As Northern Ireland’s most famous natural attraction – the Giant’s Causeway – is in proximity to many GOT film locations up north, most tours include this attraction. So I booked the Game of Thrones and Giant’s Causeway Full-Day Tour via Viator as at £36, it was cheaper than most. Managed by McComb’s Coach Travel (mccombscoaches.com), its claim to GOT fame is that they were a longtime transport provider for the show and its GOT Location Tour along the Causeway Coastal Route also received a 5-star rating from Tourism Ireland.
From Belfast city centre, the tour first took us along the scenic Antrim Coastal Road flanked by the robust Irish Sea on the right and the charming Glens of Antrim on the left. Our driver-guide Derek is a chatty chap who gave us much GOT and NI information, as well as some of the lamest dad jokes ever.
1. Carnlough Harbour
About an hour in, we arrived at the small coastal village of Carnlough where the GOT attraction is the cobblestone harbour steps featured in Season 6 Episode 7 when Arya Stark resurfaces from the Braavos canal after being attacked by the Waif. Not sure how clean the waters are but much respect for Maisie Williams considering how immersed in the waters she was while shooting the scene!
2. Cushendun Caves
A half-hour drive further north is the quaint village of Cushendun where, next to the mesmerizing sight of big waves crushing onto gigantic rocks along the coastline, you will find the 400 million-years-old caves depicting a cove in the Stormlands in which a horrified Ser Davos Seaworth witnesses Melisandre giving birth to a shadow assassin that eventually kills Renly Baratheon in Season 2 Episode 4.
SPOILER ALERT: Weeks after our visit here, the area was closed off for what Irish GOT location watchers suspected to be filming for Season 8. Will there be action in Storm’s End or the Stormlands in the final season? Your guess is as good as mine.
3. The Dark Hedges
This beautiful 18th Century avenue with about 100 beech trees leading up to Gracehill House has become arguably the most iconic Game of Thrones location ever since it appeared as the Kingsroad that Arya and Gendry travel on to escape King’s Landing in Season 2 Episode 2. Located further inland away from the eastern coastline, Derek brought us here during “lunchtime” in order to avoid the crowds from other tours, yet many people still there were. To see the “most recognisable” part of the trees with the distinctive arching branches, you have to walk at least halfway down the avenue. I’d have loved to walk down the entire avenue but on a coach tour with a packed schedule, we don’t have that luxury.
4. The Fullerton Arms, Ballintoy
Lunch was at the Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy after a jaunt to the Giant’s Causeway. Besides great food and beer, what’s cool about the pub/restaurant is that it has a replica of the Iron Throne, complete with cloak and sword for you to pose with, PLUS Door 6 of the Door of Thrones series depicting Season 6 events. The ten pubs with the doors indicate that there are GOT film locations nearby. This one highlights House Targaryen, namely Daenerys Stormborn’s dragon Drogon and the Dothraki horses finally crossing the Narrow Sea towards Westeros. The doors were specially crafted from fallen branches from the Dark Hedges after a storm hit them in 2016. Ingenious marketing, really.
5. Ballintoy Harbour
Just a few minutes away from the lunch venue, at the end of a long and winding downhill road, is the quaint Ballintoy Harbour that stands in for Pkye and the Iron Islands. Theon Greyjoy is baptised here in Season 2, and is also the venue for Euron’s drowning and rebirth in Season 6.
SPOILER ALERT: According to Derek, this location was much used for Season 8 filming. Maybe we will get to see Theon completing his redemption arc, like saving sister Yara from uncle Euron maybe?
Another popular NI attraction located nearby is the Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge which, after crossing it, leads to Larrybane Quarry which not only offers breathtaking panoramic views of islands and headlands in the Atlantic Ocean, it’s also the site for Renly’s camp in the Stormlands in Season 2 and where Brienne of Tarth was named to Renly’s Kingsguard. In Season 6, it was used as the Kingsmoot setting. From here, it was about a two-hour scenic drive down south back to Belfast.
All in all, there are about 18 GOT locations north of Belfast but not every one is easily accessible. One example is Fair Head – located further east of Larrybane – which provides the spectacular cliffs of Dragonstone in Season 7 on which Danerys, Jon Snow and Drogon share a special moment, among other significant scenes.
For a GOT fan, this McCombs tour is adequate with sufficient information and videos played in the bus before we set off on foot for most locations. Don’t get me wrong – our driver-guide was great but for a “total” GOT immersive experience, you might want to consider tours that have a separate guide who could accompany the tour group to every site and explain in detail how each sequence was filmed at the spot. Also, during long distances, past episodes of Game of Thrones episodes will be shown instead. Some even have costumes and props thrown in.
Still, for £35 (not including lunch and rope bridge fee), this tour is still a good alternative. If you are keen to cover every location, customized tours are available with various GOT tour groups. Or download the GOT Filming Locations Northern Ireland app which provide directions to the locations and you can adventure on your own (just read the instructions carefully as many are inaccessible or are private land).
Things to Note for the Tour:
1. There’s a lot of walking (uphill, downhill) so dress right with proper outdoor shoes and clothes befitting the Northern Irish weather
2. You need to have moderate fitness; not recommended for anyone with limited mobility
3. Bring water, although there are locations where you can buy drinks
(All Game of Thrones images – Credit: HBO)