Wild about Westeros? Discover Northern Ireland

Paula Younger


After eight years, the television event of the century has ended. If you’re pining for Westeros, don’t despair: Game of Thrones was known for its stunning filming locations, including the unique, and still largely undiscovered, realm of Northern Ireland. So what should you see?

Castle Ward

If you’ve ever fancied yourself as young Jon, Bran, Robb or Arya, you could do worse than try your archery skills at the reconstructed Range on this National Trust estate. The farmyard was used as part of the Stark castle, Winterfell. Other areas were used for the Whispering Wood and the scene where Brienne encounters Stark soldiers. The mansion itself was built in the 18th century and has an intriguing double aspect. One side looks like a standard Georgian mansion, the other a traditional medieval style tower. The reason for this? The 1st Viscount Bangor, Bernard Ward, disagreed with his wife Anne about how to build the house. If you’re keen on practising your archery skills, you will need to book this activity in advance.

Castle Ward, Northern Ireland

The Antrim Coast

With its dramatic cliffs and crashing seas, this part of Northern Ireland saw Melisandre give birth to her smoke baby (Cushendun); Renly Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell hold court (Larrybane Bay); and Theon Greyjoy return to the Iron Islands, where he was baptised in the name of the Drowned God (Ballintoy). Mount Slemish and Binevenagh were the locations for several Dothraki scenes, and Downhill provided Melisandre with the burning place of the old gods.

Along the coast, you can also see the dramatic ruins of Dunluce Castle, used for many exterior shots of the Greyjoy castle. Perched precariously on the cliffs, its history is as tragic as anything on Game of Thrones. In the seventeenth century, dozens of kitchen servants fell to their deaths when part of the castle collapsed into the sea. 

Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

The Glens of Antrim and County Down

There are nine glens in total, and each one has a different character. You’ll recognise Sallagh Brae as the place where Arya abandoned the Hound to die, while “Queen of the Glens” Glenarrif was the location for scenes at the Eyrie. Tollymore Forest Park was the place where the dire wolves were found in the first episode, as well as a location where Nightwalkers were spotted and where Ramsay Bolton pursued Theon. The glens are also home to the Dark Hedges, one of the most unusual tree plantations in Northern Ireland, used as the Kings Road. Unfortunately, successive storms have felled some of the trees, so a little of its majesty has been lost, but this still stunning avenue of beech trees remains one of the busiest Game of Thrones sites (no parking on-site).

Many locations in the rolling hills of nearby County Down also briefly played their part: Robb Stark had his Riverrun camp in the ruins of Inch Abbey and areas of the Mountains of Mourne were used to film scenes with the Dothraki.

Sweeping Glenside in the Antrim Glens

The Game of Thrones Tapestry, Ulster Museum, Belfast

Since 2017, the Ulster Museum has housed the Game of Thrones tapestry, updated after every season. Inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, this stunning embroidery work depicts key scenes, some in graphic detail. You’ll need to be quick if you want to see the tapestry in Ulster, though – at the end of June this year it will be going on tour and will be exhibited next to the Bayeux Tapestry itself. Ulster has a proud history of weaving and working with linen, and the fabric was provided by Fergusons, one of the last surviving mills in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Museum is conveniently located in the University Quarter of Belfast.

Ulster Museum, Belfast

Game of Thrones Stained Glass Windows Trail, Belfast

If you’ve always been the ambitious type, this is your chance to sit on the Iron Throne yourself (kind of). The final window in this stunning sequence was revealed in Belfast in May 2019, featuring the Iron Throne, and complete with a built-in seat providing a perfect selfie opportunity. The first five windows are located around Belfast, one each at the City and Waterfront Halls; one at the Lagan Weir; another at the SSE Arena; and the fifth by the SS Nomadic, “little sister” of the SS Titanic, now located at Hamilton Dock. Each window shows a key scene from the history of the Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons, Targaryens, and White Walkers. The final window is located close to the Titanic Studios.

Belfast, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

The Titanic Studios, Belfast

A great place either to start or end your Game of Thrones tour, the Titanic Studios are in the heart of Belfast, near the museum. Some cast members were apparently regulars in the local pool clubs and hostelries during the years they spent filming there. Pre-production on series one started in 2010, and Game of Thrones first aired in 2011. One of the final sequences to be filmed in Northern Ireland was the Battle of Winterfell, seen in The Long Night. The battle famously took 55 consecutive nights to shoot.

Both Northern Ireland and Game of Thrones are known for their slightly dark sense of humour, and the costumes are no exception. You’ll have noticed that the outfits worn by the characters in the series look “lived in”: this may be a fantasy series, but those costumes look real. While thousands of highly skilled craftspeople and costumiers provided much of the apparel, the shoulder cloaks you see Jon Snow and the other Northerners wearing have a much more prosaic origin – they were actually rugs from a large Swedish furniture company which just happens to have an outlet next to one of Belfast’s two airports. So, depending on which flight home you’ve booked, you could even pick up a final Game of Thrones souvenir on your way.

(Filming on the prequel series is due to start in 2019.)

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