Just as Game of Thrones Season 6 kicks off filming across Ireland I was getting itchy travel feet so to hold me over until we go to New York in October we decided to use the August Bank Holiday to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while – A Game of Thrones Tour around Northern Ireland.
I am ashamed to say that I tend to fly away rather than stay at home when it comes to travel and I have in fact seen very little of both the North and South of Ireland. This tour was the perfect reason to see just what Northern Ireland has to offer and I won’t hesitate to say that it didn’t disappoint.
There are many tour companies cashing in on Game of Thrones and its filming locations and indeed we saw many groups on our travels, McCombs Tours seemed to be very popular and if you are not familiar with the locations I would recommend a tour bus as some of the locations can be a little off the beaten track. However we set off with a full tank of petrol, a printed off Google Map and some Tesco sandwiches early on a Saturday morning and here’s what we saw.
1. Cushendun Caves / Birth of the Shaddow Baby
The first stop on our quest were The Cushendun Caves in County Antrim,where Melisandre gave birth to the Shaddow baby that killed Renly in season 2. A lovely little harbour village, the caves themselves are a lot smaller than you would imagine but suitably eerie, dark and dank. You can walk through to a rocky inlet with a lovely view of the sea.
2.Ballintoy Harbour / Pyke / Iron Islands
Next up was Ballintoy Harbour, noted for the scene where Theon Greyjoy returns to the Iron Islands and meets his sister. Perhaps one of the better known film locations it was very busy but beautiful none the less and well worth the visit. Much brighter and more open than Game of Thrones depicts, it is a wonderful example of the hard work that goes into transforming locations into set pieces.
3. Murlough Bay / Storm’s End / Blackwater Bay
One of the more frequently used locations for Game of Thrones, the vast and bleak beach and rocky backdrop of Murlough Bay was the setting for Theon’s infamous horseback ride with his sister back to Pyke in season 2. It’s also the spot where Davos Seaworth is shipwrecked after the battle of Blackwater Bay AND it is where Jorah and Tyrion are taken to the slaver’s boats in season 5. This is a lovely long walk with small private beaches along the way and definitely worth taking time to have a proper look around. Tip – this is a bit of a trek in the car. You’ll come across various carparking sites both on the way up the hill and on the way back down the other side. Don’t stop until you reach the main carpark at sea level.
4.The Dark Hedges / The King’s Road
Possibly the most recognised of the Game of Thrones locations, The Dark Hedges was certainly the most popular with tourists. Getting a photo without a person or car in the background was near impossible. It’s also a little surreal because it is just a drivable road about 10 minutes outside Ballycastle. However once you get out of the car and walk through the eerie Beech trees it is very easy to see why it was used as a location. Beautiful and haunting you are guaranteed to spend at lest an hour walking through them, looking for the perfect photo op.
5.Downhill Beach / Dorne
The final stop on our Game of Thrones Tour was Downhill Beach in Portrush. Used for several scenes depicting Dorne, the vast stretch of sand dunes, grass and reeds on Downhill Beach goes on for as long as the eye can see. This is a great beach to stretch your legs on though I don’t believe it is a stop for most coach tours.
This was the last stop on our trip and it’s worth mentioning that we pushed our luck on the journey home and stopped at the Magheramorne Quarry, which doubles as The Wall and the Wildling village of Hardhome. Needless to say it was well secured and we couldn’t see a thing. though rumour has it that The Wall is to stay up as a tourist attraction once filming is over.
6. Castle Ward / Winterfell
Not part of this trip but definitely worth a mention is Castle Ward. Last year I was surprised with a birthday trip to Winterfell at Castle Ward in Downpatrick where we dressed up and tried our hand at archery and I was ‘decapitated’ by my ‘friends’. It is of course home to the Stark family before old Ned lost his head and all hell broke loose. This is a great spot for a day out of family fun with lots to do. That’s me being stabbed by the way…none of my friends came to help or avenge me….
7. Marble Arch Geopark / Brotherhood Without Banners Hideout
Also earlier in the summer we ventured to Marble Arch and the surrounding Geopark which was absolutely stunning. Packed full of waterfalls, rivers and lush greenery, this is where the Brotherhood Without Banners took Ayra Stark in Season 2 and where Beric is resurrected by Thoros following his death. It’s quite a distance from any other filming location but if you have the time and the inclination, this area is overwhelming in its natural beauty.
We did the tour over 2 days, stopping as we pleased and taking the time to appreciate the scenery around us. It’s so easy to assume you’ve seen everything near to where you live but this trip was a testament to just how beautiful Northern Ireland is and how little of it I’ve really seen. We traveled over 220 miles and it was completely worth it. The tour is great way to see Ireland in all its natural beauty. I’ll definitely think twice about leaving Ireland for trip overseas from now on.