HBO’s Game of Thrones had audiences across the globe hooked from the very first episode – the prickly politics and bloody battles of Stark, Lannister and the Targaryen dragons are as spectacular and dramatic as the scenery they’re set in. With 80% of the show shot in Belfast and the surrounding countryside, fans of the series can explore the magical landscape of the Seven Kingdoms with this unmissable 'Stones and Thrones' location tour.
We spoke with Gerard at City Tours Belfast - a company that runs Stones and Thrones tours around many of the shows iconic locations, to get a feel for what tourists and avid fans of the series can expect during their day out.
"Our tour is extremely popular not just for fans of the show but for everyone travelling to Belfast as it is a wonderful sightseeing tour," he tells us. "The tour not only travels to locations used for the filming of the show but also visits The World Heritage sight that is the Giant's Causeway it travels along the Causeway coastal route voted one of the top 5 coastal routes in the World.
"The success of the show has had a direct impact in terms of visitors taking the tour, this can be seen from the various nationalities taking the tour some days we have up to 20 different nationalities on board our tour."
From the show's pilot and beyond
Gerard tells us that the Stones and Thrones tour spans the show's pilot with a stop off at the wind-beaten Antrim Platea, which is where the honourable Ned Stark beheaded a deserter from the Night’s Watch in the show’s very first episode.
Visitors will also see first-hand the evocative Dark Hedges, a natural archway of beech trees, which stood watch as Ned's daughter Arya disguised herself as a boy to escape certain death in King’s Landing, before moving on to the Cushendun Caves, which is where the sorceress Melisandre of Asshai gave birth to a murderous shadow. Another spot - Larrybane Quarry, is more recognisable these days as the stormy coast of Westeros.
Gerard adds that The Giant’s Causeway is the core of Westeros, with countless scenes filmed nearby. The majesty of the causeway is the perfect backdrop to the battle for the Iron Throne that engulfs the Seven Kingdoms, from King’s Landing to Daenerys Targaryen’s stronghold at Meereen in Slaver’s Bay.
Ballintoy Harbour’s breathtaking seaside views, which reach as far as Scotland on a clear day, surround Theon Greyjoy’s windswept Iron Islands, and fans can follow in Bran and Hodor's footsteps by venturing north across the fields behind Carncastle.
Expert tours from passionate fans
Gerard explains that each Stones and Thrones tour is led by a 'Maester' guide, who is a, "fan of both the books & TV series. They will not only guide you through the locations used in the show they will also discuss information from the television series, and recall incredible tales of legend and local history that could come right out of the books."
You can unearth the fictional world of Westeros on this plotted path through Northern Ireland’s wild scenery, with the chance to learn more about the nation's own mythology and mystery along the way. Discover the eerie stillness of the Dark Hedges, planted by the Stuart family over 300 years ago and now one of the most photographed landmarks in Northern Ireland, and experience the exhilaration of the Carrick a Rede rope bridge – better known to fans as Storm’s End, the home of would-be king Stannis Baratheon.
The tour begins at 8:45am outside the Visitor Information office in Donegall Square, just a 15-minute walk from our Radisson Blu Hotel, Belfast. The tour guides, better known as Maesters, are ultimate experts, regaling you with Lannister gossip and tales of the trysts between the Houses; some have even featured in the show.
The day is packed with facts for fans, little-known trivia about the series, and insider information about the process of filming. Gerard from City Tours Belfast explains that Stones and Thrones also welcomes those who have never even heard of the books or show, as the tour provides an ideal way to see Belfast’s awe-inspiring World Heritage Sites all in one day.
It may be some time before author George R R Martin gets around to writing the next book in the gripping series, but Belfast’s Stones and Thrones location tour is sure to quench your thirst for all things Westeros until then.