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Top Northern Ireland experiences for Game of Thrones fans

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Castle Ward

Castle Ward

ballintoy harbour  Jonathan leathem photography

ballintoy harbour Jonathan leathem photography

Game of Thrones at the Fullerton Arms

Game of Thrones at the Fullerton Arms

The Cuan Hotel - Game of Thrones Banquet

The Cuan Hotel - Game of Thrones Banquet

Olly Murs at the Game of Thrones Banquet

Olly Murs at the Game of Thrones Banquet

TheOlly Murs at the Game of Thrones Banquet

TheOlly Murs at the Game of Thrones Banquet

Game of thrones Afternoon tea at Ballygally Castle Hotel

Game of thrones Afternoon tea at Ballygally Castle Hotel

Game of Thrones banquet menu at The Cuan in Strangford

Game of Thrones banquet menu at The Cuan in Strangford

Gme of Thrones tomahawk steak at Percy French at the Slieve Donard

Gme of Thrones tomahawk steak at Percy French at the Slieve Donard

Castle Ward

Ever since the (rather disappointing) end to season eight of Game of Thrones I have been missing my weekly fix of the hit show which was filmed here on our doorstep.

Yes, I could just rewatch all eight seasons (which is on my to-do list for 2020) but first I decided to try out some of the Game of Thrones experiences currently available across Northern Ireland.

And after a few days criss-crossing the province to various attractions, I can see why millions of fans are coming here to try out one of the newer jewels in our tourism crown.

To visit all the filming locations you should download the Game of Thrones Filming Locations app which tells you which scenes were filmed where. It is clearly being well used as I have met quite a few international visitors who were following the locations map on their phones.

It is worth visiting the 10 Doors of Thrones which are dotted across the country. The intricately carved doors all represent various scenes from season six and were made from some of the trees which came down in storms at Co Antrim's Dark Hedges, better known as Kingsroad to fans of the HBO series.

The doors make up one of the must-do experiences for Thronies (what Game of Thrones fans are called apparently), the Journey of Doors Passport. If you pick up a passport you can collect your stamp as you visit each door.

First stop on my Thrones trip was the excellent Game of Thrones banquet at The Cuan Hotel in Strangford, Co Down. The hotel is also home to one of the Thrones doors.

It already has a star-studded seal of approval in that the stars of the show, including Sean Bean and Kit Harington, stayed there for filming seasons one and two. The show's creator and author George RR Martin has also been there and two massive celebrity fans of the show, Shaggy and Olly Murs, have tried the banquet for themselves.

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Olly Murs at the Game of Thrones Banquet

Olly Murs at the Game of Thrones Banquet

Olly Murs at the Game of Thrones Banquet

For my other half and I this stop was the highlight of our Thrones trip.

All the dishes are modelled on food served during the show's King's Banquet at Winterfell.

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Game of Thrones banquet menu at The Cuan in Strangford

Game of Thrones banquet menu at The Cuan in Strangford

Game of Thrones banquet menu at The Cuan in Strangford

You can immerse yourself into the world of Game of Thrones and Winterfell by sitting at the banquet table for the menu that welcomed King Robert, Queen Cersei, Joffrey and their entourage when he made the visit North to ask Ned Stark to become his 'King's Hand'. You can dress up with the Stark cloaks which are available at every table - big wooden tables which resemble those you would see in the show.

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The Cuan Hotel - Game of Thrones Banquet

The Cuan Hotel - Game of Thrones Banquet

The Cuan Hotel - Game of Thrones Banquet

For starters we had baked Winterfell bread with medieval pease porridge which was like a chickpea stew and was really tasty. Next up was cod cakes on a bed of buttery winter squash which was melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness.

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Gme of Thrones tomahawk steak at Percy French at the Slieve Donard

Gme of Thrones tomahawk steak at Percy French at the Slieve Donard

Gme of Thrones tomahawk steak at Percy French at the Slieve Donard

Our banquet mains was a superb honeyed roasted chicken with roasted onions in gravy which was served with baby potatoes and carrots. The attention to detail is amazing as this dish revolves around a scene at the banquet which, as the book stated: 'There was still half a honeyed chicken in the centre of the table. Jon reached out to tear off a leg. Ben Stark laughed. He snagged a roasted onion, dripping brown with gravy, from a nearby trencher and bit into it. It crunched'.

For dessert we enjoyed iced blueberries in sweet cream with sweet biscuits, another nod to the banquet which saw Sansa Stark enjoy a similar dish.

We washed all this down with some of the hotel's own Hodoor beer. I do love craft beer and this one from Mourne Mountains Brewery was particularly nice, especially so when served in goblets you would expect to find on the Game of Thrones set. The Cuan is the only place in the world to get this beer.

The hotel and restaurant owner, Peter McErlean, took his own photographs on set of the stars filming scenes locally and they now form part of a picture book placed on each table. He is a treasure trove of information about the show and became friends with some of the stars who he has had up to his own home.

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The Cuan Hotel - Shaggy at the Game of Thrones Banquet

The Cuan Hotel - Shaggy at the Game of Thrones Banquet

The Cuan Hotel - Shaggy at the Game of Thrones Banquet

When in Strangford call down the road to the fabulous 18th century National Trust property at Castle Ward which was Winterfell in season one. They still have the set of an archery scene set up in the farmyard and don't be surprised to see direwolves Summer and Grey Wind. The four-legged stars are actually called Odin and Thor and are part of one of the tour experiences.

After our hearty lunch, we made our way to the Slieve Donard Resort & Spa in Newcastle, stopping at Tollymore Forest, where many show scenes were filmed, on the way.

The marvellous seafront hotel also offers a Game of Thrones experience, which includes a cocktail on arrival and a Game of Thrones Tomahawk steak - a 20oz salt-aged steak on the bone, served with Causeway chips, portobello mushrooms, provencale beef tomato, rocket and peppercorn sauce. Served in the Percy French restaurant, it was delicious and I even impressed myself by polishing it all off.

After that food overload, we chilled in the magnificent spa with its amazing views of the Mournes.

After that we were back on the road again to head to north Antrim where Game of Thrones has also left its mark.

On the way we visited another of the Thrones doors at The Dark Horse, opposite The Duke of York in Belfast city centre. The one there showcases Westeros's state of affairs as season six draws to a close.

Our next stop was for the Game of Thrones afternoon tea at Ballygally Castle hotel, home to another Thrones door as well as the food experience.

Treats included rustic Ironborn focaccia with Glenarm smoked salmon and cream cheese, Little Finger mini chicken caesar wrap, Lannister egg rolls with spring onion, Hodoor's pulled pork brioche, Dothraki trifle with mini dragon's egg, Winterfell jaffa cake with Stark's chocolate and Sansa Stark's lemon cakes. Food fit for a king (or queen).

It set us up nicely for our drive to Ballintoy, home to the Iron Islands in the show, where we checked into the Fullerton Arms hotel. On the way check out the always breathtaking Dark Hedges at Armoy.

Ballintoy Harbour will be instantly recognisable to any GoT fan and there are helpful information boards showing photographs of some of the scenes filmed there. Take a walk around and breathe in the sea air on this beautiful part of the north coast.

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ballintoy harbour  Jonathan leathem photography

ballintoy harbour Jonathan leathem photography

ballintoy harbour Jonathan leathem photography

This will set you up nicely for a fantastic dinner back at the Fullerton Arms Hotel. I would particularly recommend their mouliere - Strangford mussels served six different ways. I opted for the mussels in 70 Magnum IPA from Northbound Brewery in Derry, chilli and coriander.

They were delicious and packed full of flavour. Other options include the mussels in Jawbox Belfast Gin, ginger, coconut and cream or in 1608 Bushmills Irish whiskey with provencale cream.

On your way to or from dinner, check out the hotel's Game of Thrones room featuring a custom-built Iron throne for you to sit on. Also, check out the Thrones door (door six) which champions House Targaryen.

With so many different Game of Thrones activities here, it is little wonder that devotees of the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning programme continue to come to these shores in their hundreds of thousands.

Tourism NI figures suggest that 350,000 people come to Northern Ireland every year just for Game of Thrones - that is one in six leisure visitors.

With a number of GoT legacy projects in the pipeline for Northern Ireland, including the Game of Thrones Studio Tour which is due to open in Banbridge later this year, the show will continue to cast its magic here for many years to come.

Travel factfile

First stop on my Journey of Doors challenge trip was The Cuan Hotel in Strangford. Check out www.thecuan.com or call 028 4488 1222.

The next stop was the Slieve Donard Resort & Spa in Co Down, where I was treated to a cocktail/ mocktail on arrival. Check out www.hastingshotels.com/slieve-donard-resort-and-spa/ or call 028 4372 1066.

Later that evening, I headed over to Percy French Inn, located on the magnificent grounds of Slieve Donard and the proud home of Game of Thrones Door number three for a scrumptious evening meal. Check out www.hastingshotels.com/percyfrench or call 028 4372 3175.

The following morning I headed to the next stop on the itinerary, Ballygally Castle in Co Antrim, for a unique Game of Thrones-themed afternoon tea experience.

For more info visit www.hastingshotels.com/ballygally-castle/gameofthronesafternoon.html or call 028 2858 1066.

After a busy day of driving and exploring the various Game of Thrones locations on route, I made my way to the Fullerton Arms in Co Antrim, home to Game of Thrones Door number seven for dinner and an overnight stay with delicious breakfast. Check out www.fullerton-arms.com or call 028 2076 9613.

For more info on Journey of Doors and to download your Passport and plan your trip, go to www.discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/attractions/game-of-thrones/journey-of-doors/

Be sure to check the opening times of the pubs when you are planning your trip.

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