Oh my God, I was packing my bags for Northern Ireland to explore the seven kingdoms and it couldn’t have been more surreal.”
By now it’s no secret, the Game of Thrones film locations are the coolest ever in the history of television. Take a look at all the places they’ve filmed, it’s nuts! We’re talking Northern Ireland, Malta, Spain, Morocco, Iceland, Croatia, and we’ve yet to see the new places they have up their sleeves for season five. Ever since I started digging into the Game of Thrones film locations last year I’ve been dying to start exploring. Finally, the good people at Tourism Ireland made it happen. Oh my God, I was packing my bags for Northern Ireland to explore the seven kingdoms, and it couldn’t have been more surreal. There were no complaints from me when my Land Rover showed up.
Had anyone told me a year ago I’d be standing in the very spot where Theon arrived at the Iron Islands or where Melisandre had that little shadow baby thing, I’d probably laugh and say, “I wish”, but there I was on the Game of Thrones film locations trail along the picturesque Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland, and I was beyond wishes.
A Journey of Seven Kingdoms
I was staying in the posh Malmaison Hotel which Tourism Ireland was so nice to provide for me during my stay in Belfast. It was just the right amount of swag for my late nights of writing at the bar. It was early, maybe eight-something in the morning. As usual I was exhausted. There’s just never enough time to sleep on press trips. Not to mention, I spent half the night like a kid on Christmas Eve, wide-eyed and elated. There was no time for snoozing or even primping for that matter. I had a big day ahead of me.
I stepped into the lobby. The draft from the door cut through the warm air like a blade. I curled up in my giant Irish wool scarf and waited patiently for my tour guide. Of all the tours I’d ever been on, this was by far my most anticipated.
A few minutes passed when this bouncing little woman popped her head into the lobby. We carried on the standard formalities and before I knew it the Land Rover doors were shutting and we were off . We drove a bit, passing the Belfast Castle perched on a hillside. We talked about Game of Thrones mostly as we made our way out of the city and into the countryside I’ve grown so fond of. Rolling patches of green hills peppered with white dots spanned the horizon. It felt good to be back in the country.
The white dots I mentioned are sheep. If there’s one thing Ireland will never want for, it’s sheep.
Cairncastle, Where it All Begins
As the morning mist began to rise above the earth it unveiled a fluffy green pasture. We had arrived to Cairncastle, also known as the Gateway to the Glens. It was fitting that this was our first stop since it’s where the Game of Thrones saga began with the dramatic beheading of the Night’s Watch deserter. I tried to picture the troublesome eyes of John Snow, Theon Greyjoy and the Stark Brothers as they witnessed Ned Stark carry out this infamous execution.
I stood there recalling the scene in my mind, listening to the silence broken only by the sound of distant sheep and wind. Cold as it was, I couldn’t help but stare into the beauty of the wind-blown grass. Still there was much more to see, and in true travel writer form we had a strict schedule to keep. I took one last glance at the Gateway to the Glens before jumping back into the Land Rover as we made our way through the rolling hillside past craggy rocks and ruins toward Glenarm.
If there’s one thing beside sheep Ireland will never see a shortage of, it’s ruins, beautiful and perfectly displaced ruins.
We arrived to a tiny street tucked between hills and wrapped in forest woodlands in the seaside village of Glenarm (meaning valley of the army). As I stepped out of the Land Rover I could smell the salty breeze from the shore and it reminded me of home. “This is Steenson’s Jewellery”, said my tour guide, as she pointed to this old pink corner building overlooking the Glenarm Castle and St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland. Steenson’s is a family owned jeweler who produces many of the stunning custom pieces for the Game of Thrones show. To name a few; Joffrey’s crown, Lannister lion pendants, stag pins and silver fish brooches. While this was not a Game of Thrones film location, I enjoyed watching the jewelers work on new Game of Thrones pieces.
While Steenson’s does not have permission from HBO to sell the exact replicas, they have a Game of Thrones inspired line that’s just as stunning as the real thing.
Glenarm was a quick stop on our journey that offered beautiful pictures and gave me a few quiet minutes to take in a magical kind of memory of Northern Ireland. We still had so much more to see and just as quickly as we arrived, we were off to Cushendun.
Cushendun Caves, the Shadow Baby
We drove the Land Rover along the sea past impossible green hills and hammering waves that turned white over rugged rocks. I remembered this kind of Ireland from earlier in the year when I made my journey along the Wild Atlantic Way. The Antrim Coast is so peaceful and picturesque it hurts. I couldn’t tell you how far we drove. I was lost in the landscape. Before I knew it we were parking and had arrived to our next Game of Thrones film location, the Cushendun Caves.
I eagerly jumped out of the Land Rover. I still couldn’t tell where we were but I could see it was beautiful. As I made my way around a boulder I remembered what Richard Madden (Robb Stark King of the North) told me at the 2014 Tampa Bay Comic Con. He spoke very highly of the Antrim Coast and its beauty. He said on a clear day he could see Scotland, his home. I looked out past the boulder and sure enough to my left was the ocean, angry as ever, with an emerald-green Scottish horizon. To my right a massive rock face covered in hair-like grass and before me, a long gravel walkway leading into two large caves.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. As soon as I saw the caves I knew I had arrived at the film location of the dramatic scene in which Davos Seaworth takes the sorceress Melisandre into a cave to birth a shadow baby (which eventually killed Renly). No fancy words for it, I was like a kid in a candy store. I hung out for a few minutes, enjoying the absence of people and taking photos of the landscape. I couldn’t help but to think over and over,
Oh my God, this is so freaking awesome, am I really here?”
Larrybane, the Ancient White Site
We left Cushendun on a narrow country road through a vast stretch of farmland. Ironically still heading towards the sea. Ireland is an island, even when you leave the ocean you’re heading straight for it. Eventually we arrived to Larrybane (means the ancient white site), yet another seaside Game of Thrones film location. Its tall white limestone walls against perfect blue water was the backdrop for many familiar scenes. It’s where Brienne beat Ser Loras in a tourney and is given a place in Renley’s Kingsguard, where Renley swore to Lady Stark he would avenge Ned Stark’s death and where Renley met his fate by Melisandre’s shadow baby. It’s also known for the scene where Margaery confides to Littlefinger that she desired to be queen and where Davos tries to tell Stannis about the shadow baby. Still, no frame could ever do justice for this breathtaking panoramic view.
Tip: If you really want to take in this location, head over to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This famous Northern Ireland landmark suspends across a 20-metre chasm between the mainland and the tiny Carrick Island. Beneath your feet you’ll see a 23-metre drop into the icy water below. The hike and view here is beyond description.
Ballintoy Harbour, the Iron Islands
Just a short stop along the winding road of the Antrim Coast is Ballintoy Harbour. As soon as we pulled the Land Rover into the lot I knew we had arrived to the Iron Islands where Theon Greyjoy had his homecoming, where he was baptized and where the pirate Salladhor Sann met Davos and pledged his loyalty and support to Stannis Baratheon. I was yet again wrapped up in the moment of being at a Game of Thrones film location. Still somewhat in shock that I’ve managed to produce a living from this, I meandered around the pier and gazed out into the ocean at the intervals of attacks the waved took on the rocks. Light was fading. I knew we had to press on.
The Dark Hedges, Kings Road
Twilight approached as we made our way to the infamous haunting avenue of trees known as the Dark Hedges. The picturesque natural phenomenon where Arya Stark fled King’s Landing dressed as a boy accompanied by Yoren, Gendry and Hot Pie. I had seen photos of this place on the internet all super filtered and shopped, so my expectations were low. We made the turn onto the road and all I could do was gasp. Blue light from a pending night settled on the commanding boughs of fairytale-like trees that weaved a tunnel over the road like something from a Tim Burton movie. This was other-worldly. I stayed there long enough to get photos (which was difficult as it has become a popular site for pictures, an all out attraction) but we were rushing at this point with light fading by the minute. We had one last stop, Dragonstone.
Downhill Beach, Dragonstone
We were running out of time. It was getting too dark for pictures. The blue light quickly faded into the night as we arrived to the massive and rugged Downhill Cliffs. Just below was Downhill Beach where the Seven Idols of Westeros were burned. It was here, with flames reaching to the night sky, where Melisandre proclaimed,
For the night is dark and full of terrors”.
I watched the last shade of daylight dissipate into the clutch of the night sky. It was our last stop on the Game of Thrones film locations tour. The day began with the location of the show’s first opening scene and ended perfectly with a night scene. I sat there reflecting on the day’s events as snapshots of the Antrim Coast’s breathtaking vistas ran through my mind. In that moment, I was overcome with gratitude.
Go on the Game of Thrones Film Locations Tour
Are you an UBER Game of Thrones fan? If you want to go on the film tour check out Tourism Ireland for everything you need to know. They have amazing resources for you to follow the trail if you have a car. You can stay in Belfast and do the tour in one day.
Want to know more deets on GOT film locations in Northern Ireland? Check out the friendly folks at Irish Thrones here in this YouTube video:
In Partnership with Tourism Ireland
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