Northern Ireland was once a no-go zone where no sane traveller would venture. The beauty of its countryside was overshadowed by stories of troubles, bombs and sectarianism. And although all wounds aren’t completely healed yet, this little odd piece of the UK is nowadays more and more on the tourist radar! Northern Ireland has become a country of magic, history and fantasy thanks to one American television series that half the world seems to be watching: Game of Thrones!
People come to Northern Ireland to see the place where Ned Stark beheaded the deserter of the Night’s Watch, to find the place where Winterfell was filmed and to discover the location of various battlefields.
I am lucky enough to live in Northern Ireland and have had numerous opportunities to explore all these wonderful locations! So, here it is, from me to you: the ultimate Game of Thrones tour of Northern Ireland!
Game of Thrones locations in Northern Ireland: south of Belfast
This itinerary will take you a whole day if you want to get the most out of the experiences at the Castle Ward estate. Your best bet would be to rent a car. You can also choose to go with one of the following tour companies:
Mc Comb’s Coaches
Game of Thrones Tours
1/ Castle Ward Estate
Welcome to Winterfell! Follow the signs to Clearsky Adventure and you’ll end up at the tower where Jamie Lannister pushed Bran into the deep end. If you’re only going to visit one location, make it this one! In this relatively small area there are 9 different filming locations to be explored!
You can dress up as a member of the Stark family (including swords), you can practise your archery skills on the very same spot where Jon Snow and Rob Stark instructed Bran in archery. And if that’s not enough, you can also hire a bicycle and cycle along beautiful Strangford Lough, where Brienne brought Jamie Lannister ashore and where Rob’s camp was filmed.
2/ Inch Abbey
The ruins of this 12th century abbey is the place where Catelyn Stark found out about Ned’s death and vowed revenge. It is also the location where the North swore loyalty to Rob Stark as “King of the North”.
3/ Tollymore Forest Park
This beautiful 630 hectares park has been used several times in Game of Thrones. It all started with the three men of the Night’s Watch coming across a white walker in the very first episode. Tollymore is also the set for Theon’s failed escape and the place where Bran eventually meets the three-eyed raven from his dreams. A fourth scene, where the Starks discover the direwolf pups, has also been filmed here!
Game of Thrones locations in Northern Ireland: North of Belfast
This itinerary will take 2 days by car. If you don’t want to rent a car, you can go on a Game of Thrones daytrip with one of the following companies. They leave from Belfast and include most of the locations below. (except Murlough Bay, Downhill beach and the Titanic Studios).
Stones and Thrones
Mc Comb’s coaches
Finn Mc Cools
The abandoned limestone quarry of Magheramorne was used as the setting for “The Wall” and “Castleblack”. The stone wall was painted white to make it look like the ice wall you see in the series. The quarry is now property of HBO, which means that no entry is allowed. It is protected by security guards (who look a lot more scary than Jon Snow!) but if you quickly stop there to get a picture through the gates, you should be fine.
The hills above the small village of Cairncastle are the place where Ned Stark beheaded the deserter of the Night’s Watch. It is also the place where Catelyn Stark captures Tyrion Lannister. Even if you do not watch the series, it is worth driving up: the green fields of the Antrim plateau with the Irish sea below is a sight not to be missed!
3/ Cushendun Caves
Used as a setting for the Stormlands, the place where Davos rows Melissandra ashore before she gives birth to the shadow baby. Again, absolutely stunning scenery, even if you’re not a GoT-fan!
4/ Murlough Bay
This secluded section of the North Coast was the setting of the Iron Islands. It is here where Theon Greyjoy goes horse riding with his sister Yara and the place where Davos is shipwrecked after the battle of Blackwater Bay. It is not an easy place to get to, but following the narrow road all the way down is absolutely worth it!
Right next to the Carrick-a-Rede Ropebridge, one of Northern Ireland’s most famous visitor attractions. This is the place where Renly Baratheon’s camp was set up. It’s also the place where we first meet Brienne and where Catelyn Stark agrees on a treaty with Renly in favour of her son Rob.
6/ Ballintoy Harbour
My all-time favourite location in Northern Ireland! The little café provides a perfect backdrop to the small fishing harbour and the (often) wild sea! It is the place where Theon Greyjoy arrives back on the Iron Islands and where he first meets his sister Yara.
7/ Downhill beach
A 10km stretch of sand and a tiny temple perched on a cliff top beside it, no wonder Downhill beach is one of Northern Ireland’s favourite beach locations. It was used as the spot where Melissandra and Stannis burned the old gods and where Melissandra chants: “For the night is dark and full of terrors!”
8/ The Dark Hedges
Before Game of Thrones, very few people went to visit this beautiful avenue of beech trees. To me however, it has always had a very magical atmosphere! It is on this lane that Arya Stark makes her escape from King’s Landing, dressed as a boy.
9/ Back in Belfast, have a look at the Titanic Studios. This is the Game of Thrones holy land! This is where many of the interior scenes were shot! Since this is a working studio, it is unfortunately not accessible to the general public. So no, you won’t be able to sit on the Iron Throne yourself… But just imagine all the beauty that has come out of this studio!
All there’s left to do now is to watch the series all over again and try to recognize the magical places you’ve been to!
Would you consider a Game of Thrones tour of Northern Ireland? Or have you been to other places just to see where you favourite series was filmed?