This post is part of our Eurotrip Series. You can find the rest of the series here.
Eurotrip Day 5 was dedicated to exploring various Game of Thrones® filming locations throughout Northern Ireland. It was by far the most jam-packed day of the trip and the most highly anticipated for me! We visited the Mourne Mountains, Tollymore Forest Park, Castle Ward, Inch Abbey, Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce Castle, and the Dark Hedges.
- Adventures – Write-ups of the activities we enjoyed during our visit.
- Hotel Spotlight – Where we stayed and our review of the accommodations.
Mourne Mountains & Tollymore Forest Park
We left Dublin around 5am, so that we could make it to Tollymore Forest Park around sunrise. We crossed the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, although we weren’t sure exactly where that happened, because there were no stops or checkpoints between the two countries. We did pass through a toll road and luckily had just enough in coins to pay the fee. The peacefulness and serenity at the park, which lies at the base of the Mourne Mountains, was definitely worth the foregone sleep! Tollymore Forest most notably appears as the Haunted Forest in the first episode of Game of Thrones®. Think back to when the Stark kids found the direwolves and when white walkers attacked the men of the Night’s Watch!
Tip: Check your route ahead of time to determine what currency you will need for the tolls.
Castle Ward – Winterfell Tours
The morning at Castle Ward was incredible. We were graciously accommodated with a full Game of Thrones® private tour, courtesy of Winterfell Tours. Our tour guide, Ruairì, was the best! He lives nearby and told stories of coming to hang out by the film set, back when Game of Thrones® first started filming, which included meeting some of the stars! After a little trivia, to ensure that we were truly diehard fans (we passed!), Ruairì led us to pick out our authentic HBO® costumes that were actually used by extras in the show!
Next up was our Archery Movie Set Experience. We stood in the very spot that Robb, Bran, and Jon practiced archery in S1:E1. Jesse and I each had 15 arrows, and the loser was on the chopping block, literally. I hit the bulls-eye on my second shot! Jesse did a little better and hit four bulls-eyes, so I said my last words before being “beheaded.”
Ruairì then led us on the Westeros Cycle Trail, where we meandered our way through the Castle Ward grounds to see various filming sites from the first season. I’m pretty sure it had been ~20 years since I had ridden a bike, but I got along fine…besides when my costume got stuck in the back wheel a couple times! This portion of the tour is very well laid out, with markers for each scene filmed here. Ruairì showed us scenes on his iPad as we stopped to see exactly where the characters walked.
Upon our return to Winterfell, we were greeted by two direwolves!!! Odin (Summer) and Thor (Grey Wind) played the roles of Bran and Robb’s direwolves in the show. These guys are HUGE Northern Inuit dogs – 120 pounds each. Their owner told us all about how the dogs came to be on the show, and we found out the owner and his father played small roles on the show as well. They currently run Direwolf Tours.
Although Winterfell Tours does cover the rest of the places we visited, we didn’t have the extra day in Northern Ireland to take the tours. We were definitely rushed to see everything, but we made it to all of our stops just before sunset.
Tip: Allow plenty of time to explore Northern Ireland! This is definitely a place we will be back to visit in the future.
Inch Abbey is a quick stop just off the road. It is free with open access all year round. The ruins date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, and serve as the spot were Robb Stark was named King of the North.
Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
The Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge is a 65-foot-long suspension bridge hanging 100 feet above the ocean. We were on a tight schedule, so we didn’t have time to wait in line, but just know to cross the bridge will run you 5.90 pounds per person. The bridge is the only way you can get across to “Rocky Island”. Despite not crossing the bridge, we enjoyed the magnificent views from the short trail leading up to the bridge.
The Giant’s Causeway is a remarkable scene. It is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. It is also one of the windiest spots in Ireland! The cost of 8.50 pounds per person includes parking, visitor center access, and headphones with self-guided tour information. The causeway is used in the show as the location for the Iron Islands, home of Theon Greyjoy.
Dunluce Castle is known as one of the most picturesque castles in Ireland. It was built on the cliffs of north Antrim around 1500. We did not tour the castle because we arrived after it closed, but we did get some amazing pictures. The view was incredible! Admission to the castle ruins runs 5 pounds per person.
Tip: A free Dunluce Castle app for iPhone and Android devices is available from the App Store and Google Play.
The Dark Hedges are more commonly known to Game of Thrones® fans as The Kingsroad. The rows of beech trees were planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century, so that visitors to the family estate would be awed by the grand entry to the mansion.
Game of Thrones Fun Facts:
- The direwolves each have a $1 MILLION life insurance policy.
- Hodor’s real job is a DJ at a nightclub in Belfast.
- The Hound’s mask is actually plastic, which we got to touch.
- We met the Dothraki Slave Master, who is also the “grandpa” of the direwolves.
- Holiday Inn Belfast City Centre – 1 night –
We were lucky enough to snag this hotel on the quarterly IHG Rewards Club PointBreaks® promotion. On top of that, we were awarded an additional 1,000 points for eating dinner at the hotel restaurant AND 500 points in lieu of our welcome amenity. You did the math correctly…that’s only 3,500 points for our night in Belfast at a brand new Holiday Inn property.
The hotel itself was very nice and modern, with a well-decorated lobby and a fireplace. Complementary breakfast is served in the morning, with a hot bar. Because of my Spire Elite status, we were upgraded to the executive floor as well. On-site parking is also available. Too bad we only spent a few hours here!
Northern Ireland is absolutely fantastic, and we wish we had allotted more time to spend there. We loved exploring the Game of Thrones filming locations, especially our time spent with the wonderful people at Winterfell Tours! We highly recommend booking a tour with them to get the full, immersive experience of Westeros in Northern Ireland.
Be sure to visit the northern coastline, because the views and the natural wonders like Giant’s Causeway are not to be missed! I hope you have enjoyed our full-day tour through Northern Ireland, and remember to be prepared – Winter is coming!