Game of Thrones: your journey starts here
Follow a route that visits the filming locations in Northern Ireland
Kit Harington as Jon Snow in ‘Game of Thrones’. Season seven begins on July 17th. Photograph: Helen Sloan/HBO/AP
If the Game of Thrones season seven’s build-up means you are counting down the days until dragons, direwolves and Tyrion Lannister return to our screens on July 17th, how about exploring the real-world Westeros, Winterfell and Riverlands?
The show is renowned for its dramatic scenery and Northern Ireland is home to more Seven Kingdom locations than anywhere else. We have created a route that visits the “not-to-miss” filming locations in the North, aka Game of Thrones territory.
Give yourself three days to explore these top Game of Thrones locations. Break it up by county – Down, Antrim and Derry – but allow extra time at Castle Ward to explore the sprawling estate that is Winterfell. Stay overnight in Bushmills to give yourself time to visit the Giant’s Causeway, the distillery and tackle the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Be warned though: it was recently damaged by vandalism and is currently closed. Check with the National Trust before making the journey.
Day One – Down: Tollymore Forrest, Inch Abbey, Castle Ward and Audley’s Castle and Field – the Westeros’s bewitched forests, ill-fated camps and Winterfell.
Day Two – Antrim: Carnlough, Glens of Antrim/Cushendun, Ballintoy, Larrybane, Ballymoney – Turbulent Stormlands, Pyke, the mighty Kingsroad and the Dark Hedges.
Day Three – coastal Derry: Portstewart and Downhill Beach – the coastal temples and the beaches of Dragonstone.
1: Tollymore Forest: It all started here: the opening of Game of Thrones – the scene where a Night’s Watch deserter rides into a circle of dismembered Wildling bodies. Tollymore Forest, at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, is home to redwoods, centuries-old stone structures and was the first State forest park in Northern Ireland.
It is the Haunted Forest in Game of Thrones and it is also where Ned Stark comes across the direwolves – the symbol of the House Stark. According to Rob Dowling, who set up Game of Thrones Tours in 2013, Tollymore ties with Castle Ward as the most photographed area on their tours. The bus tours depart from Belfast and Dublin, as well as operating at individual destinations, such as Tollymore. Episodes filmed here: Season 1, Episode 1: Winter Is Coming.
2: Inch Abbey: The abbey is a regular in the series. Robb Stark’s camp is located here in season one and you’ll hear one phrase in your head when you get here: “The King of the North!” It was at this 12th-century Cistercian abbey on the River Quoile that Stark’s bannermen rallied to their leader after winning the honours at the Battle of the Whispering Wood. In the distance, you can see Downpatrick Cathedral. Episodes: Season 1, Episode 10: Fire and Blood.
3: Castle Ward: The Ward family has called Castle Ward home since the 16th century. The sprawling estate of 820 acres, overlooking Strangford Lough, became Winterfell, the ancestral home of House Stark. It’s where the Starks greet King Robert Baratheon and his royal party. Winterfell Tours offer cycling, boat tours and the opportunity to meet direwolves on the estate. You can also don Game of Thrones-style costumes and learn archery skills directly from extras off the show. Episodes: Season 1: If you see an exterior of Winterfell, it’s Castle Ward – with a bit of CGI enhancement.
4: Audley’s Castle & Field: A 10-minute walk from Castle Ward is Audley’s Castle and Field. It’s here Robb Stark stashes his army while they prepare to face the Lannisters. Just beside the castle is Audley’s Field, where the aftermath of the Battle of Oxcross was filmed. This is the one where Robb meets future wife Talisa. Movie buffs might also recognise the scenery from Dracula Untold. The castle is named after its late 16th-century owners, the Audleys, an Anglo-Norman family. It was sold, with the surrounding estate, to the Ward family in 1646. Episodes: Season 2, Episode 1: The North Remembers; Season 2, Episode 4: Garden of Bones.
1: Carnlough: This picturesque harbour may be small, but Carnlough is home to a critical Braavos-based scene from season six. The stony staircase leading down to the sea were the steps Ayra crawled up after being stabbed by the troublesome Waif. Episodes: Season 6, Episode 7: The Broken Man.
2: Cushendun and Glens of Antrim: Nestled in the Glens of Antrim, Cushendun has been a landing place and ferry point between Scotland and Ireland since settlements about 9,000 years ago. A short walk around the coast will bring you to the dark caves where Melisandre gives birth to the shadow creature. Other locations in the glaciated Glens of Antrim also feature in series and you could spend half a day exploring these areas. Glenariff Forest Park is the location for Runestone. Shillanavogy valley is the setting for the Dothraki Sea. Khal Drogo rode across this land towards Vaes Dothrak with his new bride, Daenerys Targaryen. The windswept plains of the Antrim plateau, with its basalt outcrops, was chosen to represent the Neck. This craggy landscape is where Sansa Stark learns from Littlefinger that she is betrothed to Ramsay Bolton. Episodes: Melisandre’s extreme home birth is in Season 2, Episode 4: Garden of Bones.
3: Ballintoy Harbour: The fishing village of Ballintoy is Pyke, capital of the Iron Islands. Ballintoy Bay is Lordsport Harbour in season two (where a disappointed Theon Greyjoy arrives to a lukewarm reception) and its nearby beach is the one Theon was baptised into the religion of the Drowned God. Parts of this beach were also used for the scene in series six where a priest and Balon’s brother remind Yara that the new ruler of the Ironborn will be decided at a Kingsmoot. Episodes: Season 2, Episode 2: The Night Lands; Season 2, Episode 3: What is Dead May Never Die; Season 6, Episode 2: Home, Yara is seen talking to the priests of the Iron Islands.
4: Larrybane: If you didn’t think finding a former quarry would ever be on your bucket list, think again. This spot is where Brienne of Tarth is introduced through her fight with Loras Tyrell. It was a former chalk quarry and is now an even more glamorous overflow carpark for Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The filming location of the Kingsmoot scene – where Theon Greyjoy rallies the Iron Islanders to support his sister Yara’s claim to the Salt Throne – was filmed less than a minute’s walk away. Episodes: The quarry was used for Renly Baratheon’s camp in the Stormlands in Season 2, Episode 3: What Is Dead May Never Die. Episode 5 in Season 6: The Door used Larrybane as the location of the Kingsmoot.
5: The Dark Hedges, Ballymoney: This eye-catching arch of beech trees was planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century to impress visitors as they approached the entrance to their Gracehill House. Today, the stunning tunnel, in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, has been recognised with numerous awards – the prestigious US Architectural Digest magazine placed the Dark Hedges at number seven in its top 10 of the most beautiful streets on the planet, ahead of the Champs-Élysées. Legend has it that it is home to a spectral grey lady, said to glide between the trees at dusk. The avenue of trees represents the Kingsroad in the first episode of the second series. This was the path where Ayra Stark, disguised as Arry the orphan boy, Robert Baratheon’s bastard son Gendry, and Hot Pie start their journey north to join the Night’s Watch.
Last year, a number of trees from fell during Storm Gertrude. The felled wood was used to craft 10 special doors, each one depicting an episode from the sixth season. The doors are now hanging in pubs and other venues across the North. This Tourism Northern Ireland and Tourism Ireland campaign reached an estimated 126 million people and was awarded a Gold Lion in the “outdoor-special build” category at the Cannes Lions, regarded as the Oscars of the advertising industry. To visit the locations of all of the Dark Hedges doors, download the Journey of Doors passport: discovernorthernireland.com/gameofthronesdoors Episodes: Season 2, Episode 1: The North Remembers.
1: Portstewart Strand: Much of the filming for Dorne is done in Spain, but in season five the sand dunes of Portstewart Strand come into focus. The golden beaches and domineering dunes lie at the mouth of the River Bann. Visit this area to recreate where Jaime Lannister and Bronn make their way through the dunes. Episodes: Season 5, Episode 4: Sons of the Harpy.
2: Mussenden Temple: Downhill Beach is a seven-mile stretch of white sands overlooked by the Mussenden Temple, a replica of the Temple of Vesta in Rome that was built in 1785 as a summer library. The beach, as Dragonstone, is visited by Stannis Baratheon and his companion Melisandre. It is here she proclaims: “For the night is dark and full of terrors.” He enters Dragonstone into the War of the Five Kings. Episodes: Season 2, Episode 1: The North Remembers.