‘Winter is coming’ and the fictional ‘North’ is set to take centre stage, when season seven of Game of Thrones returns this summer.
Many of the Game of Thrones filming locations are real locations in Northern Ireland. Here’s my guide to visiting some of the filming locations featured in the first two seasons. #staycationinspiration
WHERE TO STAY : BELFAST
I suggest you stay in Belfast as the city is well placed to travel both north and south on your two day quest. One of the main reasons why HBO chose Northern Ireland as the base for the series was the proximity of so many incredible filming locations to the capital, plus the abundance of creative talent in the province.
HOW TO GET AROUND:
You can join Game of Thrones coach tours such as Game of Throne Tours, which run from Derry, Belfast and Dublin, or McComb’s Travel, which run daily from Belfast, one heading north to County Antrim and the other heading south to County Down.
Or you can hire a car and drive yourself in a more leisurely fashion…here’s my guide to a self-drive tour. I have linked the names to their locations on Google Maps, so hopefully that helps with navigation.
DAY ONE – COUNTY ANTRIM
The iconic ‘Dark Hedges’, not far from the town of Ballymoney, has become one of the most photographed spots in Northern Ireland. An avenue of beech trees, which when bare in winter have a spooky quality. It was here in Arya Stark was seen fleeing King’s Landing at the end of season one.
It was a sunny day in June when I visited Ballintoy Harbour. Could this pretty quayside, framed by blue skies and calm seas, really be the ‘Iron isles’ homeland of the beleaguered Theon Greyjoy ?
The dank Cushendun Caves is where Melisandre gave birth to the ‘shadow baby’. Brrr… its a chilling location in every sense.
If time permits a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site ‘The Giant’s Causeway’ is a must on any trip to Northern Ireland. The massive hexagonal basalt columns will take your breath away and the legend of its creation proves that Ulster has her own tales to tell. (The giant Finn McCool built it to reach another Scottish giant who he was quarreling with…as you do).
DAY TWO – COUNTY DOWN
Tollymore Forest Park has appeared several times on screen, most notably in the very first episode. It was here that the Stark children found the direwolf pups. The forest is not as menacing as GOT portrays it and has lots of lovely trails that make a hearty family walk.
Inch Abbey is where Rob Stark was proclaimed “King inthe North”. The ruined monastery, near Downpatrick, dates from the 11th Century, we stopped here and enjoyed our picnic lunch, before heading to the spiritual home of the North …Winterfell.
Castle Ward is a National Trust property, with numerous Game of Thrones filming locations located on site. It is of course Winterfell, the ancestral home of the Starks and the beating heart of ‘The North’. Entrance to the estate costs around £10 per adult.
At Castle Ward you can embrace your inner Stark and enjoy a ‘Winterfell Experience’ courtesy of Clearsky Adventure Centre. You can meet the dogs who play the direwolfs on screen, enjoy a medieval banquet, dress up as a Stark and practice your archery and take a boat or cycle tour around the locations on Strangford Lough, see website for prices. As you can see from my photo, I am not a natural with a sword.. perhaps I should have tried archery….
Other sites which you can visit on foot at no extra cost around the Castle Ward Estate include Audley’s Field aka Robb Stark’s camp, where Jaime Lanister was captured, and very close by an execution tree and the banks of the River Quoile, with the assistance of some move CGI magic became The Twins, home of the evil Walder Frey.
The Riverlands on the Castle Ward estate on the banks of the Quoile River.
These are just a small selection of Game of Thrones filming locations scattered across Northern Ireland. If you visit any of these locations or have any more to suggest, I would love to hear from you.
If you need more staycation inspiration for Northern Ireland, read my post about a family day out at The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.
What are your tips for a staycation in Northern Ireland ? #staycationinspiration.