I went on a $47 Game of Thrones tour in Northern Ireland – here’s what it’s like

Business Insider /Joey Lee

Game of Thrones (GoT) fans have waited more than a year for this. And it is finally here.

The seventh and penultimate season of the TV adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novel series premiered in the US last night (July 16).

Without throwing out any spoilers, you should already know if you’re a fan that winter is finally here. 

As a die-hard fan of the epic series myself, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to visit a couple of the show’s famed filming sites while on an overseas university exchange in Sweden late last year.

When I sat down to plan which countries to visit while I was there, I had a serious case of wanderlust for Northern Ireland – mostly because so many iconic scenes in the TV series were shot there.

Winterfell? Check. Castle Black? Check. The Iron Islands? Check. Should I go there? Yes.

So before you have your eyes glued on Ep 1 of Season 7, let’s backtrack a few seasons  and let me take you on a $47 tour of places I visited when summer was everlasting in Westeros and Jon Snow still knew nothing.

An avid GoT fan, I’ve always loved the series’ scenic backdrops that never fails to enhance the immersive feeling of being in the imaginary land of Westeros.

Despite surviving on a student-friendly budget (reads: lots of instant food and self-cooked meals), I forked out the student price of $47 (S$65) for the Belfast Iron Islands & Stormlands Adventure package from the local Game of Thrones Tours company. 

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A cult hit suffused with a effortless blend of natural and man-made landscapes, the show chronicles a battle to the death among rival houses for the ultimate prize – the Iron Throne.

Does Carnlough Harbour look a tad familiar? That’s because it’s also the steps of Braavos where Arya Stark climbed out of the water a few seasons back. 

Business Insider/ Joey lee , HBO Game of Thrones

“Valar Morghulis,” our tour guide – who incidentally starred as a wildling extra in the TV series –  greeted us.

The phrase translates to “all men must die”, which is a customary greeting in the show. 

Having woken up at an ungodly hour and forced to skip my morning caffeine fix in my haste to join the rest of our tour group at 7.45 am, I wanted to kill all men indeed. 

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One of our first few stops was the Cushendun caves, a rocky beach where the red priestess Melisandre gave birth to a shadow assassin in Season 2. 

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I couldn’t believe how the production crew managed to get their equipment into the tiny claustrophobic space that was peacefully serene – in the daylight. 

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Next up, the tour led us on a 2km coastal walk (pictured below) that culminated in crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, with waves crashing some 30m below us.

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The accompanying peninsula served as backdrops several times in the series, most notably at Storm’s End, seat of House Baratheon. 

Nothing stormy about this day though; only perfect weather and some frolicking cows.

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We then proceeded to Larrybane Chalk Quarry, where King Renly Baratheon and his then-wife Queen Margaery Tyrell watched as her brother Ser Loras Tyrell was bested by an unknown knight – later revealed to be Brienne of Tarth. 

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After lunch, to our absolute delight, the tour included a chance for us to play dress-up at Ballintoy Habour, home of the Ironborn.

In short, we got to wield a giant shield and swing a fake sword around. #bestdayever 

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No holiday to Northern Ireland is ever complete without a visit to the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site made up of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns formed some 50-60 million years ago.  

This was the second highlight of my day – the impromptu photo shoot came in tops –  as I had grown up reading tales of the great Irish Giant, Finn MacCool

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Overall, it was definitely worth every penny paid for the day-long tour as the sites were only accessible by private transportation. 

For GoT fans, rest assured that you’ll enjoy the ride, as the sites and activities are carefully curated, one that even non-fans would appreciate, as the Irish countryside by itself, is a wonder to behold. 

Business Insider /Joey Lee