Game of Thrones Tours Launch In Europe

horslips5, Flickr

Game of Thrones fans can now visit familiar filming locations on new walking tours around Belfast, Northern Ireland and Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Here all all the details for you Game of Thrones fans out there, courtesy of tour company Viator:

  • In Belfast, a 9-hour private tour takes visitors along the Causeway Coastal Route, which should be instantly recognizable to any fans of the HBO series. Pose for photos on the Dark Hedges road before crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and see the caves where Melisandre of Asshai gave birth to a shadow baby before stopping for lunch at Ballintoy Harbour, which is known as Lordsport Harbour in the series. The tour also includes a stop at the UNESCO-listed Giant’s Causeway.
  • Four-hour walking tours in Dubrovnik take fans to the setting of King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms in the series. Visitors will check out Lovrijenac Fortress and climb the city walls that were attacked by the Baratheons in the first series, from which point they can look out over Blackwater Bay. According to Viator, a guide will also take visitors to several city parks used to film countryside scenes in the series.

In addition to Northern Ireland and Croatia, Game of Thrones has also filmed in Malta, Iceland and Morocco – but no tours have been announced there as of now. The fact that these tours have been developed, however, is a powerful testament to the effect popular culture has on tourism.

[Via Skift]

5 Countries That Are Great Alternatives To Their Crowded Neighbors

It’s the great hypocrisy in the mind of every traveler that they want to tour a place free from other tourists. Grumbling that a place is overcrowded isn’t without grounds, though. Who hasn’t wanted to pull a Dr. Manhattan on the tour groups that take group photos with every single person’s camera? And boy, what we wouldn’t give to disappear the backpackers pretending to make out with statues of the Buddha.

We can overlook these indignities as necessary evils most of the time. In reality, tourists are going to be present at the big attractions everywhere, and the penalty of avoiding tourists would basically be staying at home permanently.

That being said, for those who just can’t take it anymore, we’ve compiled a list of some less infested options. These five countries offer up similar attractions to their neighbors, but see far fewer visitors to the nooks and crannies, which will make any tourist-weary tourist breathe a little easier.

Montenegro (Crowded Neighbor: Croatia)

Croatia’s attractive coastline is a magnet for tourists. The attendant income from droves of foreigners was one of the reasons Serbs attempted to include it in their “Greater Serbia.” The subsequent Croatian War of Independence ended in 1995, and the current crowds milling about Dubrovnik are the spoils of victory. Little Montenegro, which declared independence from Serbia only in 2006, shares the same coastline and a lot of history with its more famous neighbor. The country currently sees far fewer tourists (1.2 million vs. 9.9 million) visiting its excellent beaches, like the superb spits of sand at Sveti Stefan and Petrovac. Nor do many tourists hike and cycle around Montenegro’s untouched forests at Biogradska Gora and Skadar Lake National Parks. Montenegro’s comparative anonymity provides an experience that can’t be matched in Croatia.

Cambodia (Crowded Neighbor: Thailand)

Cambodia’s main attraction, Angkor Wat, certainly doesn’t dwell in obscurity. This single attraction saw over a million visitors last year, which accounts for more than a third of all visitors to the country. Some of Thailand‘s other neighbors, like Laos and Myanmar, can barely achieve those numbers on a national level. However, when it comes to pretenders to Thailand’s tourism throne, Cambodia is the only one in the region that can offer attractions that go tit for tat with Thailand’s best. Beaches? The empty white sands of Koh Rong and Ream National Park beckon, as does the party-centric seaside town of Sihanoukville. Ruins? Cambodia rolls deep; Angkor Wat is backed up by Koh Ker, the former capital of the Khmer Empire now overgrown in the jungle, and Sambor Prei Kuk, a pre-Angkorian temple complex. Interesting capital? Phnom Penh, the “Pearl of Asia,” boasts French colonial architecture and a park-strewn riverfront. Food? A taste of amok trey or lok lak will make you forget all about pad thai.

Estonia (Crowded Neighbor: Sweden)

Sweden is a huge Scandinavian tourism juggernaut. Estonia? Just a scrappy little Baltic state. What’s the appeal then? A lot, actually. Estonia, like Sweden, is a nature-lover’s paradise. Soomaa National Park, the “land of bogs,” is one of the best canoeing destinations in Europe and is home to wolves, bears, elk and other wildlife. Estonia’s crumpled Baltic coastline contains a mind-boggling number of shallow soft-sand beaches, especially in the summer capital of Pärnu. Estonia’s past is also worth a look. While its Soviet experience is visible in some of the less adventurous architecture, the medieval castles are well preserved and atmospheric. Tallinn, the capital, is flooded with tourists, but island life on Saaremaa is quiet and isolated. Saaremaa boasts a 13th-century castle fortress and other curios like the 100-year-old Angla windmills and a Gothic church bearing symbols of the occult.

Mozambique (Crowded Neighbor: South Africa)

South Africa is head and shoulders above its Sub-Saharan neighbors when it comes to tourist numbers. Its famous game reserves, coastline and unique heritage attract almost 10 million visitors a year. Mozambique can’t match the tourist infrastructure that its neighbor to the south has meticulously erected, but it can offer other competitive attractions. Before its large mammal population was decimated by the civil war, Gorongosa Park was considered to be Africa’s Eden. Efforts to revive the park are underway, and all of Africa’s Big 5, save the rhino, can be seen here. Maputo, the capital, is small and friendly and features Portuguese colonial architecture and an extremely laid-back vibe. Mozambique’s true attraction, though, is its coast, where surfers (of the kite and wind variety) enjoy the unspoiled beaches at Vilanculos and divers explore pristine coral without the crowds at Pemba and Tofo Beach.

Iran (Crowded Neighbor: Turkey)

Turkey sees some 27 million tourists a year and Iran, well … not nearly as many. Official mouthpieces assert some 3 million tourists visited Iran in 2011, though less than 1 percent of those were traveling for nonreligious reasons. Those few tourists had historical sites like Persepolis and Imam Square all to themselves. They experienced Iran’s outstanding natural attractions – lush forests and beaches on the Caspian Sea in the north and deadly deserts and sunny Persian Gulf coastlines in the south – without the crowds that bog down these landscapes in Turkey. Those travelers were also some of the only foreign tourists in Tehran, enjoying its multitude of parks and museums, and were alone again in Yazd, a city of compacted sand reminiscent of Tatooine. Then they joined Iranians on the empty slopes of Dizin, one of the best value-for-money ski resorts in the world, and one of the few spots where Iranians are able to pull back the veil and let loose.

[Photo Credits: Kumukulanui, ecl1ght, (flicts), VilleHoo, F H Mira, Adam Hodge]

Exploring The Marvels Of Croatia’s Modric Cave

Twist your head to the right, your body to the left and wiggle through the crack, urged the guide leading us through Modric Cave in Croatia. Pretending I was a pretzel worked. After dragging my lagging left leg through a fissure between caverns, I re-lit my carbide miner’s lamp and stood stunned by the beauty of crystals sparkling on the curvaceous stalactites. My husband, who was a spelunker in his earlier days, couldn’t stop grinning and told me that he’d never seen a cave so pristine.

We were partially through a two-hour excursion into the cave, which is located less than 20 miles from the ancient city of Zadar and about a three-hour drive north of Dubrovnik. The adventure had started with a 10-minute walk over rocky ground to the entrance, within view of a calm, azure Adriatic Sea. Our guide, Marijan, unlocked the iron gate barring the entrance to the cave, so that our group of five could enter. Looking at the opening, the size of a book-return slot at a library, we eyed each other wondering how we could slip through it. Grab the rock wall, slide your feet through the crack while resting your back on the grate, wiggle through, then twist around and drop to the ground, Marijan directed. Following his directions (mentally thanking the helmet on my head when it smacked the grate), I wound up in a space barely big enough to hold the group.

During the time we spent exploring Modric Cave, we gingerly climbed over rocks or contorted our bodies to wiggle through small cracks in walls to marvel at the formations in the larger caverns. Our lamps revealed nature’s beauty created over millions of years. The cave is still “living” – growing with drops of water depositing tiny bits of calcium carbonate on the formations – and we were admonished not to touch them. Colored stalactites hung from the ceiling, with drops of water at the bottom you knew would one day add a millimeter to the glistening column. Stalagmites had dew-laden tops from the ground water seeping through the ceiling high above. Entering cavern after cavern in this 829-meter-long cave, we were awed as Marijan pointed out flows, columns and speleo shapes ranging from cuttlefish and jellyfish to a formation that looked like a turtle.

Quick flashes of light from cameras showed the three Germans we were spelunking with posing by fat pillars. Marijan, lean and weathered from years of leading people through caves and on treks in nearby Paklenica National Park, took our camera and photographed us. Then we sat down, turned off our lights and held our breath, savoring the absolute darkness and silence.

When we had re-emerged into bright sunlight, Marijan re-locked the iron gate covering the entrance and said that no more than 1,000 visitors are allowed in with a guide annually. In reality less than 300 people will visit this year, he added.

For us, this immersion into an underworld of pristine beauty was the highlight of our trip. Croatia may be a “hot” destination, but it still holds many unexplored marvels like Modric for the intrepid traveler.


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Advance arrangements are needed to visit Modric Cave. Go to www.zara-adventure.hr for details. Modric Cave is listed as a technically undemanding excursion, but do expect to walk over very rough surfaces and to twist your body into some seriously contorted positions. This is not a cave NFL linebackers can enter, nor anyone with claustrophobia or a fear of the dark. Marijan, who says he is the only guide allowed to take small groups into Modric Cave, supplies overalls and helmets. Light hiking shoes, long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and a camera are all you’ll need to bring. The adventure costs 22 Euro per person. Experienced cavers can also arrange to visit caves that require rappelling and more advanced caving skills.

[Photo Credits: Lois Friedland]

Photo Of The Day: Sunset Walk

Flickr user GogoTheGogo has taken a photo of what looks like the end of a perfect day. The image features a solitary figure in silhouette walking through the grass against a fiery orange sky in Zagreb, Crotia. I love the warm colors, the way the light plays off the little puffs of cloud, and most of all, the anonymity of that lone figure who gets to take this magnificent scene in.

Taken any great photos on your own travels? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Six Great Mediterranean Cruise Ship Ports

Mediterranean Cruise Ship Ports

Some of the best Mediterranean cruise ship ports appear on a variety of itineraries from several cruise lines. Traveling via cruise ship, vacationers are able to see six or more different ports on a seven- to 10-day sailing. That’s covering a lot of ground quickly and efficiently, making a Mediterranean cruise one of the most intense of all sailings.

As if a new, different and exciting port every day was not enough, shore excursions on a Mediterranean cruise run between four and 10 hours long. That makes for a long day, but one well worth it when visiting iconic bucket list destinations like Rome in Italy, Dubrovnik in Croatia or Marseilles in France. After a few days on board, destinations can seem to run together though, with no plan in place for getting the most out of time spent ashore.

Savvy travelers learn quickly to pace themselves. An interesting cruise ship-sponsored Mediterranean cruise shore excursion at every other port usually works well. Choosing the “on your own” version of an excursion seems to produce good results for many as opposed to being carted around from place to place with a tour group. At the ports where no excursion is planned, many travelers choose to simply walk off the ship and enjoy the day shopping, sight seeing or simply sitting at a sidewalk cafe, drinking in the local flavor.

Here are six of our favorite cruise ship ports of call when sailing the waters of the Mediterranean.

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[Photos by Chris Owen]