The port and the Old City of Dubrovnik in Croatia stand in for King's Landing on Game of Thrones. (Cristina Arias/Getty Images)
Have you ever wanted to knock on Bilbo Baggins' door in Hobbiton or stroll through King's Landing, where the dreaded King Joffrey rules from the Iron Throne? The growing industry of film and TV-inspired tourism allows you to do just that.
Forget hours spent pouring over movie memorabilia behind museum glass. If you've got $1,000 (and up), British tour operator Discover the World will lead you on a Game of Thrones-esque trek through Iceland's south coast, all the way to the foot of the country's very own wall of ice.
Tours of the hit HBO show's locations started to pop up a few days before the now-infamous Red Wedding episode "The Rains of Castamere," -- shocking for fans who hadn't read the books and who subsequently plastered the Internet with their reactions.
With the third season now complete, fans are looking for ways to get their GoT fix during the long wait for season four (coming in spring 2014) and tour operators are ready to pounce.
Not just your average vacation
San Francisco-based travel company Viator, for instance, announced two new Game of Thrones tours the same week the show drew an audience of 5.22 million. Along with sightseeing trips in dozens of countries, Viator conducts themed excursions, like visiting Sex and the City hotspots in Manhattan or a three-hour Doctor Who tour in London.
GoT fans itching to stroll through Westeros might head to Croatia for the company's three-hour Dubrovnik tour. Dubbed the "Pearl of the Adriatic," the ancient venue serves as a backdrop for the fantasy series: the coastal city's Old Town is perhaps best known these days as King's Landing, capital of GoT's Seven Kingdoms. There, fans can climb the city walls and look out over Blackwater Bay (aka the Adriatic Sea) or explore Lovrijenac Fortress, an 11th-century castle looming on the cliffs of Dubrovnik.
Interested in a longer haul? Viator also offers a nine-hour tour of Northern Ireland that starts in Belfast, moves through the caves where the Red Woman's terrifying "shadow baby" came to life and continues on Dark Hedges Road, for those interested in recreating Arya Stark's escape from King's Landing.
The tours combine the fantasy of Games of Thrones lore with the reality of the location's actual history. Plus, the company promises tons of insider gossip.
Fans itching to explore
For avid fans of fantastical movie and TV worlds, this type of tourism has a leg up on traditional sightseeing: here, you're seeing through the eyes of lords and ladies, retracing the journeys of dwarves and goblins or following in the footsteps of beloved characters or hated villains.New Zealand tourism is seeing a boom, thanks to a high-profile campaign tied to Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Marty Melville /AFP/Getty Images)
As Tourism New Zealand revealed last week, there's a lot to gain from these adventure-seeking fans. Thanks to the government agency's marketing campaign tied to Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy, New Zealand has seen a boom in tourism. International visits rose 10 per cent from January through April, compared to the same period in 2012.
Reps point to their "100% Middle-earth, 100% Pure New Zealand" campaign for the increased interest. Americans -- a key market for the campaign -- were most notably bitten by The Hobbit travel bug, with arrivals from the U.S. up 23 per cent from last year.
Of the international visitors polled from January to March, 8.5 per cent cited The Hobbit as a factor in their choice of travel destination. More than 13 per cent took part in a "Hobbit experience" in New Zealand, whether it was a stroll through The Shire to peek into a Hobbit-hole or a visit to Central Otago's plains, where Thorin and company fled from orcs and wargs. Some even snagged a Middle Earth passport stamp to show off.
"I could have spent this entire shoot on location," actor Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin in The Hobbit, says in a behind-the-scenes video. "We saw so many incredible places."
As it turns out, that's exactly what some tourists are looking for, too.
-- by Julia Whalen
Peter Jackson emerges from a Hobbit house in Wellington. New Zealand has a host of tours through movie sets and locations from the filmmaker's Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
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