Northern Ireland Adventure: The Westeros Cycle Tour

My first full day in Belfast was a physically tiring one. Since I’m staying at a hostel, I woke up at 6am to avoid the morning bathroom rush and was out of the door and ready to explore the wonderful world of Northern Ireland by 7am. My goal for the morning? To be in Strangford before 10am for the Westeros Cycle Tour I impulse bought at Stansted Airport the day before.

Are you ready for today’s adventure recap?

LiberaTarts Goes to Winterfell

The walk from my hostel to the city centre took about 20 minutes and by the time the number 15 Ulsterbus arrived, I was frantically googling how much it cost for a day ticket to Strangford. And then I remembered that the buses here in Belfast don’t do day tickets, for some reason? Anyway, the kinder-than-usual bus driver tolerated my ramblings about “return tickets” and “changing buses halfway through my journey,” which was nice because if there’s anything I could take away from this trip, it was the fact that the people in Belfast are super friendly and nice.

Case in point:

  • I got lost (as I do) trying to find the meeting point for the cycle tour. Not only were the Castle Ward staff super helpful, but also the random early morning visitors who said to me “ah, you’re looking for Winterfell.”
  • One of the cycle tour guides told me – out of the blue and with no prompting whatsoever – that I can visit the ‘GOT Door’ in this pub called the The Cuan. The Game of Thrones actors such as Sean Bean stayed at this pub / hotel whilst they were filming the Winterfell scenes during the early seasons.
  • The waitress at The Cuan waved off the 5p from the £5.55 cheesecake I ordered. She didn’t have to do that? Why did she do that?
  • I didn’t have the right bus ticket to get back to Belfast from the Strangford village centre but the bus driver let me on anyway.

My conclusion? Belfast is a very, very nice city to live in despite the absolute chaos that is its public transportation system.

Anyway, let’s talk about Winterfell! Finding the cycle tour meeting point, having had taken the bus instead of driving (like what most people would do, I suppose), meant I had to walk through Castle Ward…

an image of 18th century Castle Ward
view of castle ward from the distance

…before you get to the castle’s farmyard, which is famously known as the filming location for Winterfell from the TV show Game of Thrones.

road leading to winterfell, featuring tower buildings and a wall surrounding the area
“there must always be a Stark in Winterfell”

The tour begins with a guide walking you to various places within the Winterfell courtyard, pointing out key filming locations and describing how the crew of Game of Thrones essentially CGI’d Winterfell into being. I saw the tower where Bran “fell”, the brothel where we first meet Tyrion, and I stood in the exact same spot the Starks stood to greet King Baratheon’s entourage. It was an entirely surreal experience.

Following the walking tour, the guide (his name was Hugo, by the way, for those who are interested) handed me a helmet and bike. It was bright red and looked like it could take me all the way to King’s Landing; there was also a map attached to the handlebars, but that only detailed Winterfell and the nearby Audley’s Castle and grounds, which is famously associated with Robb and his army during the early seasons of the show.

The Westeros Cycle Tour is supposed to last 2 hours and 30 minutes, but the entirety of the course can be completed in half that time. I spent a good chunk just sitting atop Audley’s Castle and enjoying the view, eating my lunch and contemplating the insignificance of my human existence. And aside from all the times I got lost on the trail because I can’t read maps for the life of me, I still returned to the base camp in Winterfell with half an hour to spare.

I used that half hour walking to Strangford. The muscles in my legs are still burning as I type up this post. On the plus side, the nature walk from Winterfell towards the little village of Strangford offered this scene of pure delight:

image of a nature walk with a sign saying "the wild wood: marry the hare say take care"
the wild wood

Overall, the Westeros Cycle Tour was a 9 out of 10 experience for me: the views were great, the weather was unbeatable, and my nerdy little soul was happy to pretend I lived in Westeros for an entire morning. My only criticism is the lack of clear signposts of the cycle tour. As much as I joke around about my inability to read a map and my wonderful habit of getting lost, the cycle route was quite difficult to parse and I wasn’t the only one confused! There was a group ahead of me who circled around Audley’s Castle twice because they couldn’t figure out how to get to Temple Water.

Total cost for the day: £38 for the cycle tour, £5.50 for dessert, and £20ish for the bus rides, which all totals to £63.50. The cost for getting to experience Westeros? PRICELESS.

Over to you guys: if you could go visit any fictional world, where would you go and why?

Subscribe to LiberaTarts if you want to hear more about my Belfast city break! Tomorrow’s plan is to check-out of Lagan Backpacker’s and into an airbnb. Places to visit will include the Botanical Gardens, Ulster Museum, and perhaps Belfast Castle if I’ve got time and/or energy to spare in the afternoon. My legs still hurt from all the biking I did today.