Sep/01/2015 · 13:09
two years ago

Touring the World of Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland

Even if you’re a big fan of Game of Thrones, you might not have realized that the wildly popular epic fantasy series is largely filmed in Northern Ireland, whose ruggedly beautiful landscape lends the show much of its character. Roughly 75% of Game of Thrones is filmed in Northern Ireland, which HBO chose not just for its landscapes but also to use Belfast’s Paint Hall Studios, which was once used to paint parts of the Titanic and is now the largest studio space in the world.

The success of Game of Thrones is now doing for Northern Ireland what Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand. There’s been a surge in tourism driven by people either looking to experience the same scenery as that seen in the show or to geek out by visiting specific filming locations used to create fictional places such as the Iron Islands, Riverrun and Winterfell.

In addition to creating many jobs in Northern Ireland’s film industry, Game of Thrones is also creating opportunities for smart entrepreneurs in the country. One such entrepreneur is Rob Dowling, who used his experience as a tour guide to create Game of Thrones Tours, a tour company taking fans to see filming locations on trips from Belfast and Dublin.

The business started with Rob registering the domain name gameofthronestours.com in 2012, and then contacting HBO to discuss the legalities of running an unofficial tour. HBO were very cooperative, and told Rob they were happy for him to run a tour as long as his company used its own branding.

Game of Thrones Tours is now a thriving business, as the show continues to captivate fans and put Northern Ireland on the tourism map. Rob’s success is down not just to being passionate and knowledgeable about what he does, but vitally seeing a new opportunity others had missed.

The main tour destination is Castle Ward Estate in Strangford, County Down, which is used to film scenes at Winterfell. Castle Ward Estate covers 820 acres and is used to film nine locations in Game of Thrones. The courtyard of the 16th century castle Old Castle Ward is used in the filming of Winterfell’s courtyard.

The tour from Belfast is a whole day experience with 3km trek in the morning and a 5km trek in the afternoon. The morning trek takes you from Winterfell past Robb’s camp in the Riverlands ending where Brienne of Tarth took on three Stark soldiers. In the afternoon the tour takes you on a trek into Tollymore Forest, which was used to create the Haunted Forest in the opening scene of the show’s first episode and is also where the direwolf pups were found.

What makes Game of Thrones Tours different from other coach tours is that everyone is given replica Stark cloaks, swords and shields on location for photo opportunities. The cloaks are handmade woolen cloaks with faux fur trims and leather belt fastenings. The tour also provides official HBO replicas of Game of Thrones swords, shields and special items such as Joffrey’s crown and the Hound’s helmet. These are all provided at no extra cost.

If you’re looking for a way to fill the void left by the end of the last season of Game of Thrones, or just want a fun day out among some stunning scenery, the Game of Thrones Tour is ideal.

Starting up Game of Thrones Tours required significant investment, as Rob had to pay for marketing, insurance and other essential costs. An ideal way for Rob to raise these funds would have been crowdfunding, as this innovative and interesting idea would undoubtedly have inspired members of the public to offer funds. TravelStarter is helping other new tourism businesses just like Game of Thrones Tours raise the funds they need to get started.

Game of Thrones Tours is exactly the type of tourism business the world needs, as it lets travelers have new and authentic experiences while helping the local economy. We hope the company continues to grow and encourage people to visit this beautiful corner of the world.