A Game of Thrones Road Trip in Northern Ireland 2019
Updated: Jan 3, 2020
If you read my posts on Croatia (specifically Dubrovnik and Split) you would probably know that I'm a Game of Thrones fan since the early days. I would not miss a single episode and I had to watch it as soon as it became available. When Game of Thrones final season came out this year, I decided that I had to go to Northern Ireland to see some of the filming locations. Also, I'd always wanted to go to that part of the United Kingdom for a quite some time. A trip to Northern Ireland would kill two birds in one stone.
After doing some research, I figured 3 days was just about enough for me to explore the area and check out main Game of Thrones locations. I personally think it's better to drive because it gives your more flexibility and the roads in Northern Ireland are fairly easy to drive (although I found drivers in Belfast could be a bit impatient and aggressive sometimes). However if you can't drive, that is no problem. Since Game of Thrones, there are a lot of tours that takes you to visit the North coast where most of the show filming locations and Northern Ireland main attractions are. I'm not going to waffle and dive straight into the itinerary because I know how excited you are to go on a GoT trip
1st day - Belfast - Titanic museum
I flew in Belfast just after noon, collected the car and drove to check in the accommodation. After that, I went to the city centre to get some lunch and check things out. Even thought Belfast is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, it's actually not a very big city with an area of 130km2 and a population of less than 350,000 people.
I had a walk around the centre for a couple of hours, checked out the town hall and shopping malls, had lunch in a local pub.
I then drove to visit Titanic Belfast the no. 1 attraction in Belfast. You probably know Belfast is the birthplace of the famous RMS Titanic,the largest ship afloat at the time she entered service and Titanic Belfast is a monument to Belfast's maritime heritage and RMS Titanic. Titanic Belfast isn't just a typical museum. It is an experience. Built on where the Titanic itself was constructed over 100 years ago, the museum has a series of galleries, interactive exhibitions, private function rooms, community facilities and gantry rides, In Titanic Belfast you will immerse yourself in the history of the ship, right in the place where it all began. Book your ticket in advance to avoid queues here
2nd day - the North coast and Game of Thrones filming locations
On the second day, I set off to Cushendun Caves, where the Red Woman Melisandre gave birth to the shadow creature. You can either take the motorway, or the coastal way. Motorway in general is faster but I recommend you taking the coastal route because it's much more scenic. It takes about 1 hour 20 min drive from Belfast centre via coastal route, which is only about ten - fifteen minutes longer than the motorway. You will get to drive through small villages, see the beautiful countryside and the Irish sea.
Once you get to Cushendun village, park your car and walk along the coast to the caves.
My honest opinion is that there isn't much to see in these caves. Plus, photos are not great because it's dark in there. I took some photos but they all turned out not so good because of poor lighting. However, it's a nice stop on the way for you to take a break from driving and you can also have a walk around the village, which is a pretty nice little village.
If you are short on time, I'd give this a pass.
National Trust Carrick-a-Rede and Larrybane Quarry
After spending some time in Cushendun village, I carried on driving along the coastline for about 50 mins to the National Trust Carrick-a-Rede robe bridge. The bridge is a very well-known tourist spot in Northern Ireland.
Also, located only 100 meters away from the entrance of the bridge is Larrybane Quarry, where some scenes in Game of Thrones were shot. Prior to the show, not many people heard of the place but it's getting increasingly popular these days. This is where Cathelyn Stark agreed a treaty with Renley on behalf of Robb. Because of the close proximity between these two locations, people often visit both.
There is a free big car park there. Once you park your car, you can go to visit Carrick-a-Rede first. Note that you do NOT need to pay to see Carrick-a-Rede. You only need to pay if you want to walk on the bridge. So if you are asked by the staff at the car park or the entrance whether you have bought the ticket or not, you can tell them that you don't want to go on the bridge. If you want to go on the bridge, you may want to book a ticket in advance because it's a very popular attraction and there is a limited number of people that can go on the bridge at the same time. I wasn't that interested in Carrick-a-Rede so I just walked along the coast to have a look around.
After that, I walked back along the coast to Larrybane and was amazed by the view of the Irish sea, the cliff and the white and solid rocks. There wasn't much to do in Larrybane. I spent about half an hour climbing up and down some rocks to get to the beach and then chilling by an edge and taking in the gorgeous view of the Irish sea.
The Giant's Causeway - the one place the MUST not be missed
After having a picnic at Larrybane, I drove to Giant's Causeway, which is only 15-20 mins drive away. While this is not a filming location, the Giant's Causeway is the one place that you MUST visit if you are in Northern Ireland. All other attractions and filming locations can be missed, but not this, ok? You do not want to miss this place if you're in Northern Ireland. The natural wonder was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1986. It is an area of about 40,000 interlocking rock columns, which were formed by an ancient volcanic eruption. Here are some photos of the natural wonder. I was absolutely in awe when I saw it because I just couldn't believe these columns were natural !!!
Are you amazed yet? Are you determined to come there to see this nature wonder with your own eyes yet? Honestly this rock formation is unbelievable. I couldn't fathom that these columns were a product of nature. I would totally believe it if I was told this was done by aliens. To me the Giant's Causeway alone was worth all the driving from Belfast. Everything else was just bonus.
A lot of people are mistaken that you have to pay to see Giant's Causeway. In fact, it is FREE to access and see the site. You, however, need to pay to park at the Visitor Centre. This is the part where people often get really confused and think that they need to buy tickets to see the site. The Visitor Centre doesn't charge parking on its own. Instead, they sell tickets that gives you access to the Visitor Centre, use of outdoor audio guide, orientation leaflet and parking. The price is £11 per adult. Check the latest prices in their website here. If you just want to park the car, then just buy one ticket so that you can park your car there. Alternatively, you can drive down the road to find a free car park space. Do not park on the kerb outside the Visitor Centre. I saw a lot of cars park there despite the 'no parking' sign. When I came out, a lot of them got a ticket.
There are a few walking trails, which are clearly marked on the site. Here is the link to the National Trust website with detailed information. Basically there are four trails: Red, Blue, Green and Yellow.
The Red Trail takes you up the cliff where you can view the Causeway Coast and the North Channel from above. It is a spectacular view from the cliff. It is quite a steep walk up the cliff so prepare to get a bit sweaty.
The Blue Trail is a direct route between the Giant's Causeway and the Visitor's Centre, that is under a mile. It's a fairly easy walk so it's quite nice to walk back via the Blue Trail after the Red.
The Green Trail that is wheelchair and buggy-friendly
The Yellow Trail takes you around the whole site and also takes part in some of the Red and Green Trails.
If you are moderately fit, I think you should take the Red Trail to get to the Giant's Causeway and walk back via Blue Trail in order to get the best views.
The dark hedges
Once I was done with the Giant's Causeway, I headed back to the car and drove to dark hedges, an avenue of beech trees along Bregagh Road between Armoy and Stranocum in County Antrim. The Dark Hedges is an iconic road in the Game of Thrones where Arya Stark travelled north on the King's Road after escaping from the King's Landing. It's the first episode of season 2. The place is free to visit and it's under 30 mins from the Giant's Causeway! I would highly recommend it. Summer is probably a better time visit when the leaves grow back though.
Day 3 - Winterfell - Castle Ward
Winterfell castle was filmed in Castle Ward, which is about 45 mins drive to the south from Belfast. Honestly, I was very disappointed because Winterfell looked so much bigger and nicer in the show! The real castle is just some small buildings located in a small area within Castle Ward. You could book some activities like axe throwing, cycling and archery there. See link for more information on how to book. Here are some photos of Winterfell in real life so you have an idea of how disappointed I was
This the tower where Jamie Lannister pushed Bran Stark out of the window. Do you remember what he said when he pushed Bran?
Since I was already at Castle Ward, I decided to spend some time exploring the site and fortunately I was not disappointed ! Castle Ward itself is a very nice castle with a lot of things to do and see. I followed a trail around the castle, visited the gardens and the lakes there. Before I knew it, a couple of hours already passed !
After a few hours in Castle Ward, I headed back to catch the flight home. This concluded my road trip in Northern Ireland. I was blessed with amazing weather during my stay. I've told that I was extremely lucky to have sunny days like that in April. The weather definitely made the trip a lot more enjoyable. Have you been to Northern Ireland? What did you think of it? Are there any other places that you think are worth a visit that I missed?