Watching Games of Thrones you could be forgiven for thinking that the hulking walls and rugged fortresses of King’s Landing must have been conjured up on a computer. The truth is that Dubrovnik, once a mighty city state that held both the Venetians and Ottomans at bay, is that spectacular. I arrive in this ancient city determined to not just stroll around the Game of Thrones trail, but instead hike, kayak and bash around in a speedboat seeking out my own King’s Landing adventures.
To Game of Thrones fans Dubrovnik is King’s Landing. Rugged limestone crags rise precipitously to the rear while the sparkling sheen of the Adriatic shimmers on the other flank. In between lies the perfectly preserved baroque UNESCO World Heritage listed old walled city that Lord Byron once eulogised as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’. There are Game of Thrones guided tours and the local tourist office even publishes a map that herds devotees of the adventures of the Targaryens, the Baratheons and the Starks around the city.
The best place to take in King’s Landing is from Mount Srđ. The old Napoleonic-era fort that stares down from its lofty perch proved critical to the survival of the city in the early 1990s when real life warfare came to Dubrovnik. A glitzy cable car now whizzes the cruise ship crowds up to the slick cafe at the top, but instead I get on my hiking boots and strike on up the hillside on a winding trail used by citizens of the city for centuries.
The effort of hiking up Srđ is worth it as the views that open up en route are like my own TV series, each one more dramatic than the last, urging me to push on. At the summit the old city unfurls below like one of the exotic Oriental carpets that were once traded through Dubrovnik when it was a key hub on the Silk Route. King’s Landing, the very heart of Westeros, spreads before me and I search for the series locations.
Book your own Game of Thrones tour in Croatia with Rough Guides Trips – get in touch today!
Just outside the chunk of city walls I can make out Lovrijenac Fortress – the daunting eleventh-century castle tower that has spiced up scenes in its role as the Red Keep. I peer over baleful Blackwater Bay as I lose myself in visions of evil King Joffrey. In the distance I can also make out Hotel Belvedere. Once one of the city’s finest hotels, it has lain a derelict shell since forming the last line of Dubrovnik’s defence in 1991. Its sweeping terrace has served as a key battle scene.
Back down in the old city I sweep up on to the historic walls, which drape all the way around Dubrovnik. I could have taken an audio guide to fill me in on the rich story of the old Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik’s former name), but instead I battle on around the grand bastions on the 2km hike with only my imagination for company. It is these very walls that were attacked after all by the Baratheons. Finally I reach the highest point, the Minceta Tower, where Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen sought the entrance of the House of the Undying.
I end my first day reclining at the Buza Bar, a little bar in the city walls (buza means 'hole' in Croatian), where I meet a local kayak guide, Damien. He is well aware of the Game of Thrones connection. “It’s a bit weird. We’re used to the cruise ships, but this is something new. I’ve not seen Game of Thrones, but it is kind of cool to feel like we are living every day in a movie!”, he jokes.
The next day it is time to take in King’s Landing from a totally different perspective, as I besiege it from the water. In the old town’s polished marble streets it is easy to forget that the hulking city walls were not a confection made just to please Hollywood. For centuries they protected Ragusa, whose motto was “Liberty must not be sold for all the gold in the world”. They were never breached and from kayak height Bokar Fortress surges skywards in a sweep that stirs vertigo in me. This was where Tyrion and Lord Varys planned the defence of King's Landing in season two. I’m glad Damien and I don’t have to tackle the walls in anger.
Turning away from the old city we paddle across the choppy channel to the island of Lokrum. This uninhabited isle – whose monastery was long ago abandoned – is a world away from Dubrovnik. There are no roads, and no other people for that matter in the cool of the early morning. Lokrum is also home to another world in Game of Thrones as Qarth.
My last adventure is on a speedboat. I bash a few miles offshore where the drama of Dubrovnik unfolds as strikingly as anything in Game of Thrones. A storm is starting to rumble in from Bosnia over the top of Srđ and Dubrovnik’s mighty walls, towers and buttresses brood against a slate grey sky. The cruise ships are pulling anchor, leaving me to power back and explore the quieter streets of King’s Landing long after the guided themed tours have finished for the day.
Robin stayed in A19 Hedera apartment, which has a sweeping terrace overlooking King’s Landing.
Top image © Lukas Walter/Shutterstock