Winter has come and in six short weeks, HBO’s mega-hit Game of Thrones will be over. But its filming locations in Northern Ireland live on and are open for business. Though the show was filmed all over the world, including Croatia, Iceland, Morocco, Spain, and Malta, its home base has always been Belfast, and Northern Ireland more broadly. In a recent New York Times feature, Robert Boake, the show’s supervising locations manager for Northern Ireland, pointed out that among the show’s 63 locations in the country, “every single one of them within and hour and a half of Belfast.”
Most of the interior scenes were filmed at Titanic Studios in Belfast, or nearby Linen Mills Studios in Banbridge, Co. Down, which is launching a complete Game of Thrones Studio Tour experience in spring 2020. The experience will include, “breathtaking imagery, captivating sets, original props and costumes, and other behind-the-scenes items,” according to IrishCentral.
The best part while you’re waiting for that? You can visit just about every other exterior location. And while we don’t have time to list all 63, we’ve picked out some of the most iconic locations and events from the series that you can see for yourself, live and in person, without fear of running into the Army of the Dead or spoilers.
Downhill Strand, Co. Derry
So many things happened over the years at Dragonstone. Stanis Baratheon killed a bunch of people in the name of blood sacrifice; Tyrion made some awful plans like sending the show’s main heroes north of The Wall to capture a white walker; Jon Snow finally made eyes at a dragon; Tyrion and Jon brooded at the edge of a cliff; Daenerys garrisoned up and learned about the history of the First Men; and oh so much more.
While the actual castle itself was CGI’d above the cliffs, the beaches and grasses are there for all to enjoy and reenact their favorite scenes. At the top of the cliffs is something not seen in the show, a replica of the ruined Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum. That temple was home to the Vestal Virgins, who were tasked with keeping the eternal flame of Rome alight at all hours or else risk the ruin of the city and empire. That’s definitely just a thematic coincidence, right?
Castle Ward, Co. Down
Having served as the courtyard for Winterfell all the way back in the pilot episode when Robert Baratheon compels Ned Stark to leave the North to become his Hand, thus starting the whole “King of the North should remain in the North or else risk death” thing (best of luck with that, Jon), the 16th century Castle Ward has since turned into one of the most comprehensive Game of Thrones experiences in the country. The site offers an immersive tour, complete with Game of Thrones regalia, archery lessons in the same place the Stark children used to practice, and even swordsmanship training and medieval-inspired meals.
Ballintoy, Co. Antrim
House Greyjoy may have some unique customs like the Kingsmoot (which actually appears to be the sole form of organized democracy in the entire show), and the Iron Islands may be explicitly devoid of trees, leading one to question just how they managed to build all those ships, but there’s no denying the rugged beauty of their shoreline.
To visit it yourself, simply head over to Ballintoy Harbor, an 18th century stone quay that served as the docks at Pyke, then walk around the corner to see where Euron Greyjoy bested Yara in the Kingsmoot, was drowned, and born again, King of the Iron Islands and with a fantastic new wardrobe to come.
CASTLE BLACK & HARDHOME
Magheramorne Quarry, Co. Antrim
Though one of the few filming locations officially closed to the public, being an abandoned quarry and all, it is arguably one of the most significant tracts of land in the series, serving as the set of Castle Black, one of the few fully-realized sets in the production process, including a working elevator (at left in the photo above).
The Battle of Hardhome and portions of the Battle of Blackwater Bay were also filmed at the quarry. And, coming up, Magheramorne, as well as nearby Toome, was used as the set for the epic mid-season battle in episode 3, which was filmed over the course of 55 consecutive nights in brutal weather conditions.
“It’s a pretty spectacular, yet miserable location,” George R.R. Martin told Fodor’s in 2012, back when fans thought he might still finish the book series before the show wrapped. “It is wet and rainy, and the mud is thick. I visited there; it really gets the actors in the mood of being at the end of the world in all of this cold and damp and chill.”
Shillanavogy Valley, Co. Antrim
Though Northern Ireland is just slightly larger than the state of Connecticut, its landscape spans worlds, including, in the Game of Thrones universe at least, a whole other continent’s steppe. Since leaving Essos in season 6, we haven’t had occasion to return to the Dothraki Sea, the wide expanse of prairie and grassland named for and ruled by its nomadic inhabitants, but it’s still there in County Antrim for you to channel your best Khal Drogo impression.
The Shillanavogy Valley and the stunning Slemish Mountain are just 45 minutes north of Belfast and, while not as expansive as the show’s CGI might lead you to believe, still offers unparalleled views of the rolling hills of Ireland.
THE SHADOW BABY CAVE
Cushendun Caves, Co. Antrim
Game of Thrones saw Lost’s Smoke Monster and raised it by a million. Not content to merely have a smoke monster, Game of Thrones showed us the literal birth of the Shadow Baby in one of the show’s most shocking non-death moments of its run.
The cave in which Melisandre births the demon is located in the Cushendun Caves, on Antrim’s northern coast, that date back 400 million years. The nearby town of Cushendun is a beautiful rest stop for those enjoying a driving tour. It’s likely we won’t see the cave again in the series, but its memory will always be with us. RIP Renly.
THE HAUNTED FOREST
Tollymore Forest Park, Co. Down
There are many forest scenes in Game of Thrones, and just about all of them are filmed in Tollymore Forest Park, in County Down, including the very first scene of the series, which sets the stage with the deaths of several of the Night’s Watch at the hands of the white walkers. It is also the location of one of the more touching moments in the series, just a few minutes later in the pilot, when the Stark children come upon a litter of direwolf puppies and adopt them. Though just two direwolves remain, Arya’s Nymeria and Jon Snow’s Ghost, the woods remind us of a happier time for all Ned Stark’s children.
The forest is located close to Castle Ward at the foot of the Mourne Mountains and tours are offered that visit both in a day.
The Dark Hedges of Armoy, Co. Antrim
It’s hard to recall, but there was a time, many seasons back, when Game of Thrones devoted much of its time to people getting from one place to another in the vast continent of Westeros. Inevitably, characters would find themselves on the Kingsroad, which leads from the capital of King’s Landing all the way to The Wall.
By far the most iconic section of the road is the section pictured above, which, as I have written before, is likely the only real life location with a name more ominous than its location in the show. Known as the Dark Hedges, this row of beach trees forms a hollow canopy that shields the road from the elements, and can look either inviting or downright terrifying depending on the weather and your filter preferences. The Dark Hedges were built in the 18th century as a grand entrance to Gracehill House, in County Antrim and while only some 90 trees of the original 200 remain, it still awes the daily visitors to this shrouded wonder.
There are so many more Game of Thrones filming locations in Northern Ireland. If we have left off your favorite, let us know in the comments below!