There are lots of Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland. I got the chance to see some of them with my friends, and others when I did a press trip with Giant Tours Ireland. This tour operator offers private tours which showcase the land of Westeros. On the TV series, Westeros is a large continent in the far west of the known world. It is separated from the eastern continent of Essos by a strait. Almost the entire continent, apart from the lands beyond the Wall, belongs in its entirety to the Seven Kingdoms over which the King rules on the Iron Throne in King’s Landing. The majority of the Game of Thrones plot takes place on Westeros.
Game of Thrones has left a massive imprint on the landscape of Northern Ireland. There are so many Game of Thrones filming locations here in Ireland that almost everywhere you look you can see a scene from the TV show. In fact, they used the exact same location to film three or four different places in Westeros.
Entering The Stormlands
The tour started at the Marina Car Park in front of Ballygally Castle. From there we went north to the locations that represent The Stormlands on the TV series. Our guide played in Game of Thrones as a double for the role of Hodor. It’s a bit crazy to be led through the city of Braavos by Hodor himself. Braavos is one of the Free Cities located to the east of Westeros. It is the richest, and arguably the most powerful of the Free Cities. We were missing things like the big statues here, but I discovered many details like the steps where Arya Stark came out of the water after she was repeatedly stabbed by the Waif (S6 E7, The Broken Man).
The scene was filmed in the canal at Carnlough Harbour. The stairs are not difficult to find, because they were very prominent in the scene.
The Shadow creature’s birth site
We follow the picturesque Coastal Causeway Route further north to Cushendun. Tucked away on an elevated beach are the Cushendun Caves. This cove in The Stormlands is where the unforgettable scene between Melisandre and Davos took place. Here she had the shadow baby that ultimately kills Renly Baratheon (S2 E4, Garden of Bones).
The beautiful Door Number 8
Another Game of Thrones highlight awaits us in the village of Cushendun: Door number 8 in Mary McBride´s Bar. It is literally 2 minutes from the Shadow Baby caves. Mary McBride’s Bar was once the smallest pub in Ireland but has now been extended and I can safely say it does a fine pint of Guinness. Door number 8 sports the infamous Game of Thrones line ‘Valar Morghulis’ or ‘All men must die’ in High Valyrian. It also features the Titan of Braavos which guards the harbor entrance to the city. Finally it also features some scary looking figures at the bottom. My guess is that these are the slave masters that are currently invading Meereen to get their slaves back whilst Dany has been off burning the leaders of her martial people and giving impressive speeches about freedom and dragons.
Renly’s Camp And Slaver’s Bay
Our next stop, Murlough Bay, or Slaver’s Bay as it will be known to Game of Thrones fans, is located in North East County Antrim. It was here that Tyrion and Jorah came ashore and were accosted by slavers in Season 5 Episode 6. Fans will also recognize this location as Renly’s camp in Season 2 Episode 4. Murlough bay is best known for its outstanding beauty and far-reaching views across the sea to Rathlin Island and the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland. It was really stormy and windy when I was here. A perfect setting for The Stormlands.
The Dragonstone Cliffs
After a very tasty lunch in The Bushmills, a restaurant with a hidden library, a big surprise awaited us. We got on a helicopter!
It allowed me to make very nice aerial views of the Cliffs at Fairhead near Ballycastle, which play an important role in Season 7. They formed the backdrop for much of Episode Three, “The Queen’s Justice”, which saw Jon Snow finally meet Daenerys and her dragons at Dragonstone, and reunite with Tyrion Lannister.
Please note: If you visit the cliffs at Fairhead by foot, as is the case with normal tours by Giant Tours Ireland, you will need very good and sturdy hiking boots, due to sloping, uneven, wet and muddy ground.
Nagga`s Hill And Door Number 6
The flight was really great, but we were really shaken up, which made photography difficult. From the travel photographer’s point of view, I understand why many colleagues only use drones. It was hard to get a good composition. Because of constant vibrations I worked with exposure times of less than 1/1000 and still didn’t know if the pictures had become sharp.
After this adventure we visited Larrybane Quarry. This old chalk quarry serves as overflow car park for National Trust owned Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge. Larrybane Quarry is a filming location of Game of Thrones, season 2, where Catelyn Stark met one of the many new kings that have been popping up, King Renly. He and his queen, Margaery, was sitting watching a fight between the queen’s brother and what turns out to Brienne of Tarth. Around them are the white cliffs of the quarry.
In the Fullerton Arms Hotel, Ballintoy we discover another door dedicated to certain houses or characters from Game of Thrones. Door number 6 which focuses on House Targaryen also focuses on Drogon-Daenery’s most aggressive and fearsome dragon. The door was carved from the fallen trees of the Dark Hedges, where some other scenes from the TV series were filmed. Another interesting thing about this location – the Fullerton Arms Hotel – is that not only the door will be attracting Game of Thrones fans and visitors to it, but there is also a dining room set and prepared inside the hotel in the world of Game of Thrones, complete with the banners and its own replica iron throne. Reserve your dinner at this place!
Lordsport Harbor And The Hidden Beach
Ballintoy harbor was the setting for Theon Greyjoy’s return to the Iron Islands as well as some of the areas around Dragonstone. It was here that Theon first met his sister Yara, was baptized in the name of the Drowned God and paid homage to the ship ‘Sea Bitch’. The Iron Isles are an archipelago of windy, rugged rocky outcrops off the coast of Westeros, ruled by the Greyjoy family.
By the way, HBO and the Game of Thrones team were not the only fantasy creators who were inspired by this picturesque place. Ballintoy Harbor is near the idyllic clifftop ruin of Dunluce Castle, which inspired C.S. Lewis to his regal castle in The Chronicles of Narnia. Our guide then took us to a magical, hidden beach, which also served as a filming location for various episodes of Game of Thrones.
The Kings Road and Door Number 7
After our driver parked the van in front of The Hedges Hotel at the Dark Hedges Estate, we walked to another highlight I always wanted to see. The Dark Hedges, an avenue of large mature beech trees, which were planted by James Stuart to frame an avenue to his home, have become one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland. The trees are on both sides of the road, forming a “tunnel” that is between 6 and 10 meters in width.
In Game of Thrones, the Dark Hedges were used as `The Kings Road`. This fictional road runs all the way across the land of Westeros, from Kings Landing in the south to `The Wall` in the north. The Dark Hedges appear in the closing sequence of the first episode of Season 2, which is titled `The North Remembers`. In the episode, Arya is seen escaping from Kings Landing in a caravan, which is filmed traveling through the Dark Hedges.
At the end of the Kings Road another door was waiting for us. This door at Gracehill House, Ballymoney is a bit wider than the other doors. A three-eyed raven takes center stage with all seeing eyes encasing the design. The Stark family crest is also present along with the crown and a time turner. There was certainly a feeling of urgency for the Stark family. They need an army, and they’ve all but run out of time.
The Giant´s Causeway
The last stop of our trip was not a Game of Thrones location, but was at the top of the film crew’s wish list. But HBO didn’t get permission to film at the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Giant’s Causeway is one of the most intriguing landscapes found in Ireland – and the world in general. It is difficult to explain the awe-inspiring experience of being able to walk and climb your way across this ancient volcanic battlefield.
Exhausted, but happy we returned to the starting point around 6:30 p.m. A well-meant and warmhearted Thank you goes to the team of Giant Tours Ireland for this really extraordinary press trip from which I not only got wonderful memories but also a lot of new contacts and friends. Northern Ireland now has a firm place in my heart. And of course I would also say thanks to the HBO team for creating Game of Thrones, one of the best TV series ever.