Ireland is a fascinating country. One can spend months traveling around the country and still not see it all. Unfortunately, not everyone can take long holidays, so this is why I recommend a short trip up north, to see the best attractions. You can journey to many of the breathtaking sets and locations featured in the popular TV show – Game of Thrones. All of this just in a day or two of your Game of Thrones road trip.
The best way to discover Northern Ireland is by renting a car. It’s way more practical than using public buses or tour companies. It gives you freedom and you don’t have to follow a specific schedule like group tours have.
Dublin is a good starting point, especially for a car pick-up. I recommend renting a car in Dublin, as it’s a good central location. You can first drive around Northern Ireland and then continue to the Cliffs of Moher, Cork, or Kilkenny Castle, before dropping your car off back in Dublin. It’s generally cheaper to pick up and drop off a rental car from the same destination, so it’s worth planning accordingly.
Quick Game Of Thrones Road Trip In Northern Ireland
Start and end your trip in Dublin as flights are the cheapest and usually most convenient. Make sure to save time to see the city itself before you hit the road.
All Game of Thrones sites I had planned to see from Dublin can easily be seen from Belfast too! Plus they’re a lot closer from there, so I’ll tell you about them in a bit.
But if you have time to experience Dublin, take photos in front of the Spire of Dublin, experience the wonder that is Trinity College Library, visit the beautiful 12th-century St. Patrick’s Cathedral Christ Church Cathedrals, learn about Irish history at the Dublin Castle, and shop in the Dublin Flea Market.
And finally, end the day by going to the iconic Temple Bar for a drink!
Best Places to Stay in Dublin
Belfast still appears for many as a no-go place. In movies and TV it’s often portrayed as a sin city, but I think it offers a unique glimpse into its culture of contrasts through it’s dry sense of humor. And of course my favorite accent in the world, I really liked Belfast!
What to do in Belfast? If you’re short on time, I recommend a visit to the beautiful City Hall and Titanic Museum. Unfortunately, since it’s a working studio, you can’t just go inside the Titanic Studios where they film Game Of Thrones, opposite the Warner Bros & Universal that offer quite extensive tours. The famous throne is inside though.
Completed in 1906, Baroque-style City Hall sits in the heart of Belfast and is one of the city’s most important and impressive buildings. The area around the Hall has been the heart of Belfast long before it was constructed having housed the White Linen Hall.
It was commissioned when Belfast was granted city status by Queen Victoria in 1888, whom locals loved, and even built her a big statue upfront. Ironically, as I was told, she only stopped there once for a few minutes. All this city hall and statue for nothing…
Best Places to Stay in Belfast
Titanic Hotel Belfast – opposite the Titanic Belfast
Most scenes from Game of Thrones’ pilot season were shot in Castle Ward. It’s where King Baratheon first set foot at Winterfell. You can trek to the place where Robb Stark’s camp was located near the castle or trek through Tollymore Forest and see where other popular scenes were shot.
You can dress up and play with a sword. It’s definitely a good stop!
Castle Ward, or Winterfell to fans, is a 180 km drive from Dublin or a 29 km drive from Belfast. So you don’t need to spend the night here, but if you want to stay in or around Castle Ward, here are a few options.
Where to Stay near Castle Ward
Portaferry Lodge, a three-bedroom villa for families
And if you are staying near Castle Ward, make sure you have a meal at The Cuan! This family-run guesthouse is where the cast of Seasons 1 and 2 stayed. The onsite restaurant also serves meals that are taken from GoT series.
Ballygally Castle (optional)
Home to one of the famous Game of Thrones Doors, Ballygally Castle Hotel has a door featuring the Battle of the Bastards. The Ballygally Castle is also home to a resident ghost and a dungeon. The castle also offers a Game of Thrones meal based on different key players in the series.
Drive to the Shillanavoghy Valley near the Slemish mountains nearby and see the Dothraki Grasslands of Season 1. This beautiful scenery is actually set on an extinct volcano, making it an amazing out-of-the-way visit!
Nearby Hotel: Ballygally Castle Hotel
Dark Hedges were planted by the Stuart family in 1775, who originally only wanted to impress visitors as they approached their Georgian mansion called Gracehill House.
Unfortunately, the 150 beech trees grew too slow for Stuarts to see it, but remained there now attracting half a million people from all over the world every year.
This gorgeous tree alley appeared in many movies, so naturally, it also played a role in Game of Thrones. Honestly, it was one of the places in Northern Ireland I wanted to see the most and it didn’t disappoint.
It does get busy when tour buses arrive, but again, when you have your own car you can either wait it out or come at a different time. It’s surely a great photo opportunity when it’s not crowded.
There’s also the legend of the Grey Lady, a ghost who flits from tree to tree along the dark hedges, but we didn’t wait around to meet her.
Since the dark hedges are halfway between Stranoum and Armoy, you can either spend the night in either of these two towns or go onwards to Bushmills and spend the night there.
Where to stay near The Dark Hedges in County Antrim
Coachmans’ Cottage – 2-bedroom house in Stranocum consistently rated 5-star
You might have heard of Bushmills before, as it shares its name with the famous whiskey distilled there. Licensed since 1608, there are no doubts why Bushmills whiskey is arguably the best whiskey in the world and a great place to pick up some souvenirs.
I received a fair shot upon arrival and could learn a lot about the process of making a good whiskey. Do I recommend buying some bottles there? Nope. Everything is quite overpriced, but if you’re in the area you might as well stop there for a quick shot.
Bushmills is centrally located between a number of important GoT locations – Dunluce Castle, Pyke Harbor, Carrick-a-Rede, and more.
Bushmills is also a great base to see the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site made of 40,000 basalt columns that are almost 12 meters tall. You can also take a short 2-mile train ride on the old Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills Railway nearby.
Where to stay in Bushmills
Ballylinny Holiday Cottages – within 10 minutes walk from the Giant’s Causeway
Constructed in the 13th century by Richard Og de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, Dunluce Castle is the most striking castle in Ireland. Sitting on a basalt outcrop, it’s also said to have been the inspiration for C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.
In Game of Thrones, Dunluce Castle is the home of the Kings of the Iron Islands Pyke. But you might not recognize it because Computer Generated Imagery or CGI has been used to show the castle as something built over very tall rocks rising out from the ocean.
Dunluce can only be visited if you drive yourself, as tour groups don’t allow you to go down and walk around.
Giant’s Causeway is the second most popular tourist attraction in Ireland, next to the Cliffs of Moher. No scenes for the Game of Thrones were filmed there, but it’s still so worth your time. The Causeway consists of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns.
The formation was a result of a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago, but the legend says it was constructed by a giant, hence the name. The Irish giant named Finn McCool ripped the earth from the ground, creating a pathway for a rival giant. Outwitted by McCool, this giant (named Benandonner) ran back to Scotland, wrecking the earth as he went, or so the legend says.
While there is a tourist center, you don’t need to pass through it to get to the causeway. Just go down the asphalt road, just like any other. My pro tip for visiting Giant’s Causeway: go there late after everyone else has left. You’ll get the experience of a lifetime. Another benefit of having your own car.
This bridge links the mainland with the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede. It was actually the brainchild of salmon fishermen 350 years ago, but in 2004 it was rebuilt for locals and tourists.
It now costs 7 pounds to cross the bridge there and back. I don’t think it’s that worth it, but if you like touristy gimmicks then go for it.
Not everyone knows this but its additional parking lot was used for the scenes depicting Renly Baratheon’s war camp. The parking lot called Larrybane was an old limestone quarry, but now just used to park the extra cars visiting Carrick-a-Rede.
Apart from featuring as King Renly’s Stormlands camp, it’s also where King Renly named Brienne of Tarth as his Kingsguard.
The bridge itself is set to appear in a future season, but who knows!
Ballintoy Harbor wouldn’t quite work as a tourist attraction alone, but thanks to the Game of Thrones it became one, known as Pyke Harbor. It’s where Theon Greyjoy arrives back in the Iron Islands and where he later admires his ship, the Sea Bitch. This is also where he first meets his sister Yara.
It’s also where the Davos Seaworth was shipwrecked after the Battle of Blackwater Bay, though some say it’s the nearby Murlough Bay where that scene was shot.
There are only a few pretty buildings and a beach there, but some people get curious and visit. It’s an incredible spot with a cool wavy beach, winds blowing and the edge of the world in plain sight.
You could spend the night in Ballintoy and stay at The Fullerton Arms, where many of the GoT cast stayed. Or do as we did and head back to your base at Bushmills!
A half hours drive West from Ballintoy Habour, Murlough Bay is another Game of Thrones site that you won’t find in the scheduled tours.
Parts of it feature as King Renly’s camp in the stormlands. It’s also where Ser Jorah Mormont and Tyrion Lannister are shown on their journey to Mereen after surviving an attack by Stonemen.
Cushendun might not be the most stunning of the Game of Thrones filming locations, but it’s definitely worth a stop. The Caves are the place where Melisandre gave birth to her shadow baby – how can you forget that scene?!
It turns out that these caves were formed over 400 million years ago.
There is also a story of Ireland’s most famous goat who even got his own statue.
Johann the Goat spent a lot of time near the riverbank greeting visitors. Sadly, Johann died of foot and mouth disease in 2001, before someone put up his statue. But he’s been replaced by a different resident goat, as friendly as the original one.
Unfortunately, when I was there it was raining like crazy and I gave up on finding the wet goat.
Of course, when it rains in Cushendun, it’s time to head over to Mary Mcbride’s for a drink. But before you enter, stop to take a picture with the door that focuses on Arya and his needle, while the Titan of Braavos looms above. Made from one of the trees that storm Gertrude felled in 2016, this door is one of the ten famous doors featuring stories from Game of Thrones – Season 6.
Most people would drive back to Belfast or Dublin from Bushmills, but drive west of Bushmills towards Portrush and you’ll find locations that aren’t featured in the Game of Thrones tours, and rarely visited. It’s good to add to your secret GoT bucket list!
Portstewart Strand with its golden beaches is where Bronn and Jaime were captured by Dornish soldiers. It’s also where Ellaria conspired with the Sand Snakes to start a war.
Downhill Beach, overlooked by the Mussenden Temple, which is a round building on the cliffs near Castlerock. This Mussenden Temple is where Melisandre burnt the effigies of the Gods of Westeros.
Go a little further and you’ll see the Binevenagh mountain which is the setting for the Dothraki grasslands in Season 5 where Mereen is surrounded by the Dothraki horde after fleeing the Sons of the Harpy.
Where to Stay in Portrush
As you can see there are various advantages of traveling around Northern Ireland by car. Especially if you don’t like crowds and want to see things at your own pace.
I cannot recommend this itinerary enough, not only for the fans of Game of Thrones but also for anyone wanting to discover some natural attractions and smaller villages. While my favorite part was still the alley of Dark Hedges, the whole trip was incredible!
Arrange your Travel Insurance
Don’t forget to arrange a health insure before heading to Ireland. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is Safety Wing. Get it before your trip to avoid unnecessary troubles that might ruin your Game of Thrones road trip!