When it comes to iconic TV series, there is none more prevalent than the HBO show Game of Thrones. Based on the A Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones was a fantasy series that featured noble families politically scheming, killing and fu- fornicating for the Iron Throne. The series ran for eight seasons, finishing its final season in 2019. Though the series concluded years ago, it was a well-renowned series across the globe and has created a huge fan base. In fact, it was so popular that some of these filming locations turned into popular tourist destinations as a result of the show. There is also a colloquial name for this phenomenon - the Game of Thrones effect. Sometimes these locations can be pretty crowded, so keep that in mind. Also, the locations aren’t always going to look exactly the same as on the screen, thanks to the magic of post-production editing. With that being said, many of the locations are still recognisable in real life and worth visiting in their own right.
Though this is a list that aims to be as comprehensive as possible, there might be a couple of locations that we miss due to the vast scale of the filming. Also, this is a bucket list which will most likely have to be done over an extended amount of time. To give you an idea of how much money we’re talking about, when the series was airing, the budget per episode was roughly $6 million in Season 1 and rose to $15 million for the last season, a good portion of which would have gone to location spotting. Hopping around the globe to see all the Game of Thrones locations is going to take a lot of time and money, so make a schedule for yourself. Though most, if not all, the locations will be covered here, good starting points will be Northern Ireland and Croatia, as the former has the most locations of any country, and the latter is so recognisable. Also, this list will contain spoilers about Game of Thrones, so if you haven’t seen the show yet, get on that and come back to this list.
First up on our Game of Thrones trip is Northern Ireland. We’ve briefly talked about Northern Ireland as a Game of Thrones hotspot in a previous piece, and how so many locations were used here that you can make a road trip out of it. An interesting thing to note about Northern Ireland was that it was originally competing against Scotland for filming. When it came to locations to use for the show, the producers originally thought the many glens and mountains in Scotland would be ideal for the show. However, they didn’t have the same studio capabilities. One scene was filmed in Scotland, where Doune Castle was the first location for Winterfell, but the rest of the locations are in Northern Ireland. Apparently, Scotland lost out on £160 million being injected into their economy because of this. Ouch.
While a lot of the filming was done in studios in Belfast, there are many different other locations that were used throughout the filming of Games of Thrones. Because of their location, a lot of them are within a short distance of each other. You can do the road trip yourself, in which case the website for Visit Belfast has a handy route map that you can use. Alternatively, tour guide companies like GetYourGuide have full-day tour options. Also, just a tip to keep in mind for those unfamiliar: Northern Ireland is a part of the UK while the rest of Ireland is an independent republic, so remember that so you don’t accidentally upset anyone. Whatever you decide to do, here are some of the locations you can visit on your journey through Westeros.
Know Before You Go
There are three airports in Northern Ireland: Belfast International Airport, George Best Beflast City Aiport and City of Derry Airport. For the sake of this intinerary, you’re probably going to want to go with the first two, as Belfast makes for a good base to explore the rest of Northern Ireland. Belfast International Airport, though a bit of a distance away from the city, is the main airport of Northern Ireland, while George Best is much smaller but also much closer to Belfast City Centre.
If you want to use public transport to visit the Game of Thrones attractions in Northern Ireland, you’re going to struggle a bit, as not all routes go to all attractions. Your best best would be to go with a guided tour, and though they might skip out on some of the locations, they do visit the main attractions.
At 85 miles long and 70 miles wide, the best way to visit Northern Ireland and see all these attractions is undoubtedly by car. As well as being able to navigate according to your schedule, some of the locations used in the filming can be remote, plus you’ll get to enjoy some of the lovely roads that Northern Ireland has to offer, like the Giant’s Causeway road of the Antrim Coastal road. To rent a car in Northern Ireland, you must be at least 21 and have held your license for 2 years. Drivers age 23 and under and over the age of 70 may incur an additional fee. The maximum age for some rentals is 69. Child seats are mandatory for children up to age 3. Traffic travels on the left and always turns left when entering a roundabout.
The weather in Northern Ireland is typical to the rest of Ireland or the UK, with cold, wet winters and drier and warmer summers. For the best weather, visit between June or August, though this is also the height of tourist season.
Since Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, they used the pound sterling as currency. You should be fine with a credit card, but it’s always a good idea to carry some cash just in case.
The Dark Hedges
Probably one of the most photographed attractions by Game of Thrones tourists, the Dark Hedges are a very recognisable location. This avenue of beech trees was originally planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century, which was intended to impress visitors as they came up Gracehill House.It certainly continues to impress centuries later, as the Dark Hedges were used for the King’s road. To get here, follow the Bregagh Road between Armoy and Stranocum in the county of Antrim. They’re close to other attractions in Northern Ireland, about 15 minutes from the Old Bushmills Distillery and 20 minutes from the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge.
As well as the Game of Thrones road trip, there’s another one you can take. See if you can find the ten wooden doors hidden throughout Northern Ireland that commemorate the show. I mention them here because the doors are made of wood from trees from the Dark Hedges that were damaged by winds during Storm Gertrude in 2016. You can find these doors at:
- The Cuan in Strangford, County Down
- Fiddler’s Green in Portaferry, County Down
- Percy French Inn in Newcastle, County Down
- Blakes of the Hollow in Enniskillen, County Down
- Owens’ Bar in Limavady, County Londonderry
- Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy, County Antrim
- Dark Hedges Estate in Stranocum, County Antrim
- Mary McBride’s in Cushendun, County Antrim
- Ballygally Castle in Ballygally, Country Antrim
- The Dark Horse in Belfast
This next location has a bit of an interesting story behind it. Carnlough Harbour is briefly used as a location in season 6. Arya escapes being killed by the Waif, where she jumps into the sea to escape her pursuer. This portion of the scene was done in Croatia. The section in Carnlough Harbour is when a wounded Arya climbs up the steps, and then she’s back on the streets of Braavos (or Croatia again, in this case). Kind of cool to think that the producers jumped between two countries for a couple of minutes of footage.
To get to Carnlough Harbour, you need to follow the Antrim coastal road to the town of Carnlough. If you walk along Bay Road, there is a plaque with information about the scene as well as the filming that went on there, close to where Bay Road meet the Bay Fields. Though if you fancy taking a swim, I suggest going in the summer. Ireland can get pretty chilly, never mind the sea around it.
Remember when I said earlier that Castle Doune in Scotland was originally used for some of the courtyard scenes in season one? Well, Castle Ward was the replacement. Originally built as a mansion in the 18th century, it wasn’t the actual property itself that was used during filming, but it was the farmyard and lough shore that acted as Winterfell.
It is now also called Winterfell castle when you go to google it. Entry is 10 euros per adult, but you can book a tour to see this castle and other Game of Thrones locations, starting in Belfast. There are several other filming locations nearby. Other scenes in nearby locations include those featuring the Whispering Wood and when Brienne meets the Stark men. Truly a must-see for any fan who finds themselves vouching for the Stark family.
The interesting thing about some of these locations is how versatile they are. Take Portstewart Strand for example. This is the location where the audience are first introduced to the Sand Snakes, the daughters of Oberyn Martell. Now, while George R. R. Martin doesn’t particularly like one-on-one comparisons, his fictional cultures are influenced by real-world ones, and the Sand Snakes are Dornian, which in part has been influenced by Spanish culture. So, the producers would imaginably film Dhorne somewhere in Spain, right?
Wrong. Portstewart Strand is a two-mile long sand beach on the northern coast on Northern Ireland. With all that being said, the sandy dunes and vegetation certainly look the part. If you want to visit the beach, it’s open from dawn to fuck, but the nearby car park and toilet open at 10 am, while the former closes 6 pm and the latter closes at 5 pm.
Another seaside location is Murlough Bay. The bay is in between Ballycastle and Torr Head, a beautifully remote place that was used as a location Renly and Stannis discuss who will succeed the throne in season two and where Jorah and Tyrion are taken to Meereen by slavers in season five.
This is a beautiful part of the Northern Irish coast, it’s just off the Giants Causeway main road, but keep an eye on the road until you reach the car park, as there are a lot of tight bends and blind spots on the road, plus phone signal can be patchy if you’re going for a hike, so be careful when you’re navigating this part of the country.
For our next location, follow the B15 coast road and in between Coleraine and Ballycastle, you’ll come across Ballintoy Harbour. This is the filming location used for Lordsport, the main harbour of the Iron Island of Pyke. It’s kind of appropriate that this location should be used for the ironborn, because both are well known for their maritime culture. Except, you know, the ironborn are pirates and raiders, while Ballintoy is known for its fishing community. Ok, so maybe not quite the same, but you get the idea.
Also known as raised beach, it was its rocky landscape that made it the ideal location for Lordsport. The harbour is about a kilometre from the nearby town and makes for a nice place to stop off, as there is a nearby cafe with a car park and picnic facilities. There are also nearby monuments that you can visit, like Ballintoy Church and Dunseverick Castle.
Fair Head is Northern Ireland’s highest cliff face, standing 600 metres above the sea level. Once you reach the nearby car park, there are several routes you can take to get there. Each route is a couple of kilometres long, and it can get boggy depending on the weather, so it’s going to be a bit of a hike to reach. But it’ll be worth it to “walk in the shadow of dragons,” as the website for this location says.
Once you get to the cliff edge, you’ll reach the location that features as the cliffs of Dragonstone. It first appears in season seven, where Jon Snow negotiates with Daenerys for dragon glass. Again, depending on the weather, it can make for a nice spot to sit down in the grass and have something to eat before continuing the rest of your journey.
The Cushendun Caves
The Cushendun Caves stand out compared to other seaside locations in Northern Ireland. While the rest of the country might have sweeping landscapes or golden beaches, this network of natural sea caves have been eroded over millions of years and are a bit more on the eerie side, and this is reflected in Game of Thrones. Among other scenes, this is where Ser Davos Seaworth and Lady Melisandre first land at the Stormlands of House Baratheon, and also where Melisandre gives birth to a shadow baby in season two.
Named after the nearby village of the same name (where you can find one of the Game of Thrones doors), the Cushendun Caves are free to enter, and it’s an easy five to ten-minute walk to reach from the car park. Though access is currently available 24/7, maybe don’t go in at night. Not because of shadow babies, which are not a thing (probably) but you could hurt yourself.
Tollymore Forest Park
About an hours drive from Belfast is Tollymore Forest Park. This park served for many scenes, including the opening scene of the pilot and where the Stark party find the direwolf pups (this is at Parnell’s Bridge). Fun fact, the location where the scouts of the Night's Watch first find the White Walkers actually doesn’t normally have snow because the trees are so thick. So, to create the snowy scene, they had to lay down mats and sprinkle fake snow on top of them, a process which took weeks to set up and clean up. That’s show biz, I guess.
The best way to get to Tollymore Forest Park is by car, and the nearby car park charges five pounds per car, with it being cheaper for motorbikes and more expensive for minibuses and coaches. It is open from 10 am to dusk, but due to its popularity as a tourist destination, I’d recommend you get here as early as possible to enjoy the park in relative peace. If you want guided tour of this area, it’s only £10 and you can do it a Stark cloak, though I don’t think you cn keep them. Plus, maybe save this for when it gets cooler in Ireland - walking about in the summer with those cloaks does not look fun.
Picture Castle Black. A lonely fortress positioned against an ice wall. Cold, harsh and bitter. Again, you would imagine that this was a location which may be found in Iceland. Nope. Magheramone Quarry is actually an old stone quarry with a cement plant that shut down in 1980 and has a nearby hamlet of only about 70 permanent residents.
Sadly, this is a location you might only just get a quick look at as you drive by it - Magheramorne Quarry is private property with constant security to watch for trespassers, which is a bit of a shame. However, there is a way to view it from a distance. Drive north from Carrickfergus on the A2, turn right just past Whitehead and onto Low Road past Islandmagee. Follow this for a couple of miles, and there is a small layby where you can get a distant view of the quarry.
Want to travel the road of the Dothraki? Sandy Brae was used as the location for the road to Vaes Dothrak, the city of Khal Drogo’s Dothrakan. Located in the Mourne Mountains near Newry, this is where many of Jorah and Daenerys’ first interactions were filmed. It’s about a 40-minute drive from Tollymore Forest Park, and there are many hiking paths which can provide for some lovely photo opportunities.
This is also a good place to visit for other fantasy fans, as the nearby Mourne Mountains were also something that partially inspired the Chronicles of Narnia book series by C.S. Lewis.
Originally founded in 1180 by John de Courcy, the remains of Inch Abbey serve as the location for Robb Stark’s army camp in season one, where he is declared the King in the North. It is also near the River Quoile, which was the location for Riverrun. It used to be that this church was surrounded by the river, and could only be visited by boat - the name inch comes from the Irish word Inis, which means island. Luckily now, you can walk or drive there.
There’s loads to keep an eye out for. As well as exploring the ruins themselves, you can also find the nearby tree, which Robb slashes at after finding out the news of his father’s death. Guided tours go through here, but if you are visiting yourself, it can be found near the town of Downpatrick in County Down.
Lough Neagh/ Toome Canal
About 20 miles west of Belfast is Northern Ireland’s largest freshwater lake, Lough Neagh. Located in the centre of Northern Ireland, this served as another season five location where Jorah and Tyrion wash up on a beach after escaping the stone men on their journey through Volantis, then travel up the coast.
Another location not far from Lough Neagh is the Toome Canal. This is the filming location where Tyrion and Jorah sail through Old Valyria in season five, where they find Drogon flying nearby and are attacked by the Stone Men. Don’t worry. You won’t find any mythical creatures or fantasy diseases here. Flowing out the northern end of the nearby Lough Neagh, this canal is a part of the Bann River, the longest river in the region. When you visit it in the future, though, it might look a bit different compared to how it looks in the show, and I don’t mean because of post-production editing. Some of the trees on the bank started to get taken down on health and safety grounds, as their roots have created nearby tripping hazards on the pathway.
Where to Stay
Budget - Fiddlestone Bar and B&B, Belleek
Located in Fermanagh county, this small B&B may be a bit of a drive away from Belfast, but it will provide a cheap and comfy stay.
Mid range - The Briers Country House, Newcastle
This country house sits in the seaside resort town of Newcastle and has an exceptional breakfast included in the price tag.
Luxury - The Flint, Belfast
Want to stay somewhere that is both comfortable and convenient for your trip to Northern Ireland? This studio apartment is right in the middle of Belfast, and will make for a perfect base for your adventure.