any trip is the island itself, with a historical and natural diversity like no other, which guarantees it will remain a film director’s favorite, even though now Game of Thrones filming locations have moved to new shores.
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