As you may be aware, the characters on Game of Thrones have thick heavy accents. That’s because some are Britons, some are Scotts and many are Irish! About 80% of the sets or film locations are in Ireland; most of the forests, castles, the Wall and the cold North lands of Westeros can be found in Northern Ireland. Because of this, there are a few companies organizing Game of Thrones tours that feature extras like capes, frocks, original tankards, goblets, horn steins and replicas of the main weapons used on the series. Once in particular, the Game of Thrones Tours (GoTT) from Dublin even features the direwolves. Nerdgasm!
We couldn’t pass up the unique opportunity to see Ireland through Game of Thrones goggles so we booked two of the GoTT tours offered: the first to see Winterfell (from Dublin); and the second to see the Iron Islands and Giant’s Causeway from Belfast. The tours feature all of the treats mentioned previously and two hikes through the country side to reach the remote filming locations. It was the easiest way to combine nature outings and transportation, within a safe and secure environment. We didn’t have to drive or worry about transfers. Win – win.
From Dublin, we headed out to Tollymore forest to get reacquainted with the cold northern lands, the wildling camp featured in Season 1 Episode 1. The second stop took us to, Castle Ward, aka Winterfell, which grounds were also used to portray the Twins, aka Audley Castle, and the Trident. The guide held up pictures of the series to orient us at the locations and to show the crowd what was CGI and what wasn’t. You learn about the history behind each structure, nature spot and era that influenced the Celts and the people of Westeros. Seeing the canvas that HBO uses for this unbelievable yet relatable stories of the epic fantasy story was inspiring and awesome!
They have a Brain of Thrones trivia that is used to determine the King or Queen in the North, to be sworn in and plead fealty to at Inch Abbey, in full regalia. Capes, raised replica swords and heralds with banners and shields usher in the short, yet rewarding, reign of the victor and representative of the Starks of Winterfell. Somewhere between the lands beyond the Wall and Winterfell you get lunch and a quick visit with Summer and Greywind, and a local family that has served as extras for the last 7 seasons. 😍😍😍
Honestly, what got us off the bus was knowing that if our Brienne inspired geared up guide Aenne had rocked the tour, the Belfast version had to be just as remarkable. We didn’t want to go back home! The beauty of Ireland is astounding, and the people are phenomenal: they embrace the Game of Thrones impact and even provide behind the scene info on site for anyone’s pleasure.
The Belfast tour was rough though…
Brian, an Iron Born/wildling/Stark/Frey extra extraordinaire, made the best out of a tour that takes you 10,000 an hour through the northern Irish sites. Castle Black and the Wall were a blur, mostly because it is inside a quarry and is off-limits; you have to see it from the bus at 40 kmh. Two people on the super small and fast tour bus got sick because of the twisty and winding roads. Take motion sickness medication if you want to avoid having to vomit into a white bag.
Because of the delays, and the amount of sights on the Belfast tour, you have to rush through the morning schedule to get to the Giant’s Causeway before closing. The first stop shows you the steps in the bay were Arya emerged after being attacked by the girl in Braavos, which doubled as the port town as well. From there, you hit Melissandre’s assassin shadow baby birth place, Renly’s Camp and Tournament grounds, the suspension bridge at Carrik-a-Rede, and the Iron Islands. At this last spot, we took a group picture dressed and geared as Iron Born, in the pouring rain.
The tour happens rain or shine so they provide ponchos to protect you from the elements and stays inside the bus until the micro storms clear. This was important because Giant’s Causeway is outdoors, and requires a long walk down a hill, which is truly a must see. After an hour there, we headed south to Belfast, past Harrenhall and with a short stop at the Dark Hedges or the King’s road. Amazing! Being patience and quick paid off, especially since no one was late or had to be left behind. 😎
If you have any physical impediment or ailment, these tours will not accommodate for you beyond what the National Parks have offered. The hikes are brutal and really long, so if you need to make frequent stops you are better off going on your own time. The places of interest are clearly marked and have lots of visitors so you won’t be going at it alone. Take lots of pictures and follow all posted instructions, including those given by the tour staff. It is a magical ride that is worth the expense. I highly recommend this for the hardcore fans, even those trying to avoid spoilers.
Winter is here…