Northern Ireland where the smell of wet grass, a walk on a street that has been hit by the rain, a castle which the fog has determined to swallow and how beautiful it is to look out over a cliff whose border is the only one responsible for the ocean. With a panorama of stony and dark rocks daring to disturb a furious swell. Horizon of anonymous islets born by an ancient lava spill where only seabirds are able to mediate. What is Northern Ireland famous for? What are those essential places to see during a trip to the real set of Winterfell?
The city of Belfast cannot be considered solely as a mere base or starting point for touring Northern Ireland. Belfast is many things at once. It is the signifier and meaning of Northern Ireland itself, the city that nourishes questions and stories about the peculiarities of a somewhat complex territory to be explained in a short travel guide. Touring the neighborhoods of Falls Road as well as Shankill Road means, in turn, learning through their painted murals how even what seems impossible can involve a good handshake. The Peace Wall is perhaps one of those meeting points for moments, ideas and memories.
Belfast City Hall
But Belfast has changed so much. And he has done so very well! It has become an obvious example of how the artistic avant-garde and the illusion of people can turn that industrial and gray silhouette to the full color of a metropolis that lives culture and art with demonstrable passion.
The Titanic Museum
If I have to recommend a single museum of the many to see in Northern Ireland, without a doubt, I would stay with the Titanic Belfast. Everything happens in a building inaugurated in 2012 in which the architect Eric Kuhne wanted to make the bows of the ships remembered in angular ways, although there are those who suggest that it looks more like an iceberg.
The Giant’s Causeway
Once upon a path of large hexagonal basalt stones. Once upon a time known as Giant’s Causeway. This natural monument, the most visited and photographed in Northern Ireland, was born by the effect of cooling volcanic lava by touching the sea water. Legend has it that a giant named Finn McCool inhabited the area who wanted to face another giant like him on the Scottish coast and his name was Bernadonner. In order to get in front of him and be able to fight, he threw large rocks into the sea to make a road with which to save the distance that the ocean put between them. But, what deluded him was that his enemy Bernadonner was much bigger and stronger, so he ran away in terror. Today the landscape that makes up the Giant’s Causeway is a World Heritage Site. Nobody leaves that collection of no less than 40,000 basalt columns born a whopping 60 million years ago indifferent.
The path of the Gobbins
An aside in this coastal route is The Gobbins. Located on the steep and rugged peninsula of Islandmagee in a landscape formed by cliffs and rock formations, a tourist trail was created a century ago with walkways, tunnels and suspension bridges that ended up being the biggest attraction in Northern Ireland, even above the famous Giant’s Causeway. It was a dizzying pedestrian route for those traveling by steam train from Belfast to the north that was sadly abandoned in the fifties. But in 2015 the trail was restored and opened again to visitors, who approach it not by train but in their own vehicles. In The Gobbins it is possible to take a delicious three-kilometer walk to the edge of the cliffs and enjoy one of the most radiant landscapes of the Norwegian coast.
Northern Ireland has served as a real scenario location for many episodes of the Game of Thrones series. Of course this reef has been used to mark the locations used in the filming of the different seasons of Game of Thrones (especially the first three), and there are many thousands of visitors who come at any time of the year after the footsteps of the Stark or the Lannister. In fact, it can be stated without error that the Game of Thrones route exists in Northern Ireland and that, along with the Giant’s Causeway, the Titanic Museum and the coast road, it has become an incredible tourist attraction. In fact, day trips depart from both Belfast and Dublin. The most important and recognizable location is undoubtedly Castle Ward, in the southeast corner, where Winterfell is located. In one of the courtyards of the estate (it is huge and can be traveled by car, by bike or on foot) the exteriors of the Stark Fort were recorded and archery can be practiced on site using the winter clothing of Jon Snow himself . Nearby would be the abandoned Inch Abbey as well as the Tollymore Forest, also used during filming.
The Dark Hedges
The Dark Hedges is one of the most scenic and beautiful places in Northern Ireland, recognized by all. The trees and along the path form what seems like a tunnel path of trees that creates the illusion of magic for anyone passing through.
Derry is the second city of Ulster and fourth in number of inhabitants of the island of Ireland. Located in the northwestern part, it is really close to the physical border between the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is the most beautiful and welcoming city in the territory, as well as the end for many of the coastal road that usually starts in Belfast. On the banks of the Foley River, it has many stories to tell that have to do with the walls that protect the Old Town.
The Morne Mountains
The mountains of Morne (Mournes), in the county of Down, are considered as «Area of Exceptional Natural Beauty». The imposing mountain range of granite mountains in the interior of Northern Ireland served to inspire CS Lewis, who pulled this part of the island to create the universe of Narnia (The lion, the witch and the closet). More frequented by locals than by foreign tourism, it is considered one of the best places in Northern Ireland to go hiking between peaks and valleys where silence and solitude reign and, of course, make the imagination arouse.
Rathlin Island and the puffins
In a territory so prone to cliffs it is impossible that it is not a claim for ornithologists (whether they are professionals or mere bird lovers). As for seabirds it is considered very famous, although there is a place to the north (visible from The Gobbins) that takes all the qualifications. I am referring to the island of Rathlin, considered as an inhabited island. It can be accessed by ferry from Ballycastle and is famous for hosting a large number of seabirds. Highlights include the Araos, the alcas and, of course, the friendly puffins (the national bird of Iceland), very typical of northern waters and arriving at the island at the end of April to leave when August is about to end.