When a stranger told me he’d just come back from Belfast where he’d been making armour for a new television series, little did I know that the show in question, ‘Game of Thrones‘, would become the most popular series of all time, or that the stranger, having sparked my interest, would one day become my husband! I’ve been a GoT fan ever since and can’t bear the thought of the series ever ending. When I was invited to visit Northern Ireland for a ‘Game of Thrones’ themed press trip, I eagerly agreed (and started watching the whole series for the fourth time). One of the highlights of the trip was seeing the spectacular Causeway Coast from a helicopter (or dragons perspective as the itinerary suggested). It was a thrilling hour of my life that I will never forget. Here’s my guide to the best Game of Thrones tour in Northern Ireland.
Having visited Northern Ireland twice before and been to several filming locations more than once, I’d like to share with you all my top tips for the best way to visit Game of Thrones’ Northern Ireland filming locations. Since that stunning first series was made, Game of Thrones has journeyed to many different destinations around the world, but only Northern Ireland can claim to be the ‘home of Thrones’ where the series was born. Game of Thrones has now become deeply entwined into Northern Irish culture. If you’ve ever wondered “Where is Game of Thrones filmed?” or “Which is the best Game of Thrones tour from Belfast?”, I would highly recommend you read my tips and visit Northern Ireland. The scenery is stunning, the food fantastic and the people extraordinarily welcoming, and with the new Game of Thrones exhibition opening on 11th April in Belfast, there’s no better time to visit the ‘Home of Thrones’.
If you’ve not yet seen the award-winning series based on George R Martin’s best-selling books, I should warn you that this post contains several spoilers.
How to visit Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland
Should you wish to visit the Northern Ireland filming locations yourself, there are several ways to do so, each with its pros and cons. You’ll find a map showing the locations at the end of this article. So which are the best Gameof Thrones tours?
1. Self-guided Game of Thrones tour with the filming locations app
This interactive app is a fabulous guide to publicly accessible Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland. You can download it from these links.
Click here to download from the App Store for iPhones and iPads.
Click here to download from the Google Play Store for Android devices.
The map allows you to flip between the filming locations and the mythical worlds of Westeros and Essos, with over 25 scenes featured in the app. It includes a lot of details about the filming locations, how geographical features were formed millions of years ago, as well as more information about the scenes and which season and episode they appeared. Best of all it’s free!
The pros and cons of a self-guided tour
The great advantage of a self-guided tour is that you can pick and choose which locations you visit and spend as long or as little as you like at them. You can also choose the time of day you visit, which can be a great advantage if you want to photograph a particular view in a certain light or with few people around. However, some sites can be a bit tricky to find and aren’t always immediately recognisable.
Locations best seen on a self-guided tour
The Dark Hedges, Co. Antrim | Kingsroad, King’s Landing
The Dark Hedges in County Antrim is one of the most photographed places in Northern Ireland. It’s a must on any Game of Thrones tour. It was the filming location of the scene where Arya Stark flees King’s Landing along the Kingsroad in Season 2, Episode 1: The North Remembers.
Cars are banned from driving along here, but it still gets jam-packed. To avoid the crowds, the best time to visit is early or late in the day, and it is particularly striking in the golden hour before sunset.
To see The Dark Hedges in the snow check out a post from one of my previous visits to Northern Ireland: In search of giants and the Iron Islands along the Causeway Coast.
Carnlough Harbour, Co. Antrim | Braavos Canal
In Season 6, Episode 7: The Broken Man, when Arya Stark is stabbed repeatedly by the Waif, Arya escapes by jumping off the bridge into the canal. The scene where she is seen crawling out of the canal up some stone steps was filmed at Carnlough Harbour, while the scenes either side of it were filmed in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
It took around six hours to film the short scene on the steps before the director was happy with the shot. This attention to detail, as well as the impressive locations, play a big part in the success of the series I’m sure.
Cushendun Caves, Co. Antrim | Cove in the Stormlands
Also in Season 2, Episode 4, this is the cave where Melisandre, the red priestess, gives birth to the shadow creature (who goes on to kill Renly) while Davos looks on in horror. The cave, which formed over 400 million years ago, is easily reached on foot by following the short path south of the Glendun River mouth in Cushendun. The cave itself is relatively small so I could imagine visiting with a coach party would be quite frustrating.
Castle Ward, Co. Down | Winterfell
Castle Ward, a National Trust property, was the setting for Winterfell throughout Season 1, although so much of it was computer-generated it can be a little disappointing to see it in real life. I still found it a fascinating place to visit and a worthy inclusion on Game of Thrones tours.
With Game of Thrones Winterfell Tours, you can dress up in character costume and try your hand at archery at Winterfell, in the same range seen in Series 1, Episode 1 where Brandon Stark practises with Jon Snow with their brother Robb looking on. I did this on a previous tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. They offer a variety of Game of Thrones tours, including overnight glamping and a self-guided cycling tour of Winterfell. The archery on its own costs £99 per person, and you would need to hire a car to get there. They are a great choice, however, if you want to immerse yourself in Game of Thrones’ Winterfell for a few days and are happy to get there under your own steam as part of a self-guided tour around Northern Ireland.
Doors of Thrones
The app also shows the locations of 6 doors carved from beech trees from the iconic Dark Hedges (aka the Kingsroad), felled by a storm in 2016. Each intricately carved door shows a scene from Season 6. They can be found in bars and restaurants throughout Northern Ireland, near a Game of Thrones filming location. They’re easy to find using the app and make a great Game of Thrones tour in their own right.
However you decide on seeing the filming locations, I’d recommend downloading this app.
2. Game of Thrones coach tours
Offering coach tours from Belfast, Derry, Dublin and Tollymore, Game of Thrones Tours are superb. One of their guides, Adrian, showed us around Northern Ireland’s filming locations. He worked as an extra and, bearing a striking resemblance to the actor Liam Cunningham, who played Ser Davos Seaworth, Adrian also acted as a stand-in during scenes where Davos appeared at a distance. Everywhere we went he had relevant pictures showing scenes from the series shot in that location, a great memory aid for everyone on the tour. I couldn’t imagine a better guide. Adrian was funny, knowledgeable and helpful, sharing many fascinating insights into the filming of Game of Thrones. Find out more about their tours on their website, Game of Thrones Tours.
Locations best seen on a coach tour
Ballintoy Harbour, Co Antrim | Lordsport, Port of Pyke
Ballintoy was the filming location for Theon’s return to the Iron Islands in Season 2, Episode 2: The Night Lands. This is also where he first met his sister Yara and was baptised in the name of the Drowned God. And it was the location for some of the scenes around Dragonstone in Season 4, Episode 2: The Lion and the Rose. We had great fun dressing up as Yara here.
Above: It was fabulous to see Ballintoy Harbour from the air, but it was easier to picture the scenes filmed here when seeing it at sea level.
Don’t think I’d scare anyone!
To see images from a stormy ‘Iron Islands’, check out a post from one of my previous visits to Northern Ireland: In search of giants and the Iron Islands along the Causeway Coast
Larrybane, Co. Antrim | Renly Baratheon’s camp in the Stormlands
Larrybane was the location of Renly’s camp, where he held a tournament with his queen, Margaery Tyrell, at his side. Her brother Ser Loras Tyrell is defeated by an unknown knight, revealed to be Brienne of Tarth in Season 2, Episode 3: What is Dead May Never Die. As a reward, she is granted her wish to become one of Renly’s Kingsguard, despite being a woman and unknighted.
The coast here was also the location of the kingsmoot held on Nagga’s Hill in Old Wyk, on the Iron Islands, where Yara Greyjoy, supported by her brother Theon, lays claim to the Salt Throne. She is thwarted, however, by Euron Greyjoy, when he announces his intention of marrying Daenerys Targaryen and bringing her dragons to Westeros, thereby swaying the people’s vote.
Tollymore Forest, Co. Down | North of the Wall | The land around Winterfell
Tollymore is a beautiful park, crisscrossed with a network of walking trails. Several Game of Thrones scenes have been filmed here, but they’re hard to find without a guide. Also, visiting the park with a guide who brings props with him, gives you another excuse to dress up!
The forest was used as the filming location for the lands around Winterfell, including where the direwolf pups were found huddled by their mother’s dead body in Season 1, Episode 1 (pictured below).
A ridiculous amount of fake snow was brought in here to film the north of The Wall forest scenes (pictured above). I’m glad I wasn’t the one who had to clear that all up!
Castle Ward, Co. Down | Winterfell
I’ve included Castle Ward here, as well as in the self-guided section, as it is also wonderful to explore with a guide who can point out where particular scenes were filmed, as you walk through the grounds. Below shows the location of the hanging tree where Jaime and Brienne came across the corpses of three women. She insisted on cutting them down and giving them a proper burial. The men who killed the women returned and Brienne had to fight them and hand out the justice they deserved.
Audley’s Field, Castle Ward, Co. Down | Robb Stark’s camp at the Battle of Oxcross
The tower and field by the vast sea loch of Strangford Lough were used in several scenes from the series, including as a backdrop for Robb’s camp at the Battle of Oxcross in the Westerlands. Having won a decisive victory, Robb walks through the battlefield and meets the healer Talisa of Volantis, as she tends wounded soldiers in Season 2, Episode 4: Garden of Bones. Love blossoms but, as fans will know, their love story ends in one of the most memorable and gruesome scenes of the series.
Recommended for you: The Top 12 things to see, do, eat and drink in Belfast
Which Game of Thrones coach tour in Northern Ireland to choose
Game of Thrones Tours, which is the company I travelled with during this visit (with the excellent guide Adrian), cost from £45 per person. They offer Game of Thrones tours from Belfast, Derry, Dublin and Tollymore. I can highly recommend their tours. During the tour, we also meet Odin and Thor, the Northern Inuit dogs who, as pups, played the direwolves Summer and Grey Wind. They’re gorgeous, friendly dogs who love being made a fuss of — which is just as well as they meet hundreds of Game of Thrones fans every day. Their owners and their father have all been extras in the series.
The owners of Odin and Thor also offer coach tours which, having met them, I would assume are very good too. A full-day Game of Thrones tour from Belfast costs £50 per person. You’ll find more details here, GoTdirewolves.com
If you are on a tight budget, the cheapest Game of Thrones tours can be booked through an agent such as Get Your Guide, for £30 per person. I can’t vouch for how good this tour is, but the reviews are excellent, and it has the added advantage of including a visit to the Giant’s Causeway, which, while not featured in the series, is a not-to-be-missed sight.
3. By helicopter with Cutting Edge Helicopters
As we climb higher, the coast comes into view and the clouds clear. Beneath me lies a carpet of emerald fields, edged by a seascape of deep blues and greens. The colours are fantastic, more tropical than you’d expect to find around UK shores. We fly over cliffs and dramatic rock formations, quaint harbours and castle ruins. The sun glistens on the sea and white horses race along the sandy beach of a sweeping bay. Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast, seen from a helicopter, is even more beautiful than I ever imagined. This one-hour helicopter ride is the highlight of an exciting ‘Game of Thrones’ tour that takes me to Winterfell, the Iron Islands, the Dothraki Grasslands and even north of the Wall and to many other filming locations in Northern Ireland, the undisputed ‘Home of Thrones’. A great many countries were considered, but Northern Ireland was settled upon because of its variety of stunning landscapes, not to mention some very appealing tax incentives.
There’s no better way to witness this beautiful land than fro the air, from a dragon’s perspective. The views over plunging cliffs, lush green fields and sandy bays included many stunning filming locations that look spectacular from the air. Their one-hour tours cost £225 per person.
Locations best seen from a helicopter
Binevenagh, Co. Derry | Drogon’s Lair, Dothraki Grasslands
The Antrim Plateau formed from molten lava around 60 million years ago, and at the western end, it looms over the villages of Bellarena, Downhill and Castlerock. This was the breathtaking filming location for the lair of Drogon, one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons in the Dothraki Grasslands. Drogon brings Daenerys here after rescuing her from the fighting pits of Meereen, where the Sons of the Harpy are trying to kill her. Season 6, Episode 1: The Red Woman.
Downhill Beach, Co. Derry | Dragonstone
In Season 2, Episode 1: the North Remembers, Melisandre persuades Stannis Baratheon to denounce the Seven Gods of Westeros and burns their effigies on the beach as an offering to the Lord of Light. As Stannis draws a burning sword, Lightbringer, from the fire, Melisandre proclaims him the champion of the Lord of Light.
The lovely cliff-top Mussenden Temple, above the beach, is one of the most photographed buildings in Northern Ireland. The views along the coast from here, I’m told, are outstanding and they are one of the many reasons I’d love to return to Northern Ireland for what would be my fourth visit.
Portstewart Strand, Co. Derry | Coast of Dorne
These sweeping sand dunes were the location where Jaime Lannister and Ser Bronn land on the coast of Dorne to bring back Cersei and Jaime’s daughter Myrcella in Season 5, Episode 4: Sons of the Harpy.
Fair Head, Co. Antrim | Dragonstone cliffs
Ireland’s tallest cliffs, which rise 600 feet above sea level, first appeared in Game of Thrones in Season 7, Episode 3. Possibly the most memorable view of them, however, is in Episode 6: Beyond the Wall, when Daenerys mounts Drogon and flies off to the lands beyond the Wall to save Jon Snow, who, with his ranging party, is trapped on an island in the middle of an ice lake, surrounded by White Walkers.
There is no vehicular access to Fair Head, which is privately owned farmland. The National Trust offers guided walks, while Walk NI has detailed instructions on how to get there, but please do read their advice carefully as it can be dangerous, especially in high winds. Nothing can compare, however, to seeing the stunning cliffs of Fair Head and the dramatic Causeway Coast from the air — from a dragon’s perspective. Our helicopter ride was an hour of pure magic witnessing the beauty of Northern Ireland.
The Game of Thrones Concert Experience with Ramin Djawadi
As well as visiting filming locations in counties Down, Antrim and Londonderry, eat Game-of-Thrones-themed food, dress up as Yara and men of the Night’s Watch, as if that wasn’t enough, we also attended one the greatest concerts I’ve ever been to, The Game of Thrones Concert Experience with Ramin Djawadi. It was a thrilling evening and I felt privileged to be there and share the magic with so many other fans.
Where to stay in Belfast?
I’ve stayed at the hotel Europa a couple fo times and found it very comfortable, with excellent service and great food. It is also centrally located, and right opposite two of my favourite pubs, the Crown Liquor Saloon and Fibber Magees. I felt very safe walking back to the hotel alone in the evenings, and would recommend it for solo female travellers, couples, business travellers or groups of friends. The bus station is right behind the hotel so it’s super easy to catch a bus to the airport too from here.
I’ve also stayed at the Ramada in the Cathedral Quarter and found it perfectly located for enjoying a great range of fabulous bars and restaurants right on your doorstep. It’s an easy walk from there into the town centre as well as the Titanic Quarter too. The nearby Dream Apartments are lovely too and would be a great choice if you’re looking for self-catering accommodation. The Cathedral Quarter would always be my first choice when it comes to location.
Looking for a hotel in Belfast?
Disclaimer: I visited Northern Ireland as a guest of the tourism board. As always, I will only share with you my own honest opinions.
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