Find out where Game of Thrones lives on. Sarah Blinco explores Belfast, Northern Ireland.
It’s funny how perceptions change through the generations. As a child of the ‘80s, my knowledge of Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland, came only from the news. At that time, the media was flooded with images of IRA bombings, uprisings and violence that stemmed from years of serious political and religious ‘troubles’.
By the late ‘90s, the people of Northern Ireland had had enough and pressed for change. Eventually the main Nationalist (Catholic) and Unionist (Protestant) political parties agreed to share power fairly in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
Fast forward, and Belfast has a fresh new appeal. Its contemporary reputation has to do with troubles of a different kind: setting Brexit aside for a sec, here we focus on a whole other world, one dearly beloved by Game of Thrones (GoT) fans. Full disclosure, I checked-out in the last few seasons but did enjoy the final episodes. Whether you watched or not, there’s no denying that in this age of disjointed programming, spread across multiple streaming services, GoT was THE series for watercooler chat at work. It ranks no. 1 on IMDb’s ‘most popular’, out of a list of over 164,000 titles, and Belfast is enjoying big GoT business.
GoT fantasies come alive at locations like Winterfell, the Kingsroad or Riverrun. Among experiences available, you can meet the Direwolves, join a cycle tour around Winterfell Castle, go horse riding along the coast, and wander through ancient woodland. Production of the prequel The Long Night, starring Aus’ own Naomi Watts, has already begun filming in Belfast, so there’s plenty to come. More at discovernorthernireland.com/gameofthrones.
Just look at the photos! It’s cool to be a fan, but you don’t need to be into GoT to get a kick out of seeing all of this with your own eyes. Enjoying Belfast outside of GoT is easy. In fact, surprisingly so. Its recent tumultuous history makes for an interesting if not humbling look around its suburbs. Take a coach or private taxi tour through the city, and see the infamous, now mural-lined Falls Road (centre of ‘The Troubles’) and 50 year-old, nearly 8m high ‘peace wall’ in west Belfast.
As you explore, you’ll recognise the place – it’s quite the filming hub for not just GoT but other successful productions including Line of Duty, plus Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan’s The Fall.
Some parts of Belfast are halfway into a 25-year planned regeneration period, including the Titanic Quarter across the Queen’s bridge from the city centre. Belfast’s shipyards (founded in the 1860s) are where the legend of the world’s most famous ship began. On this side of Belfast, you can visit the uniquely designed Titanic Belfast Museum (opened in 2012), historic Titanic dock and pump house, and Titanic Studios for more cinematic immersion.
Belfast centre is pleasing to the eye too, featuring detailed architecture – see the baroque-revival style City Hall, Gothic allure of Queen’s University and charming St Anne’s in the Cathedral Quarter.
Ultimately, Belfast offers a wonderful array of experiences for all. It’s a world away from us, but if you’re up for an epic adventure, head here.
Need to know
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom (UK). Pounds sterling is the currency and it has its own parliament housed in a grand building at Stormont in Belfast.
Where to shop
Victoria Square is Northern Ireland’s premier shopping and leisure destination where you’ll find all your favourite UK and European brands. The dome viewing gallery here offers stunning 360-degree views across the city.
Eat, drink and be merry
Duke of York pub sits in a quaint alleyway within the Cathedral Quarter and its patrons’ lively banter will have you in stiches. The quirky, Instagrammable Perch Rooftop Bar is a must for pictures and cocktails. St George’s Market is perfect for a bite to eat on the weekend. It’s the last surviving Victorian covered market in Belfast, recently named the UK’s ‘best large indoor market 2019’ and is perfectly positioned in a pretty area close to the River Lagan.
Images courtesy Tourism Northern Ireland (Tourism NI)
Find the full experience and Sarah Blinco online at travellivelearn.com, youtube.com/travellivelearn and Instagram @sarahblinco