Itinerary based on shooting location
DAY 1: WINTERFELL TOURS
An Epic Game of Thrones Filming Location
Winterfell Castle & Demesne, located just 40 minutes from Belfast, was used extensively for the filming of George RR Martin’s epic adaption of Game of Thrones novels. When you first arrive onto demesne you soon realise why the HBO® location scouts chose Old Castle Ward; the sprawling medieval walls and imposing castle tower gate, the beautiful surrounding landscapes and far-reaching views across the lough; it was the perfect place to create Winterfell – home of the Stark family. One thing though…as you approach Winterfell for your Game of Thrones tour watch out for the dreaded White Walkers!
DAY 2: BELFAST TO GLENARM
Depart from Northern Ireland’s capital city, Belfast and set off along the M2, branching into the A2 to join the famous Causeway Coastal Route, which has been celebrated as one of the World’s Great Road Journeys. Let these winding roads test your stamina as they take you through seven mythical kingdoms in one day.
Seven is indeed the magical number as it is only seven miles past Larne that you will come across Cairncastle (near the village of Ballygally). It was here on the windswept Antrim Plateau, that Ned Stark beheaded the Night’s Watch deserter, witnessed by Jon Smow, Theon Greyjoy , and the Stark brothers Robb and Bran; and where Catelyn captures Tyrion Lannister whom she suspects of trying to kill her son. When Bran, Rickon, Osha, and Hodor head north to The Wall it is also from the land Cairncastle that they take a last look back at Winterfell.
However, even the most imaginative scriptwriter would have trouble topping Cairncastle’s own tale of the nobleman supposedly drowned along the coastline in 1588 as part of the ill-fated Spanish Armada. He was laid to rest in St Patrick’s Church graveyard and on the spot where he was buried stands the gnarled and twisted branches of a Spanish chestnut tree. Samples taken from the tree confirm that it does indeed date back to the sixteenth century.
From Cairncastle enjoy the short scenic drive to the picturesque village of Glenarm. With pitched battles between would-be rulers of Westeros a frequent subject matter for Game of Thrones it’s fitting that day one should end in a village whose name is taken from the Irish Gleann Arma, meaning Valley of The Army. For those with sufficient reserves of energy you can explore Glenarm Castle or the beautiful Glenarm Forest Park. Alternatively you can take this opportunity to visit Steensons Jewellery which is where many of the pieces for the series were crafted such as Joffrey’s crown, Lannister lion pendants, stag pins, and silver fish brooches. What’s more you’ll be welcome to watch the craftsmen at work and perhaps purchase a special piece for yourself.After your busy second day it’s time to relax in your Hotel and enjoy the craic.
DAY 3: GLENARM TO BALLYCASTLE
Leaving Glenarm behind you travel inland for just under 10 miles until you reach the Shillanavogy Road in the shadow of Slemish Mountain. St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, tended sheep on Slemish after being brought to the area by priates who slaughtered his family. It’s the sort of barbarism that would no doubt have found favour with warlike Dothraki horde and an appropriate setting for the Game of Thrones scenes where Daenerys Targaryen, Ser Jorah Mormont, and the Dothraki horsemen ride through the grasslands en route to Vaes Dothrak. From the splendid isolation of Slemish through the village of Broughshane, famed for its vibrant floral displays, it’s time to head back towards the coast and the beautiful villages of Cushendall and Cushendun. It was in the caves at Cushendun, easily accessible on foot, that the Game of Thrones crew filmed the dramatic scene from Season Two in which Davos Seaworth, on the orders of Lord Stannis, takes the sorceress Melisandre ashore where she gives birth to a shadowy baby.
From Cushendun it’s on to the beautiful Murlough Bay with it’s spectacular views of Rathlin Island, Mull of Kintyre, and the Scottish Islands. Used as the road to Pyke on which Theon Greyjoy and his sister Asha ride on horseback, it was a location close to the heart of Michelle Fairley (Lady Stark). “I was was particularly pleased when I heard Game of Thrones was going to be filming at Murlough Bay. I used to go swimming there as a child.” Ballycastle, birthplace of the Game of Thrones star Conleth Hill (Varys), will be the last port of call on day two, but first you must pass through the town for one more location of jaw dropping natural beauty.
Larrybane, meaning ‘the ancient white site’, is classic Storms End with its panoramic views of the limestone cliffs and ocean. It hosted several key scenes, including where Brienne beats Ser Loras in a tourney and is given a place in Renly’s Kingsguard as a reward. At Larrybane, Renly also swears to Lady Stark that he will avenge Ned’s death, but meets his end at the hands of Melisandre’s shadow baby; Margaery confides to Littlefinger (following Renly’s death with Stannis’ fleet off –ashore) that she wants to be Queen; and Davos tries to tell Stannis what he witnessed in the cave with Melisandre. Stand on Larrybane Head with the wind in your hair, look out to sea, and you will also truly understand why Game of Thrones came here, and why the programme makers chose this view for their generic panning shots of the coast. However, if you really want to test your head for heights why not take time to visit the nearby Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This is one of Northern Ireland’s most famous landmarks, the bridge is suspended across a 20m chasm between the mainland and the tiny Carrick Island, with a 23m drop to the water below.
Now it’s time to head to your hotel.
DAY 4: BALLYCASTLE TO LONDONDERRY/DERRY (86 MILES/130KM)
With the winding road hugging the coastline and the Atlantic Ocean your constant companion the first stop of the day is the hidden gem that is Ballintoy Harbour. Still a working harbour for local fishermen, Ballintoy doubled as Lordsport Harbour (The Iron Islands) and the homecoming of Theon Greyjoy after ten years in Winterfell. The beach at Ballintoy is where Theon was baptized into the faith of the ‘Drowned God’, cementing his return to the House of Greyjoy.
Continue along Whitepark Road for just under four miles and you will see the signs for Dunseverick, another of the myriad wonderful little harbours and inlets that populate the area. There was little sign of brotherly love but a huge helping of sibling rivalry when Renly and Stannis met here to discuss their claims to the Iron Throne. It was also Renly’s first encounter with the ‘fire priestess’. Filming may not have taken place at the Giant’s Causeway (although the sea did feature in several sweeping shots) but no visit to this area would be complete without calling at the UNESCO World Heritage Site with it’s unique six- sided basalt columns and the wonderful local legend that is Finn McCool.
As you reach the village of Bushmills (site for one of the world’s oldest whiskey distilleries) you will be lured inland to one of the most photographed natural phenomena in the region, the haunting avenue of trees near Armoy, known as ‘The Dark Hedges’. This is where Arya Stark, dressed as a boy, escaped from King’s Landing.
Your journey through the Seven Kingdoms is nearly complete, but one last treat lies in store. Travelling through Coleraine on the banks of the River Bann, it’s time to follow the Causeway Coastal Route signs past Castlerock and on to Downhill Strand. Perched dramatically on a 120ft cliff top stands the iconic Mussenden Temple. The beach below is Dragonstone, where the Seven Idols of Westeros were burned and Melisandre, flames dancing into the night sky, proclaimed: “For the night is dark and full of terrors.”
The visual feast will continue as you wave goodbye to Benone and head for the journey’s end in the famous walled city of Derry/Londonderry. Binevenagh, an Area of Outstanding Beauty, provides yet another scenic backdrop as you bring the curtain down in the Game of Thrones itinerary.