There is no dening Northern Ireland has so much to offer. The cliffs, the magnificent hills, the beaches? There is a lot to do for sure! The most popular activities are undoubtedly fishing, cycling and driving along the famous coastline. The roads in Northern Ireland are considered some of the most beautiful in the world and the views of the Atlantic and the cliffs are priceless.
No wonder the country was chosen as the shooting location for the popular TV series Game of Thrones. The sights of Northern Ireland make a perfect background for the fantasy show!
HBO’s series is one of the biggest and most exciting things to happen to Northern Ireland for sure! This global phenomenon is providing Northern Ireland with once in a lifetime tourism opportunity.
Game of Thrones means :
- 5m Instagram followers
- 7m twitter followers
- 21,7m Facebook followers
- 31m – the average number of people who watched each episode in Season 7
While Season 8 is still in production, Tourism Board Ireland invited me and 4 other bloggers and journalists for the one-of-a-kind Game of Thrones Tour experience.
We were hosted by Adrian who is also one of the extras in the show – his knowledge was irreplaceable! We had a pleasure to see the majority of 26 shooting locations as well as to taste some ‘GOT’ specialities including Winterfell lunch at The Cuan and Game of Thrones afternoon tea at Ballygally Castle.
‘Welcome to Game of Thrones Tours! The epic HBO series is filmed in stunningly beautiful places, most of which are remote and hard to find. We trek you deep into old growth forests, along with wild sea cliffs, across rocky beaches, into caves and crumbling medieval ruins. We have Stark and Iron Born cloaks, swords, shields and helms available for use, at no extra cost. Experience the magic of the real Westeros experience!’
You can book yourself a tour all year round, but May-October are said to be the best month of visiting the country. The weather might be nicer (you know how it is in the North, winter is coming). There are 4 departure options – you can start in Dublin, Derry, Tollymore or Belfast. You could either book ‘The Ultimate North Coast Experience‘ featuring Carnlough and Dunluce Castle (see some of my photos below) or ‘The Real Locations of House Stark‘.
Both trips take around 9-10 hours. The cost is £50 for adult and £45 students.
‘The Ultimate North Coast Experience’
Cairncastle = The Neck & North of Winterfell
Quite a breath-taking Irish view! The plateau is located above a Bronze Age fort. It is the area where Ned Stark sentenced the Will of the Night’s Watch to death in the Season 1 Episode 1. The same location was also featured in Season 5 as a place where Littlefinger convinced Sansa to marry Bolton. What I really found useful is the handset of screens that HBO provided in order for people to know about the filming locations.
There is a lovely Hotel called Ballygally Castle, not too far away from Carincastle (15 minutes driving). I would really recommend stopping by for their iconic ‘Game of Thrones’ Afternoon Tea. You will be able to taste Jon Snow Cakes (freshly baked scones), Baratheon Bread (toasted fruit loaf), Ham&Targaryen Mayonnaise on Batch Bread, Sansa Stark’s Lemon Cakes or Dothraki Trifle with Mini Dragon’s Eggs. The price is £24 per person.
Cushendun Caves = A Cove in The Stormlands
The Caves were formed over 400 million years ago and are undoubtedly one of the top attractions in the area – not only because of the Game of Thrones. They are quite easily accessible from the local villages and placed ‘on the road’ through the majority of the GOT shooting locations. In the Series, it was the place where Melissandre gave birth to the Shadow, which goes on to kill Ranly. It was the creepiest scene in the whole GOT series if you ask me…
Murlough Bay = Slavers Bay & Renly’s Camp
Some of the sights are so magnificent and photogenic that they are used more than once – Murlough Bay was one of them. It is placed among Europe’s most beautiful driving roads – the wild windswept cliffs! It is where two Baratheon brothers Stannis and Renly confronted in Season 2 Episode 4 and where Tyrion and Jorah were captured by the slavers in Season 5 Episode 6. The area and the views will definitely leave you speechless.
Larrybane = The Stormlands and Nagga’s Hill
This dramatic headland was used in Season 2 Episode 3 as Renly’s camp. In Season 6 Episode 5 it was the setting for the Kingsmoot, where Euron Greyjoy was chosen as ‘ the King of the Iron Islands’.
Carnlough Harbour = Braavos Canal
Carnlough is a small harbour situated in the small coastal village. The place was used in Season 6 Episode 7 for…. around 20 seconds! It was when Arya ’emerged’ from the water after being stabbed by the Waif, and crawled up the harbour steps onto the streets of Braavos. As a matter of fact – Braavos was shot in Girona, Spain. The crew headed to Carnlough in order to shoot this particular scene. The whole village looks like it was taken from a fairytale, with all the colours and the sea.
Dunluce is a 16th-century castle, perched on the cliff edge and partly fallen into the sea. Dunluce castle was used for the establishing shot of Harrenhal castle when Robb Stark and Roose Bolton arrive to witness scenes of devastation. It is also home of Greyjoys in the Season 5/6.
The highlight of the Trip – Helicopter over the cliffs
We departed Bushmills Inn for this amazing tour – we flew over the edge of Ireland. We saw ‘the Dragonstone’ and Dunluce Castle, the shores, the beaches and the beauty of nature. See it for yourself! You could book this trip under this link. It is not included in the standard Game of Thrones Tour, but it is something I would definitely recommend doing. The helicopter tour takes 60 minutes and costs £225 ( 3 seats available).
Fair Head = Dragonstone
Fair Head rises 600ft above the sea level and is definitely… quite hard to oversee in this part of Ireland. It was used as Dragonstone in Season 7.
The Dark Hedges
This beautiful avenue of beech trees was planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century to impress visitors as they approached Gracehill House. Well – to me it looks like a fairytale forest and it does make a huge impression. The Dark Hedges were used in Season 2 Episode 1 as Arya and Gendry escape Kings Landing along the Kingsroad. The Dark Hedges has always been quite a popular spot for the photographers. Moreover, Gracehill House remains open for public and makes of a perfect wedding venue <3
‘The Real Locations of House Stark‘
Castle Ward = Winterfell
It is a charming area with gardens and woodland, where many scenes were shot in Season 1. The way from Belfast to ‘Winterfell’ is also fun, as you will get a ferry across ‘the Narrows’.
The afternoon trek at Castle Ward Estate takes around 1 hour 30 minutes (3km). The locations include Winterfell, ‘The Twins’ and Robb’s camp locations. There is nine Game of Thrones® film locations on site, all close together. Other classic scenes filmed nearby include the spot where Brienne of Tarth dispatched three Stark bannermen and the Battlefield of Baelor, where she dragged Jamie Lannister back to Kings landing as well as where Robb Stark and Tallisa discussed him marrying one of Walder Frey’s daughters.
You could also see your favourite scenes from the series on a cycle tour!
On your way back from the Starks, you could also visit The Cuan, which is the GOT-themed 4 star hotel offering ‘Game of Thrones Banquet’. It is one of a kind experience! You will be able to taste some Winterfell inspired dishes, such as honeyed roasted chicken with roasted onions in Gravy, Hodor’s Beer and King’s Gold Mead (wine, which is my personal fav!). The Cuan served as a base for the actors during filming all the ‘Winterfell’ scenes in Season 1. You might be lucky enough to sleep in Jon Snow’s room 🙂
I have a little surprise – I have a special voucher for a FREE BANQUET EXPERIENCE FOR 2* at the Cuan for the first person who will correctly answer the following question :
What are the favourite sweets of Sansa Stark?
*Free Banquet worth £35.00 per person when you book a 1-night stay
Meet the Direwolves
On your way back, you could also be lucky enough to meet the Direwolves <3 They are Odin and Thor who played Summer and Greywind in Season 1. We met them just outside The Cuan.
Audley’s Field = Rob Stark’s Camp/ ‘The Twins’
Situated in the Castle Ward estate, Audley’s castle overlooks the waters of Strangford Lough. It is, the way I see it, quite an idyllic view – especially during this time of the year. You can actually feel like you were in the Game of Thrones! The tower was used as Walder Frey’s twins in the series.
Tollymore Forest – Lands Around Winterfell
Tollymore was used more than twice in the first Season. It was where Ned Stark and his sons found the dead direwolf and the pups in the pilot Episode. It was also where the Nights Watch were ‘attacked’ by the white walkers, also the pilot Episode. Finally, it was where Tyrion and Jon Snow stopped on their way to the wall.
Tollymore Trek takes 1 hour 45 mins and requires a good fitness 🙂 Some inclines are uneven surfaces. Game of Thrones tours provides ‘the Stark cloaks’ for some really cool photos.
Global Campaigns – Game of Thrones Tapestry
Game of Thrones tapestry. An incredible 77-meter long medieval-style wall-hanging made from Irish linen (only) in on display at Ulster Museum and has attracted over 100k visitor since its opening. Tourism Ireland created the tapestry for their social media campaign in 2017. It appeared to be a great success – aired over a period of 8 weeks, it generated 33 million views! The tapestry was created by 30 embroiderers from Northern Ireland and they spent over…1000 hours hand stitching every detail!
Once again, I would like to say THANK YOU for Tourism Ireland for taking me on this trip. It was a great experience, I have seen a lot in such a short time! Looking forward to my next visit and spreading the word about how beautiful Northern Ireland is!