Following Game of Thrones to Belfast & Beyond
Anyone who knows even one thing about me will know I am obsessed with Game of Thrones. Last weekend Gaz and I visited Belfast and our main reason for visiting the city was to go on a Game of Thrones tour. Yes, we are that nerdy. And yes, we fell victim to the tourist trap. But with the gorgeous scenery of Northern Ireland, who could blame us?! We were only in the city for 48 hours so we chose to embark on the Northern tour instead of the Southern tour.
The tour takes you along the Causeway Coast, where you get to visit the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge (which are not featured in Game of Thrones). Of course, this was alongside the filming locations, so it killed two birds with one stone! The Southern Tour takes you to Winterfell, King Robb’s Camp, and Tollymore Forest (the very place where the direwolf pups were discovered, and where the White Walker ambush took place). Plus, you even get to meet the dogs Odin and Thor who played the Starks’ Direwolf pups!
Game of Thrones Tour
Our group met outside the Visit Belfast Welcome Centre at 9am. We were greeted by our lovely bus driver Jim and friendly tour guide Gail. Gail was extremely knowledgeable in all things Game of Thrones and has been an extra in the show since the first episode of Season 1, without even knowing what Game of Thrones was at the time. This meant she had plenty of little anecdotes to tell, to keep us all entertained. We learnt that she was in the Battle of the Blackwater in the basement with Cersei and Sansa and that one of her friends (who was also an extra) was asked out for dinner by Charles Dance a.k.a Tywin Lannister.
Similarly, Stones and Thrones is the company that actually transports the cast and crew onto the set. This means they have the insider knowledge other tour companies can only dream of. Jim knew plenty of spoilers and secrets for S7 including the cameo appearance of a certain ginger-haired singer and the return of a very special character (that even the cast didn’t know about until he/she turned up on set). However, Jim couldn’t tell us anything because anyone who is affiliated with Game of Thrones is sworn to secrecy. You are not even allowed to take your mobile phone out of your pocket onset; if you did you would be automatically escorted away for good.
Before our first stop in Carnlough, we saw many Game of Thrones sights during our drive. We passed THE Wall (but the minibus couldn’t slow down enough for me to capture a decent photo), Ballygally Castle which is the haunted hotel the cast stayed at throughout 2011, and Ballycastle, a new S7 filming location where *SPOILER ALERT* Jon and Daenerys finally meet. Yes, Emilia Clarke had to leave her sunny life in Spain and Morocco for cold and rainy Northern Ireland. Gail also recommended an app “Game of Thrones Filming Locations Northern Ireland” which shows you everywhere in Northern Ireland that was used in the filming of the show. You wouldn’t have guessed that any of the Dothraki scenes were filmed in Northern Ireland, huh?
The first stop on the tour was Carnlough! You may recognise this small harbour from the episode (S6 E7 The Broken Man to be precise) where *SPOILER ALERT* Arya got stabbed by the Waif and jumped off a bridge into the water. She then emerges up these steps. This scene took place in Braavos and was filmed both in Girona (Spain) and Carnlough, at two similar looking set of steps. Maisie Williams must have been feckin’ freezing in those waters, especially as she had to repeat the same scene over and over again, as is the way with filming. There is a Spar right by the harbour so be sure to stock up on snacks for the journey as you do not have much time to eat during the tour.
Cushendun Caves act as the backdrop for the iconic scene where Melisandre gives birth to a shadow baby. Again I feel sorry for Carice van Houten, who plays Melisandre, as she was completely naked in this scene, and that was one cold cave, even with all our layers on.
The next stop was the famous Carrick-a-Rede bridge, which was probably my favourite part of the tour. Whilst this bridge did not feature in Game of Thrones you can’t come all this way and not see it. It was absolutely packed full with tourists and this was a cold, wet and windy day in January. I can’t even imagine the chaos that must ensue on a beautiful summer’s day.
The bridge had been closed the few days prior to our visit due to terrible weather conditions. Luckily it opened again on Saturday but there was still high winds and rain, making the experience even more terrifying. The beautiful scenery looked so moody and atmospheric, but I wouldn’t have wanted the weather to be any worse than it was. The walk across was wobbly enough. One thing to mention is that entry to the bridge is not included in your ticket price, and costs £5.
The Giant’s Causeway needs no introduction. It is without a doubt the most famous site in Northern Ireland and is the country’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is incredibly beautiful and there was even a bit of snow left from the day before! After clambering over all the layers of basalt columns, we walked back up the steep hill towards The Nook, a historic listed building, for some well-deserved pub grub and a rest in front of an open fire. (There is a lot of walking on this tour so be warned/wear comfortable footwear). Once we were back in the minibus, Gail told us the Irish myth of Finn MacCool and how the Giant’s Causeway came to be.
The Dark Hedges
The final stop on our tour was the Dark Hedges, which first appeared in Game of Thrones in S2 E1, On the King’s Road. They provide the backdrop for when Arya Stark flees King’s Landing, disguised as a boy to avoid capture, accompanied by Yoren, Gendry and Hot Pie. It was so exciting to finally see the Dark Hedges in person! They look really freakin’ cool, regardless of whether you’ve seen Game of Thrones or not.
As always, not everything can go to plan so there were certainly some downsides to the tour. We didn’t get to visit Dunluce Castle a.k.a the House of Greyjoy or Ballintoy Harbour a.k.a the Iron Islands. I was really gutted about this. It frustrated me that both of these places were on the official itinerary and yet we didn’t get to see them. However it wasn’t the tour guide’s fault. It was the fault of other people on the tour who were late back to the minibus on several occasions, which left us with no time to visit the other destinations. So if you go on this tour, please be a decent person and get back to the bus on time. That’s all I’m saying…
For this reason, it felt more like a tour of the Antrim Coast than a Game of Thrones tour. This does, however, mean that you could still really enjoy the tour even if you’re not a fan of Game of Thrones. There also isn’t a lot of time to eat as time is pretty limited at every stop. Our driver let us to eat and drink on the bus though so this wasn’t really a problem.
So are you a Game of Thrones fan? Have you ever visited any of their filming locations? Let me know in the comments below! Game of Thrones filming locations in Dubrovnik and Iceland are right at the top of my bucket list. That’s totally not because Game of Thrones has been filmed in these locations as well… Nope, not at all…
Stones and Thrones hosted me for a review, but as always all opinions are my own. You can use the link below to book this tour for £30.
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