Game of Thrones has become such a household name that Northern Ireland city Belfast has been so much tourism due to it they’re anticipating a shortage of hotel rooms next year. The vast majority of the hit HBO show is filmed right in Belfast with almost all of the internal sets being filmed in an old shipping block where the Titanic was built now called the Titanic Studios, or The Paint Hall to workers. The huge studio spends about five months’ of the years in constant filming mode, and the outdoor sets are again mainly filmed in Northern Ireland (Winterfell/ Castle Black/ The Wall etc), and other external locations include Dubrovnik for King’s Landing and Iceland/ Sevil.
Over the early May Bank Holiday weekend, me and my boyfriend were in Belfast and we booked onto the Winterfell Locations Trek with an official tour group. There’s also tours which depart from Dublin (although there are longer drives to location sets), and you can also do the Iron Islands & Giant’s Causeway Adventure which I already have earmarked for next time I’m in the city. If you’re looking to see sights exactly as you’ve seen them on TV then there’s no point doing this tour as a lot of the Game of Thrones set you see is CGI and you’d probably walk right past a lot of the important outdoor sets not knowing that they’re there.
The great thing about going with the official tour providers is because the tour guides are or have been extras on the TV show themselves so there’s a lot of information about how sets were made, casting details and just small snippets of information which other tours just can’t provide and you can’t just wiki yourself to do a self-guided tour. We had Thorn as our tour guide who is an extra in the Nights’ Watch and it was so interesting hearing more about the life of an extra and the funny tales like when his cloak kept catching fire during one of the feast scenes.
After meeting the coach at 8.45am we made a prompt 9am depature setting off to the Castle Ward Estate for a 3km trek around the grounds unearthing some of the locations used for Winterfell. After an hour driving, we had to get a ferry across ‘the Narrows’ on the oldest continually active ferry crossing in the world. The ride itself only took about ten minutes but the drive around would have been hours. When we arrived at the Castle Ward Estate we were taken to a 16th-century castle and stable yard which is used as the film location of Winterfell. I had no idea but there’s actually only one tower which is copied and pasted multiple time and mixed in with some CGI to create the whole of Winterfell. The tour guide showed us some images of both what we’re seeing versus what we see on the TV and it’s fascinating how they turn one small area into something so magnificent on the TV. Next up we saw a small Tower House which served as Robb’s Camp in the Riverlands and one of Walder Frey’s Twins. There were other cool locations around here including where Brienne of Tarth dispatched three Stark bannermen and where the Battlefield of Baelor was filmed.
After our trek of about an hour and a half, we headed back to a pub called The Cuan where we had pre-ordered our lunch which was lovely as it was the location where some of the actors stayed during the first few seasons filming, and there’s an awesome door inside which was made from the wood of one of the fallen tree’s in the Dark Hedges. After our lunch we headed outside to be greeted by two of the real direwolves used within the TV show and I was blown away. The dogs themselves are so docile and friendly and we told a bit about how they were trained and how they’re made to look scary and ferocious on TV when they’re not at all like that in reality. The two we met were Greywind and Summer and we were able to have photos taken with them. This was an aspect of the tour I hadn’t expected and it was such a great addition. The guys who own the dogs and pretty much all their family have been extras in the TV show and it was interesting to hear from them.
The next stop was a photo stop at Inch Abbey which is the ruins of a 12th Century Abbey and was where Catelyn and Robb hear the terrible news from Kings Landing and where Robb’s bannermen pledge fealty to him as the ‘King in the North’. We were all given cloaks and swords so we could take photos and there were also replica’s of some of the swords’ from the show including Longclaw, Needle, and Oathkeeper which was given to Brienne.
Next up it was our afternoon trek over in Tollymore Forest which is used as the backdrop for many key scenes including in the first episode where Will finds the dismembered bodies in the snow, where the Starks discover a dead direwolf and her pups and where Tyrion and Jon’s campfire on their journey north of the wall was. Our guide showed small parts of episodes to show us where exactly things were shot and it was little things like this which brought it to life.
After our second trek we headed back in the coach for Belfast City Centre arriving back about 6.20pm, so it really was a full on day but worth every single minute of it. If you’re a fan of the show then is definitely a tour must for you.