Are you a Game of Thrones fan and if so, is a self-guided tour something you'd be interested in doing?
Would you give anything to relive the entire Game of Thrones series on a visit to Northern Ireland?
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If you’re anything like me, you’re fascinated by the elaborate sets and locations where the popular HBO series was filmed.
While several locations in Europe were used for the filming, such as Croatia, Iceland, Morocco, and Spain, there’s no doubt the producers fell in love with Northern Ireland’s rugged landscape because much of the series was filmed there.
There are plenty of tours available for Game of Thrones fans to take, but if you’re more budget-minded, you could visit all of the locations yourself by taking a self-guided tour of the Game of Thrones attractions, as demonstrated in the Google maps in this blog post.
As well as filming many of the exterior shots in Counties Antrim, Derry and Down, the indoor scenes for the series were captured in Belfast’s Paint Hall studios located in the city’s Titanic Quarter.
Game of Thrones has made the region hugely popular and shone a spotlight on Northern Ireland as a top-class tourist destination.
In fact, sometime in 2021, a new HBO Game of Thrones tour is set to open in the Linen Mill Studios outside Belfast.
The tour will feature sets that were used in the show, as well as authentic costumes, weaponry, and props. Stay tuned to Ireland on a Budget to learn more about this exciting development.
Presuming you are starting off in Belfast, you’ll need a rented car to get you to all of these locations.
If this trip is part of your overall Ireland vacation, then I’m assuming you may have already booked a car at either Shannon or Dublin airports.
There are many options at both airports. I personally recommend Sixt Rent a Car. On my last trip to Ireland, we got a great car at a decent price and the customer service was excellent.
Read More: Visit the New Game of Thrones Studio Tour
Tollymore Forest – Season 1, Episode 1. The Starks find a dead dire wolf
Begin your drive in Belfast, getting on the M1 motorway toward Tollymore Forest. Use your smartphone or the free navigation app, Navmii to get there and other locations on this self-guided tour of Game of Thrones attractions.
The 1 hour and 26-minute drive (approximately 38 miles) will take you through the beautiful countryside of County Down.
The Tollymore Forest Park outside of Newcastle in Co. Down, lies at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, but you can also see the ocean from here, too. Its most notable feature is the Shimna River, which runs through the forest.
There are several walking trails in Tollymore Forest Park.
They include the 0.4-mile Arboretum Path that will take you along a collection of trees, some of them the oldest plantings on the island of Ireland; the River Trail, a 3.1-mile walk along the Shimna River; the Mountain & Drinns Trail, a much longer and energetic walk; as well as the Mourne Way, an off-road trail that crosses the foothills of the Mourne Mountains.
As you walk through this vast park, you might notice some familiar markers, like the picturesque Altavaddy Bridge, which was where the Starks found the dire wolf pups.
Here’s a clip from Season 1, Episode 1, with the bridge and the Shimna River in the background.
There are many decorative buildings and structures throughout the park. At its entrance is a Gothic gate. The Clanbrassil Barn, which is located near the park’s exit, was built around 1757 and was designed to look like a church. A steeple containing a bell, a clock, and a sundial were all added to it later.
The Hermitage is a stone shelter built into the side of the gorge above the river and was used as a place for ladies to shelter while the men fished.
A granite obelisk can be found on a small grassy hill near the main drive, and you’ll find numerous artificial and natural features along the river, such as bridges, grottos, and caves.
All-in-all a fascinating first place to visit on your self-guided Game of Thrones tour.
The park, which is open year-round from 10 a.m. until sunset, is located at 176 Tullybrannigan Road in Newcastle. The parking fee for cars is £5.
Inch Abbey – where Robb Stark is declared King of the North
Leave Tollymore Park and head for the nearby Inch Abbey, a ruined monastic site less than a mile from Downpatrick, where St. Patrick’s mission to spread Christianity in Ireland began. In fact, he is buried in nearby Down Cathedral and is believed to have converted the first person at Saul, a few miles away.
The abbey was established as a Cistercian monastery in the 12th century by the Norman knight John de Courcy. Its main feature is its chancel (the space around the altar), which has three high windows.
It is believed that de Courcy commissioned one of the monks to rewrite the legends of St. Patrick, and some believe that this is where the legend of St. Patrick banishing the snakes from Ireland came from.
Admission to the site is free.
If you’re hungry for lunch at this point, stop at what is Ireland’s oldest coaching inn. Denvir’s Hotel & Pub, located in Downpatrick, a mere 5 minutes from the abbey.
The hotel has been extensively renovated with care to retain its original character. It was built in 1642.
The lunch menu is reasonable, with two courses for £12 and three courses for £15.
The inn has six beautifully decorated rooms, with rates starting at £40 per night for a single room and £70 per night for a double room.
Castle Ward – Winterfell, the home of the Starks
Castle Ward is an 18th-century house located in Strangford, Co. Down. The nearby farmyard, including the property's tower house, was turned into the Winterfell set, which was featured in the first season of the show as well as subsequent seasons.
The Winterfell Tours at Castle Ward will bring you back to the world of Westeros as you try your hand at archery, part of a special replica of the Winterfell archery range, which has been recreated in the courtyard where filming took place.
You can even dress up in costume, step into the movie set and stand exactly where Jon Snow, Robb Stark, and Bran Stark stood.
Additional activities at the castle include a self-guided Westeros Cycle Trail that will take you to Audley’s Castle (shown below) and other key Game of Thrones filming locations.
The price per person is £38.50 and includes the bicycle tour and a “Stark Sack” that comes with an iPad digital guide, all for up to 2 ½ hours. Children under 12 are £23 each.
If you are based in Dublin and want to catch a Winterfell tour without having to rent a car, this tour is the ideal one-day activity.
The National Trust, which now owns the house, describes it as an “eccentric 19th-century mansion.”
Perhaps the reason is that the house consists of two different architectural styles, which represent the differing opinions of its former owners, Lord Bangor and his wife, Lady Ann Bligh.
One side of the house is in the Palladian style while the other is in the Georgian Gothic style. Inside, a line down the middle divides the two.
The property also includes a Victorian laundry museum, the 16th-century Plantation tower, Old Castle Ward, and a sunken Victorian garden.
Castle Ward is open for tours from April through December, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The garden and grounds are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The property's tower house known as Audley’s Castle is another prominent landmark on the grounds of Castle Ward. It served as the backdrop for several scenes in seasons 1 and 2, and it is where Alton Lannister was imprisoned.
The castle dates from the 15th century and is a three-story tower house named after its 16th-century owner, John Audley.
Read More: “Unleash the Giant Spirit” in Northern Ireland
Toome Canal Walk – Jorah, the exiled northern lord from Westeros, set sail in a stolen boat with Tyrion as his captive. Season 5, Episode 5
From Castle Ward, drive approximately one hour and 40 minutes (62 miles) to the Toome Canal in County Antrim. The canal is about a 10-minute walk from the center of Toome village.
The 1.2-mile walk will take you along the canal, which leads to the shores of Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in Great Britain and Ireland.
You can also take a canal cruise.
Below is a clip from the series. It is the boat ride that Tyrion and Jorah took on their way through Valyria. It was filmed on the canal.
Sallagh Braes – Sandor Clegane, the Hound, living in the Riverlands. Season 6, Episode 7
Driving from Toome to the Sallagh Braes will take you about 48 minutes. It is about 35 miles. This area is part of the Glens of Antrim and is also designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
A portion of the Ulster Way, a 625-mile circular walking route, can be found in this area of County Antrim. It is one of the longest waymarked trails in Britain and Ireland.
When visiting this section of the Ulster Way, you can take a much shorter walk to experience the magnificent scenery.
Here’s a scene from the show that illustrates the beauty of the region.
Cairncastle – Ned Stark beheaded Will, the Night’s Watch deserter. Season 1, Episode 1
Cairncastle is located in Glenarm, one of the Nine Glens of Antrim.
The area where the following scene took place is part of a Bronze Age Promontory Fort, a defensive structure above a steep cliff.
Cushendun Caves – the Stormlands. This is where the shadow baby was born and where Davos Seaworth and Lady Melisandre landed ashore. Season 2, Episode 4
On the 24-mile drive along the coast from Cairncastle to the Cushendun Caves on the A2 (also called the Antrim Coast Road), you’ll be awe-inspired by the beautiful scenery.
To the left, you’ll see the nine Glens of Antrim and looking seaward, you’ll get a glimpse of the Scottish islands and the Mull of Kintyre.
The road, which consists of a series of tunnels built into the cliffs, was constructed in the 19th-century to give transportation access to residents living in the Glens of Antrim.
Prior to its construction, they had to sail across the North Channel to Scotland to trade their goods.
The Cushendun Caves are a short distance from the town of Cushendun in Co. Antrim, a pretty seaside village that is famous for its Cornish-style cottages, now owned by the National Trust.
They were built between 1912 and 1925 by Lord Cushendun, the local landowner.
The caves were formed over 400 million years ago. Once you get there, take the long gravel walkway to the two large caves.
If you’ve got kids, this is a great place for them to go rock pooling and discover the many small pools of water that have been formed on this rocky shoreline.
It is known for its variety of seaweed, as well as anemones, crabs, fish, sea urchins, and other marine life hiding between the rocks.
If you’re thirsty after all your exploring, why not stop at Mary McBride’s Pub, Ireland’s smallest pub, measuring 5 feet by 9 feet, and another place where you’ll find a Door of Thrones.
The pub, known as the Irish Whiskey Bar, is a gem, with lots of history to be discovered based on the life of its original owner, Mary McBride. It is located on Cushendun’s Main Street.
Downstairs you’ll be able to avail of the pub grub menu, or upstairs, why not check out The Little Black Door, which specializes in seafood. It is open from 6-9 p.m.
Murlough Bay – Tyrion and Jorah came ashore and were accosted by slavers. Season 5, Episode 6. Also used as the location for Renly’s camp in Season 2
Drive about 25 minutes along the coast to Murlough Bay.
This is a remote place with truly magnificent views of Rathlin Island and various Scottish islands.
It is a little difficult to get to the shore, so you will need to walk. While you’re there, you’ll discover a cross in memory of Roger Casement, an Irish nationalist revolutionary leader who was executed by the British for treason.
The Dark Hedges, Co. Antrim – The Kingsroad, north of King’s Landing
It will take approximately 26 minutes to drive from Murlough Bay to the Dark Hedges located in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim.
This is the location for the Kingsroad, the longest and grandest road in the Seven Kingdoms, beginning at Castle Black at the Wall extending to the capital city of King’s Landing in the south.
It is perhaps one of the most iconic of the Game of Thrones locations. If you choose to do a self-guided tour of the Game of Thrones attractions, make sure you include this one on your itinerary.
Visitors from around the world have been coming to see the avenue of beech trees first planted in 1775 by James Stuart to create an avenue for his home, Gracehill House.
The trees have since formed a “tunnel” that is up to 32 feet wide.
Be sure to visit the privately-owned Georgian manor that is now a popular wedding destination.
A Game of Thrones-themed door can be found here. It is one of 10 specially created doors found in different locations across Northern Ireland. The idea for the initiative, known as the “Journey of Doors,” is based on season 6 of the show.
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Larrybane Quarry – Brienne of Tarth fights Sir Loras Tyrell. Season 5, Episode 7
The drive from the Dark Hedges to Larrybane Quarry is about 9 miles. It is located close to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge attraction. During the summer, the quarry area is often used as an overflow parking lot.
In this scene, you’ll see the familiar limestone of the quarry and the magnificent bay in the background.
The rope bridge is one of those attractions that, if you’re in the area, you just have to do (unless, of course, you’re afraid of heights).
The walk leading up to the bridge is quite long, so make sure you have the right footwear. And be prepared to stand in line if you’re visiting during the height of the tourist season.
Crossing the bridge is quite secure. But it wasn’t always like that.
Built by local fishermen in 1755, you can’t help but think how difficult it must have been to create such a structure that is 66 feet long and 100 feet over the ocean below.
It has been replaced several times over the centuries.
Carrick-a-Rede, which is the name given to the island that is connected to the mainland by the bridge, is rich in wildlife, including puffins.
The cost for an adult is £9. The cost for children is £4.50, with a family ticket costing £22.50.
Ballintoy Harbour – is highlighted in the episode where Theon returns to the Iron Islands. Season 6, Episode 4
It’s only a 7-minute drive from the Larrybane Quarry to this small fishing harbor located in the village of Ballintoy.
You’ll find another Game of Thrones-themed door at the Fullerton Arms nearby. It serves as a bar, restaurant, and guesthouse.
There was once a thriving trade with nearby Scotland in this small village, which began in the 1500s.
You’ll recognize the pier in this scene as Theon steps off his boat in search of his sister, Yara. Note that the white building in the background is Roark’s Kitchen, a popular spot for a cup of tea and dessert.
The Red Door Tea Room is a great place to stop off and take a breath. It has a real turf fire, and you can get tea and scones served on the finest china. Lunch and dinner menus are also available.
Read More: Game of Thrones Tapestry on Display at Ulster Museum
Dunluce Castle – the site of Castle Greyjoy
From Ballintoy Harbor, take the Whitepark Road to Dunluce Castle (about a 17-minute drive). The ruined castle sits on top of a dramatic basalt crag. It is a stunning place and an ideal setting for Castle Greyjoy in the Game of Thrones series.
To get to the castle, you will need to cross a narrow bridge.
During the 16th century, the castle was home to the MacDonnell's, the earls of Antrim. Part of the castle fell into the sea in 1639, taking seven servants with it.
Here is a birds-eye view of the castle from the air.
Portstewart Strand – the coast of Dorne where Jaime and Bronn fight Dornish soldiers. Season 5, Episode 4
From Dunluce, continue on the Whitepark Road to Portstewart Strand for about 6 miles. Located in Co. Derry, this is one of Northern Ireland's finest beaches. You can see Mussenden Temple and the Inishowen headland in the distance.
It is free to access the beach, but you must pay £6.50 to park your car.
Downhill Strand – the site of Dragonstone and the burning of the Seven Gods. Season 2, Episode 1
This equally beautiful beach is where you will find the Mussenden Temple perched on a 120-foot cliff. The cliff with the temple on top was digitally altered into the fictitious Dragonstone Castle.
It is a 32-minute drive (about 14 miles) from Portstewart to Downhill Strand.
The temple was built in 1785 and formed part of the estate of Frederick Augustus Hervey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol (or the Earl Bishop). It was inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Italy and dedicated to the memory of his cousin, Frideswide Mussenden.
Bievenagh – Daenerys was surrounded by a Dothraki horde while searching for food. Season 5 Episode 10
Your final stop on this self-guided tour is Bievenagh mountain on the edge of the Antrim plateau. From the mountain, you can see the Roe Valley, the Sperrin Mountains, the North Coast, and Lough Foyle in Co. Donegal.
If you're a Game of Thrones fan, let me know if you've taken a self-guided tour of the Game of Thrones attractions. Even if you've only visited a couple of them, let me know which ones you preferred.