Game of Thrones Deprivation Leads to Invention
We found a great deal for round-trip flights to Belfast in Northern Ireland for the weekend. It didn’t require us to take any time off work and we thought that it was a great getaway for a few days. Belfast is very well known for its shipyards, the RMS Titanic and several filming locations for the Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones season premiere should have already started but with the weather delaying filming, HBO recently announced that the Season 7 premiere will be on July 16th, 2017. We were deprived of the show so we created a self-guided tour for the ultimate Game of Thrones Experience. Use our itinerary as a guide if you’re ever there for a weekend trip!
Tollymore Forest Park
On our first day after landing in Belfast, we headed south toward Tollymore Forest Park located in County Down. Tollymore is only an hour’s drive away from Belfast and offers a great escape from the city. Once we passed through the gothic-style stone entrance we felt like we were in an enchanted forest.
Entrance to the park
There are three walking trails, ranging from easy to expert difficulty. We chose the moderate ‘Red Trail’ since the weather forecast was rain-all-day [Editor’s Note: Welcome to Northern Ireland! 🙂 ]. We didn’t want to be caught in a storm while we were outdoors. Despite the horrible forecast, the abundant trees formed a canopy that shielded us from the rain.
Going off trail into the forest
The Hermitage at Tollymore
One of many bridges
Bridge crossing over stream
The Stepping Stones
Towards the end of our walk, we spotted several guided tour parties, all dressed in Game of Thrones-style costumes. Tollymore Forest Park was the filming location for the series; in particular, the scene where the Starks found their direwolf pups and one was kept for each of the Stark children.
Originally, Inch Abbey was not on our itinerary but it happened to be along the way to Castle Ward so we made a small detour to have a look. The roads getting up to this hilltop are only wide enough for one car and driving on them, we had to venture slowly and yield to other cars passing. At times the roads were so narrow that we had to fold in our side mirrors while passing each other. [Editor’s Note: Welcome to Britannia!]
The Inch Abbey
Here lies the ruins of a Cistercian monastery from the late 8th century. In the Game of Thrones, this area served as the camp of The Houses of the North and the Riverlands.
Less than 20 minutes away was Castle Ward. It is a National Trust property, which meant there is an admission fee to drive on the property. We were very excited to see Castle Ward because this is the backdrop for Winterfell. What we didn’t realize was how much production work and CGI was involved to create the scenes from the Game of Thrones. Castle Ward looks absolutely nothing like Winterfell!
Inside Castle Ward
Entrance to climb into the tower
We departed Castle Ward early and returned to Belfast because our expectations were disappointed when met with reality. The latest scene to be filmed here involved Jon Snow and the giant storming the castle walls that was ransacked earlier by the Bolton army.
After stopping off in Belfast for a quick lunch, we drove north toward the Dark Hedges. It is a small stretch of road that is lined with intertwined beech trees. It is located in County Antrim about an hour’s drive from Belfast.
The Dark Hedges
This is probably one of the most photographed place in all of Northern Ireland. The pictures that we’ve seen on social media can be described as eerie and mysterious. We wanted to photograph the trees a little after sunset for that added eeriness but there were too many tour groups scattered everywhere.
We couldn’t enjoy it so we decided to come back the next morning before the sun came up. It was even better in the morning! Aside from a couple of professional photographers, the roads were absolutely empty. The cold morning also provided us with a heavy fog rolling in between the trees that added to the spookiness.
The Dark Hedges was the road used to reach King’s Landing during Arya’s escape from Winterfell.
We visited the Giant’s Causeway twice. After our failed attempt to photograph the Dark Hedges during sunset, we rushed over to the Giant’s Causeway to capture what we could of the little light that we had left. The second time we were there was also immediately after being at the Dark Hedges in the morning.
The Giant’s Causeway
From the parking lot, it is about a 20 minute walk, but you can ride on a shuttle bus for a small fee. The Giant’s Causeway is formed by beautiful hexagonal columns of volcanic basalt rocks. This has to be one of our favorite natural phenomenon.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
We arrived at Carrick-a-Rede at around 11 a.m. but there were already many large groups. The rope bridge is a short 10 minute walk after paying at the admission kiosk (National Trust site).
At times there is a massive queue just to get across the bridge because they will only allow a certain number of people on the other side.
Be warned, the path is narrow and the bridge will sway a lot. The bridge is also very high up and if you’re afraid of heights, do NOT look down! The reward on the other side is a magnificent view of sheer cliffs stretched along the coastline.
The coastline view across from Carrick-a-Rede bridge
This area is the backdrop for the Iron Islands in the Game of Thrones. Recall that scene where Theon Greyjoy’s father, Balon Greyjoy, was thrown off a bridge by his brother. This was the place!
Before returning to Belfast to catch our flight, we stopped by Cushendun caves. There was a signage before reaching the caves advertising the Game of Thrones filming location. This is where Melisandre (The Red Woman) gave birth to the Shadow. The cave is a little underwhelming and we only stayed for about 15 minutes exploring the area.
We returned to Belfast and stopped by the Titanic museum for a couple of hours before ending our journey. It was great fun because everything went so smoothly.
The Titanic Museum
RMS Nomadic, sister vessel of the Titanic
On the top deck of the RMS Nomadic