Discover Kingslanding in Northern Ireland
If you know your Winterfell from your King’s Landing, you’ll also be familiar with Northern Ireland. Doubling as the fictional continent of Westeros, the country’s bays, caves, woods and lakes provide a suitably rough’n’ready setting for the Seven Kingdoms within HBO’s Game of Thrones. The fantasy drama, shortly to embark on a fifth season, makes use of various locations worldwide, but it’s here in Ulster that scenes are predominantly shot. And as well as taking you to the places you’ve seen on screen, this 125-mile Northern Ireland drive from Londonderry to Belfast also showcases the best of Northern Ireland itself.
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While not a Game of Thrones location in its own right, the city of Derry/Londonderry makes for a natural start-point. In 2013 it became the UK’s first ever City of Culture, a nod to everything from its arts scene to its medieval walled centre. Tour the famous murals of Bogside, explore the city’s complex history at the Tower Museum or catch a show at the Millennium Forum. Heading on towards Larrybane, stop off at Downhill Beach, a seven-mile sweep of sand which served as Dragonstone in Season 2. Take time too to visit Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland’s UNESCO-listed natural wonder.
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Home to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which was originally built by salmon fishermen around 350 years ago, Larrybane is one of the focal points of the north coast. The 30-metre-high bridge, which can still be crossed, leads from the mainland across to a small island. Game of Thrones fans can explore two nearby sites. The harbour at Ballintoy has appeared as Pyke, one of the Iron Islands, while the Larrybane headland was the scene of Renly Baratheon’s pledge to Catelyn Stark after her husband’s death. Both are strikingly attractive spots. Back behind the wheel, it’s on to Murlough Bay. En route you’ll pass through Ballycastle, real-life birthplace of Conleth Hill, who plays Varys.
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Reachable via a magnificent minor road known as the Torr Head Scenic Route, Murlough Bay is a sheltered cove of cliffs and green hills. It grants views of Rathlin Island and Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre. The spot has been featured more than once in Game of Thrones episodes, including being used as the backdrop to Theon Greyjoy’s journey by horse in Season 3. Your next stop, Glenarm, sits 50 minutes down the coast. Call in along the way at the ancient sea caves of Cushendun, where Melisandre gives birth in Season 2.
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This coastal village can claim its own real-life tales of nobility – it has a 400-year-old castle that remains the ancestral home of the Earls of Antrim. Even the name Glenarm originates from the Irish Gleann Arma, or “Valley of the Army”. The village also acts a base for heading out to filming locations such as Cairncastle, just north of Larne, which was used for outdoor scenes in early episodes. From Glenarm, Belfast sits an hour’s drive south.
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Northern Ireland’s capital city is a dynamic place these days, with attractions like Titanic Belfast and interactive museum W5 giving it modern appeal. It has fascinating heritage too – take the chance to tour the Stormont Parliament Buildings – but the city also serves as a gateway to a string of Game of Thrones locations. These include Audley’s Castle, which doubles as Robb’s Camp in Season 2, and the ruins of Inch Abbey, which acted as part of the Riverlands. Also close by is Castle Ward – better known to some as Winterfell. How many other car-hire routes can claim to take you to the seat of the House Stark?
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