Northern Ireland – A road trip in the footsteps of Game of Thrones
As you know, locations of Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland is beautiful. Because, what many do not know: Not only Winterfell and “The North” is actually on the green island, but over seventy percent of the series are in Belfastand environment turned. That’s why it’s definitely worth keeping a day out with a rental car along the Causeway Coastal Route for John Snow and Littlefinger (and always having a cape and sword in the trunk).
Castle Ward and the Winterfell Experience
The little nerd that I am, I braid in the morning in the hotel real Sansa Stark braids and hop with my blogger colleagues in the car. First stop: Winterfell. In reality, the family home of the Starks is called Castle WardIt is about 40 minutes south of Belfast. The 18th-century main building has always been a popular destination because of its exceptional architectural style (the Lord and his lady could not agree on a few …). But nowadays the visitors leave the property on the left and concentrate on the stables of the area – like us. At first glance you might be quite disappointed with what you see: Winterfell does not look quite as spectacular as in the series, which of course is due to the many CGI-inflated towers and gables. Nevertheless, here and there I recognize innumerable well-known elements, which are particularly reminiscent of the very first episode of the series in which the Baratheons come to visit the north.
And be sure, before I know myself, I’m already from head to toe in full Northener gear (just real IKEA faux fur collar) and trudging with a bow in one hand and a sword in the other hand across the yard. Exactly where one of Jon Snow Bran taught the shooting, we too can put our talent to the test as part of the Winterfell Experience . For not doing this for the first time, I get pretty fucked up and barely escape the punishment of beheading. The dream of every LARPers, I would say.
Fortunately, my failure is not the end of our trip, as the property’s sprawling grounds have much more Game of Thrones locations to offer. For example, Rob Starks Camp, the tree under Rob and Talisa secretly marry or the twins (The Twins), the home of Walter Frey and the scene of the notorious Red Wedding. The best way to explore the area is by bike, which can be rented on Castle Ward along with maps of all locations and a few props. The beautiful Northern Ireland landscape and nature you get free of charge and whoever is lucky also meets one of the wolfhounds, who in the first episodes “played” the Direwolfs.
The Causeway Coastal Route and its Game of Thrones locations
Whether you’re a Game of Thrones fan or not, the Causeway Coastal Route is one of the most beautiful roads on the Irish island, combining many interesting photo stops, stunning scenery and cute little villages. For example, I’ve always wanted to go to the Carrick-a-Rede suspension bridge or the famous Giants Causeway . Along this route, however, hide some scenes from Westeros, Braavos and Mereen. We roar to the sounds of the Game of Thrones Soundrack – a tune that should stay in my ear all day long.
So we just start our day trip in Ballygalley as Dee, who shows us the area, suddenly stops at the roadside to get us a “special snack”. Questioning glances fly through the car, which are replaced by frowns and worried faces rather than coming back with a small, after sea salt and fish stinking paper bag. “Dried Seaweed! It’s good for you! Try! “She proclaims proudly and lets us all reach in once. Politely I take a piece and I should probably have wondered that Dee takes itself nothing. I’ll keep it short: It tastes exactly as you would imagine and the taste in the mouth will not be released so quickly.
Cerseis Crown, the Braavos Canal and the port of Pyke
Our first stop is at Steensons in Glenarm , a small goldsmith who has made almost all the trinkets seen in Game of Thrones. From the Hand of the King on Sansa’s Gift Chain, Margery’s Wedding Jewelry, and Cersei’s Last Season Crown. In a showcase you can admire prototypes and final pieces.
Just a stone’s throw away is Carnlough , a small town on the thoroughfare at the harbor we stop. At first I think we’re just stopping to take a picture of the pretty view, but on second glance I discover the reason for our stopover: The stone staircase on the Arya Stark from the Braavos Channel climbs into the water after being pierced fell is right next to the main road. For me, it’s always amazing how such tiny little elements can be completely taken out of their environment and finally give a very different impression. Without the lush green landscape and the cool light, these stones could actually be somewhere in more southern climes. You just have to have the imagination for it.
Continue through a beautiful heathland past Loughareema , the disappearing lake (depending on the rains, it is there, sometimes not) in the direction of Ballycastle . Here is not only the famous suspension bridge of Carrick-A-Rede with great views of the offshore islands, but also a small inconspicuous car park at Larrybane Quarry which was used because of its rock wall in season 2 for scenes from seas and for various bonus material.
Much better it was a bit further along the coast. Ballintoy Harbor is pretty spectacular anyway due to its interesting rock formations. I would not have liked to get back into the car and immediately moved into one of the small houses, overlooking the sea and the small tranquil harbor. Fans of the series enjoy the backdrop twice as the scenes of Lordsport Harbor were filmed when Theon Greyjoy returned to his native Pyke.
And while we’re at the Grayjoys, not far from Ballintoy is Dunluce Castle , one of the largest castle ruins in Northern Ireland, perched on the rocks since the 16th century and used by HBO as the home of the Greyjoys.
The Dark Hedges or The Kings Road
The last stop on our road trip are the so-called dark hedges, An avenue of twirling giant trees that was once planted by the Stuarts to wrap the driveway to their estate. It was used by HBO to represent the Kings Road that runs through Westeros to Kings Landing. It is early evening, the sun has come out and colors the landscape now golden green. We hope for great light in the intertwined branches of the avenue. What we did not expect however: coaches and lots of cars already parked on the way to the hedges on the roadside. Compared to all the other spots we’ve been churning out that day, the Dark Hedges seem to be something of the Mecca of Game of Thrones fans. If you come here to grab a photo without people on it or just enjoy the beauty of the avenue in peace, you have to get up early. Or come late. Although we have a rather bad timing, but luckily a trunk full of cloaks, with which it can hide the hustle and bustle in the background on the one hand. On the other hand, many people wait rather patiently to let the “crooks with the swords” take a short photo. At this point, my fellow travelers are no longer surprised that I immediately get involved in a small fight.
Bonus: The Doors and other locations in the Game of Thrones Territory
Well, now it’s getting really nerdy: Two of the beeches of the dark hedges unfortunately fell victim to a storm in 2016 and left big gaps in the alley. From the wood of the trees 10 doors were carved, each representing a consequence of the sixth season. These doors can be admired all over Northern Ireland – there is even a small passport that can be stamped anywhere. We also looked at three of the doors on our way: one at Ballygally Castle (which, incidentally, has a tower that haunts), one at Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy and one at Dark Horse in Belfast.