Pop Culture Travel: Game of Thrones Northern Ireland (Plus Croatia & Malta)
Based off the New York Times-bestselling series by George R.R. Martin, HBO’s Game of Thrones has become an international phenomenon. Viewers of the show know that one of the biggest elements that contribute to the story is the unforgettable landscapes. It’s easy to get swept up in the magic of it all and believe that Westeros is a real place that you can travel to. Well you can travel to the real cities where the iconic television show was filmed. Countries like Ireland, Croatia, and Iceland helped to make the experience even more real for the actors and the audience. In anticipation of the new season, we’re taking a look at travel centered around locations in Northern Ireland where travelers can experience the fantastical feel of Game of Thrones but without the risk of running into any dragons.
One of the central locations where the show is filmed is in Northern Ireland, especially in the city of Belfast. Most of the interior sets are housed in The Paint Hall, a part of Belfast’s Titanic Studios. And though the studios are not open to the public, many of the on-site locations where the show is filmed in and around Belfast offer exciting and interactive tours.
For those who are fans of the famous House Stark, Castle Ward may look familiar. Found near the village of Strangford, this 16th century castle serves as one of the main locations for Winterfell and features nine different filming sites on its grounds. In addition, to help create the setting we know as Winterfell, there is a 15th century tower on-site that served as one of the Twins, home to the notorious Walder Frey. Robb Stark’s Riverlands campsite can also be found nearby. Fans can get the full medieval experience with the popular Winterfell Archery Experience. A replica of Winterfell Castle’s archery range has been erected where the original scenes were filmed to help immerse tourists in the overall experience.
In addition to getting to see the Castle Ward estate, tourists can see the ruins of a 12th century Abbey, home to the famous scene where Robb Stark is dubbed “King in the North.” We also recommend a trek through Tollymore Forest Park where many pivotal scenes took place, including when the Stark children found their direwolf pups.
Yet Northern Ireland isn’t just the setting for Winterfell. If you’re a fan of House Greyjoy or House Baratheon, then you’ll want to visit the Northern Antrim coast. It is here that many of the exteriors were filmed for Pyke and the Iron Islands, home to Theon Greyjoy, as well as Storm’s End, aka Stannis Baratheon’s stronghold. The picturesque coastline serves as an excellent backdrop for a photo op or just to relax and take in the sights. Along the coast, travelers will be able to see famous spots like the cave where Melisandre used her dark magic or Renly Baratheon’s war camp. While visiting the Antrim coast, one of the most famous destinations in Northern Ireland will be nearby. Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and consists of approximately 40,000 black basalt columns jetting up from the sea. This geological wonder has inspired myths and legends about giants who walked over the sea to Scotland. Possibly like the very giants featured on Game of Thrones?
While exploring Northern Ireland’s exquisite landscapes, one location travelers certainly won’t want to miss is the Dark Hedges. This famous stretch of road is ornamented by eerie and enchanting beach trees which were planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century. It is one of the most photographed areas in Northern Ireland and for good reason. In the world of Game of Thrones, this area serves as the King’s Road. The haunting setting made for the perfect backdrop for the beloved character Arya Stark to make her exit out of King’s Landing and into uncharted territory.
From Belfast and beyond, Northern Ireland is brimming with beautiful scenery and settings utilized in Game of Thrones, and this is only one of the countries where the massively popular series films. For fans who want to experience the more exotic lands of Westeros, Croatia and Malta are other ideal travel destinations. Walking the historic streets of Dubrovnik will make travelers feel as though they are strolling through the capital, King’s Landing, while Split is the real-life setting for the city of Mereen that Daenerys Targaryen (aka Khaleesi) conquers and rules over. Just off of Croatia’s mainland you’ll find Lokrum Island which served as the city of Qarth in season two. The island’s history dates back to 1023 and it is as mysterious as it is beautiful.
Meanwhile, Malta is home to locations where some of the most iconic scenes in the show were filmed. For instance, take Fort Manoel in Valletta. This 18th-century fort was used as the Great Sept of the Baelor, where a certain beloved character loses his head in season one. Or there is the Verdala Palace in Dingli which stood as Illyrio’s mansion, where Daenerys meets Khal Drogo for the first time.
For die-hard fans and casual viewers alike, getting to see the world come to life before your eyes is a once in a lifetime experience and the perfect reason to journey out to the Irish countryside.