Game of Thrones filming locations – Northern Ireland
For almost ten years, the worldwide cultural phenomenon that is HBO Game of Thrones has called Northern Ireland and its spectacular landscapes its home. The dramatic coastlines, foreboding mountains and ageless forests have formed the perfect backdrop for the fantasy world of the show. Why not become part of the fantasy and follow me in finding the filming locations used in the series?
Game of Thrones Northern Ireland Filming Locations
A 10 day adventure, we explored more or less the 25 filming locations used, from the lush valleys of the Riverlands where Catelyn Stark watched her father’s funeral boat sail down the river Trident to the great grass sea where Daenerys first rode with Khal Drogo and the Dothraki. Honour the drowning God where Theon Greyjoy returned to the Iron Islands and walk the halls of Winterfell where the whole story began.
Maps and secret doors
On your adventure, you will also journey along the trail of the Doors of Thrones, ten intricately crafted bespoke doors made of wood salvaged from the world-famous Dark Hedges. Each door tells the story of Season 6 Game of Thrones. These doors are housed in 10 significant pubs and hotels close to locations used in the film.
I would certainly recommend picking up a Game of Thrones Map from the tourist board. Book an overnight stay in Belfast to visit The Dark Horse door located at The Dark Horse Pub, Belfast, BT1 2LB. The door represents the key events taking place in Kings Landing as Season Six draws to a close. The Lannisters’ Lion reigns over the Sept of Baelor.
Take the one-hour drive to Leitrim Lodge in Hilltown to take in the breathtakingly remote and peaceful location which is found in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains — urged by Master Luwin in Season 3 Episode 2 – Bran, Rickon and their dire wolves along with Osha and Hodor travel north to find Jon Snow at Castle Black.
Tollymore Forest Park
Drive to Tollymore Forest Park, used in Season 1 Episode 1 where Night’s Watch men – Ser Wwaymar, Will and Gared discover wildling bodies before encountering the White Walkers north of the wall.
This forest was transformed into the haunted forest beyond the wall. It is the place where the series begins, the scene where the 3 members of The Night ‘s Watch meet the White Walker.
Another of the scenes shot here was when Ned Stark and his children meet the dead deer and the dire wolf cubs. It also served as the stage for the unsuccessful escape of Theon Greyjoy from Ramsay Bolton and for the appearance of the three-eyed raven in Bran’s dreams.
The forest used when Bran has a dream in which he begins to chase the three-eyed crow.
There is no doubt that this forest, and rightly so, the producers of the series have taken advantage of it. It’s stone bridges, and medieval gates along the way are the predecessors of a natural space that suits especially well in autumn.
Dundrum Castle ruins are on top of a hill north of Newcastle, next to a fairly dense forest from which several shots were filmed. While at the forest take time to explore the Irish Sea coast in a more medieval environment.
End the day with visiting Percy French Hotel and Spa. Percy French Hotel and Spa wasn’t used in the film, you will find another carved Game of Thrones door which depicts Greyjoy controlled Iron Islands.
Inch Abbey (Robb Stark’s camp)
Having travelled from your second night stay, I would visit Inch Abbey. The Cistercian Abbey of Inch is a 12th-century Anglo-Norman remain, in a state of repair. This whole location served as Rob Stark’s camp. It was here where Catelyn Stark learned of the death by beheading of her husband, Ned Stark and also the place where Rob Stark was proclaimed rightful King of the North.
You can visit Inch Abbey every day and admission is free. And, even if it had nothing to do with Game of Thrones, I recommend you visit. It has fabulous views of Downpatrick and is an ideal place for a walk.
The Quoile River
The Quoile River that passes by Inch Abbey can be seen in several shots of the Game of Thrones series. One particular scene was Catelyn Stark’s father’s funeral in what would be Aguasdulces. It was shot specifically at the Embarcadero at the end of Strangford Road (Quoile Countryside Centre), very close to Castle Ward.
Castle Ward (Winterfell)
Everything started at Castle Ward. Here is the Winterfell of the first chapters, happy days until the arrival of King Robert Baratheon and his entourage of Lannisters. Winterfell, the castle of the Starks exist within the grounds of a stately home known as Castle Ward (National Trust). The castle is on the banks of the Strangford Lough in County Down, just fifteen minutes from the city of Downpatrick (where St. Patrick is buried in the cathedral.)
If there is an emblematic place of Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland, there is no doubt that this is precisely Castle Ward. In one of the courtyards of the estate, the exteriors of the Stark Fort were filmed. That’s where little Bran starts making his first steps with the bow while his father Ned teaches him about life.
If so, inclined you can be taught basic archery by the same archer (William van der Kells) who taught the actors in the series. I would certainly spend a few hours exploring the house and its surroundings.
Audley’s Castle is in walking distance from Castle Ward and is where Jaime Lannister was imprisoned by the Starks along with his cousin Alton. The surrounding fields (Audley’s Fields) is used as Robb Stark’s camp after the battle of Oxcross.
Less than 4 kilometres in the main square of the town of Strangford is a guesthouse known as The Cuan, where some of the Game of Thrones cast stayed during filming in the first season. You can even reserve the room where Jon Snow slept, or rather, the actor who plays him, Kit Harington.
At this location, another carved door is found. This door reflects the opening sequence of the show. This door references the geography of Westeros. Setting the scene and reminding the viewers of the conflict of play between the warring houses.
Catch the ferry from Strangford to Portaferry, which takes 15 minutes and costs £5.50 depending on the size of your car. Drive to Quintin Bay along the eastern coastline. Home to Quintin Castle, built by John de Courcy in 1184.
Here Jamie persuades Bronn to go with him to bring Marcella back to Kings Landing in Season 5 Episode 2.
Take a cup of coffee at the Fiddler’s Green, Portaferry and photograph yourself at the door which examines the growing conflicts within both houses Bolton and Greyjoy.
I recommend breaking the journey up before heading to the next destination by visiting Grey Abbey and Bangor Castle.
Head north towards Antrim (1.5-hour drive) and Lough Neagh. Lough Neagh borders five of Northern Ireland’s six counties and Is the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles. The shores of Lough Neagh were used in Season 5 Episode 5 when Tyrion and Jorah take cover after they are attacked by stone men, subsequently infecting Jorah with grey scale.
Take the short drive to catch Toome Canal on sunset. The canal is part of the Lower Bann river which flows from Lough Neagh to the Atlantic Ocean.
Just imagine seeing a dragon flying overhead as stone men suddenly attack Tyrion and Jorah as they sail to Meereen in Season 5 Episode 5.
I imagine you are getting rather tired now so I hope you have booked a room at Ballygally Castle Hotel. You will find another door echoing the battle of the bastards, and if you are lucky, you might even find the ghost which haunts the castle. I would also recommend dining at the hotel restaurant as the food is locally sourced and deliciously cooked.
I never said this is going to be a relaxing holiday and my kind of holiday don’t result in sitting on the beach or pool lounger. I love driving and visiting unusual places away from everything.
Take an early start as you want to catch Sallagh Braes sunrise. Sallagh Braes is a striking location within the Glens of Antrim. Cliffs and beautiful moorland define them. Here the Hound helped build a Septry with Brother Ray before discovering the devastating slaughter of the villages in Season 6 Episode 7.
Cairncastle is next on the itinerary. This is on a windswept plateau located above a bronze age fort and settlement, providing the wild landscape where Ned Stark beheaded the night’s watch deserter in Season 1 Episode 1.
A nearby location also featured in Season 5 Episode 3, as the place where Little finger told Sansa Stark they were returning to a now Bolton occupied Winterfell together.
Grasslands in Essos
Lying beneath Slemish Mountain, the valley was used as the vast area of Grasslands in Essos. Daenerys Targaryen’s brother Viserys and the Dothraki Khalasar make camp in the long-grassed plains that the Dothraki call home in Season 1 Episode 2.
Carnlough Harbour is a great place for a cup of tea and fish and chips.
This picturesque harbour is situated in the small coastal village of Carnlough, the location used in the Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 7 when Arya surfaced from the water after being attacked by the Waif and crawled up the harbour steps onto the streets of Braavos.
Galboly, The Glens of Antrim
Galboly is perched on a plateau beneath towering basalt cliffs. Sansa and Littlefinger watch Robin practice his swordsmanship in season 5 Episode 1.
The crew returned to the same location in Season 6 Episode 4 when Littlefinger and Robin agreed to march to Sansa’s aid with the knights of the vale.
At the end of the day you should arrive at Mary McBride’s inn for an evening meal and a selfie at the carved door. You might like to find a hotel such as Fisherman’s Cottage at Cushendun.
The caves of Cushendun (the unusual parlour of Melisandre)
I would certainly want to visit the caves of Cushendun early. Hordes of tourist flock to this location like vultures around a dead carcass. The caves are one of the essential stops for Game of Thrones fans.
The cave is where one of my favourite characters, Melisandre, better known as “the red witch” gives birth at the cave to the shadow creature who goes on to kill Renly Baratheon in Season 2 Episode 4.
Formed over 400 million years ago, they easily accessible along the coast from the quaint village.
Head back to the Coastal Road Route towards Belfast, you will pass through the town of Glenarm, known for the walled gardens next to an old castle converted into a mansion.
Steensons the jewellry shop
Adjacent to the Tourist Office is Steenson’s jewelry shop, the jewelry workshop was responsible for creating some of the handmade pieces of jewelry used for the series like King Joffrey crown, Cersei’s earrings, Margaery Tyrell’s tiara and even Sansa’s poison necklace that ended the life of the very young and evil Lannister.
Drive up the coast again to Murlough Bay. Murlough Bay is one of the Europes most beautiful driving roads and its wild and windswept cliffs add to the feeling you are heading further into the kingdom.
It is here where Stannis and Renly met in Season 2 Episode 4. At the Bay, Tyrion and Jorah were captured by slavers in Season 5 Episode 6.
Drive a little further to Fairhead or the Dragonstone cliffs. These impressive 600ft cliffs command spectacular views of the Atlantic ocean. In Season 7 Episode 3, Varys confronts Melisandre here about her avoidance of Jon Snow before advising her to leave Westeros forever.
It is also where Jon, Daenerys, and Drogon share a moment in Episode 5.
I would recommend staying at the Fullerton Arms for one night and travel on to the Giants Causeway Hotel, the following night. At Fullerton Arms hotel you will find another door which is known as the Champion house door. The door is crafted to show the dominance of Targaryen dragons.
Larrybane – The Stormlands
A few miles before Ballintoy is Carrick-a-rede, used as a location for the landscapes of Stormlands and the Renly Baratheon camp in Season 2 Episode 2.
Carrick-a-rede (National Trust) is famous for its rope suspension bridge (actually created by fishermen.) The bridge is where Balon Greyjoy, father of Theon and Yara, is thrown to the rocks by his brother Euron at the beginning of the sixth season.
The beach area is where Melisandre burnt Stannis Baratheon’s bannerman.
Heading down from Carrick-a-rede, is Larrybane, a dramatic headland sheltered by Sheep Island. The quarry now used as an overflow car park was the Renly Baratheon camp in Season 2 Episode 3. It was here where Brienne was proclaimed Renly’s kingsguard. The beautiful landscape served as Stormlands. This was also the setting for Kingsmoot in Season 6 Episode 5.
Misrule reduced his kingdom when Aegon arrived when Argilac the Arrogant refused to bend his knee and was defeated, his daughter was married to a member of the Baratheon House.
Port of Ballintoy (The Iron Islands)
This coastal nook at the end of a small twisting road is synonymous with Pyke and the Iron Islands. Theon returns here in Season 2 Episode 2 and is baptised here in Season 2 Episode 3.
Season 6 Episode 5 also features Euron’s drowning and rebirth, and the nearby beach played host to Melisandre’s burning of Stannis Baratheon’s bannerman.
The Dark Hedges (The Royal Road)
Well, you can’t venture out to Northern Ireland without visiting the Game of Thrones Kingsroad known as The Dark Hedges. Actually, it is a long road where beech trees bend their trunks and the branches on either side embrace each other offering a tree tunnel to a fantasy world.
In the universe of Game of Thrones, the dark hedges served as the Kingsroad through which Arya Stark escapes disguised as a boy after his father’s beheading. Here Arya meets Gendry and Fatboy.
Dark Hedges is close to the town of Ballymoney; although there are more and more signs that indicate where it is, it is best if you put Bregagh Road as the destination on your GPS. One way or another, or by intuition or asking, one ends up arriving. It’s just 15 minutes inland from Ballintoy.
As soon as you arrive at Gracehill House at 10.00am head straight to the Dark Hedges. This iconic location in the Game of Thrones is very popular with tourists, so recommend visiting early.
After the storms in January 2016, some beech trees from The Dark Hedges were struck by lightning and therefore cut down for safety reasons. From the cut-down trees, the doors which you have visited with Game of Thrones stories running through them.
Dunluce Castle (Greyjoy Residence)
Past Bushmills, a few kilometres from the Giant’s Causeway, the ruins of a castle defy the ocean from a seemingly fragile rocky watchtower. We are in the Castle of Pyke where the governors of the Iron Islands of Game of Thrones reside. Although construction by video editing software, it looks perfectly real and without actually visiting the location, you would never know it is computer-generated.
According to research, a Spanish ship of the Invincible Navy (The Galleon La Girona) sank in the rocks after a strong storm. More than 200 bodies found in the surrounding beaches and many of these Spaniards buried in the hills surrounding Dunluce. Today you can visit some of the treasures of this sunken ship in the Ulster Museum in the city of Belfast.
Well, I hope you have booked the Giant Causeway Hotel. I know it’s expensive but well deserved. Although it’s not a filming location in the Game of Thrones, I would certainly spend the rest of the day combing the shores and walking. If you are a National Trust member, you can use the free shuttle bus to travel down with.
Large hexagonal basalt stones produced by the cooling of the lava in the water is by far the standard landscape of the northern territory. Few images of Northern Ireland are as famous as that of this place created, according to legend, by a giant named Finn McCool, who wanted to fight against Bernadonner on the Scottish shores. To get to the other side, each giant made a causeway of stones, hence why they call it the giant’s Causeway.
But when he saw that Bernadonner was bigger and stronger, he ran away. The Scottish giant went after him, but McCool hid in his wife’s house, and she disguised him as a baby and showed it to the evil Bernadonner. When he saw a baby with such proportions, he did not want to imagine what his father would be like and returned to Scotland in awe, destroying the road, which left what can be visited today.
Downhill Beach (Rocadragón)
From Downhill Beach (in Castlerock) the cliff walls show what Rocadragón is for the series. This beach also served to record how Melisandre and her companions set fire to the statues of the seven gods to honour the Lord of Light.
My advice enjoys the area by climbing to the Bishop’s House of Derry. Once you have reached the edge of the cliff, a circular temple (Mussenden) can be found. The Temple modelled on the image practically culminates and similarity of the Roman Temple of Vesta.
The gardens at the entrance are extraordinary, and the views are worthwhile, as well as checking what remains of the bishop’s fortified mansion, which was seriously damaged during World War II.
Port Stewart Strand
Sweeping along the north coast lies the golden sand dunes of Port Stewart Strand. Here Jaime and Bronn came ashore to rescue Marcella only to be discovered by Dornish soldiers. It’s also where Ellaria and the Sand snakes vow revenge against the Lannisters in season 5 Episode 4.
I would certainly spend time on the beach, and you can even drive your car on it. The sea is cold but is invigorating after such a journey.
Once you have finished relaxing drive to Binevenagh which has a distinctive headland has dramatic cliffs and stunning views across Lough Foyle to Donegal.
This is he location used in Season 5 Episode 10, when the Dothraki horde surrounds Daenerys after her escape from the Meereen fighting pits. Daenerys escapes on the back of Drogon. The same location can be found in Season 6 Episode 1 when Daario and Jorah discover Daenerys’ ring while searching for her.
Once your day is done, head to Owens, Limavady, Co Derry to visit the dreaded Night King featured door. Have a pint and I recommend staying at the Drummond Hotel, Limavady, Co Derry.
Today is going to form your biggest driving day. You could split it up into segments and stop overnight in Enniskillen. While in Enniskillen visit and take a drink or two in Blakes of the Hollow Victorian pub, where you will find another Game of Thrones Door.
This door is door four which is the dragon’s door of House Targaryen. Once you have, had your fill, drive down to Pollnagollum Cave found in Belmore Forest.
The cave is Northern Ireland best kept secret. It’s part of the spectacular marble arch caves global geopark. The caves used in season 3 episode 4 as the hideout of Beric Dondarrion. The brotherhood without banners escorted a hooded Arya, Gendry and the Hound to the secret hideaway.
And here my trip to Northern Ireland ended and reached the very gates of Titanic Studios where much of the filming had taken place.
The Touring Exhibition
If you have time, visit the Game of Thrones: The Touring Exhibition at the TEC Belfast.
It is specially designed by GES Events in collaboration with HBO Licensing and Retail. The exhibition combed costumes, authentic accessories and majestic elements from the seven seasons. The touring exhibition created an interactive and immersive Game of Thrones experience.
It’s the most significant public exhibition of Game of Thrones and is only available from April 11, 2019, to September 1, 2019. The show lays over a 5,000 m2 venue and for Game of Thrones fans its quite an experience.
The exhibition, located at TEC Belfast, in the footsteps of the legendary Titanic Studios, where much of the series had been filmed over a period of 10 years. Fans can truly immerse themselves in Westeros and Essos, as well as relive the trials and tribulations of those struggling to survive in the shadow of the Iron Throne.
Since Northern Ireland has left you wanting more, then take a trip to Croatia to finish off the filming location experience.
Consider reading my other article – http://www.transfigurephotography.co.uk/game-of-thrones-in-northern-ireland/