HBO’s Game of Thrones on the Giants Causeway Tour
Game of Thrones Filming Locations in Northern Ireland
George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Saga already had millions of fans before HBO adapted his novels into the hit TV series Game of Thrones and in order to recreate Martin’s sweeping vision of the continents of Westeros and Essos on screen, the show’s producers use a variety of locations around the world including Croatia, Morocco, Malta, and Iceland.
Yet the area which has perhaps become most closely associated with Game of Thrones is Northern Ireland – backdrop to locations including Winterfell, Castle Black, and the King’s Road. It’s no surprise that tourists have flocked to the region since the show hit with visitors adding millions to the Northern Ireland economy.
Although it isn’t possible to visit many of the locations in one day whilst on tour (watch the guys from HBO above talking about the remoteness and difficulty travelling to many of the locations!) some of the best loctions such as Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge feature on our excursions! Check out the itineraries from Dublin and from Belfast for itinerary overviews!
Magheramorne / Castle Black
One of the three fortresses still occupied by the Nights’ Watch along the Wall, Castle Black is in fact a disused quarry at Magheramorne.
It’s been many thousands of years since Northern Ireland was covered in the snow and ice you see in northern Westeros and so both the climate and the Wall are created digitally but the entrance to the castle is real enough.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, producer Gemma Jackson said, “We used reclaimed timber and a lot of stone and I think it worked because it was in a real quarry.”
While Northern Ireland might not be experiencing an ice age at the moment (or anytime soon we hope), it’s probably wise to come prepared for anything the local weather can throw at you. Whether you plan to be ready for the White Walkers is entirely up to you!
Castle Ward Gardens and Carncastle / Winterfell (Exterior)
The setting for Winterfell, home of the Starks and seat of the Warden of the North, are actually the grounds of Castle Ward, an 18th Century mansion now in the stewardship of the National Trust. Castle Ward overlooks Strangford Lough while Castle Ward House, which doesn’t feature in the show, is also worth a visit for its fascinating interweaving of Victorian and Gothic architecture and design both within and without.
At 820 acres, this walled estate features a beautiful sunken garden and gently paths winding their way towards the lake through peaceful woodland.
Castle Ward was also used as the location DaenerysTargaryen’s wedding to the DothrakiKhalDrogo.
Interior scenes for Winterfell are produced at the Paint Hall Studios facility in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter while Carncastle (or Cairncastle), the tiny nearby village, is also used for filming outdoor shots for Winterfell segments on the show.
Situated on the Castle Ward demesne is Audley’s Field and Tower. The former was used as the site of Robb Stark’s army camp and the site where he meets Talisa Magyar – whom he eventually marries, much to chagrin of the Freys – treating the wounded, while Audley’s Tower was featured during the arrival of King Robert Baratheon and his retinue at Winterfell.
The Dark Hedges/The King’s Road
As one of the main thoroughfares in Westeros, many scenes in the novels and show occur along The King’s Road and the Dark Hedges of County Antrim are used for shots of this route with the tarmac of the road covered in dirt and the fences which run along it removed by the film crews, a process which takes about two days due to the long, unbending nature of the Dark Hedges.
Season One viewers may recognise the Dark Hedges as the location where Arya flees King’s Landing with the Night’s Watch after the execution of her father, Ned.
The beech trees the make up the Dark Hedges were planted by the Stuart family during the 18th Century to impress visitors on their way to Gracehill House, the family’s elegant Georgian mansion.
Cushendun Caves / The Stormlands
The Cushendun Caves were used as the backdrop for one of the most iconic moments in the series, when Ser Davos was ordered by King StannisBaratheon to bring the Red Priestess Melisandre ashore so that she could give birth to the shadow baby which kills King Renly, the brother of Stannis.
The caves were formed over 400 million years by the extreme weather of Ireland’s past and now lie just beyond the scenic seaside village of Cushendun.
Special rigs had to be constructed to prevent water in the caves dripping down on the actors and equipment. It was so cold in the caves that blankets were brought between scenes for the actors to keep warm.
Tollymore Forest Park / North of Winterfell
Tollymore made an appearance in the very first episode of Game of Thrones and has appeared in several scenes since. This is where the Night’s Watchman in the first episode finds the dead wildling bodies and the white walker and it’s also the location in which Ned Stark and his sons find a dead stag before discovering the dire wolf pups. Later, TheonGreyjoy is chased through this 630 hectare forest on horseback by Ramsay Snow, Lord Bolton’s illegitimate son.
Sitting at the foot of the Mourne Mountains and boasting stunning views of the sea from nearby Newcastle, Tollymore Forest Park would be well worth a look even without its Game of Thrones association.
Shane’s Castle / Winterfell, Wildings Site, The Land of Always Winter, and Castle Black
Located near Randalstown and Lough Neagh in County Antrim, Shane’s Castle has been in ruins since fire ravaged the site in 1816 yet it is the grounds of the estate which mainly feature in the show.
The arched bridge here, was used for the fight scene between Brienne of Tarth& the Kingslayer Jaime Lannister when he tried to escape her capture. Shane’s Castle was also used for the tournament in which viewers were introduced to the Hound and his brother, the Mountain.
Larrybane and Carrick-a-Rede / The Stormlands
This area was famous in its own right long before Martin began penning his saga both for the nearby Giant’s Causeway and the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede – both of which attract tens of thousands of visitors every year.
The region is one of staggering natural beauty as the Northern Ireland coastline meets the sea and is also an Area of Special Scientific Interest thanks to the thriving populations of seabirds and plants which can be found here.
In the show, this area was used as the setting for RenlyBaratheon’s camp and the place where Brienne defeated SerLoras for the right to join Renly’sKingsguard. It’s also the place to which Catelyn Stark is sent by her Robb to negotiate with Renly, who vowed to avenge Ned’s death.
Ballintoy Harbour and Murlough Bay / Pyke and Iron Islands
There’s a plaque in Ballintoy Harbour to commemorate the return of TheonGreyjoy from Winterfell to the Iron Islands and his encounter with Asha, who turns out to be his sister, but the transformation from a peaceful Northern Ireland harbour to Pyke wasn’t an easy one – it took several days just to get all of the set dressing and equipment in place.
Situated between the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede, Ballintoy is one of the most scenic harbours in the area with views stretching to Rathlin Island and even as far as Scotland.
The remote Murlough Bay was also used as the place where Ser Davos washed ashore after the Battle of Blackwater Bay.
Downhill Beach / Dragonstone
This 11 kilometre sandy beach on the Causeway Coast acts as Dragonstone’s exterior and the place where Melisandre was introduced during the burning of the Old Gods ceremony, as she puts it, “for the night is dark and full of terrors”. This is where Stannis draws The Lightbringer flaming sword from the fire.
The beach here is overlooked by Mussenden Temple, actually built as a library, which stands on cliffs 37 metres high. Should you visit, it won’t be hard to see why Downhill Beach is one of the most photographed locations in Ireland thanks to the stunning views of the coastline as it joins the North Atlantic.
Inch Abbey / The Riverlands
Situated on the Quoile River’s northern bank, Inch Abbey dates from around 1193 and was built by the Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy to atone for his destruction of Erenagh Abbey but in Game of Thrones, the site acts as the Twins, home of the Freys and the place where Rob’s army must cross the Trident.
It was here that Robb and Catelyn hear of Ned’s death.
Pollnagollum / BericDondarrion’s Hideout
Located in the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, the exterior of the cave was used as BericDondarrion’s hideout during Season Three.
Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland
Game of Thrones has done much to raise the profile of Northern Ireland internationally both as a tourist destination and filming location. The sites used by the show are stunning to behold and worthy of anyone’s attention, regardless of whether you’re a fan of the show or not.
Visitors to the region may also have the opportunity to visit the free Game of Thrones exhibition which is held during the summer in Belfast and features 100 props and costumes from the show as well as the chance to sit on the Iron Throne itself!