Game of Thrones tourists spent €58m in North last year

One in every six out-of-state visitors came to NI in 2018 because of HBO’s hit TV show

Record numbers of Game of Thrones fans travelled from all over the world to Northern Ireland last year to visit their favourite locations from the hit TV show, including the Haunted Forest and the Kingsroad, and spent an unprecedented £50 million (€58 million) in the North, latest estimates suggest.

New industry figures from Tourism NI, show one in every six out-of-state visitors were inspired to travel to the North in 2018 because of Game of Thrones.

Fans came from every corner of the globe, including India, North America, China, Australia and from across Europe to see where some of the epic battles and nail-biting scenes from HBO's most-watched series were filmed.

Latest estimates suggest that the total number of overseas Game of Thrones fans who travelled to the North last year hit a high of 350,000 visitors.


John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI, said Game of Thrones had dramatically “changed the perception of Northern Ireland” as a tourist destination.

"It has been a phenomenal success and it has been fantastic for Northern Ireland to be associated with this worldwide success over the past 10 years. It has been so positive for Northern Ireland and HBO has been very, very good to us throughout this time," Mr McGrillen said.

Food experiences

There are at least 26 filming location from Game of Thrones that fans can explore in the North, and more than 23 visitor experiences have been developed around these locations, from coach tours and specialist tour services to Game of Thrones-inspired food experiences.

The final season of Game of Thrones is currently airing, and Mr McGrillen expects the show to continue to be a tourist hit for the North well into the future.

"We're going to have a permanent attraction in Northern Ireland for fans with the Game of Thrones legacy experiences. The first attraction – the Game of Thrones studio tour – is due to open in spring 2020 at the Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge, [Co Down], and this new 110,000sq ft interactive experience will give fans the opportunity to see behind the scenes how the series is made and feature many of the original props and costumes and sets from the series, which is going to be very exciting," he added.

Derry Girls

Tourism chiefs in Derry, meanwhile, are also hoping they can attract a new generation of screen tourists to the city by developing must-see attractions for fans of the television series, Derry Girls.

Local officials are working closely with Channel 4, Screen NI and Tourism Ireland to develop "legacy" projects in the city that will give fans the opportunity to connect with their favourite characters or moments from the show.

Jennifer O'Donnell, tourism manager with Derry City and Strabane District Council, said the council wanted to create a "Derry Girls experience" that would showcase the city and attract fans to visit.

“The success of Derry Girls is is a great opportunity for the tourism industry here. There is huge demand on the ground from fans of the show, and there has also been a great response from businesses in the city, who are already providing everything from walking tours featuring some of the most popular locations on the show to restaurants and hotels offering themed dishes and packages to a brewery that has developed specialist Derry Girls craft beers.

“But we want to develop an overall product that brings the whole Derry Girls experience to life and give fans and visitors an opportunity to make a connection with the city,” Ms O’Donnell said.

She said the fact a huge Derry Girls mural, unveiled in the city centre earlier this year, had already become an iconic picture opportunity for tourists and locals alike highlighted how the TV series had quickly developed a cult following.

Francess McDonnell

Francess McDonnell

Francess McDonnell is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business