Take a trip to Westeros & Essos: Northern Ireland Road Trip 2019

This is a must for any Game of Thrones fan!

A visit to Northern Ireland quickly reveals why it was an obvious choice for filming the epic Game of Thrones show, with such incredibly diverse landscapes suitable for locations across both Westeros & Essos.

Whist the Dark Hedges was a particularly hectic place to visit (but you can avoid the crowds by visiting early in the morning), most areas are tranquil, with very few tourists to hamper your view. Driving around is also very easy, with the longest drive between locations under 2.5 hours, and only tractor-traffic to navigate. Purchasing National Trust membership for your trip is certainly worth it, as you will pretty much make back your money during this trip alone.

When pulling together our itinerary for our GoT Territory road trip last Summer, we relied heavily on the information provided by Discover Northern Ireland (including their App), who have compiled some excellent trips based around the ten Game of Thrones doors that have been spread across the territory.   These doors tell the story of Season 6 of the series, and were created using 18th century beech trees that fell from the Dark Hedges (aka the King’s Road) in a storm in 2016.  We were so pleased we managed to see them all! img_0174

As we found this approach the best way to make the most of our visit, and helped us to cram in as many locations as possible in the time that we had, I have replicated the approach here, and provided an overview of the places to visit by reference to the 10 Doors of Thrones.  For those of you wanting more details, I have attached a link to a PDF with our full itinerary. I have used information about many locations taken from the Northern Ireland Game of Thrones Territory Filming Location booklet and the Journey of Doors Passport. These are readily available within Northern Ireland, or you can download copies in advance of your trip.

At many locations, information signs are available providing background to the relevant filming sequences, but sadly, many of these were no longer in situ when we visited, and hopefully these will be replaced in the future.

DOOR 1 – The Cuan, 6-12 The Square, Strangford BT30 7ND

Opening title sequence of GoT – Westeros Geography & reminder of the context of Season 5 warring Houses.

We based ourselves for the first 3 days of our trip at the camping site at Castle Ward (located on the shore of Strangford Lough), having spent our arrival night at The Cuan following a last minute change to our ferry schedule. The GoT cast stayed at the Cuan during filming.

We opted for a premium pod, which is a “glamping” option. It had power and bed couches and a fantastic location in the forest above Strangford Lough. We were lucky to have had great weather for most of our trip, and so I cannot comment on what this experience would have been like had it been raining!

Staying at The Cuan would have been an excellent choice for our trip, but they didn’t have availability for our trip.

Most of the Season 1 Winterfell scenes are set within the Castle Ward National Trust property (Strangford, Downpatrick BT30 7BA).

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Audley Castle & Field (Accessible via a cycle tour from Castel Ward) – GoT: Robb Stark’s Camp, Oxcross (Battle of Oxcross): Where Robb Stark first meets Talisa

Locations around Castle Ward – GoT: Ned’s picnic, Baelor’s battlefield, The Twins, Where Brienne confronts Stark Men with Jamie, Winterfell Castle

You can also take a short drive into the Riverlands from Castle Ward.   We visited Inch Abbey before breakfast one morning and it was stunning, and no-one else around to disturb the silence. You can see Downpatrick Cathedral from this spot.

Inch Abbey, Inch Abbey Road, Downpatrick BT30 9AT – GoT: Rob Stark’s camp, The Riverlands

Quolie River is at the end of 31 Quay Road (off Strangford Road) – Hoster Tully’s funeral at Riverrun

Places to eat:  The Lobster Pot, Strangford & The Cuan. The Game of Thrones Banquet at The Cuan is highly recommended for a full Game of Thrones experience.  The attention to detail was incredible, and we had a lovely evening.  The food was excellent!

We also had fish & chips one evening from the Cuan’s own chippy to make the most of the fine weather we had during our trip.

DOOR 2 – Fiddler’s Green, 10 Church Street BT22 1LS

Shows the conflicts between Houses of Bolton and Greyjoy.  The Kracken and Flayed Man take centre stage.

To get to the pub, and to visit nearby Quintin’s Castle and Ballyquintin Point, you will need to take the small ferry across from Strangford across the lough to Portaferry. Strangford is a very small town, which has a very interesting small castle.  The ferry terminal is right around the corner from The Cuan.  You will need the car to visit the sights from Portaferry, but if you are just looking to head to the pub, then you can ride as a passenger instead.

Quintin’s Castle & Bay, NT car park, Kearney Road, BT22 1QF – GoT: Stokeworth: Where Jaime speaks with Bronn and Lollys.

DOOR 3 – Percy French Inn, Newcastle BT33 0AH – At the foot of the Mourne Mountains

Depiction of an exodus of ships from the Iron Islands and foreshadowing of the Battle of the Bastards

The scenic backdrop here is incredible!  Mountains and forests dominate the landscape. We had a drink and snack at the Percy French Inn.   This was probably our least favourite door location, mainly because the Percy French is less “traditional” than all of the other pubs we visited.

We only stopped briefly at Leitrim Lodge and we didn’t have time to do any hiking.   If we came here again, we would certainly like to spend a few days in the Mourne Mountains hiking and exploring the wilderness.

Tollymore Forest is a huge public park and we wished we had set aside more time to stay here.  We joined part of a Game of Thrones tour here, which lasted just over an hour.  The park was used to film a number of notable GoT scenes, including the opening scene where the Black Watch deserter witnesses the horror of the White Walkers, and the place where the Starks found the Direwolves.  We had an excellent guide, Eric, who has been an extra on both GoT and on Vikings.  It was a pleasure talking to him during the tour.  We have since spotted him on the latest season of Vikings!

Tollymore Forest, Bryansford Road, Newcastle, BT33 0PR – GoT: Lands around & North of Winterfell: Wildling pit where the Night’s Watch find dismembered bodies in the opening scene.  Bridge where the Starks discover the Direwolf pups.

Leitrim Lodge, Mourne Mountains, Leitrim Lodge Car Park 114 Leitrim Road BT34 5XX – GoT: North of Winterfell

DOOR 4 – Blakes of the Hollow, 6 Church Street Enniskillen BT74 7EJ

Focus on Dragons show the rising dominance of the Targaryen’s, but also touches of the falcon of House Arryn

This is the most remote of all of the doors, and we had to make a specific effort to travel the 2.5 hours from Ballintoy to visit, but it was one of the most interesting pubs in terms of décor.  It is worth stopping at Pollnagllum Cave to see the filming location for Hollow Hill.  The cave is up an unpaved and winding track, but we saw a lovely deer in the road when we visited.  We visited the cave first, and stopped at the pub for an excellent sandwich before heading back to Ballintoy.  They do have a good restaurant onsite too if you had a little more time.

Pollnagllum Cave, Enniskillen BT74 5BF – GoT: Hollow Hill

DOOR 5 – Owens Bar, 50 Main Street Limavady, BT49 0EU

It’s all about the Night King and his army of walkers!

We spent quite a lot of our time in this coastal area (it was about 30 minutes’ drive from Ballintoy), particularly as the weather was so nice, we wanted to spend extra time at the lovely expansive beaches.  The Portstewart area would be another great place to base yourself for a trip and there are plenty of good restaurants and places to eat here.  We had a good lunch at Harry’s Shack, Portstewart Sands which is right on the beach with free parking on the beach for National Trust members.

Binevenagh, Limvady, Manannan Mac Lir Sea God statue: Gortmore View Point BT49 0FJ. Short hike from the car park. Also take a picture from the bottom of the cliffs. BT49 0JG – GoT: Dothraki Grasslands, North of Mereen, Essos.

Portstewart Sands, 116 Strand Road, Port Stewart BT55 7PG  – GoT: Coast of Dorne

Mussenden Temple – Downhill Demesne & Beach (NT) – National Trust property. Castlerock, Coleraine BT51 4RP). Parking is permitted on Downhill Beach. – GoT: Dragonstone

Places to eat: Harry’s Shack, Portstewart Sands. Free parking on the beach for NT members.

DOOR 6 – Fullerton Arms, 22 Main St, Ballintoy BT54 6LX

Drogon takes centre stage here, and the Dothraki stallion signifies their willingness to follow Daenerys across the Narrow Sea.

For leg 2 of our trip, we spent 5 nights at the Fullerton Arms in the small village of Ballintoy.  This proved a great central location for exploring the Causeway Coast, and was a fantastic B&B with recently renovated rooms.  You can do this trip from Belfast, but by splitting our trip between Belfast, Ballintoy and Castle Ward, it saved on us having long journeys each day and gave us more time to spend at these areas and to discover hidden gems that we might otherwise have missed.

Ballintoy Harbour, County Antrim – GoT: Lordsport Harbour, Pyke & Dragonstone Beach

Carrick a rede bridge (National Trust ), 119 Whitepark Road BT54 6LS – GoT: Pyke

Dunlace Castle, 87 Dunlace Road, Bushmills BT57 8UY  – GoT: Pyke

Dunerick Castle, not a GoT location, but a very romantic ruin img_0137Larrybane quarry, used as overflow car park for Carrick a rede bridge – GoT: The Stormlands & Nagga’s Hill, Old Wyk & Dragonstone Cliffs

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Giant’s Causeway, 44 Causeway Road, Bushmills (Visitor Centre is National Trust – not GoT location but a must visit.  No need to pay to visit, only pay to use the car park)img_0112

Places to eat: For a special treat, eat at the Bushmills Inn. For food near the Giant’s Causeway, you can get a huge bowl of chowder at the Smuggler’s Inn. The Fullerton Arms specialises in Strangford Lough Mussels. The Jawbox version which incorporated tumeric was fantastic. We had a heart breakfast at Bothy Coffee just near White sands Bay.  If you are in Ballycastle, grab a sourdough at the Ursa Minor Bakery.

DOOR 7 – Dark Hedges Estate, 141 Ballinlea Road, BT53 8px

The recently deceased three eyed raven & references to the fallen trees.

As mentioned at the start, the Dark Hedges was the most crowded of locations we visited.  Having driven past the spot on our way to Bushmills Distillery, we noticed that the parking situation was awful, with large 50 seater coaches everywhere and parked on the Dark Hedges road itself.  We didn’t even bother to stop, and so decided to stop there another day early in the morning.  We arrived at just after 7am one morning, and it was perfect.  No-one else was there and we got some incredible pictures.

The door itself used to be in the Gracehill House, but is now in the hotel next to Gracehill House. There is no atmosphere here and was not somewhere where you’d want to have a drink and so we literally just went in to get a photo and passport stamp, and made our way back to Bushmills for dinner.

Dark Hedges, Bregagh Rd, Stranocum, Ballymoney BT53 8PX – GoT: The Kingsroad, North of Kings Landing

DOOR 8 – Mary McBrides Bar , 2 Main st, Cushendun BT44 0PH

Chronicles Arya’s journey to Braavos.

All of the areas near Cushendun were relatively close to Ballintoy.  Cushendon itself is the location of the famous cave where Melisandre gave birth to the shadow monster, and where in Season 8, Euron fought with Jaime.

We were again surprised by the diversity in the landscapes within this coastal region, which was surrounded by lush forested hills.  The coastline is incredible dramatic, and a boat trip is a must to fully appreciate its stark beauty.  We used Abhainn Cruise company for our sea safari and I would certainly recommend their trip! We had the boat to ourselves, and our captain took us to Rathlin Island for a lunch time stop, around the imposing basalt cliffs of Fair Head, and into the quiet cove of Murlough Bay.  We raised a glass of rum to Tirion as we took in the fine view.

After our sea safari, we returned by car to above Murlough Bay, and ventured down the narrow and steep single track to enable us to walk into Murlough Bay.  This was one of the most beautiful places we had ever visited, and it was so peaceful with very few people around.img_0239

Unfortunately, we were unable to get to Galboly, as the area was closed for filming, but we had a great day at Glenariff forest park where we walked the “Waterfall Walk” and stopped at Carnlough Harbour to see the place where Arya emerged from the water at Braavos.

It is definitely worth heading up to the top of Fair Head, as the views are spectacular!

Cushenden Caves, Ballymena BT44 0PG – GoT: Melisandre’s Cave, Stormlands & Jaime’s clash with Euron Greyjoy at Kings Landing

Slavers Bay & Rathlin Island Cruise (Abhainn Cruise) – GoT: Slavers Bay Essos, Dragonstone

Fair Head, Hikes available. Car park off the A2 signposted £2 – GoT: Dragonstone

Above Murlough Bay & Walk to Murlough Bay, via Torr Scenic Road – GoT: Renly’s camp, The Stormlands & Slavers Bay

Carnlough Harbour, BT44 0HQ – GoT: Braavos

Glenariff Forest Park, Glenariff BT44 0RG

The Hidden Village of Galboly, The Glens of Antrim (20 minutes from Glenariff. Route goes up to the right – parking along the road – 2 hours until 2pm) Closed for filming when we visitedGoT: The Arryn lands

Steensons, Seaview Hall, New Road, Glenarm Ballymena BT44 0AA – GoT: Jewellery makers for the show

Places to eat: Mary McBrides, Ice cream at Morelli’s Carnlough, Laragh Lodge, within Glenariff Park.

DOOR 9 – Ballycally Castle Hotel, Coast Road, Ballygalley, Larne BT402QZ

Echoes the Battle of the Bastards, and the heavy cost of victory for the Starks

We visited these locations on our way from Ballintoy back to Belfast, where we spent our last 2 nights of our trip. It is a very remote area, and plenty of fantastic landscapes (including an ancient volcano and an ancient bronze age burial site) to visit, and it is easy to see why this area was selected as a filming location for so many parts of the show.

Slemish Mountain, Shillanavogy Valley, Carnstroan Lane (Slemish Car Park) – GoT: Dothraki Sea, East of Pentos

Sallagh Braes, (24 minutes from Slemish) (Linford Car Park.) – GoT: The Riverlands, The Hound and Brother Ray the Septor’s Settlement

Linford Barrows, Not GoT, but fantastic bronze age burial site. Access from Linford Car Park img_0168Cairncastle, unnamed road, Larne BT40 2NF, not far from Ballygally – GoT: North of Winterfell, The Neck (on the road to Moat Cailin), North of Harrenhall

Loughareema Lake (The Vanishing Lake), just off the A2, Ballycastle BT54 6WL. Not a GoT location, but is a fascinating geological feature whereby the water of the lake seeps into the peat and disappears. There was no water in sight when we visited, but other times would see this as a large lake.

Places to eat: Ballygally Hotel.  Ancient castle with rumours of hauntings! A good place to stop for a bowl of Chowder.

Door 10 – Dark Horse, 30-34 Hill Street Belfast

Depicts the events in King’s Landing as Season 6 concludes

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We only had two days in Belfast, but we managed to see most of what we wanted to see. We were disappointed that the Tapestry of Thrones had recently ended at the Ulster Museum, but it was fantastic to visit the GOT Exhibition where we met Andrew, from the GoT documentary, The Last Watch, who was our guide, and to see the decimated King’s Landing set from the car park.  We will be back soon when the studios are opened up to the public.

We chose to stay at the Titanic Hotel, which is housed in the old Harland & Wolf Drawing Rooms. It was a gorgeous hotel, and right next to the Titanic experience.  The bar was exquisite, and we enjoyed a couple of White Walker cocktails during our visit.  It is about 20 minutes into the centre of Belfast, but perfectly fine if you don’t mind the walk.  It was an excellent location for us, as we could park easily beneath the hotel and it was close to the ferry terminal for our trip home.

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We would recommend stopping at St George’s Market for some food (where we met up with one of my old Uni friends and his gorgeous family), or watch some sport at Lavery’s (where we stopped to watch the England v Wales Rugby game, as James couldn’t possibly wait for a replay).  The Titanic experience is also a must for any trip to Belfast.img_9854

The Glass of Thrones

If you are in Belfast, then you must try and find the 6 Glass of Thrones windows dotted around the city.  You can find a route online and it is about a 1.8k walking trail through Belfast.

  1. The Stark – City Hall
  2. The Lannister – The ICC
  3. The Baratheon – Lagan Weir
  4. The Targaryen – The Odyssey
  5. The White Walker – The Titanic
  6. The Iron Throne – Titanic Slipways

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Places to eat: The Dark Horse (try a “fifteen” bar, which is a tray bake made from digestive biscuits and marshmallows), The Yardbird Chicken, The Titanic Hotel Drawing Rooms, The Crown Gin Palace (gorgeously ornate bar and good traditional Irish food served upstairs), Bert’s Jazz Bar at the Merchant Hotel.

Other GoT locations – Lough Neah

On our way from the Downpatrick area up to the coastal region, we went via Lough Neah, and stopped at a few GoT locations on the way. Lough Neah is the largest lough in the UK.  The Antrim Castle Gardens were worth a visit, and we wished we had more time to explore the gardens.  We also stopped at Seamus Heaney’s Home Place, which is a must for literary geeks. This was a great place to stop for a light lunch.

Deerpark Bridge, Antrim Castle Gardens, Randalstown Road, Antrim BT41 4LH – GoT: Jaime & Brienne’s bridge

img_0067Toome Canal, 10 Railway Road, BT41 3TD – GoT: Old Valyrian Canal, Essos

Lough Neah – GoT: The Summer Sea img_0098

Shane’s Castle, BT41 4NE – GoT: Set for Winterfell – Moneyglass Estate – Closed for filming when we visited

Places to eat: Seamus Heaney’s Home Place, 45 Main Street, Bellaghy, Magherafelt BT45 8HT

Such a fantastic place – we will be back!

 

MORE INFORMATION

For full itinerary, see below:

Also, more information available at:

http://www.discovernorthernireland.com

http://www.nationialtrust.org.uk

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