With its rolling hills, wild weather and ancient, crumbling castles, Ireland and Northern Ireland draw in Hollywood film scouts on the regular. They can’t get enough, seriously. It’s probably because the two countries feel like you’re smack-bang in the middle of some Medieval village, but there have also been Ireland-centric shows of late that have put cities like Dublin and Derry on the map.
Yes, this story is going to cover all the Game Of Thrones sites you nerds crave (I say “you nerds” while also being one of “you nerds”), plus some good shit for the Star Wars and Harry Potter fans. But let’s not forget everyone’s favourite lockdown series, Normal People, or the best teen comedy in yonks, Derry Girls.
If you’re planning a visit to the Emerald Isle, factor these locations into your drives – they’re worth it, trust me.
Remember at the end of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, when Rey choofs off to find her dad (??? I’ve forgotten the entire plot of those films) Luke Skywalker, and he’s being all emo up on a weird-looking, yet very picturesque, remote cliff?
That’s actually Skellig Michael, a jagged-looking island with an ancient monastery on it in County Kerry, on the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s accessible by boat from Portmagee (great name) with companies like Skellig Michael Cruises, which will take you around the island and/or for a walk up to the monastery where they filmed Star Wars. Even non-fans will enjoy the trip since you’re likely to see wildlife like puffins (!!!) and seals, plus the stone structures are just damn cool on their own, even if they weren’t in a famous film.
Stay: Nearby Waterville is a super cute village, and Butler Arms is the sweetest hotel with a really nice fancy pub attached.
The Cliffs Of Moher
You will soon find in Ireland that the weather changes not by the day but by the hour. The day we visited the Cliffs Of Moher, it was foggy, stormy, and moody.
All the more perfect for seeing the location made famous in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince when Dumbledore and Harry head off to find one of the Horcruxes in that creepy cave with the water demon people. You know the scene:
That wasn’t actually the inside of the cliffs, but this is the exterior:
I will say that you can see less in the fog, but regardless, it’s a pretty magical place. It was also the setting for the Cliffs Of Insanity in The Princess Bride, which makes sense when you see the imposing black stone covered in mossy grass, waves crashing against the rocks, and the general sense of nature’s chaos.
Stay: It’s worth booking a couple of nights here so you can go back if the weather isn’t too flash. Doolin is the closest town and has plenty of hotels to choose from.
So, fun fact, Ireland has heaps of really nice beaches. You can even surf, there’s like a whole surf culture there! Some of the prettiest are in Sligo, like Streedagh Beach, which you may recognise if you got alarmingly obsessed with Connell and Marianne in Normal People. They have some serious chats in the grass-covered dunes here.
When we visited, there was literally no one else on the beach, just one caravan nearby. I absolutely forced my boyfriend to take photos of me in what I determined to be the exact spot where Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones sat.
Regardless, if you can make it up to Sligo, do it. The area is gorgeous.
Stay: Strandhill is a sleepy beach town that wouldn’t feel out of place on the WA coast. While you’re there, try seaweed bathing at VOYA.
If you’re heading to Northern Ireland, you’ll probably visit the Giant’s Causeway (as you should). While up that way, book a boat tour at Ballycastle – we went with Abhainn Cruises, because they had a great Game Of Thrones option. From the sea, the Irish coastline is even crazier-looking than from above. You’ll see some very memorable locations, including the cliff where Daenerys’ dragon becomes besties with Jon Snow.
Then there’s the Iron Islands, IRL known as Ballintoy Point, where you can stop and walk around on those black granite stones.
Stay: Drive 40 minutes inland and splash out on Galgorm Resort and Spa – the spa village has riverside hot tubs and Himalayan salt saunas.
Derry is known for Bloody Sunday – one of the worst atrocities from The Troubles. The creator of Derry Girls, Lisa McGee, grew up in Derry in the 1990s, a tumultuous historical period that included the Northern Ireland peace process. The show became a smash hit, and we all became obsessed with the Northern Ireland town.
If you’re a fan, you’ll start squealing as soon as you drive in – there’s the “Welcome To Free Derry” sign, all the familiar streets, and the historic murals. There’s even a more recent mural of the Derry Girls cast.
Take a tour or just wander about – most sites are on Google Maps and within walking distance from each other.
Stay: Everglades Hotel actually has a Derry Girls-themed afternoon tea, so obviously you need to stay there.
Game Of Thrones Studio Tour
The Game Of Thrones Studio Tour mandatory for GOT fans. MANDATORY. It’s about a 45-minute drive from Belfast and honestly has to be seen to be believed.
We’re talking all the original costumes from the series, original props, plenty of nerdy interviews and documentaries about the making of sets, dragons, and so on, plus some of the original sets recreated for fans. It is actually beyond explanation how exciting the Game Of Thrones Studio was. Do not miss it!
Stay: Belfast is a great city with really fun pubs, restaurants and nightlife, so stay there and drive out to do the studio tour.
This writer visited Ireland and Northern Ireland as a guest of Tourism Ireland. Find out more here.