The real Westeros
Whether or not you’re a fan of HBO’s fantasy juggernaut, it’s hard to deny the cultural impact that Game of Thrones has had on a worldwide scale. So perhaps it’s not surprising that according to a new report released by the travel advice website TripAdvisor, a Northern Ireland county that embodied some of the show’s most iconic locations has experienced an unparalleled spike in visitor numbers.
County Antrim has doubled for many different Westeros locations: Magheramorne quarry was transformed into Castle Black, Hardhome and the Wall. The Dark Hedges, an avenue of beech trees planted two hundred years ago by the Stuarts, became the Kingsroad. Cushendun Caves saw the Red Priestess give birth to a shadow assassin. And the antique ruins of Shane’s Castle provided a backdrop for the controversial tournament scene in which Gregor Clegane beheads a horse.
The word spreads
The recent report shows that searches on the travel site for County Antrim have increased by a massive 65% in the last 12 months, easily outstripping any other UK searches, with Bristol
coming in at No. 2 thanks to a 37% increase. It’s not just foreign holidaymakers who are keen on visiting the county either - there’s been a 47% boost in interest from domestic travellers as well.
A spokeswoman for TripAdvisor, Stephanie Boyle said: “Studies like this show how quickly outside influences can impact tourism to a particular destination, with County Antrim being the most recent destination to benefit from film and TV tourism.”
Discover the locations
If the idea of experiencing the real places behind Game of Thrones strikes a chord, it’s easy enough (with a little planning) to seek out these beautiful locations for yourself. Of course there are guided tours of the area, but for those who prefer the freedom of exploring as they see fit there’s no better option than picking up a car rental in Belfast
and striking out on your own.
County Antrim is within easy driving distance of Belfast, so it won’t take you long to get started on your Thrones pilgrimage. To catch a glimpse of the real world version of the Wall, head north for about 40 minutes to Magheramorne - the abandoned quarry there has provided a backdrop for some of the series’ more gritty environments, from the freezing training ground of Castle Black to Hardhome, the northern fishing village that became the scene of a climactic battle in a recent episode.
Once you’ve taken in the quarry views, try an hour long scenic jaunt up the east coast of Northern Ireland to reach Cushendun. The Cushendun Caves formed over 400 million years as a result of wind and water wearing away Old Red Sandstone rock, and today they are the small coastal village’s main attraction. They can be found next to the Bay Hotel and Cave House. In the show, the caves witness the birth of an unholy abomination set on regicide, but the real world equivalent is significantly less sinister.
From Cushendun it’s only a half hour drive inland to The Dark Hedges. Originally intended to impress visitors to Gracehill House, a Georgian mansion built by the Stuarts, this eerily impressive beech tree avenue doubled as the Kingsroad (the main highway in Westeros) in several episodes.
The charm of Antrim
With so many stunning locations in one small area, County Antrim is practically begging to be explored. With almost every town you come across offering quaint campgrounds and B&B’s, there’s no shortage of places to stay - and this is somewhere you’ll want to stay for a while, Game of Thrones fan or no. Because while the show may have brought people’s attention to this corner of the Emerald Isle, County Antrim exudes a rustic charm and beauty that will remain long after the most popular TV series on earth fades from memory.
If you want to discover more of what the Game of Thrones filming locations have to offer, travel to Croatia and visit Dubrovnik
(King's Landing) and Split
is must visit if you want to discover what lies beyond the wall and Spain
is a must visit if you would like to experience the warmth of Dorne.