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 (or dragon’s perspective, as it says on our itinerary), is even more beautiful than I ever imagined.

Game of Thrones tours, Northern Ireland

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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’. This is where the most popular television series ever made was born. 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.

We visit 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 and attend one the greatest concerts I’ve ever been to, The Game of Thrones Concert Experience with Ramin Djawadi. It’s currently touring in Canada and USA and I couldn’t recommend it more. It’s spectacular.

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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.

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How to visit Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland

Should you wish to visit the Northern Ireland filming locations yourself, there are a number of ways to do so,  each with its own pros and cons. You’ll find a map showing the locations at the end of this article.

1.      Game of Thrones 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 Storefor 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 details about the scenes and which season and episode they can be seen in. 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.

The Dark Hedges, Co. Antrim | Kingsroad, King’s Landing | Game of Thrones filming locations

The Dark Hedges, Co. Antrim | Kingsroad, King’s Landing | Game of Thrones tours

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Cars have now been banned from driving along here, but it still gets very busy. 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 Ayra Stark is stabbed repeatedly by the Waif, Ayra 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.

Carnlough Harbour, Co. Antrim | Braavos Canal

Carnlough Harbour, Co. Antrim | Braavos Canal | Game of Thrones tour

Apparently, 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 fairly small so I could imagine visiting with a coach party would be quite frustrating.

Cushendun Caves, Co. Antrim | Cove in the Stormlands| Game of Thrones tour Ireland

Cushendun Caves, Co. Antrim | Cove in the Stormlands | Game of Thrones tour Belfast

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.

Castle Ward, Co. Down | Winterfell | Game of Thrones tour, from Belfast

Castle Ward, Co. Down | Winterfell |Game of Thrones

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 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.

Doors of Thrones, easily included on a self-guided Game of Thrones tour in Northern Ireland

However you decide on seeing the filming locations, I’d recommend downloading this app.

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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. It was also used 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.

Ballintoy Harbour, Co Antrim | Lordsport, Port of Pyke | Game of Thrones tour Ireland

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.

Ballintoy Harbour, Co Antrim | Lordsport, Port of Pyke | Game of Thrones tour

Ballintoy Harbour, Co Antrim | Lordsport, Port of Pyke | Game of Thrones tour

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.

Larrybane, Co. Antrim | Renly Baratheon's camp in the Stormlands

Larrybane, Co. Antrim | Renly Baratheon's camp in the Stormlands | Game of Thrones tour, Belfast

Larrybane, Co. Antrim | Renly Baratheon's camp in the Stormlands | Game of Thrones filming location, Northern Ireland

Larrybane, Co. Antrim | Renly Baratheon's camp in the Stormlands | Game of Thrones tour

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, criss-crossed 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 wih him,  gives you another excuse to dress up!

Tollymore Forest, Co. Down | North of the Wall | Game of Thrones filming location

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).

Tollymore Forest, Co. Down | The land around Winterfell | Game of Thrones filming location

Tollymore Forest, Co. Down | North of the Wall | Game of Thrones filming location | Game of Thrones filming location

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.

Castle Ward, Co. Down, Northern Ireland | Game of Thrones filming locations

Castle Ward, Co. Down, Northern Ireland | Game of Thrones filming locations

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.

Audley’s Field, Castle Ward, Co. Down | Robb Stark’s camp at the Battle of Oxcross | Game of Thrones filimng locations in Northern Ireland

Audley’s Field, Castle Ward, Co. Down | Robb Stark’s camp at the Battle of Oxcross | Game of Thrones filimng locations in Northern Ireland

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.

Game of Thrones direwolves | Odin and Thor played Summer and Grey Wind as pups

Game of Thrones direwolves | Odin and Thor (Summer and Grey Wind) and their owners

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.

Game of Thrones direwolves | Odin and thor played Summer and Grey Wind as pups

Game of Thrones tour, Northern Ireland

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.

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3.    By helicopter with Cutting Edge Helicopters

The helicopter ride over the Causeway Coast was the highlight of our trip. There really is no better way to witness this beautiful land. I never imagined the sea in the UK could look so exotic with so many deep shades of green and blue. 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.

Binevenagh, Co. Derry | Drogon’s Lair, Dothraki Grasslands

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.

Downhill Beach, Co. Derry | Dragonstone | Game of Thrones tour from Belfast

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.

Portstewart Strand, Co. Derry | Coast of Dorne | Game of Thrones filming locations seen from a helicopter

 

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, but possibly the most memorable view of them 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.

Fairhead, Northern Ireland | Game of Thrones tour | Game of ThronesFilming locations

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 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 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.  It's easy to visit on a Game of Thrones tour from Belfast.

Ballintoy Harbour, Co Antrim | Lordsport, Port of Pyke

Ballintoy was the filming location for Theon’s return to the Iron Islands, where he first met his sister Yara and was baptised in the name of the Drowned God  It was also used for some of the scenes around Dragonstone.

Castle Ward, Co Down| Winterfell

The National Trust property Castle Ward was the setting for Winterfell, although so much of it was computer generated it can be a little disappointing to see it in real life. I still found it fascinating and a walk around the grounds with a guide to point out where particular scenes were filmed was fabulous.

Tollymore Forest, Co Down | North of the Wall | Lands around winterfell

This stunning park is crisscrossed with a network of walking trails. It was used as the filming location for the lands around Winterfell including were the direwolf pups were found huddle by their mother's dead body in Season 1, Episode 1.

Tons of fake snow was brought in to film forest scenes north of the Wall.

Audely's Field, Castle Ward, Co Down | Robb Stark's camp at the Battle of Oxcross

The tower and field by Strangford Lough here 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 meets the healer Talisa from Volantis as she tends wounded soldiers in Season 2, Episode 4: Garden of Bones.

Cushendun Caves, Co. Antrim | Cove in the Stormlands

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. It's easily reached on foot by following the short path south of the Glendun River mouth in Cushendun.

Larrybane, Co. Antrim | Renly Baratheon's camp in the Stormlands | Nagga's Hill, Iron Islands

Larrybane was the location of Renly's camp where he held a tournament with his queen, Magery 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, Old Wyke on the Iron Islands where Yarra Greyjoy supported by her brother Theon lays claim to the Salt Throne, however, the people's choice is Euron Greyjoy, when he announces his intention of marrying Daenerys Targaryen and bring her dragons to Westeros.

Binevenagh, Co. Derry | Drogon's lair in the Dothraki Gasslands

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 spectacular filming location of the lair of Drogon, one of Daenerys Targaryen's dragons in the Dothraki Grasslands. Drogon brings Daenerys here after rescuing her for the fighting pits of Meereen were the Sons of the Harpy are trying to kill her. Season 6, Episode 1: The Red Woman.

Downhill Beach | Dragonstone

Here, 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 and Stannis draws a burning sword, Lightbringer, from the fire.

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 cliff face first appeared in Game of Thrones in Season 7, Episode 3 but the most memorable view of them is in Episode 6: Beyond the Wall, when Daenerys mounts Drogon and flies off to the lands beyond the Wall to save Jon Snow and his ranging party who are trapped on an island in the middle of an ice lake surrounded by White Walkers.

 

Carnlough Harbour, Co. Antrim | Bravoos Canal

When Ayra Stark is stabbed repeatedly by the Waif, Ayra 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.

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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