The forests, mountains and moorlands around Northern Ireland transformed into the scenic backdrops for Game of Thrones™ most memorable moments. It was here that Brienne clashed with the Hound, Baelish and Sansa passed the Bloody Gate and Jamie made his one-handed escape.
Tollymore Forest Park, County Down, made its mark as the Haunted Forest, where the 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, and it's where the Starks discover the direwolves. Listen carefully, you might still hear their howls.
Nature was definitely smiling on HBO’s location scouts when they found the Dark Hedges, a haunting avenue of serpentine beech trees near Armoy, County Antrim.
It became the Kingsroad, where Arya disguised herself as a boy to avoid capture. But captured she was, 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.
Aside from the fantasy landscapes, Northern Ireland's packed with another prolific requirement for Game of Thrones™ – its abundance of castles. Dating back to Norman and medieval times, these structures catapult you right into Westeros and have seen a Lannister lion’s share of bloodshed.
Take Shane’s Castle in County Antrim. 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?
Where's your sense of wonder? The greatest structure ever built. The intrepid men of the Night's Watch. The wintry abode of the white walkers.
Castle Ward, County Down, and its lands were home to House Stark. Here, you’ll find the crenelated 16th century ruin that doubled as Winterfell and its courtyard. Not far away is Audley’s Field on the shore of Strangford Lough. This is exactly where Jamie was captured – and released.
Fantasy scenes: real places
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 interiors for Game of Thrones™, 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.
Remember Theon pre-Reek? Arriving at Pyke to seek an alliance with Balon? That Iron Island port he docked at is actually a far calmer Ballintoy Harbour in County Antrim. Still used by local fishermen and boatmen, it was here Theon was baptised 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.