Ireland and Scotland are taking a page from New Zealand’s playbook by showing off the real-life settings for onscreen fantasy worlds. Rather than Tolkien’s tales of Middle Earth, the fantasies in question come from the hit HBO series “Game of Thrones” and the STARZ series, “Outlander.”
Tourism Ireland has partnered with HBO to showcase “Game of Thrones” locales for the second year in a row. In addition to cheeky promotions (“dragon’s eggs” at local markets); official signage points the way to filming locations throughout Northern Ireland.
In Scotland, visitors are keen to follow the trail of the time-traveling female protagonist of the “Outlander” series. Visit Scotland has created an interactive map to mark film locations.
Tour operator Brendan Vacations has introduced two specialty itineraries that explore the fictional settings of both shows.
Their eight-day Home of Thrones self-drive tour includes Dublin, Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway and Antrim Coast. It winds its way through castles, farms, cliffs, caves and forests used in “Game of Thrones.” A highlight is the Dark Hedges, the spooky tunnel formed by intertwined, 300-year old birch trees. It doubles as the King’s Road in the series.
Brendan’s seven-day Castles, Clans & Outlands Private Chauffer Tour takes guests to historic castles, glens, villages and ancient landmarks used in “Outlander.” The itinerary features three nights in Edinburgh and three in Inverness.
“There is definitely an interest in film tours. People watch these shows and they want to go see the locations, which are often quite beautiful,” said Brenda Staben, a front line agent with Hobson Travel.
Thus far, Staben’s clients have gone out of their way to visit “Downton Abbey” locations in England and “Sherlock” locations in Wales. She hasn’t yet had requests for “Game of Thrones” or “Outlander,” but isn’t surprised they’re extremely popular.
“Ireland has so many places of wild beauty. And people are so friendly. I just had a client get into a car accident there. While they were waiting around, the lady they hit took them to lunch,” Staben tells Travel Agent.
Sharon Campbell Little, owner of Wedding and Honeymoon Travel Group (and an Edinburgh native) feels the same about Scotland.
“I’m probably going to be biased. But the castles, countryside and scenery of Scotland will make you rich without spending any money. You’ll see so much with your own eyes that you’ll never find anywhere else,” Little tells Travel Agent.
Of course, tourists do spend money. And film tourism has become big business. “Game of Thrones” cross-promotions and tours have brought quite a bit of revenue to Ireland, as well as other film locations such as Croatia and Malta.
The film tourism is also helping local economies, Catherine Reilly, managing director of Brendan Vacations, Ireland tells Travel Agent.
“We visit the village where the jewelry and crowns used in ‘Game of Thrones’ are made. Our guests can meet the artisans in their workshops, and maybe even order their own custom piece. The hotels are very much into it as well. At Ballygally Castle, where we stay, there are jewelry displays from the show. They also have a ‘Game of Thrones’ afternoon tea. But you won’t find any dainty finger sandwiches,” said Reilly.
Guests can also practice some archery and learn how to pick up a sword at Castle Ward, used for the outdoor courtyard of Winterfell.
For Brendan Vacations, the tie-ins with the two programs made good sense.
“We’re great story tellers here and we have the perfect ancient landscape. Forests, medieval structures, sea cliffs; you won’t find a better setting for romance, mystery and fantasy,” said Reilly.