Game of Thrones Tours 2019 Northern Ireland

download.jpgOne of our most beloved television series, Game of Thrones, is concluding it’s 8 season run this coming week. To celebrate, fans from around the world are flocking to Belfast and Norther Ireland for touring. I’ve written about the joys of touring based on film and television fan travel in the past. This year even more places abound, with fans of Game of Thrones completing the journey. The current and final season now showing, with only two episodes left, were filmed in Northern Ireland, Croatia, and at the studios of Titanic Studios, located in the harbor of Belfast in the Titanic shipyards. Now that production is done, you can tour the studio area as well as take some tours to the filming locations.

Titanic studios are also hosts to two great attractions, The Titanic Belfast Museum, and the SS Nomadic. And if you travel to this wee ship, the last of the Star line, you may catch a glimpse of actor Duncan Lacroix (Outlander, GOT) shoveling coal in one of his earlier acting gigs.

Game of Thrones Touring Exhibition is now open in Belfast through September 2019. An amazing costumes and props exhibition encompassing the series 8 seasons, highly recommended. It goes on tour again in October and may hit a city near you. Some tours from Dublin are including this in their itinerary. Check if you need to purchase viewing separate from tour.

Tours

Want to dress up a bit? Visit filming locations and totally geek out? Here are a few companies just for you:

Game of Thrones Tours

Winterfell Tours

Stones and Thrones

Kings Landing is filmed in Croatia. Tours are here https://www.kingslandingdubrovnik.com/game-of-thrones-tours

Keep in mind that the tours with smaller vans will be better at getting into places and more intimate. The Dark Hedges may be blocked soon, as the beech trees are getting more damaged with tourism, and the trees themselves are coming to an end of life. Park in the actual car park and don’t ruin the view for others. Please check tour review sites for feedback. Since this is the season after the last season of GOT, many of the tours are booked through fall, and it is recommended that you book early online if possible.

Self Guided GOT Tours

There are several resources for finding locations by yourself for a much more quiet and intimate experience.

Self Guided Tours

Croatia King’s Landing Map

Game of Thrones Doors Map 

These unique doors were created as a result of a couple of the Dark Hedges trees coming down in a storm. Now you can travel N. Ireland and visit many locations where the doors, each uniquely carved, have been put to use.

Northern Ireland GOT Map

Fandom filming locations article, links to episodes information

These Fangirls are diehards. Read their locations guide here.

Article on sites

Edinburgh Off The Path Things to Do This Winter

HighStreetPubWhat can you do when the holidays have wiped you out financially, and the traditional down time of winter from the New Year to March has got you down. Many flock, if they can get cheap flights, to warmer climes around the globe. What do you do if you are very poor after the holidays and you are also looking at the taxes blues. How can you budget to get away or do the staycation thing and feel like you are escaping the winter drears? Hopefully, you caught a great cheap flight to sunnier climes, or for you hopeless romantics, going to the country of your dreams may be much more affordable during the winter months. Flights will be cheaper for non traditional tourist months as will the accommodations. Can you plan a great trip with the idea that you will have 6 to 8 hours of sunlight during the day, as opposed to the summer where you can have until 11 pm for sunlight? Pack for colder climes but see great sights as the natives do.

I often vote for the obscure, out of the way things to do, and as many low budget or free activities as possible. Remember, museums are free in many countries and great for rainy days. Cafes are great places to dodge the elements, but there are more entertaining ways to do that.

Head to Scotland!

Edinburgh

Edinburgh is known for many things, including its centuries old tradition of training some of the best surgeons in the world. It’s twisty wyndes will get you pleasantly lost and overhead streets and underground tours will make for an eventful saunter.

I always vote for a music tour if you can find one. Edinburgh had it’s own great Punk history as well as a post punk explosion in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Everything from Punk to Funk. As always on tours, check reviews on Trip Advisor or local Yelp to see how these tours are doing.

Edinburgh Musical Tour

http://www.edinburghmusicaltour.co.uk/

Edinburgh Music Tours

https://glasgowmusiccitytours.com/edinburgh/images

Mary King’s Close

The Closes of Edinburgh are fantastic twisty stairways that often have shops and historical places leading off of them. This close sadly had a terrible history with the close being blocked off by the city in the 1600s due to plague, and all inhabitants became trapped. This was a common quarantine action in the days of the plagues with many large cities forced to try to contain a disease they did not know. Thankfully the city took reasonable care with the inhabitants, those that were healthy enough were moved, and others stayed behind with food being left for them. These days, the close is one of the many great routes through the city.

https://www.realmarykingsclose.com/

Surgeon’s Hall Museums, History of Surgery Museum Nicolson St, Edinburgh EH8 9DW, UK

I can attest to the amount of weird fun you will have here. Not for the squeamish, houses really great, bizarre medical specimens that have been collected over 200 years have gathered here at the training college. Rows of jars filled with unique human issues that helped surgeons understand the human body, often with the conflict of medicine of the times and laws that would limit exploration to treat people effectively. There is an exhibit of Burke and Hare, the famous body snatchers and murderers. Burke was hung and dissected, with his skin used to cover a book.

Check days and times before you go.

https://museum.rcsed.ac.uk/

https://www.rcsed.ac.uk/

Old Calton Cemetery

Nothing better for a weird cold day than to visit the various cemeteries of Edinburgh. I confess that I have done the cemetary walk as a self tour, just hitting up all of the cemeteries and kirkyards of the city. This cemetery had some of the best 18th century to Victorian effigies and funeral arts in the world. Great places to dodge out of the rain. They are quite lovely in the snow as well, and free. download

 

Barnton Quarry Nuclear Bunker

Yup, the nuclear fear hit Scotland too. This bunker was set aside for the Royals to escape should the need be. Secret until 1963, it was purchased back in 2005 with the intent of turning it into a museum. You can see the exterior of the facility, but due to fire it’s full of asbestos. If the bomb doesn’t get you.

Record Stores

Yes, you vinylphiles like to travel. And it’s such a danger being on vacation and finding Scottish and UK music records where they were produced, used, and maybe in mint shape if you’re lucky. Check with these shop and see if they ship, or very carefully gather up all your acquisitions before return trip and  in the appropriate sized and padded record box, ship it back home to your best friend who knows your fiendish record fetish. You’d do the same for them.

VoxBox Music 21 St Stephen Street, Edinburgh

Born out of the Gramophone Shop, which is across the street, it’s an Edinburgh institution and has some rarities for you. Vox Box has the front room with new and very good used selection of all genres. The back room is a bargain hunters paradise. Something for every budget, and a dodge out of the rain.

Unknown Pleasures 110 Canongate, Edinburgh

I have been in this wee boutique shop, it’s loads of fun. It’s at the bottom of the Royal Mile, convenient to having tea after. Vinyl and CDs.

Underground Solu’shn 9 Cockburn St, Edinburgh EH1 1BP, UK

Coda Music  12 Bank St, Edinburgh

Coda

Want more record fun after your music tour of Edinburgh, read this.

The Best Record Shops in Edinburgh

Hope you enjoy your trip to Edinburgh. Let us know what strange, fun, things you can do on a wintery day there.

 

What to Do for Free in Amsterdam — Free Tours by Foot

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This post will include a variety of free things to do in Amsterdam, including a Top 10 list. We also cover free things to do at night as well as free, family-friendly activities. Top 10 Family-Friendly Nighttime Activities Seasonal (Month and Season) TOP 10 FREE THINGS TO DO In the following section, we…

via What to Do for Free in Amsterdam — Free Tours by Foot

Travel by Train, It Makes Sense

virginWhen traveling in another country, you may not have the luxury of taking a car and just going. Cars can be rented, but can be more costly in the UK and Europe to rent and run. Of course you can have fun driving on the left side of the road, or maybe find a place in Germany that rents American Muscle Cars and drive the Autobahn (always a bucket list item). Trouble is that renting a motorcar in the UK or Europe is very expensive and you may return from your trip with additional costs for a slight car ding ranging in the £€ 1,000.00 2,000.00 range. Yes, even if you buy insurance, there will be some additional costs, and petrol is very high in Europe. So often a train ride is a better option. And trains can be fun, especially if you can get on a historic one. Many of the train options are for diesel or electric and some are well cared for, and some are not. But you need to get where you are going, and travel bus is not for everyone.

Scotland

Hogwarts Express – Scotland The Jacobite Express First Class £ 59.00 £ 35.00 standard return.

http://www.westcoastrailways.co.uk/

This iconic train is booked well in advance as you can imagine. I couldn’t get it for my dates. If you are a train lover, start planning your vacation around the trains and trips months in advance. This train encompasses the Glenfinnan viaduct, Arisaig, Mallaig, Fort William areas and is a great trip across the Highlands and on a clear day you can see many of the islands from the shores. Their’s full tea service as well, and you know how fun it is to take tea on a classic train.

If you want to see Hogwart’s locations, head to University of Glasgow, and Edinburgh’s streets.

The Flying Scotsman

http://www.flyingscotsman.org.uk/ Site is very image intensive

To book, go to this site http://www.railwaytouring.net/

This train recently started touring again and has been quite a hit. However there was a performance safety issue this last season and you need to check if it is running again on the http://www.railwaytouring.net/ site. It’s a classic good run on a restored train, so keep an  eye out while you make your tour plans this season to see if you can catch a ride.

Scotrail

Luckily, Scotrail was not on strike action this season, like it had been the summer before. The trains had showed it and I had been rerouted by bus at least once on that trip. This trip, 2017, was smooth sailing, except when I was stranded in Kyle of Lochalsh due to rocks falling on the tracks for 2 hours with a cancelled train. The rest of the trip, the trains ran on time for the most part and were cleaner than the previous year. Of course going through the Highlands is always breathtaking so it was worth the trip. Great conversations with fellow travelers.

Virgin Trains The Highland Chieftain

On my final rail around the Highlands for the 2017 tour, I got a real sweet deal on Virgin Trains for a first class in the quiet car at just a few pounds more than 2nd class. A bump of £ 4.00 per seat got me on a single side seat facing the Eastern Coast of Scotland down to Edinburgh. Very smooth ride and great scenery of Stirling and all places in between. It was a bittersweet farewell to the Highlands, but a really fabulous experience. If you time your ticket right, in the middle of the week and mid to late morning, the price is fair. The only problem was one car had no WiFi working or any of the charging ports for phones and people kept coming into our car. It wasn’t really a problem as it was half full and you get to meet more people that way. Wait, it was supposed to be a quiet car, right? But most were pretty good about it. A very good trip all round on that one.

Ireland € 16.00 -30.00

Irish Rail http://www.irishrail.ie/

Traveling in Ireland this summer I spent time on some very clean trains that kept good time. I was lucky on the two trips I had to make, plenty of room and easy storage for my cases, cars were clean and comfortable. I had booked a month in advance and got very good pricing. It was under € 20.00 to get to Galway and the return trip on to Belfast was under € 30.00. Considering the high cost of being in Dublin for 4 days, it was helpful on the budget to get the tickets in advance and pick up at the kiosks. Smooth rides on both trips.

The trip to Galway was filled with amazing green fields, passing through Athlone, the true countryside of Ireland. And there is a reason it’s called the Emerald Isle, it’s amazingly green even in the high summer. It was a record high temperature week when I was there, but the trains were comfortable and clean. Conversation was good, and trains always provide an opportunity to talk with local people about where they live and what is going on in their lives. And the Irish love to talk about their lives and where they live, and great deal about politics

But Can the Train Get Me to Where I Want to Go?

In some cases, you can take trains to some of the national parks in countries, or take a link ride with a bus. Sadly this will cut into some of your travel time and limit some places you can get to. If you have a car you can tour the Highlands for better access, get closer to a Munro for that great climb. However cars make you take on big responsibilities in other countries. Please take the time to familiarize yourself with the country’s driving laws and customs for driving country roads. Many tourists do not get the right of way on one lanes in Scotland and the rest of the UK much to the chagrin of locals. When in doubt, always err on the side of letting others pass. Then there are the smaller roads like coffin roads on some of the isles. You can get really lost on an island. In many cases, such as Isle of Skye, too many tourists are renting cars and not parking with care. Skye is boggy and loamy right off the road and if you get in the mire, the car will sink. Getting it pulled is very costly.

Walking and Hiking Tours

Really want to tour the countries and get to know them? Then walking tours and climbing in parks may be your best bet. Many of these can be accessed by public transport and many back packers go this route. It can take a bit longer to get somewhere, but is well worth it. Try joining some of the hiking and walking boards for the country you are visiting. You can check on the best climbs for a novice or find out about roadworks and diversions for trails. Most large cities like Dublin and Glasgow have rail to bus link services, it will take more time but it can be done.

https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/

http://www.theirelandwalkingguide.com/

http://www.walkingbritain.co.uk/

Train Touring Companies

http://www.railwaytouring.net/

https://www.vacationsbyrail.com/europe/ireland

https://www.steamtrainsireland.com/whats-on

Irish Rail Strikes

http://www.irishmirror.ie/news/irish-news/every-public-transport-disruption-you-11419344

 

Over the Sea to Skye, by Rail and Bridge

skye1Over the Sea to Skye, by way of train, taxi, and a bridge. I had reached the halfway point of my travels this season, and was dead tired. The end of the Bonnie Prince Charlie Trail. Months of gym training and still you get wiped out by the travel. It doesn’t help that the two places I stayed in Glasgow had terrible bed accommodations. Mostly it is that pure exhaustion of trying to get so much out of your travels, that another train journey has occurred and this is a long one, and your brain just seems fried. I am traveling to Inverness, then to Kyle of Lochalsh, a journey of about  6 hours, winding through the Highlands. There’s nothing better than winding through the Highlands, though, whether it’s car, bike, or train. But eventually I will be on the Isle of Skye, a destination I could not get near on my last adventure. The destination is so popular that you have to book months in advance for a place to stay.

skye2

I spent yesterday on a Rabbie’s Tour of Loch Ness and other Highland destinations, a round trip from Glasgow that encompassed a good 12 hours. It was an exhausting swing through of the area, but I had wanted to see some of the Highlands I could not see from the train ride. I was well rewarded. But the train rides are always fun, I found that this trip was just as rewarding with the views of rolling hills, then great Munros loom and you want to climb them. Realistically that will have to be the next trip, and another year of training at the gym and smaller mountains practice back home.

skye3

It was truly a Scottish summer arrival, with rain, sun, wind and more rain. But luckily the day of the trip was a good clear sun filled day. I regretted not bringing the sunscreen. The tour was with Skye Tours, and was a small group tour in a van. We travelled the route but missed a few key spots I had hoped to see, namely the castle and the Fairy Pools. There was some event going on there, a rather big one as a local funeral was taking place for an island native, and we could not get near. The tour covered some places on the island and had a knowledgeable driver. We did cover The Storr, Neist Point, Quiraing, the Cuilins Black and Red and a few other areas. I was not happy that we could not get to some of the sites, and sadly part of that had to do with a great deal of tourists using hire cars and not being prepared for the terrain of Skye and it’s boggy wet. Many a car was sunk in the muck.

skye4

All the bother aside, it was breathtaking to see some of the highest Munros in Scotland, walk around and just breath in the air of the magical island. I do recommend doing research and planning your visit well out, especially the accommodations. If I can make it back, I will be doing some training to do a hiking tour of the island instead, but must train and be with a group. I was told by locals that many people come and are not truly prepared and end up in great trouble with the bogs.

skye5

Book for your stay a year ahead. Or stay in Inverness and take a day tour. It is not suggested to do hire car, and with good reason. Sadly the island gets too many people with cars who don’t understand the driving rules or where not to park. Accommodations can be good or really bad. Really read your reviews on accommodations, once you are booked you are stuck with your decision.

skye6

 

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/aug/09/skye-islanders-call-for-help-with-overcrowding-after-tourism-surge

http://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-40872328/does-the-isle-of-skye-have-too-many-tourists

Inverness; Touristination Place

 

 

Belfast Blast: 48 Hours in Belfast, Northern Ireland

titanic

Belfast is a historically diverse and eclectic city. It’s historically one of the biggest shipbuilding behemoths of Europe, home of the shipyards that built the Titanic, the most tragic and beautifully engineered ships of a bygone era. Belfast has had it’s political upheavals, but now is a blossoming, burgeoning city with a huge tourist industry. And food and entertainment to match. It’s hard to choose a place to eat or drink, there are so many choices.

My decision to visit this amazing gem on the north of the island of Ireland was influenced by history and great beauty, and a fangirl urge. I wanted to see where the Titanic was built and experience some of the natural wonders of Northern Ireland I had seen in books and in one of my favorite television productions, Game of Thrones®. So after my tempestuous visit to Galway, I headed to the northern country for a 48 hour period of history and a locations tour of the countryside where filming took place. What an adventure.

Titanic Museum and SS Nomadic

I got of the train and settled in quick. It was a clear, puffy clouded day with long daylight hours of summer. I had only 48 hours in this town and had to get in as much legwork and sites as I possibly could. I hopped a taxi to the Titanic Museum on the shipyard docks to check out this architectural wonder and museum exhibit center. The building alone is worth a tour and crowns the historical docs that have built many a sea faring vessel. Going through the exhibit halls in and interactive affair and when you get to the bottom level, you have a great treat with an exhibit that mimics the seafloor and you, standing on it. There are exhibits of rooms on the Titanic and narratives of passengers and people who worked on the monstrous ship that should never have  sunk. The engineering of the vessel was the most forward of it’s day, but it was not match for the iceberg it met. It’s a great museum for all ages and don’t forget to visit the SS Nomadic which is part of the tour. It’s a bit of a hike to the shipyards part of the exhibit, but worth it to see the drydocking works, the sheer size of the dock Titanic was housed in while building will amaze you and give you a sense of the size of the massive ship. Added bonus, you walk past the Titanic Studios where Game of Thrones is produced and filmed. If you are traveling this Fall, you may get lucky and see actors going in and out for final season.

highstreetThe Neighborhoods

All cities have neighborhoods, some great places and some not so good. Throw in some politics a traveler may not be aware of and you can get in some trouble. Belfast has come a ways from the Troubles, but remnants are still there. If you are touring around the city walking or in a cab, you will note neighborhoods and areas with flags of identity, with areas where religion and politics go hand in hand. You should always do some research about where you go, and not just the older history, for history is being made every day.

I had a great conversation with a Scotsman on the way back to Glasgow on the plane. He had just marched in one of the Summer Marches with this extended family and friends. Most of the convo was about spending time with family and friends and participating. Nothing to do with the politics. Belfast has changed  a lot in the last 30 years and will continue to do so. It’s filled with warm people and smiles, pride of place, and cultural growth. A place well worth visiting.

Everyone I met and everywhere I went I was met with kindness. But I didn’t ask questions and always waited for someone to bring up anything. However, since I am a big street art fan, and one of the things I was most keen on this tour was mural walks. I started on one in the city, then found I had better think about that a bit, as the murals are very extensive, politics and religion laden in this city. But what street art isn’t a commentary on the times? There are a huge amount of murals. There are political and community ones. If you plan on doing the while walk, plan for several hours. The neighborhoods where people are still very aligned with religion, staying with the UK, becoming independent, or unifying with Ireland are there. I toured the areas I could manage to get to in the short time I had and met with, briefly, a fiercely proud people going about their day or evening activities.

What I have to say is that I saw a lovely city with people living and thriving just like any other, and while the past will not be forgotten, I felt that people were truly just living in this great city. I would say that you just have to be mindful as in any city, that you are not living there, you are a visitor. Just love thy neighbor, even if they are yours for five minutes. The city has much beauty about it. I stayed near the Queen’s University, a great foodie area with a few guesthouses with easy access to transportation. A great walking area and that I did.

arya

Game of Thrones® Tour

I have to admit that this particular tour was the one big blast that I absolutely had to have for my time in Ireland. Having been a fan of the series since day one, when I found out tours to various sites used in filming were being included in a tour, I had to book.

Using Viator.com, I booked with the Irish Tour Tickets company for their Game of Thrones Tour with a guide, Adrian, who has been an extra on the series and knows in depth trivia and information about sites used. We went to several locations including Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede bridge, two places I have wanted to see for many years. The tour was packed with fun, behind the scenes information and a great understanding of what it takes to get some of these sites ready for filming. Oh, and you better bone up on your GOT facts, because Adrian has a mean bus quiz for points on the last leg of the trip, with prizes. If you are an enthusiast and fan of the series, don’t miss this fun tour. Adrian has a lot of fun tidbits from BTS and will give you insight on what it is like to be an extra on such a big show.

shadowassasin

Birthplace of a Shadow Assassin

Warning: as with all tours, you should dress for travel, but especially on this tour. Wear trainers or hiking boots, no dress shoes or sandals. This is a very physical, climbing around, adults only tour.

As part of this tour you will see the Dark Hedges, a long, spooky line of trees between fields. People have been coming to see the feature for years now, and the trees are sadly at the end of their life. Two trees came down in a storm recently and the wood was used to create a series of doors dedicated to the Game of Thrones series Westeros locations. You can download the maps to tour for Game of Thrones Doors and seek them out while you tour the north of Ireland.

hedges

The Dark Hedges

Reality check: Yes, many of the Northern Ireland Game of Thrones® locations, with a few exceptions, are really car parking areas during summer months. Tourism is so invasive that they are having to build and reconsider tourist attraction areas in the north. The spaces are built up for the shoot then cleaned up. Exception, there is one secret place we went by where there are guards that deny access year round. Winterfell perhaps?

Bring cash for other tours. Each tour usually has an additional attraction that is part of their route, and you will need to pay other fees.

On this tour you will see where scenes were filmed and two additional sites:

Causeway3

Giants Causeway

After the 10 hour tour, I was fatigued and dead hungry. I wandered downtown Belfast a bit and was concerned about getting to a kitchen that was still open, on Sundays sidewalks still roll up on the island, and pub and other kitchens will only be open so late. I found a great Japanese fusion restaurant called Zen, a huge cavernous place with great food. Filled up so much it was a hard walk back to the B&B.

The Game of Thrones® Doors story and self guided tour

http://www.ireland.com/en-us/what-is-available/ireland-on-screen/game-of-thrones/destinations/northern-ireland/county-antrim/articles/doors/

http://visitbelfast.com/things-to-do/theme/game-of-thrones

A Peaceful Walk in Belfast — Leya

causeway2

causeway1

Scotland in Six – Kennetpans Distillery — Travels with a Kilt

Kennetpans Distillery Having spent some time in the spring touring around underrated Clackmannanshire, one of the things that lingered on my to-do list was a deeper exploration of Kennetpans Distillery. Truly the stuff of historians’ dreams, this seemingly insignificant ruin by the River Forth is nothing of the sort and it can be looked upon…

via Scotland in Six – Kennetpans Distillery — Travels with a Kilt