How Game of Thrones’ prequel is set to boost Spain’s tourism: House of the Dragon had scenes filmed in Cáceres – home to a Unesco site – which is predicted to attract fantasy fan tourists in droves
This has often proven the case for Rob Dowling, an accredited tour guide, and managing director of Game of Thrones Tours. After watching the first season, Dowling noticed many familiar sites across Northern Ireland, “from Tollymore Forest Park where the Starks find the direwolf pups, to the Old Castle Ward used as a film location for Winterfell in the first episode, and so on. Those locations were in County Down, which was a part of Ireland very few tourists visited back in 2012”. With no further inspiration needed, Dowling informed HBO of his plans and the first Game of Thrones Tour excursion took place in April 2014.
“TV tourists want to make an authentic connection to the show they love. That could mean visiting the real filming locations used for iconic scenes, or that could mean visiting real sets or, most of all, that could mean meeting and talking to a guide who worked on the show,” said Dowling. “All of our guides were extras in Game of Thrones, they all appeared on screen. The keyword is authentic contact with the show.”
Between 2014 and 2019, Dowling’s tours operated on average 21 times per week in the summer months and 11 tours per week in the winter months. While numbers inevitably declined due to the pandemic, a recovery is in sight, and 2022 figures are averaging between seven and eight coach tours each week.
A city of just under 100,000 people, Cáceres wears its history with pride, its streets a mix of Gothic, Renaissance and ancient Roman architecture. The city lies within historic Moorish walls that date back to the 12th century. Jorge Villar Guijarro, councillor for tourism, innovation, technological development and transparency in Cáceres, described it as “a city with more than 2,000 years of history in which cultures and religions are mixed, and in which walking through its squares and streets and admiring its buildings make the visitor go back in time”.
Cáceres is no stranger to the film industry. “Cáceres has been the setting for films since the middle of the 20th century, both national and international productions, with the presence of renowned actors such as Gerard Depardieu, Alain Delon and Rutger Hauer, and directors such as Ridley Scott and Paul Verhoeven,” Guijarro said. “We were also one of the main filming locations for the sixth season of Games of Thrones, and other Spanish TV series like Hernan, Isabel and Cathedral of the Sea.”
Guijarro sees the impact of Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon on Cáceres as a widely positive one. “At the department of tourism, we are working to promote the city as a film destination by organising events focused on the series, such as the one we are going to hold from October 21-23, in which the main script writers, bloggers, critics and fans of House of the Dragon, Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire are going to participate and in which themed guided tours, conferences, games, cosplay, parties and thematic dinners are going to take place. It is going to be the biggest fandom event in the world, created by the fandom, hosted in Cáceres,” he explained.
According to Guijarro, Cáceres welcomed 240,000 tourists in 2021. This year, numbers are projected to be markedly higher due, in part, to rising interest from House of the Dragon fans and the role that film and tourism have played in putting the little city on the global tourism map. With the cast and crew set to return in March 2023 to film the second season, the impact looks set to continue.
Dowling said that TV tourists aren’t only interested in thematic experiences though: “The word I use is participation, specifically authentic participation. Outside our themed excursions, there is precisely the same desire to participate in Ireland, eat food and drink beer, and just talk to real Irish people. That’s the most important part of their experience.”
Similarly, in Cáceres, those looking to experience the city beyond the fantasy realm will find ample opportunity to do so. Guijarro counted the many possible areas of exploration for incoming tourists, ranging from walking through the old city – a Unesco World Heritage site – to taking in some of the oldest examples of Neanderthal cave art at Maltravieso, to the more than 3,000 works of international contemporary art on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Helga de Alvear, among others.
- Spain prepares for TV tourism to take flight as House of the Dragon draws visitors to Cáceres, a location for the fantasy drama’s first season released in 2022
- Just like Harry Potter ‘Potterheads’ and Star Trek ‘Trekkies’, GoT has built a fan base known as ‘Thronies’, with many making trips to see the show’s filming sites