The Haunted Forest
Your first stop is Tollymore Forest Park, otherwise known as ‘The Haunted Forest’ in the Game of Thrones.
Covering 630 hectares at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, Tollymore Forest featured in the first episode of Season 1. Ned Stark and his sons found the direwolf pups here. It was also the setting where the Night’s Watch stumbled upon dismembered Wildling bodies in the snow. And that’s not all – Brienne clashed with the Hound, Baelish and Sansa passed the Bloody Gate and Jamie made his one-handed escape at this spot.
The Haunted Forest is also where White Walkers began their march into the realm of men. These 600 hectares hold ancient redwoods as well as Gothic stone arches – the remnants of an 18th century estate. The ‘bastard of Bolton’ hunted Theon here.
It’s at Winterfell that the deadly Game of Thrones is set in motion. Much has played out there, most recently the epic battle between the living and the dead in The Long Night.
Castle Stark is one of the most iconic Game of Thrones locations. The walled demesne of Castle Ward in County Down provided a prime location for House Stark. Its Georgian farmyard has been widely used to film the outdoor courtyard scenes at Winterfell. Set on 820 acres, this 18th century mansion and walled demesne overlooks Strangford Lough.
At Winterfell, you can hire bicycles and take a short trip to Robb Stark’s Camp at Audley’s Field and Castle. This 16th century castle and surrounding grounds were the backdrop to Robb’s Camp in Season 2. It was here that Jamie Lannister was imprisoned – and released.
Shane’s Castle in County Antrim was built in the 14th century on the edge of Lough Neagh. This ruined castle was the backdrop to the jousting tournament. You know the one, where Gregor Clegane beheaded a horse.
Carved into the limestone face of Magheramorne Quarry, County Antrim, is Castle Black. Home to the Night’s Watch, the ancient order that guards the Wall, it is one of the most iconic locations. The disused quarry is in Magheramorne, and the snow was placed on after filming as a special effect.
In Season 1, Ned Stark beheaded the Nights Watch deserter on the Antrim Plateau. It was at this location that Catelyn Stark captured Tyrion Lannister. And it was from here that Bran embarked on his journey North of the Wall with Rickon, Osha and Hodor.
From Cairncastle it’s a short distance to the picturesque village of Glenarm. This village is home to Steensons Jewellery Economusee where many of the jewellery pieces were produced for the show, such as Joffrey’s crown. You can actually watch the artisans at their work here.
The Iron Islands
These islands are in Ballintoy Harbour. Situated between the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, it’s here that Theon Greyjoy returns home, meeting his sister Yara. Travel a further four miles to Dunsverick where Renly and Stannis meet to discuss their claims to the throne at Kings Landing.
Ballintoy Harbour is still used by local fishermen and boatmen. Theon was baptised there as his sister Yara looked on. The little harbour is a spear’s throw from the iconic Giant’s Causeway, a natural wonder on the Causeway Coastal Route.
Speaking of Yara, that horse ride she shared with Theon was filmed 12 miles from here – as the raven flies – at Murlough Bay. Shielded by steep rock walls, the path to the sea is scarred with gnarled trees and even has views across to Scotland. It’s in these Atlantic waters that Ser Davos was rescued following the Battle of the Blackwater. Today, its sea vistas and wild headlands are some of the most spectacular views on the north coast.
As you creep into Antrim’s Cushendun Caves, which formed over a period of 400 million years, bear in mind that this is the same spot where Melisandre birthed the shadow assassin. She also burned the old gods on Dragonstone, otherwise known as Downhill Strand in County Londonderry, a scenic beach dominated by the elegant 18th century ruins of Mussenden Temple.
The King’s Road
The King’s Road is known locally as The Dark Hedges on Bregagh Road ouside Ballymoney. This beautiful avenue of beech trees, dating back to the 18th century, is one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland. The Dark Hedges is the backdrop to Ayra Stark’s escape from Kings Landing as she travels to join the Nights Watch disguised as a boy.
Arya was captured eventually, and dragged to the Brotherhood without Banners’ hideout, otherwise known to us as Pollnagollum Cave in County Fermanagh. Part of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, it’s an extensive maze of underground passages that attracts explorers from distant lands.
The Shillanavogy Valley, beneath Slemish Mountain in County Antrim, recreated the Dothraki grasslands, where Daenerys wed Khal Drogo. Another prime Dothraki site is at the Mourne Mountains in County Down. These dramatic foothills were the entrance to Vaes Dothrak and are no stranger to fantasy novels – they inspired author CS Lewis to create Narnia.
Think all the action takes place in real-world locations? Not so. Titanic Studios, one of Europe’s largest film studios, is used to create countless interior Game of Thrones locations, such as the Throne Room and the Sept of Baelor. Set in the historic heart of Belfast and the birthplace of the Titanic, these hallowed halls have witnessed more backstabbing – both literal and figurative – than you could swing a mace at.
If you don’t want to go it alone, then there is a tour company who will take you to all of the places mentioned here, and some additional activities thrown in too.
So now you have your social media presence planned out for the upcoming year. Enjoy your visit to the Game of Thrones locations, and beware of dragons.