As an MAJOR fan of the TV series and even bigger fan of the Books, exploring the filming locations of a Game of Thrones has been on my Ireland bucket list from before we arrived in Ireland!
The scenery of Northern Ireland makes for an Ideal “Westeros”, and exploring the locations is great fun for Thrones fans, as well as the non-fans who want to take in some amazing sights. Even the kids enjoyed hearing about the stories that had taken place in these fantasy driven locations. (The censored version, of course)
There are a number of tours available that take groups to a lot of the great spots, and one of the benefits of a tour is the knowledge that the guide shares about the how and where the filming happened.
But, a self-guided experience can be just as much fun, and maybe even more so for those who are just as awestruck by Northern Ireland’s Landscape as they are by Game of Thrones.
So for those sticking with us, here is our Game of Thrones tour of Northern Ireland.
Tollymore Forest – (54.224655, -5.953500)
We started our GOT tour from the south, so Tollymore was our first stop. We made our way across from Newry on the A25 to Kilcool, before taking the B180 to the forest. The forest covers an area of 630 hectares (1,600 acres) at the foot of the Mourne Mountains and has views of the sea at nearby Newcastle. The Shimna River flows through the park where it is crossed by 16 bridges, the earliest dating to 1726.
Tollymore Forest serves as the location of the Haunted Forrest at the beginning of the very first episode of Season 1 – Will, Gared and Ser Waymar Royce of the Nights watch have their first encounter with the White Walkers here, and the forest serves as the location where the Starks rescue the Dire Wolf pups.
Quoile River – (54.355612, -5.693852)
From Tollymore Forest, we headed east along the A25 towards Downpatrick. We had sketchy information that the spot we were looking for was on the northern side of the Quoile River, and we had almost given up on our search to find it when a U-turn and a lucky guess put us right where we wanted to be.
The Quoile serves as the Trident River, and the location for both Riverrun and The Twins, but most notable is the small pier that features in episode 3 of season 3 – the funeral of Hoster Tully. I found this spot to be one of the most immersive, as many of the filming location have had lots of effects applied, or it is difficult to imagine exactly where the action took place, but here on the pier, it’s easy to imagine Edmure firing arrows out into the Trident.
This spot is not to be missed.
Castle Ward – (54.356858, -5.580349)
We continued east along the A25 towards Strangford.
Castle Ward is an 18th-century National Trust property located near the village of Strangford. Castle Ward is open to the public and includes 332 hectares (820 acres) of landscaped gardens, a fortified tower house, Victorian laundry, theatre, restaurant, shop, saw mill and a working corn mill. It has a shore on Strangford Lough. There is so so so much more to Castle Ward than just a GOT film location, and as such entrance is about £18 for a family or £7 for an Adult, £3 for kids.
Castle Ward is the Winterfell of season 1 – think the arched entrance ways and the courtyard that King Roberts’s party come through in the first episode.
The day we visited, the Archery Experience wasn’t available, but for £25 per person GOT fans can enjoy a replica of the Winterfell Castle archery range movie set, which has been recreated in the courtyard where the filming originally took place. Participants dress up in character costumes from the show, and get to stand exactly where ‘Jon Snow’, ‘Robb and Bran Stark’ stood and enjoy the thrill of firing arrows at the Targets. The Archery Experience goes for 45mins
For me, Castle Ward was a lovely 18th century property, and the grounds fantastic, but it wasn’t the “Winterfell” that I hoped for. The courtyard is clearly part of the set, but I didn’t feel like I was part of the harsh, northern, Winter is Coming, Ned Stark type Winterfell that George R.R. Martin describes with perfection. As I mentioned, we weren’t able to take advantage of the Archery Experience, so we would love to hear others opinions on how Castle Ward compares to Winterfell.
Audley’s Field and Tower – (54.379982, -5.572934)
Just to the North of and adjacent to Castle Ward, is Audley’s Field and Tower. It’s accessible from outside of the Castle Ward area, so those not wishing to pay the entrance can enjoy the GOT experience. The Tower is at the end of a narrow single lane road, which is accessed through a stone gate that looks like you shouldn’t go trough it. We did, and whilst there were limited places to pass other oncoming cars, we didn’t encounter any, and there was ample turning room at the end of the road near the tower.
Audley’s Field was used during Season 1 as part of King Robert’s arrival at Winterfell. It’s the backdrop of Robb’s Camp in Season 2 and the place where he first meets Talisa. Later in Season 2, Audley’s Field is where Alton Lannister is imprisoned with Jaime.
Cushendun Caves – (55.124410, -6.037669)
From Audley’s, we headed back the way we came as far as Downpatrick, and then took the A7 north to Belfast. We spent the night in a B&B just north of Belfast in the town of Carrickfergus. We set out next morning heading north along the A2, and then the Coast Road. This is a spectacular stretch of road, winding its way along the Antrim Coast, and is a treat for everyone, GOT fan or otherwise. The next stop on the GOT tour was the town of Cushendun. The caves can be found on the eastern facing coast, on the southern side of the Glendun River, a short walk around the end of the buildings on the southern bank.
GOT fans will recognise the caves as the place where Davos Seaworth rowed Melisandre in under the walls of Storms End, to the place where she gave birth to the shadow in season 2 episode 4. Cushendun Caves is another great spot for GOT fans – it has the feels that if you were there on a dark night, Ser Davos just might come rowing in with a sack of onions… Or a Red Priestess…
Murlough Bay – (55.209890, -6.117178)
Further north along the Antrim Coast is the remote Murlough Bay. A scenic and winding narrow road down and back up is the only access.
Murlough Bay serves as the backdrop for the Iron Islands in season 3, and one of the rocks in the bay is the one the Davos finds himself stranded on after Tyrion destroys the fleet with wildfire in the Battle of Blackwater.
Ballintoy Harbour – (55.243876, -6.369308)
Situated halfway between the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Giants Causeway, the Harbour at Ballintoy is immediately recognisable as the Iron Islands, and the location of Theon Greyjoy’s arrival home to Pyke. It’s where he first meets his sister Yara, and gets a bit too friendly.
The Dark Hedges – (55.134049, -6.379871)
A bit of a detour now to find the 200 year old beech trees that line this section of road – punch Bregagh Rd into your GPS, and you need to be at the North Western end nearest Gracehill Golf Club.
The Dark Hedges are quite spectacular, and we have visited this location twice – Once in the winter when the leaves had fallen and the trees were twisted and knarled, and again in summer when the leaves had returned, and the darkness loomed.
For GOT fans, behold the Kings Road, stretching on its way from Kings Landing north to Winterfell – it was on this particular stretch that Arya Stark made her escape, travelling disguised as a boy in the company of Yoren, Gendry and Hot Pie
Downhill Beach – (55.167682, -6.814680)
From the Dark Hedges, head west to Coleraine, and then up to Downhill. There isn’t a way to cross the Bann River north of Coleraine, so don’t be tempted to try to cut across from Port Steward on the coast. Downhill beach is an 11km section of white beach, with the small temple of Mussendon perched on the hill side.
In Season 2, the temple was transformed into the castle of Dragonstone, and the beach was the location where Melisandre and Stannis burned the effigies of the Seven Gods, and Stannis drew the flaming sword from the fire.
Pollnagollum Cave – (54.336835, -7.811438)
The most isolated spot for GOT fans is the Pollnagollum Cave, in county Fermanagh. The cave is located in the Marble Arch Geopark, but if you go to the Marble Arch caves, you’ll be quite a distance from the GOT location.
The entrance to the Pollnagollum Cave serves as Beric Dondarion’s hideout in season 3, in particular the scene where Thoros of Myr takes Arya and the Hound prisoner in episode 4.
And so, this is Game of Thrones, Northern Ireland, Our Global Adventure style – we had a fantastic couple of days exploring and soaking up the atmosphere… I will say this though – don’t get so caught up in Game of Thrones, that you miss Northern Ireland. Plan your journey to take in the fantastic landscapes of the Antrim Coast, Causeway Coast, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, Dunluce Castle and all the other wonderful scenery on offer. And don’t expect to meet Tyrion Lannister on your journey – You’ll need your imagination for that.