Game of Thrones Studio Tour, Northern Ireland: A behind-the-scenes look at the hit show

Never mind the - brief spoiler alert! - controversial finale. For almost a decade, it was the biggest, most hyped and visually-spectacular show on TV, its fiery fantasy world, and heroes and villains, playing out against some of Europe's most exotic, dramatic (and digitally-enhanced) scenery, from the sun-drenched climes of Seville and Dubrovnik to the wild, snow-clawed landscapes of Iceland.

But Northern Ireland is Game of Thrones' spiritual home. While many scenes were shot in its misty green countryside, plenty more - such as the infamous "Red Wedding" - were filmed in studios. One of them, Belfast's Titanic Studios - close to where that ship was built - is still a thriving production hub, but the other, Linen Mill Studios, nestled in farmland 40 kilometres south of Belfast, has shapeshifted into a new £24 million ($40 million) visitor attraction.

Furnished with original sets, props, costumes and interactive exhibits, the Game of Thrones Studio Tour has echoes of The Making of Harry Potter experience near London (and Warner Bros. has a hand in both). Just as that place delighted "Potterheads", this will thrill "Thronies" - although such is the exquisite craftsmanship on display, it'll captivate anyone with a keen interest in TV and film production, and may encourage a binge on Thrones ahead of the release, later in 2022, of its prequel, House of the Dragon.

Northern Ireland hopes all this will provide a booster for its pandemic-battered tourism industry (pre-COVID-19, one in six leisure visitors said the show influenced their decision to travel there, hauling in an extra £50 million to the local economy).

Violence, swearing and nudity gave Thrones an R-rating, but this tour is family-friendly. It's self-guided, kick-starting with a cinematic trailer that rekindles memories, the show's title theme thundering out with clips from across the eight twisting seasons. Then the screen slides away to reveal a spine-tingling, hair-raising portal into Westeros - the semi-magical, pseudo-medieval continent created by George RR Martin in his A Song of Ice and Fire novels, and adapted by HBO showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss. You could easily spend four or five hours taking everything in - and, handily, there's a cafe not just in the reception area, but at the tour's halfway point so you can break for refreshments.

The full-scale sets are cleverly-done, and populated with life-size dummies draped in the actual outfits worn by the likes of Kit Harrington (as Jon Snow), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) and Maisie Williams (Arya Stark). The sound of crackling fires accompanies you past the spartan chambers and mess hall of Castle Black, the fortress on The Wall, while there's a radiant Mediterranean-esque ambiance to the arcaded map courtyard of the Red Keep at King's Landing - and a rather more apocalyptic whiff to its ash-and-rubble-strewn Throne Room.

Peruse Dragonstone, where Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) plotted world domination, stare up at the giant, Wun Wun, in a frozen forest, and walk through the tomb-laced crypts of Winterfell and its imposing, candle-lit Great Hall.

Across the tour, the show's Emmy award-winning production team chronicle their painstaking work with behind-the-scenes accounts and video interviews. You can admire, up close, the finer details of their toil. There's a treasure-trove of storyboards and set models, prosthetics, jewelry, banners, ship figureheads, dragon sculptures, pyrotechnic stunts and special effects. The costume department's work is incredible, with all the leather garb and silk robes and dresses, many embroidered with metal chains, brass and gold discs and symbolism conveying characters' motivations and personalities.

Weapons steal your attention, too, such as Arya's Needle, King Joffrey's crossbow, Jaime Lannister's Oathkeeper sword and an ice dagger favoured by the White Walkers and zombie-like wights. You can target this Army of the Dead in a virtual bow-and-arrow battle game - one of the fun immersive options that use touchscreens, audio-visuals and motion capture technology. You're also invited to design your own House sigil, armour up (virtually) like Brienne of Tarth, and make your mugshot appear in the eerie Hall of Faces.


You can't ride a dragon - perhaps that's something for the future - but you can sit on a replica of the Iron Throne. It's by the tour's merchandise-filled store, and perched here, for a few seconds at least, you feel like you've won the Game of Thrones.



Pre-book tickets online. Admission is £39.50 ($75) for adults, £27.50 ($52) for 5-15 years, with a family ticket - two adults, two children - at £115 ($219). You can also buy a package with return coach transfers from Belfast. See


Staggered entry times have been implemented to ensure social distancing. Unless eating or drinking at cafes, you must wear face-masks throughout your visit.


Steve McKenna was a guest of Tourism Northern Ireland and Tourism Ireland