Exploring Game of Thrones Film Locations in Northern Ireland

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.

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Inside the Cushendun Caves where Melisandre had her shadow baby.

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.

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Sheep being herded in the Antrim Hills at Cairncastle.

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.

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Go for an exhilarating walk in the Antrim Hills where Ned Stark beheaded the Night’s Watch deserter in the opening first episode.

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Cairncastle in the Antrim Hills where Ned Stark beheaded the Night’s Watch deserter.

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.

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A pretty site in Glenarm just at the end of the street Steenson’s is on.

Glenarm

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.

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Steenson’s Jewelry where pieces for the show are made by hand.

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A jeweler making a piece for the Game of Thrones show.

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Actual hand crafted jewels at Steenson’s.

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. 

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The 13th century Glenarm Castle, ancestral home of the Earls of Antrim.

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A picturesque scene like something from a fairytale in Glenarm.

St. Patrick's Church of Ireland in Glenarm.

St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland in Glenarm.

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.

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The coast at 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.

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The walk into the Cushendun 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?”

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Limestone wall at Larrybane .

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.

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The beautiful countryside inland from the sea along the trail.

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.

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The Iron Islands in Ballintoy.

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.

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The Iron Islands where Theon Greyjoy has him homecoming and baptism in Ballintoy.

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.

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The Dark Hedges used as the King’s Road.

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.

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The Cushendun Caves where Melisandre had her shadow baby. That little person is me.

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

Tourism Ireland

Fear and Loathing in Westeros

Here’s everything you need to know about all of our Westeros favorites in one handy infographic.

Questions?

Please connect with me in the comments below. You can always find me on facebook and twitter too! Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram!

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About Christa Thompson

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Christa Thompson is the Founder and Senior Editor of The Fairytale Traveler. Christa has been traveling the world since 2003 when she attended a summer abroad study at the University of Cambridge in England. Since then, her wanderlust has been fierce. Her three passions in life are her son, traveling, and being creative. The Fairytale Traveler brand gives Christa the opportunity to do all of these things and to live intentionally every day. "It's never too late to believe in what you love and to pursue your dreams." -Christa Thompson

38 Comments on this post

  1. I did not know Game of Thrones had been shot in Northern Ireland too ! Amazing pictures of amazing landscapes…

    Laia | colibrist / Reply
  2. I didn’t know that you can visit those places! Amazing! And your pictures are great! 🙂

    San / Reply
  3. I am AMAZED at how many filming locations there are for that show! They must have a mega huge budget. But then again watching the few episodes I have seen there are always like a million story lines going on at once so I guess they need that many locations and more! So cool that you got to visit the jewellery shop where they make things for the show too, they really must be putting a lot of money back into the economy there, so great! I MUST visit Northern Ireland someday soon!

    Cailin / Reply
    • Seriously, it’s mind blowing how many places. I think their first season budget was 61 million now it’s 90 something million… I mean in the world of film, that’s easily spent but still it’s a load. I can’t wait to get to Malta and Iceland to explore those spots.

  4. I had no idea that Game of Thrones was filmed in Ireland. I knew about Croatia but this was news to me. How totally cool are the brooches??? OMG I want one!

    Mary Calculated Traveller / Reply
  5. Whoa! So many places in Northern Ireland for GoT I had no idea. It must have been amazing to see it all in person.

    Adelina / Reply
  6. I never knew so much of GoT was filmed in Northern Ireland! But I can see why – those places barely look real.

    Jess / Reply
  7. Oh my God, I’m so exited that I found your blog while searching for information about Scotland. I’m working for a German travel operator in Ireland and UK department as product manager and I’m totally obessed with fantasy and travelling. I love GoT, LotR, Harry Potter and all this fantasy stuff and I’m now following your blog with bloglovin. Can’t wait for the next posts!

    Bella Snow / Reply
  8. Great post – looks like you did some great exploring. I know what you mean about visiting places in real life that you’ve seen in films / shows, and how surreal it is. I had the same thing when I visited Cathedral Cove in New Zealand a few years ago, where they filmed a scene in Prince Caspian where the children travel into Narnia, and the whole thing just felt somehow unreal. Actually, I experienced the same thing the entire time I was in New York, where the whole city just feels like a gigantic film set – like you expect it all to be made of cardboard at the back!

    Your photos are beautiful, too. Even if the places didn’t have the GoT connection, I’d want to visit. Ireland looks sensational, and it’s ridiculous that I’ve never been, given that it’s just across the water!

    Hope you get to explore loads more amazing locations like these! 🙂

  9. […] you die hard? Check out my Game of Thrones Film Locations Adventure in Northern […]

  10. Don’t do it in one day from Belfast! Immerse yourself in it – stay a while in one of the lovely coastal villages en route! 🙂

    Melanie / Reply
  11. GoT have been filming around the village of Toome (apt GoT name don’t ya think) on the shores of Lough Neagh. Waiting to see what they done to cover up the bridge into the village!!

    Lenny Stewart / Reply
  12. 07786-07-11-03
    For game of thrones tour

    Terrys Taxis / Reply
  13. What a great idea to follow the filming locations of Game of Thrones Film in Northern Ireland. I have to admit I never made it to Ireland, although it’s on my bucket list. You brought back fantastic pictures, and love the stories that go with it too!

    Fida / Reply
    • Fida thank you so much! I hope you make it there! I have a new article coming out in FAE Magazine next month on Winterfell. You will love it!

  14. Absolutely brilliant, have been to a lot of these places, ur pics make them look even better, N I pic man

    Trogg / Reply
  15. […] an unprecedented move, Game of Thrones® will premiere in over 170 countries and territories across the globe simultaneously with HBO’s […]

  16. […] first appreciation for Richard Madden began with Game of Thrones. Like the rest of the world, I fell in love with Robb Stark King of the North as I watched him […]

  17. Dear Christa,

    What a wonderful blog!!!

    I am currently undertaking a MA in Culture, Communication and Globalisation. My area of specialization is within tourism. I am in my final semester writing the dreadful master’s thesis. Luckily, I am writing about something I love – tourism and GoT.

    In this sense, I was hoping to be able to interview you about your love for Game of Thrones and your Northern Ireland Tour within the next two weeks – if possible.
    The thesis is, in short, about how popular media with its images can motivate travelers to visit film destinations. As such, the interview would cover questions regarding both GoT as well as images of Northern Ireland.

    If you wish to know a little more about the interview and/or my thesis, you are more than welcome to contact me via my email with follow-up questions.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind regards,
    Pernnille

    Pernnille Oberg / Reply
    • Hi there! I would be honored to be a part of your thesis! Please feel free to contact me here cthompson (at) thefairytaletraveler.com O am currently in Norway exploring Vikings, Trolls, and Norse Mythology, but I’d be happy to connect in time for your deadline. Shoot me an email 😉

  18. […] course, you will not find all the scenes from the show here since it’s also filmed in Northern Ireland, Iceland, Morocco, Spain, Scotland, and Malta. But rest assured that you’ll get much more than […]

  19. […] are just a few alongside several exotic choices for film sets. The hit HBO series has used sets in Northern Ireland, Iceland, Malta, Spain, Croatia and Scotland. For the Game of Thrones Yunkai and the Game of […]

  20. […] Caves Photo credit: Christa Thompson: Exploring the Game of Thrones Trail in Northern Ireland, The […]

  21. […] Caves Photo credit: Christa Thompson: Exploring the Game of Thrones Trail in Northern Ireland, The […]

  22. […] is talking about Game of Thrones filming locations. From Northern Ireland to Croatia, it’s all the buzz in tourism these days. Few U.S. travelers know however, […]

  23. […] out my adventure on the Game of Thrones Trail in Northern […]

  24. […] This castle is built at the side of a cliff. At one time, part of castle collapsed off the side of the cliff; kitchen and servants plunged into the ocean. Their screams are often heard, as if they are just now being plunged into the cold ocean. There is also a story about a soldier being lured to his death by a siren’s song. I visited this castle during my Game of Thrones film locations tour.  […]

  25. […] That dress! Oh and the talent! I had already been a huge Richard Madden fan from my love affair with Game of Thrones. And when I saw Disney’s choice for Ella to be Lily James I agreed it was a perfect fit. But […]

  26. […] seen the HBO series can be taken in by Ireland’s contribution to the magical world. Here are 25 Killer Photos of Game of Thrones locations in Northern Ireland, and Discover Northern Ireland offers a downloadable map of the […]

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  28. […] in Game of Thrones season 6 and back into season 5 showing an epic slew of violence. I saw lots of filming in Northern Ireland in there as well which is great. This means we may see even more film locations added to the Game of […]

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