Visit Westeros by Taking a Game of Thrones Tour in Northern Ireland
I Visited Northern Ireland, but Ended up in Westeros
Two years ago I visited Ireland with my partner, and had a few must-do items to cross off my list: see the Cliffs of Moher, visit Wicklow National Park, walk through Trinity College’s Old Library and visit filming locations from Game of Thrones.
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Where is Games of Thrones filmed?” you might be surprised to find out that many scenes are shot in Northern Ireland. While there are other filming locations in Iceland, Croatia, Morocco, Spain and many other countries, Belfast hosts the main studio.
Before my trip I did some research into whether or not I could visit locations myself. While it is possible, I came across a company called Game of Thrones Tours, that included everything I wanted and more. While I’ve never been a fan of tour companies, this one had stellar reviews, and was affordable given everything that was included.
It currently costs £50 per adult, or £45 per student. I booked my tickets about three months in advance, because I was so excited. I always suggest booking in advance, but depending on the tour and date you’re interested in, you might be able to find tickets a few days beforehand. You can always double check the availability online.
The tour I did departed from Belfast, and was called “Belfast Iron Islands, Giant’s Causeway & Rope Bridge Adventure.” At the time this was the only tour from Belfast, but there are now two other options. The company also has tours departing from Dublin, Derry and Tollymore.
I picked this specific tour because it included iconic filming locations, as well as a stop at Giant’s Causeway. While the latter isn’t included in HBO’s Game of Thrones, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that I didn’t want to miss out on.
Our Journey Through Westeros
The first stop of the tour was a drive-by of Carrickfergus Castle and Magheramorne Quarry, where they film scenes in Castle Black and on the Wall. No one was allowed out of the bus, because at the time it was still an active filming set. In the future, once the show is finished filming, it may open to the public.
Afterwards, we headed to Cushendun Caves. Fans of the show would recognize this as the spot where Melisandre birthed the shadow demon that killed Renly Baratheon. I’d apologize for the spoilers, but our tour guide said that anyone who hasn’t read or watched all of the available material deserves it.
Next up was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which isn’t technically part of the show, but is a well-known tourist attraction that is right next to a filming location. After a quick walk across the rope bridge (which is 98 feet above the water!), we headed over to Larrybane Chalk Quarry, which was where both Renly Baratheon’s camp, and the Iron Islands Kingsmoot were filmed.
At the time of my trip, Season 6 was currently airing, and Season 7 was not yet released, so we recognized the location from earlier seasons, but had many surprises watching the latter seasons because we instantly recognized the location of certain scenes, and proudly told our friends “We stood right there!” Nerd bragging rights are the best.
After a quick lunch at the Fullerton Arms, which is decked out in Game of Thrones swag, we headed to Ballintoy Harbour. This was my favorite stop, because it’s where HBO filmed the iconic scene of Gendry rowing away from Dragonstone. It’s also where many scenes in the Iron Islands are filmed, including Theon’s baptism, and his initial arrival to Pyke Island.
This stop also included a quick costume change. One of the best things about Game of Thrones Tours is that they include outfits and props for tour participants to dress up in. Our tour included costumes that you’d see characters from the Iron Islands wearing, including shields with the Greyjoy’s crest on it. While normal tourists were walking around, our group was staging sword fights, yelling “What is dead may never die!” and re-enacting scenes from the show. It was wonderful.
Next was our stop at the Giant’s Causeway, which was followed by another drive-by of Dunluce Castle. This beautiful castle is known for two things: having part of it’s original formation lost to the sea below, and for being the filming location of Harrenhal (where Ayra originally meets Gendry and Hot Pie).
The final stop of the tour was the Dark Hedges. This is a very popular spot in Northern Ireland and a must-see in the UK in general because of its beauty, and the fact that it’s used as the King’s Road in Game of Thrones. We were lucky to have stopped there in the afternoon during the off-season, because there was hardly anyone else on the road. During peak-season (July and August) it’s difficult to get good photos of the road because it’s littered with tourists.
The Authenticity Makes It Worth Every Penny
Everything about this tour was incredible, and I’ve recommended it to many friends and family members who have visited Ireland. The price might be a little high, depending on whatever your currency conversion is, but it’s worth it.
Not only did we visit filming locations (which were all marked with official plaques to prove they are in fact the correct sites), but we were given amazing costumes, and our guide, Andrew, had worked on set. He’s been an extra in multiple seasons (yes, we’ve seen him in the show!), and also helped out with props and costumes.
He was an expert on all things Game of Thrones — books and show — and had tons of stories of what life is like while filming. He was also more than willing to discuss fan theories, which made everything even better.
The ride back to Belfast was filled with Game of Thrones trivia, stories about the filming of the show, and of course, watching some episodes. The tour is definitely a must for any fans of the franchise.