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Okay Game of Thrones fans, did you know you can visit a real-life Winterfell Castle in Northern Ireland?
It’s called Castle Ward in County Down and they used the medieval keep and demesne to film House Stark scenes in Game of Thrones amongst others.
It’s owned and protected by the National Trust and they truly embrace the Game of Thrones theme here.
You can pick up a map to follow a filming location trail and even have a go at archery where they filmed the Stark children practising with their bows.
It’s a must-visit if you’re a fan of the show. Here is a Castle Ward Game of Thrones guide and how to visit the real Winterfell Castle in Northern Ireland.
The Castle Ward Game of Thrones connection
There are over 20 Castle Ward Game of Thrones filming locations to find around this scenic estate.
The most recognisable is the Old Castle Ward aka Winterfell throughout season one. This is where we are introduced to the Stark Family and the main characters of the show.
This area is also where Robert Baratheon and his royal party arrive to see Ned Stark. He plans to ask him to become the Hand of the King.
You can also visit the farmyard where Bran, Jon, and Robb are practising archery in the courtyard and Arya bests him with a bulls-eye after getting bored of her sewing.
You can see all of these locations on a self-guided Game of Thrones walking tour or bicycle tour. It makes such a fun day out for fans.
Castle Ward Game of Thrones filming locations to visit
So, here is a list of the most recognisable filming locations that you can visit in Castle Ward.
Make sure to pick up a special Game of Thrones map of Castle Ward from the National Trust office that has the filming locations on there with a recommended route.
Or, if you prefer to use your phone, they have a PDF map that you can download here.
Old Castle Ward & Clock Tower – Winterfell Castle
The first place you’ll want to head on the Castle Ward estate is the Old Castle and farmyard area.
The clock tower and several buildings here were transformed into Winterfell Castle for the show with a little help from set design and green screen.
There are plenty of Castle Ward Game of Thrones filming locations that can be found here.
This is where we first meet the members of House Stark like Ned, Catelyn, Arya, Robb, Bran and Jon Snow.
You’ll also find where Bran climbs a wall to get a better view of the King in episode one as well as the door where Tyrion and Jon first meet.
If you look around you’ll find the smithy where ‘Needle’, Arya’s famous sword, is forged in series 2.
2. Castle Ward Demesne – King Robert’s Arrival
This area is also where they filmed King Robert’s arrival at Winterfell along with his caravan.
Soldiers are riding their horses and holding the Baratheon and Lannister flags. We also meet some characters we love to hate like Geoffrey, Jamie, Cersei and The Hound.
The Stark family then wait to greet King Robert’s Party. All of these scenes were filmed around here.
You’ll probably think that it looks completely different to the show. But, you can see where they added turrets and towers with a bit of magical CGI!
3. Farmyard – Archery in Winterfell
If you head to the farmyard area, you’ll find another Castle Ward Game of Thrones filming location.
This is the spot where the Stark children were practising Archery in the very first episode.
If you remember, this is where Bran, Jon, and Robb are practising Archery in the courtyard.
Robb says “Relax your bow arm Bran” making fun of him and Ned counters “And which one of you was a marksman at ten?”.
Did you know that you can have a go at some archery yourself? Winterfell Tours runs archery sessions right in the courtyard where the cast and crew filmed these scenes.
As part of your tour, you’ll get to don a Stark cloak and then practice several rounds of archery.
I decided to have a go myself and found out that it is not as easy as it looks! I am left-handed so at a natural disadvantage anyway but there’s also so much that goes into it.
There was a mini competition between our group and, unfortunately, I was the one that lost and my punishment was a beheading!
4. Strangford Lough – Brienne confrontation
Head through the arch behind the farmyard and you’ll find a scenic path beside Strangford Lough. Here, you’ll find a few more Castle Ward Game of Thrones filming locations.
The first will be when Brienne is walking with Jamie Lannister and finds the three ladies who are hanging from a tree in series 2, episode 10 ‘Valar Morghulis’.
She later confronts the Stark men who are responsible and then they meet their sorry end.
This is also the area where ‘Lady’, Sansa’s dire wolf, is executed. Both are hard scenes to watch.
5. Audley’s Field – Robb’s Camp at Oxcross
If you walk 20 minutes from Castle Ward beside the lough, you’ll eventually come across Audley’s Field which is a gorgeous area.
Here you will find plenty more Castle Ward Game of Thrones filming locations.
In series 1, we see Robert Baratheon arrive passing Audley’s Field. In series 2, this field becomes Robb’s camp in the Battle of Oxcross.
It’s here that Robb meets Talissa, who is a healer from Volantis. Whilst she is tending wounded soldiers, Robb falls in love with her and he later asks her to marry him.
These scenes happen in Series 2, Episode 4: Garden of Bones.
6. Audley Castle – The Twins
Audley Castle also featured as The Twins in Game of Thrones (the other tower and crossing were inserted with CGI).
This is when Theon Greyjoy takes down one of the messenger ravens from Walder Frey’s towers sent to warn about Robb’s army.
The castle isn’t always open to explore or to climb up and see the views. But, I still have fun looking around this austere keep!
7. Downpatrick Avenue – Ned’s Picnic and Baelor Battlefield
After your loop around Strangford Lough, make sure to head up towards the Palladian Mansion to check out Downpatrick Avenue.
This is a field where they filmed scenes in Game of Thrones like Ned’s picnic where he feasts with Robert Baratheon.
Also, this is where they filmed the Baelor Battlefield scenes in series 1, episode 9 ‘Baelor’.
Why not take a Game of Thrones cycling tour?
If you wanted to see all 20 Castle Ward Game of Thrones filming locations then I would opt for a cycling tour with Winterfell Tours.
They have an office right here in Old Castle Ward and they even have a stocks that you can pose with.
You can enter their office to rent a bike and you’ll receive an old-scroll map with all the filming locations you can visit on your cycling tour.
This is a great way to see the area and will save you lots of time as the estate is huge. I would book in advance to avoid disappointment.
Other things to do in Castle Ward
So, beyond the Game of Thrones filming locations, Castle Ward makes a great day trip out in Northern Ireland.
Most people visit Castle Ward to take a tour of the 18th-century Palladian-style mansion built beside Strangford Lough.
It’s a unique home as one side has Palladian architecture and the other has been designed in the Gothic style.
This juxtaposition of styles comes from a disagreement between the Lord and Lady of the House.
Bernard Ward, 1st Viscount Bangor, did not agree with his wife Lady Anne about how the house should be constructed and decorated.
Lady Anne’s family was connected to royalty which used the Gothic style and Bernard wanted the most fashionable Palladian style.
They came to a compromise but the result was a house that looked like two sides of a coin!
Lady Anne left the castle shortly after it was built. It makes a great story on your tour and you can see this mix-match of styles in every room.
After, make sure to explore the Sunken Garden which was a formal garden and has been restored based on an 1864 painting by Mary Ward.
There are lots of shops, cafés, and walking trails around the estate too. You can visit the temples and boat houses that the family used to use all those years ago.
How to visit Castle Ward in Northern Ireland
Castle Ward is located in County Down which is in the south of Northern Ireland and is around a 60-minute drive from Belfast or a 2 hour 30 drive from Dublin.
This part of County Down makes a great day trip for Game of Thrones fans if you’re visiting the area as there are lots more Game of Thrones filming locations to visit.
The best way to access Castle Ward would be to drive and there is free parking on-site that’s included as part of your ticket.
There is a parking area closer to the old keep area of Castle Ward on the lakeside. If you park by the Palladian mansion, it’s a bit of a walk to the lough! So, ask the staff to direct you.
If you’re not driving, it’s easiest to take the 16 bus from Belfast to Downpatrick and then another bus to Strangford that stops at Castle Ward.
Why not take a Game of Thrones tour?
If you’re not driving in Northern Ireland, or you just fancy taking a break from the wheel, I would highly recommend taking a Game of Thrones tour to some of these filming locations.
These tours are very affordable and are run by expert guides who were extras in the show. So, you’ll get to see the filming locations and hear some behind-the-scenes gossip too!
There are four major filming locations located in County Down where you can experience ‘The North’ and Winterfell.
These are Tollymore Forest Park, Inch Abbey, Castle Ward, and Audley’s Field. You can take a guided tour from Belfast or Dublin that covers them all in one day!
I joined the tour for their Game of Thrones trek around Tollymore Forest Park in the morning.
It was great as we got to wear a Stark cloak, see the scenes filmed in different locations on an iPad, and some hilarious commentary too. I would highly recommend it.
Opening times and ticket prices
Castle Ward estate, gardens, and grounds are open throughout the year but the mansion may not be open during the winter season.
Also, it’s good to note that some Game of Thrones tours and activities may not be running in winter.
Traditionally, Castle Ward is open from 10 am and then closes at either 4 pm or 6 pm depending on the season.
Ticket prices are £13.20 for adults and £6.60 a child which includes access to the entire estate and parking. National Trust members get in for free.
My top tips for visiting
- Plan at least 2-3 hours – Castle Ward is a huge site with lots of Game of Thrones filming locations to spot so make sure to leave enough time for the walking trails.
- Wear sensible shoes and bring an extra layer – you’ll need sensible footwear to explore the estate and, even in summer, the breeze from the lough can bite! Pack a layer just in case.
- Bring your National Trust card – entry is FREE for National Trust members
- Don’t miss out on Audley Castle – this is a short walk away from the Castle Ward Demesne on Strangford Lough and is gorgeous, even if you’re not a Game of Thrones fan.
Doune Castle Winterfell connectrion
Did you know that Castle Ward wasn’t the only place where they filmed Winterfell?
Doune Castle in Scotland was also used to film some of the castle courtyard scenes. To celebrate, the castle had a Winterfell sign-up for visitors.
Beady-eyed Outlander fans will notice that Doune Castle played Castle Leoch in the award-winning time travel series.
Game of Thrones doors to visit near Castle Ward
Did you know that there are several Game of Thrones Doors you can visit in pubs around Northern Ireland?
It’s known as the Journey of Doors trail and you can even pick up your very own passport to tick them all off! They make great places to eat or stay whilst chasing down filming locations.
Here are the Game of Thrones doors that you can visit in County Down;
- The Cuan – This was originally a traditional pub where the cast and crew stayed for filming but now is a swanky bar. They have the first door which portrays the geography of Westeros.
- Fiddlers Green – You can find this pub in Strangford and you can take a ferry to reach it. Quinten Bay is nearby where they filmed Castle Stokeworth of the Crownlands. On their door are images of the Flayed Man as well as a Kraken, swords, and the Winterfield Weirwood Tree.
- Percy French – Newcastle is a popular beach town and you’ll find Percy French outside the swanky Slieve Donard Hotel. The Game of Thrones Door is located right out the front as you enter the restaurant. On the door, you’ll find a Greyjoy ship along with a Kraken, a direwolf of House Stark, and skulls at the bottom.
Looking for more Game of Thrones locations in County Down?
If you’re doing a self-guided Game of Thrones tour of Northern Ireland, there are plenty of filming locations you can visit near Castle Ward.
If you haven’t already, I would download the Game of Thrones Northern Ireland app that has most of them included. You will get iPhone Maps pins to guide you to each location;
This Cistercian Abbey appeared in series one when Robb makes camp at Riverrun.
After Joffrey has taken the throne, he asks Robb Stark to pay him fealty. Robb refuses as he knows his father has been held prisoner at King’s Landing.
Robb calls his bannermen and marches Stark soldiers to go to war with the Lannisters. Robb goes on to win the Battle of the Whispering Wood taking Jaime Lannister as a prisoner.
Robb camps near Riverrun and it’s here that Robb hears from his mother Catelyn that his father Ned has been executed.
So, the Houses of the North and the Riverlands show fealty to Robb and cry out: “The King of the North”! And so starts the beginning of the War of the Five Kings.
Tollymore Forest Park
Tollymore Forest Park is one of the most beautiful parks that you can visit in Northern Ireland and it’s a Game of Thrones filming location too.
This park played the lands around Winterfell in The North. It featured in many key scenes during the first episode and series.
You can visit the Wildlings pit in the prologue, where Ned Stark finds the Direwolves and where Jon Snow camps with Tyrion on the way to Castle Black and The Wall.
If you want to see all of the filming locations, I would recommend booking a Tollymore Game of Thrones trek where you get to wear a Stark Cloak and are shown around by an expert guide who was a wildling in the show.
The River Quoile besides Inch Abbey also featured as Riverrun in series 3 episode 3: Walk of Punishment.
After Hoster Tully dies, the responsibility for Riverrun passes onto his son Edmure Tully. The Tully funeral tradition is to place the body in a boat on the river and then set it aflame by an arrow.
Of course, Edmure Tully is terrible at this and so his uncle Brynden takes the reins and lands a perfect blow.
These scenes were filmed in the Quoile Pondage Nature Reserve which is surrounded by the rolling hills of the countryside. It’s a huge place and you could be driving/walking for miles before you find the exact location.
If you want to save time, there is actually a Google Pin to the exact Game of Thrones filming location where you’ll see the sign.