If you are not watching Game of Thrones on TV then switch over immediately and start watching. It is a combination of history throughout the ages with Dragons and Zombie hordes added for extra spice. This is then set against the backdrop of gorgeous countryside and scenery. It may be of surprise then to learn that most of it is filmed in Northern Ireland. We decided to take a weekend break here in part to meet up with a friend who had recently moved back and was determined to get us to come and visit. It is a short flight from London, just over 1hr and so is a great Friday night to Sunday evening weekend trip.
We had two full days in Belfast and split it in to one full day doing the Game of Thrones tour and then the next visiting the town centre and the Titanic museum which has recently opened. We selected to go with the Stones and Thrones tour which we found online. There are loads of different trips you can do, so can shop around but this one ended up being really good. Our guide Charlene must have done this a thousand times and had herself been a extra in Game of Thrones, although apparently everyone in Belfast has been an extra in the show. She had some good chat for the day and really helped with the feel of the tour. We had clips of the show before each of the stops and some stills to help us get a feel once there. The bus itself was comfortable with 4 seater tables, it was a bit old but did the job
We set off early at 8.45 and headed north out of the city. First stop on the tour is the Wall and Castle Black set in a abandoned quarry at Magheramorne, although you cannot stop here you can clearly see the rock face and the castle which makes up the imposing ice wall in the show. There is no ice here but the cliff face gives the same imposing height and immediately makes you feel like you are heading in to Game of Thrones territory. They have leased the quarry for 5 years so hopefully it will be on show one day after the filming is done.
We follow the picturesque coast to Ballymena where we stop for coffee and you get to see where Arya has been filming some of the harbour scenes from the latest series. We didn’t get to see this but as with most of the coastline here the little villages are picturesque to take in on there own.
After coffee the tour heads to the Cushendun caves, this is the sinister location used for filming Davos Seaworth landing Melisandre ashore and it is here he witnesses her giving birth to the shadow baby, one of the more sinister scenes from the show but also one set in stunning scenery. At most of the stops enroute they have information boards which help set the scene.
After lunch we continue on up the coast this time to what was one of the highlights on the tour, Larrybane which is the location for multiple scenes but most famously, . It also features the Carrick-Rede Rope Bridge, which we had chance to walk across. You can’t fault the beauty of the coastline here and it is somewhere where you wish for a small house with huge glass front, a fire and a glass of wine, where you can watch the endlessly changing weather across the coast.
We head further round the coast to Ballintoy , “situated in one of the most picturesque parts of North Antrim between the Giants Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and looks out to Rathlin Island and beyond to Scotland. As you come over the Knocksoghey Brae from Ballycastle or in from Whitepark Bay you are greeted by spectacular views, each one featuring Ballintoy Church. This stunning seaside location has been used for exterior Pyke shots and as the Iron Islands.”.
Our penultimate location has not been on Game of Thrones to date. The location is the iconic Giant’s Causeway which myth suggests that a giant call Finn McCool enraged by another giant from Scotland called Benandonner, built a Causeway across the waters to fight him. The truth is a equally spectacular with the causeway being formed over 60 million years ago through volcanic activity. Until Game of Thrones it was the number one reason to visit this coastline. In truth too many people visit this location and the peace there is lost by the sheer number of people. I am guessing there are periods of quiet but not while we were there.
We are near the end of the day now and ready for the final stop. It is a short drive from the Causeway to the Dark Hedges, a imposing roadway with huge tress arching over the road. It is a eerie location but again punctuated by hordes of tourists looking for the perfect photo. It was planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century and intended as a compelling landscape feature to impress visitors as they approached the entrance to their Georgian mansion, Gracehill House. Two centuries later, the Dark Hedges remain a magnificent sight and have become one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland. Again now a scene from Game of Thrones, as part of Arya’s escape from Kings Landing, this has increased it’s popularity further to the point where it is becoming damaged through tourism, tread carefully on those roots.
With the trip over we decided to hit the Belfast nightlife. This has really come on over the years and like other port cities visited, like Liverpool is a really fun and friendly place to go out. You can only really head to the Cathedral Quarter for food. Most of the bars have live local music and a cosy Irish atmosphere. Can’t ask for anymore as a close to the day.
Our final day was split in two. A walk up Cave Hill and then round to Belfast Castle followed by a quick taxi over to the impressive Titanic centre which does a great job of taking you through the history of Belfast and then through to the final resting place of the Titanic. Done over 4 floors starting at the top and slowly descending in to the depths of the ocean and the wreck of the Titanic. You get to see how the boat was built and fitted out with the latest luxury and the eyewitness accounts and aftermath of the sinking. It is fully interactive with a few immersive 180 degree videos and a ride round the ship building. In the grounds you can also see Titanic Studios home to the filming of Game of Thrones.
This was my first visit to Belfast and really only touched the surface. The coastline is endless and there is much more to see than just Game of Thrones locations, it is only 1.30hr from Dublin by train and the city has alot more to offer than what we saw over the weekend. One to come back to and not far to travel either.