N o s p o i l e r s . . .
I am currently reading my way through A Dance With Dragons: Dreams and Dust and have not watched any TV episodes so no spoilers please.
Game of Thrones is set in the fictional medieval land of Westeros where the landscapes vary from bleak rocks of the Iron Islands to the water gardens and sandy desserts of Dorne. Northern Ireland was the filming location for some of the colder climes and upon visiting its easy to see why - the coastline and countryside is the very definition of unspoilt and the characters of George R R Martin's fantasy novels could well have walked these roads...
There are organised tours you can do or you can DIY it with a map although you will need a car as public transport doesn't exist in Westeros and while some of the locations are ones where you can spend an hour or so others are just a quick photo-op. Aside from Dunluce Castle and Mussendon Temple all are free, too. Dunluce and Mussendon were around £5 each but both offer family tickets and are well worth a few stags in entrance fees.
The tiny village of Portbradden overlooks this scene where Aeron Damphair "drowns" men to baptise them to the faith of the Drowned God. Even on a bright, sunny day I can tell you that the water is freezing! The book chapters set in the Iron Islands are so evocative of bleakness - a harsh climate home to harsh people, we were blessed with pretty good weather but I imagine that the usual skies over these rocks are a stoney, iron grey...
2. Ballintoy Harbour
This picturesque little harbour was used as Pyke on the Iron Islands when Theon Greyjoy returned to his father's kingdom. If you're in need of meat and mead then I suggest that you visit the harbourside café for a slice of lemon cake and a pot of tea, instead.
The overflow car park for the Carrick-A-Reade ropebridge is the setting for King Renly's camp and the beach below became the Iron Islands and Murlough Bay nearby formed the rocky coastline of Slavers Bay.
4. The Dark Hedges
These ancient trees line the Kingsroad - even without ever seeing an episode this location is a true wonder. The twisted trees looked beautiful in the golden hour before sunset and before a coachload of tourists arrived...
5. Dunluce Castle
This ruined castle (the kitchen fell into the sea during a storm while the Christmas feast was being prepared many a moon ago) looks like the seat of Balon Greyjoy on the Iron Islands. The Wee Cottage café is another inn at which you can rest your weary feet before continuing your journey.
6. Mussendon temple
This beautiful circular temple featured in the background of King Renly's camp but is well worth a visit in it's own right (it's one of Northern Ireland's most photographed sights). Downhill Beach to the left was a filming location for Dragonstone and Port Stewart Stand to the right became the Dorne Coast. Both beaches are beautiful and unspoiled.
Check out my "trail" with locations starred in green and this site has some more for you to explore. Game of Thrones aside this is a beautiful part of the world and the plaques in some of the locations show what a boost Game of Thrones has done for tourism here - some of the locations were quite busy but if a book and TV series mean that more people appreciate such natural beauty then that's got to be a good thing, right?