6 Stunning Game Of Thrones Sites You Can Explore Near Belfast, Northern Ireland – Irish Sea

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Harland & Wolff Shipyard, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Famous for the making of RMS Titanic, this shipyard in Belfast was founded in 1861. Yorkshire magnate Edward Harland and his German partner, Gustav Wolff dominated ship building business during that time. Harland and Wolff shipyard conquered the world in building famous ocean liners. It has endured 2 World Wars, witnessed the division of Ireland, seen the sinking of its most famous creation and endured the harrowing years of The Troubles (conflict in Belfast from the ’60s-’90s whether Northern Ireland will remain under British rule or join Republic of Ireland). Indeed this shipyard had a big historical and cultural impact in Belfast. This has been Northern Ireland’s highest income earner and one of UK‘s important asset. But after World War II and to the late 1950s, it began to face global competition while the growth of air travel surfaced. It declined in 1966 and became a public property in 1975. And in 1989, it was turned over into private ownership again under the Norwegian ship mogul Fred Olsen (my employer from 1990-2013). It focused on the building of oil tankers. These days Harland and Wolff shipyard also specialize in other areas of marine engineering such as oil rig refurbishment and offshore wind turbines.

On Belfast:

The capital of Northern Ireland and which makes up one of the parts of United Kingdom (Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales). However, Northern Ireland is not a component of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). And then Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are two different countries though they are located in one Island of Ireland. They have different governments, different political states and religion. Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland and is a Catholic stronghold. Belfast is mainly a Protestant city.

Since the Bronze Age, Belfast has been a settlement. But in the Middle Ages, this city played a leading role in the Industrial Revolution. Its linen industry prospered until the early 20th century. Also in the early 20th century Belfast’s ship building trade flourished. Its location along the Lagan River, an inlet of the Irish Sea is an ideal spot for the said business. Catholics from Dublin migrated into Belfast in search of jobs. This migration became the root of tensions and in 1921 the British parliament divided Ireland into Northern and Southern. Northern Ireland was created with Belfast as the capital. However in Belfast, a conflict arose between majority Protestants and the Catholic minority. From 1968-1998 it suffered a war called The Troubles. A ceasefire took place in 1994 and on a Good Friday in April 1998 an agreement was signed to end the three decades of violence. Though English is widely spoken in Belfast, the Irish (or Gaelic) language including Ulster Scot are also used. Both minor languages are recognized as a part of the cultural wealth of Northern Ireland.

Map showing Northern Ireland.

Belfast, full of stories and sufferings. No other European city in the world that has gone through a lot than Belfast. When I arrived here in November 1993 with my fellow crews to take M/T Knock Stocks at Harland & Wolff shipyard on its maiden voyage to Malaga, Spain the city was a very hostile and dangerous one. We were very careful as bombs were placed all over. But our employer opt to have his crews board on brand new vessels, so we have to comply. As owner of H & W dockyard, Fred Olsen built his ships with Suezmax oil tankers like Knock Stocks. They are capable of sailing through Suez Canal even in a laden condition.

It was ugly as sin in Belfast during that time because of The Troubles. But the city center was wonderful and easy to get around. And Northern Ireland has impressive landmarks and man-made attractions. After the Good Friday Agreement, Belfast has healed and changed. It is now a dynamic city well worth a visit. In fact, HBO‘s Game of Thrones studios are found in Belfast, at the Titanic Quarter ( a part of Harland and Wolff shipyard). Though it is not open to the public you can actually visit their filming locations which are within easy reach from the city. Now get ready for a virtual experience on 6 stunning Game of Thrones sites you can explore near Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Ballintoy Harbor

Built of limestone blocks is the small fishing harbor of Ballintoy in County Antrim, (1 hour and 12 mins. from Belfast) Northern Ireland. Meaning “the northern townland” Baile an Tuagh in Irish, this is a stunning Game of Thrones site you can explore near Belfast, Northern Ireland. A photographer’s dream, you have seen Ballintoy Harbor as the dock of Greyjoy Kingdom of Ryke (Harbor of Iron Islands) in Season 2 of the famous Medieval epic. Existing since the 19th century, Ballintoy Harbor is also home to Ballintoy Parish Church. It has a unique sundial on its wall which was used to record tidal waves since 1817. Limestone caves are also found at the area and the whole harbor is characterized by different rock formations.

Did You Know:
Europa Hotel in Belfast has been the most bombed hotel in the world during the height of The Troubles. It suffered 28 bombings between 1970-1994.

Downhill Strand

One of the longest beach in Northern Ireland is found at County Londonderry. It is famous for its European Blue Flag award (2015) and about 1 hour 40 minutes train ride from Belfast. The scenic coast of Downhill Strand is another stunning Game of Thrones site you can explore near Belfast, Northern Ireland. Also featured in Season 2, Dragonstone, this beach is where the seven Gods of Westeros were sacrificed by Melisandre. Sitting upon the cliff that overlooks Downhill Strand is Mussenden Temple. Built in 1785 by the 4th Earl of Bristol who was once a Lord Bishop of the Church of Ireland. Mussenden Temple was named in honor of the Earl’s niece, Frideswide Mussenden and was used as a library during his time.

Bregagh Road

A road leading to the Stuart family’s Gracehill House are two rows of beech trees that form a tunnel planted in the 18th century. Known as the Dark Hedges or King’s Road, this avenue of ancient trees is also a stunning Game of Thrones site you can explore near Belfast, Northern Ireland. Featured in Season 2, Episode 1: The North Remembers, it is the scene where Arya Stark escaped from the King’s landing disguised as a man. Bregagh Road (Dark Hedges) has become one of the most instagramable spots in Northern Ireland. But a legend tells about a white lady that walks between the trees on a dark night. It is believed to be the ghost of one of the staff of Gracehill House who died mysteriously. Dark Hedges (Bregagh Road) is located at Ballymoney in County Antrim, about one hour drive from Belfast.

Did You Know:
The natural beauty of Belfast has inspired C.S. Lewis to write his novel The Chronicles of Narnia. Born in Belfast in 1898, the magical landscape of his hometown was a great influence for his fictional kingdom (Narnia).

Castle Ward

An 18th century National Trust property near Strangford in County Down which is about 40 minutes drive from Belfast is Castle Ward. Home of the Ward family since 1570, the estate was turned over to the government of Northern Ireland in 1952. Castle Ward, another stunning Game of Thrones site you can explore near Belfast, Northern Ireland was used for Winterfell, Season 1. The historic farmyard of Castle Ward was the backdrop of the saga’s pilot episode. It’s where Whispering Wood was located and the scenes of Baelor battle including the confrontation between Brienne and the Stark men. With so much beauty and history to see at Castle Ward, visiting this remarkable piece of architecture in Northern Ireland is like stepping also into a Game of Thrones production.

Tollymore Forest Park

Located south of Belfast near Newcastle, Northern Ireland is the enchanting Tollymore Forest Park. A stunning Game of Thrones site you can explore near Belfast, Northern Ireland, Tollymore was the Haunted Forest in Season 1. It’s the scene where the Three Nights’ Watchman encounter a white walker. Another scene used in this wooded park was Theon Greyjoy‘s escape attempt as he is pursued by Ramsay Snow. Tollymore is Northern Ireland‘s oldest pine forest and other array of exotic trees. It was also in this woodland where oak trees were logged for the use of the interiors of the ill-fated RMS Titanic.

Entrance to Tollymore Forest Park.

Did You Know:
The actor Liam Neeson was born in Belfast. His first taste of the stage was at the Lyric Theater in 1976 before going on to Hollywood to do dozens of blockbuster movies.

Cushendun Caves

Cushendun is a small, charming coastal town in Northern Ireland, about 51.2 miles from Belfast. It has spectacular rock formations that form Cushendun Caves. These caves are stunning Game of Thrones sites you can explore near Belfast, Northern Ireland. It’s where Sir Davos Seaworth and Lady Melisandre landed ashore and Melisandre gave birth to a terrifying shadow baby in The Stormlands, Season 2. And in Season 8, the caves were the famous battle scene between Jaime Lannister and Euron Greyjoy. But there is more to Cushendun Caves than location site of Game of Thrones series. These natural formations are indisputable proof of the beautiful coastline of Northern Ireland.

Did You Know:
Belfast was once a burlesque capital of the United Kingdom.

Now you know that Belfast in Northern Ireland is an incredible city. It is definitely worth of your visit especially its numerous sites nearby like the castles, scenic coastlines and dark hedges of trees. Don’t you think it will be awesome if you personally see those places one day? And you will agree why HBO used Northern Ireland for most of Game of Thrones filming locations. Well, Throne fan or not, visiting this city will evoke memories that will last a lifetime. Biodh la maith agot (Bee-ugh aw mah a gut) means “have a nice day” in Gaelic.

Reference: Wikipedia