Greetings! Before we begin this Game of Thrones review, let’s start with the quick and non-TV spoiler review of the tour:
We (Úna-Minh and my partner) chose to do the Belfast Winterfell Locations tour with Game of Thrones Tours, costing us £40 each. In brief: yes, it was 100% worth it!
As non-drivers, we got to see so many locations we wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. We got to meet direwolves; watch clips from the show; see the first episode again, and indulge in LARPing (live-action role-playing) with replica props. It was tremendous value and our tour guide was brilliant! If you love Game of Thrones, then this is just magical.
And now… a warning: The below in-depth review contains spoilers for Game of Thrones (which incidentally is something you have should have watched in full before you take this tour!)
“And that was the 7th time I died”, our tour guide mused.
It was a blisteringly cold January morning and we had just hopped on the bus to join our GOT tour in Belfast city.
Our tour guide, Robbie, had been an extra on the show and gave us the ins and outs of being an extra on such an epic series. From being shot with arrows to having a rock “fall” on his head, he mused that he was probably the only character to have been reincarnated seven times as seven different people!
The journey to Winterfell (or officially Castle Ward), brought us on a ferry ride from Portaferry into Strangford. As we loomed closer my heart began to pound in excitement. To say that my other half and I are fans of the show is a bit of an understatement!
Much smaller than what you see on screen due to CGI, Castle Ward’s farmyard is the location of Winterfell, the backdrop for the series pilot and much of season one. The grounds also provide location to the Whispering Wood, Robb Stark’s Camp, the Baelor battle, when Brienne confronts the Stark men and the Twins.
The Twins (one of which is CGI-ed) was the location for the famous Red Wedding by the way! They used the backdrop for both the castle and Robb’s camp but jazzed it up differently so the castles would look different.
HBO spent eight weeks at Castle Ward building the set of Winterfell ahead of the pilot episode and hundreds of actors and crew worked on the filming there.
Taking in all of the scenes and strolling around the grounds, on what turned out to be a beautiful day, it was soon time to head onto the Cuan for food which we pre-ordered on the bus.
When our food arrived we were a bit disappointed. It was very basic and felt overpriced for what we got (nearly £20 for seafood chowder and lasagne with chips). My chowder tasted pretty gloopy and there was a measly handful of chips to accompany the lasagne.
But you have to bear in mind that you don’t actually have to eat lunch there. Having experienced it, I’d recommend bringing your own food or going to the nearby MACE. That being said, it’s worth visiting the Cuan to see the Game of Thrones memorabilia they have, including the Hound’s Helmet, Ned Stark’s Sword Ice and a stunning door made from the famous Dark Hedges.
All of our disappointment, however, was completely shattered when we saw what awaited us outside. DIREWOLVES!
Summer and Greywind (or Odin and Thor as their owners call them!) were sitting by a tree, as peaceful and as docile as ever. Their fluffy coats looking so cosy in the winter sun. What made these dogs particularly special was that they were, in fact, the dogs from the show. Owned by the Mulhall’s of Direwolf Tours, who also worked as extras on the show, these gentle pooches were pretty amazing to meet.
The dogs first made their appearances as pups in season one and in subsequent seasons. The Mulhall’s had so many interesting stories to tell about being extras and Co. Down in general.
But wait, there’s more!
Onwards with fresh new energy, we headed to Inch Abbey where we got to LARP with the Stark swords and shields.
This is the location where Robb Stark was crowned the King in the North (and incidentally where I was crowned Queen in the North – but let’s hope I don’t have the same outcome as him). Let’s relive that moment, shall we?
Strolling around Tollymore Forest we kept a keen eye out for any White Walkers. We saw the landscape they used in the very opening scene of season one where Wills finds the dismembered Wildlings in the snow…
…as well as where the Starks found the direwolf pups (see clip above).
What was great about the tour was that it wasn’t just location spotting. There was a clever use of multimedia to refresh our memories, tid-bits from Robbie as well as photographs of before and after shots of the places we visited.
Hopping onto the bus for the final time and with the sun setting, we sat back as Robbie popped on episode one of Game of Thrones which featured so many of the locations we had visited during the day. We can now officially be those annoying friends who will point at the screen excitedly and say, “yep, we were there!”
From my gushing in this review, I think it’s pretty clear that we fell in love with Belfast and its surrounding areas. In fact, we plan on doing their Iron Islands tour next time!
Value for money: 5/5
Food: 2/5 (did the job but not really worth it)