Game of Thrones fans, the series may be over and no matter how you feel about the ending, the fandom lives on. After all, people are still visiting Hobbiton more than 15 years after the last Lord of the Rings movie came out. So I believe the Game of Thrones Northern Ireland filming locations and attractions will continue to be popular for years to come, especially with prequels on the way.
Northern Ireland has certainly benefited from Game of Thrones. It feels like you can’t go five minutes without meeting someone who was an extra on the show or was involved in the production in some way.
It is easy to plan a whole trip around Game of Thrones attractions and experiences. But of course there is so much that is beautiful and natural to enjoy in Northern Ireland too (don’t miss the Causeway Coast!) But if Game of Thrones is your jam, you will want to include these stops in your itinerary.
Game of Thrones Locations
Note: As is common in this industry, my visit to Northern Ireland was courtesy of Tourism Ireland, Discover Northern Ireland, and Steller. All opinions are my own.
Winterfell Tours at Castle Ward
One of the most popular Game of Thrones filming locations is Castle Ward, used as the backdrop for Winterfell for the first three seasons of the show. Castle Ward is an 18th-century National Trust property located near Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland. Because it is a public location, it got difficult to film there after the show got more popular and they had to move to an undisclosed location.
You can actually camp (or glamp) on the property at Castle Ward, but most people go for the Winterfell Tours Castle & Demesne. While the castle doesn’t look exactly like it does in the series, thanks for the wonders of CGI technology, you will recognize the castle gate and tower, as well as the courtyard where Bran got his archery lessons.
My arrival at Winterfell was highly anticipated, as we were visiting just two days after the airing of “The Long Night” episode with the battle for Winterfell versus the Night King. Here I was, arriving at Winterfell with no idea what the outcome of that battle was since I was in Ireland when the episode aired. Did “Winterfell” still even exist in the realm of the series? The excitement and anticipation was in the air.
We were greeted by Robb Stark. Ok, of course not really but our guide does a good impression. After learning a bit about Castle Ward and the experience, we geared up for our visit with a choice of full Stark gear or just a Sansa Stark or Night’s Watch cape.
Of course, being the GOT nerd that I am, I won the trivia contest to get to wield both Longclaw and Oathkeeper. My luck ran out once we moved over to archery.
Everyone had their turn at a few practice rounds before commencing a tournament to determine the winner and the ultimate loser (who was “beheaded” a la poor Ned Stark.)
I found axe throwing a bit easier, although getting the right amount of force to get that axe to stick in the bullseye was still a challenge. But I was glad the axes were nearby when the White Walkers made an appearance. Too bad they weren’t made of Dragonglass.
Of course, the highlight was getting to meet Odinn and Thor, the dogs who played the dire wolves Summer and Grey Wind in the series. Because who wouldn’t want to hug a dire wolf?
Game of Thrones Touring Exhibition
The Titanic Quarter in Belfast is home to Titanic Studios, where much of the filming and production of Games of Thrones took place. Just across the street at TEC Belfast you will find the Game of Thrones Touring Exhibition. There only until September 2019, this is a must visit for ultimate fans (although I’m hearing rumors of a studio experience opening in the future??)
The Game of Thrones Touring Exhibition features props and costumes used in the show. You will see the gowns worn by Cersei, Sansa, Daenerys, Margaret, and others. It is all there, the swords, crowns, dragon eggs, Jamie’s golden hand, and of course the Iron Throne.
Different sections represent locations in the show…from the Stark crypts to the Dragon Pits to the north beyond the Wall.
The touring exhibition also has some interactive elements. You can take photos posing as Arya Stark with needle, or Jon Snow with Longclaw. Visitors can even “climb the wall” — or at least it looks like you are but really you lay on the floor painted like the wall and take pictures of the reflective mirror above you to make it look like you are dangling from ropes on the wall like Wildlings.
In the House of Black and White there is technology to add your picture to the wall of faces — as creepy as that is! And of course, at the end you can sit on the Iron Throne for selfies (or professional photos.)
If you take your time exploring the exhibit, you may even run into some people who have worked on the show and get the inside scoop on sets, costumes, and more (no spoilers of course!)
Game of Thrones Tapestry
At the Ulster Museum in Belfast, you can find an 80-meter long tapestry that depicts all the major scenes from Game of Thrones. The tapestry was designed by hand and weaved by machine and a team of 30 stitchers.
It covers Winterfell to the Iron Islands and across the Narrow Sea. The tapestry currently covers seasons one through seven, but panels from the story of season eight will be added in June 2019. It doesn’t take long to go through it, but you will have moments of recognition when you realize they depicted a scene you may have forgotten.
Known as The Kings Road to Game of Thrones fans, the Dark Hedges has become a tourist destination of its own in recent years thanks to Instagram and GOT. This avenue of beech trees in Country Antrim has such a mysterious quality that it is no wonder film location scouts were drawn to it.
Of course the popularity of the Dark Hedges has also had some drawbacks. It can be hard to get an open picture without hordes of tourists blocking your shot. The trick is to go early or late, or just wait them out and take your picture when the crowds are in the distance, to add perspective.
Unfortunately, despite signs to the contrary, people have parked along the edge of the road and damaged the tree roots to the point that a few of these gorgeous old trees have fallen down.
Luckily two of these trees were made into 10 “Doors of Thrones”, each carved to display a scene from the show. These doors were then distributed throughout Northern Ireland and donated to local landmarks near filming locations. Now you can get a Doors of Thrones passport and get it stamped when you find each of these doors.
If you really want more, booked a guided tour with the Dark Hedges Experience. You will learn the history and folklore of the trees, along with other feature films that made the trees famous.
Cutting Edge Helicopter Tour
If you are visiting Northern Ireland, you can’t miss some of the beautiful sites along the Coastal Causeway like the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, Giants Causeway, Mussenden Temple, and Dunluce Castle. However, this stretch of coast was also used for many different Game of Thrones filming locations.
Instead of just exploring by land, you can see this gorgeous coastline by air with a Game of Thrones helicopter tour with Cutting Edge Helicopters. On a one hour tour you can see filming locations from seasons one, two, and five on Game of Thrones.
Locations include the Dothraki Grasslands (Binevenagh), Dragonstone beach (Downhill Beach), the coast of Dorne (Portstewart Strand), Lordsport Harbour (Ballintoy Harbour), and the Stormlands (Larrybane.)
Bonus: Boyne Boats
If you are also visiting the Republic of Ireland, be sure to stop at the Boyne Valley, just 45 minutes north of Dublin and 1.25 hours south of Belfast. This area has an important history, but it is also where you will find Boyne Boats.
Ross Kenny, founder of Boyne Boats, was not only an extra on Game of Thrones, he also supplied the curraches (a type of large row boat) to the show. Yup, these were the boats used by the Iron born, Second Sons, and others throughout the series. You will probably remember them most from when Yara rescues Theon or when Jorah and Tyrion were taken by slavers.
Today Ross is located on the Boyne River and gives a combination history / Game of Thrones boat tour. Along the way, you hear about the Battle of the Boyne between King James II and King William III.
On the tour, groups of eight will row upstream while learning about the history of the area and a little more about the boats and filming of Game of Thrones. The tour usually lasts approximately 90 minutes and is good for families or small groups. And don’t worry if you get tired of rowing, Ross can always break out the motor to lend a hand.
Northern Ireland is an amazing destination with great city nightlife in Belfast and a stunning coastline. Throw in these Game of Thrones destinations and it is just the icing on the cake. Don’t hesitate to book a trip!
If you are visiting Ireland, be sure to check out these other articles:
- 25+ Ireland travel tips
- How much does a trip to Ireland cost?
- Things to do in Waterford, Ireland
- My favorite experiences in Ireland