Journey to the stunning wildernesses of The Last Kingdom, Vikings and Game of Thrones

The Dark Ages are closer than you think...

Forget sun-soaked beaches and impeccably turned-out costume dramas. Increasingly, armchair travellers are more likely to find themselves being transported to mist-shrouded mountains, ancient forests and lonely lakes.


Ever since Game of Thrones became a mega-hit, TV execs have been plundering the Dark Ages – whether it’s pure fantasy like George RR Martin’s epic or rooted in history like BBC2’s Saxon saga The Last Kingdom, which concludes tonight. In January, ITV will be getting in on the action with Beowulf, which is of course based on the 8th century epic poem of the same name, while both Game of Thrones and the History Channel’s offering, Vikings, will be back in the spring.  

In the meantime, why not explore those remote parts yourself? Especially as they’re not all that remote…

Game of Thrones

Croatia, Malta, Morocco, Iceland, Spain and Scotland have all had cameos in HBO’s epic adaptation of George RR Martin’s books, but it’s mostly filmed in Northern Ireland.

In the countryside surrounding Belfast, fans can find over 20 publicly accessible locations including Winterfell Castle (otherwise known as Castle Ward in County Down). If you don’t fancy going it alone, there are guided coach tours and treks. You can even enjoy a Game of Thrones banquet.

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The History Channel drama is filmed in Ireland, not Denmark. When you see the ships landing in England, they’re actually landing at Nun’s beach in Country Kerry, while Powerscourt waterfall in Country Wicklow could be spied at the end of the first series.

Luggala in County Wicklow 

But for actor George Blagden (aka Athelstan the Saxon monk), the most stunning spot is Luggala, a valley on the Guinness estate in County Wicklow.

“It’s this basin where we have Kattegat, the Viking village set. It’s just so dramatic. It’s this big rock-face that meets a lake with a sandy beach. Every time we all go down there to film, we always just go ‘wow’.”

The Last Kingdom

Although Saxon Britain was mostly recreated in the countryside surrounding Budapest, the coastal scenes were shot in the UK in North Wales.

Saxon Britain is actually modern-day Hungary

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Most of the ITV drama was filmed up on the moors in County Durham – in a very exposed and draughty spot in Upper Weardale in the Pennines. Why? Because when shooting a story set somewhere between the eighth and 11th century, you have to find a landscape unmarked by the intervening 1200 years of civilisation. 

Northern beauty spots Bamburgh and Druridge Bay in Northumberland, and Upper Derwent Valley in the Peak District also make appearances. You won’t glimpse Bamburgh’s Norman castle but its dramatic coastline will make an appearance. Mariners used to dread the treacherous offshore reefs but these days it’s very popular with adventurous surfers.

Druridge Bay is a seven-mile stretch of dune-fringed beach. The country park of the same name boasts meadows, woods, a large lake – and recently housed a Dark Ages village in the sand dunes.

Derwent reservoir

The Upper Derwent Valley is a picture-perfect combination of moors, woodland and lakes that weren’t around in the Dark Ages. That’s because they’re actually reservoirs, built to supply the cities of Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leicester. When the water level drops, you can still see the remains of Derwent village, which was deliberately “drowned” in the 1940s.

Beowulf will be shown on ITV in January 


Book your trip to Winterfell and Westeros with from £115pp with Radio Times Travel

Read more:

On the trail of Vikings in Denmark

A Game of Thrones fan’s guide to Malta

10 best Game of Thrones locations in Croatia