Have you ever been sitting on your couch, watching a television show or movie and thought “I wonder where they shot that scene and if it actually looks like that?” No shame if you haven’t. I’m a huge nerd and I think about that stuff so back off! Anyway because I’m curious about such things AND I’m a diehard Game of Thrones fan so I was absolutely giddy to have the opportunity to visit some of the incredible locations that the show shot at or was inspired by while on my honeymoon lasts week.
Oddly enough when I told people we were going to tour Northern Ireland most everyone was like “isn’t it really dangerous up there!?” Yes it was once basically a war zone as Unionist and Nationalist terror groups fought each other throughout the capital, Belfast, and other parts of the nation. And there’s certainly still a hearty divide between the groups, but luckily they reached a ceasefire in the late 90’s that effectively put a halt to the violence. Now Northern Ireland is accessible to everyone and is a wonderful and beautiful place to visit. Its the perfect setting to shoot a show like Game of Thrones and others of that. That’s why HBO set up its production studio for the show at the shipyard in Belfast (right next to where the Titanic was built and the museum honoring it is.)
Now the studio sadly doesn’t offer any tours but that location is where the Iron Throne is kept along with tons of the costumes and other iconic items from the show. Plus you can often spot some of the actors out and about around Belfast. Could you imagine bumping into Jon Snow, Jorah Mormont, and the Hound enjoying a pint with one another at a local pub!? in addition, while on the day tour of the area we were told that Game of Thrones employs more people in Northern Ireland than their own government. Holy crap.
Let’s get back to the business at hand and talk about the cool places that I got to see that are associated with the show. Now technically the tour we were on, which left from Dublin, wasn’t actually a “Game of Thrones” tour, but we were lucky enough to have a guide that seemed to love the show as much as a lot of us in the group did. Here are the places I got to see and actually step foot in and I’ll share the pics I took as well:
The Dark Hedges (The Kings Road)
The first stop we made after leaving Belfast was to by far one of the most insanely cool and eerie places I’ve ever seen in person, The Dark Hedges, located in Ballymoney, Northern Ireland is actually a group of 300 year old beech trees planted by a family to lead the way to their house (which still stands at the end of the road). But what is really cool is that the beech trees life expectancy is only 150 years. So these trees have doubled that and make for this beautiful and haunting drive down a fairly busy country road. When Game of Thrones used this location (Season 2, Epsiode 1) to depict the Kings Road as Arya escaped with Yoren, Gendry, (keep paddling buddy,) and Hot Pie from Kings Landing, the crew actually dug up turf from the surrounding fields to cover the asphalt and removed the small fences that lined both sides to give it the look needed for the show. Regardless if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones or not, you have to see this mysterious site in person if you’re ever on the Emerald Isle.
Cushendun Caves (Melisandre births Stannis shadow baby)
In one of the more bizarre and cringe worthy scenes in the show’s history, during Season 2, Episode 4 Sir Davos Seaworth rows the red witch Melisandre to a cave that is close to the camp of Stannis’ younger brother and fellow professed king, Renly. Melisandre is pregnant with what is believed to be Stannis’ baby after the 2 did the hibbidy dibbidy. However what happens is much worse than any natural birth in history as Melisandre strips down (that part is nice), sits on the cave floor and proceeds to shoot out a shadow demon that resembles Stannis. That shadow in turn kills Renly, thus beginning Brienne of Tarth’s crappy luck at defending people she swears an oath to. So yep, that’s me smiling and happy inside the Cushendun Caves which are in County Antrim in Northern Ireland. The caves are so easy to access you just drive through the little village of Cushendun and right next to some nice condo/apartments are the caves. You can walk right up to them and the plaque that is pictured above is right outside of the entrance. Also in Cushendun is where we saw this random goat wearing a caution vest. Apparently its the mascot of the town and walks around freely there. Believe it or not, the goat actually has much more political meaning than this article can go into lol.
I mean the name “Glens of Antrim” already sounds like it should be included in Game of Thrones doesn’t it? Well these glens were created during the Ice Age by glaciers that were moving through the valley so they are pretty darn old but also make a staggeringly beautiful landscape. The main scene where the Glens are featured up close is in Season 5, Episode 1 after Littlefinger has placed young (complete pansy douche) Robin Arryn under the tutelage of Yohn Royce at Runestone. He and Sansa come to check on Robin as he continues to suck at life as he haplessly trains on the sword. However the show has used the Glens of Antrim as other parts of the Vale of Arryn, the Dothraki grasslands, and most recently in Season 6 when the Hound makes his triumphant return as he’s helping to build the doomed sept.
Larrybane (Renly Baratheon’s Camp in the Stormlands)
In Season 2, Episode 3 we see Renly and Margaery Tyrell watching Loras Tyrell and Brienne of Tarth dual for the right to be called the champion of this makeshift tournament. This scene is filmed very close to the coastline of Larrybane. We were able to visit some of the locations around this area and the views from the cliffs are absolutely stunning. They also filmed a lot of scenes from Pike and the Iron Islands around Larrybane as well. Plus you have to go walk across the Carrick-de-Rede rope bridge which hangs 100 feet above the water. Its windy and nerve racking but completely worth it. I mean look at the view that you get. And that’s just one of 100s that you will see all along the Causeway Coastline.
Dunlunce Castle (inspired Pyke and Harrenhal)
You can’t go to any part of Ireland and there not be a couple of castles just sitting there. But one of the most significant ones that was used by Game of Thrones was Dunlunce Castle. Located, like all of the sites I visited, in County Antrim in Northern Ireland, Dunlunce Castle is actually a ruin of a once beautiful abode that is nestled on a cliff overlooking the sea. It is what you think of when you imagine a medieval castle by the ocean. Its connected to the land by a bridge and has steep drops off on the sides. We were told on our tour that in the 1600s, while waiting for their meal to be prepared and served, the occupants of the castle heard a loud noise coming from the kitchen. When they went down to check to see what caused it, they saw that the entire kitchen including the staff, had fallen off the cliff and into the ocean below. Now that is all kinds of sucky!
Initially Game of Thrones was going to use Dunlunce as the main filming location of Harrenhal, which we see throughout the first couple of seasons but once they surveyed the site they realized it wasn’t safe enough for the crew and actors to film there consistently so they instead drew inspiration from the old battlement and applied it to their designs for Pyke and Harrenhal. As you can see from the pictures, Dunlunce Castle is still a must-see on any venture to Northern Ireland and how its continuing making a cinematic impact.
So if you decide to take a trip to Ireland in the future, make time to tour the Giants Causeway and the surrounding area as well as the Dark Hedges. Obviously Game of Thrones has made fantastic use of the landscape so whether you’re a fan of the show or not, its guaranteed to be an experience you’ll never forget.
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