Game of Thrones: Simon Calder takes a first look inside Northern Ireland’s brand new Studio Tour attraction

This is not a tour that has been recreated in a random location: the actors walked this very floor

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 02 February 2022 09:12 GMT
Game of Thrones Studio Tour: Your Personal Guide

The journey to the Seven Kingdoms begins in the Six Counties of Northern Ireland: specifically in the car park of a vast out-of-town shopping centre east of Banbridge in County Down.

Fans of the world’s most expensive TV series, Game of Thrones, will board buses from here to The Wall, King’s Landing and all mythical locations to House Lannister.

In real life, the 11-minute trip takes you to Linen Mill Studios, location for the new £24m attraction.

Since the first episode was broadcast in 2011, Game of Thrones has become the most watched HBO series and attracted worldwide acclaim.

While travellers will recognise scenes filmed in spectacular locations in Croatia, Spain and Malta, much of the action was shot in Northern Ireland – including at the Linen Mill Studios. This is not a tour that has been recreated in a random location: the actors walked this very floor.

You enter the new attraction through a tunnel to the frozen north, with a blast of icy air to remind you of the cruel world beyond The Wall. Like the series itself, the Studio Tour makes much of darkness and shadows.

The tour takes you to all corners of the Seven Kingdoms – including Dragonstone, the castle perched on an island off the east coast of Westeros.

The exhibits excel in detail. The scale and depth of production values are evident from the map table at Dragonstone to the carpentry to the prosthetics, with example of the masks that were applied to the actors hours before filming.

As a short cut, interactive technology allows visitors to emulate the actors in an accelerated sequence of make-up and costume – and to be placed electronically in the middle of action scenes.

Throne ranger: Simon Calder in the Iron Throne at the new attraction (Charlotte Hindle)

“From the Night’s Watch at Castle Black you’ll follow the raven’s flight to Winterfell, the ancestral home of House Stark,” prospective visitors are told.

The centrepiece of the Game of Thrones Studio Tour is the original set for the Great Hall at Winterfell, where the aristocracy and heroes gather.

In the crypt of Winterfell, you can get up close and personal with characters such as Jon Snow, and inspect the giant skulls of ancient dragons that populate the depths of the Red Keep at King’s Landing.

Creativity and hard cash have combined to create a great escape just off the A1 between Belfast and Dublin. The backers hope their bold investment will be rewarded by around 200,000 visitors annually – many of them paying the headline admission of £39.50.

“Northern Ireland is the home of thrones,” says Claire Moles, head of marketing for the Studio Tour. “Right here where we are today is where over a third of all the Northern Ireland Game of Thrones filming took place.”

With Covid restrictions still blighting international travel, overseas visitors may wait a little longer to travel to Northern Ireland. But the nation has a strong appeal to people in Great Britain as the only substantial overseas destination they can reach with no paperwork involved.

Tourism to Northern Ireland, as with the rest of the UK, has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Half of the nation’s tourism businesses reported lower turnover between the key summer months of June to September 2021 compared with the same spell in 2019.

As the recovery begins, the Game of Thrones Studio Tour represents a valuable new asset – adding a third heavyweight attraction to the Ulster repertoire, alongside the Giant’s Causeway and Titanic Belfast. The hope is that it will spark wider exploration of Northern Ireland.

After the Seven Kingdoms, the Six Counties await.

The Game of Thrones Studio Tour opens on Friday 4 February. Tickets, price £39.50, must be booked online

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