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Travel: Northern Ireland plays a Game Of Thrones

It's known for its glorious scenery, the Titanic and its troubled past but Northern Ireland is quickly becoming one of the world's most popular tourist destinations thanks to Game Of Thrones.

The country's coastline, mountains and estates provide the backdrop for the HBO fantasy drama series, while Titanic Studios in Belfast is home to the Iron Throne and the location of scenes including series three's infamous red wedding.

Behind the scenes: read here

Northern Ireland had to fight off 14 other countries, including Scotland, to secure its prestigious role in the popular show, which is based on the books of George RR Martin.

However, its scenery and coastline gave it the edge and have now provided the country with a wealth of tourist attractions for Game Of Thrones fans.

A spokesman for Northern Ireland Screen says: "It is no secret we hope Game Of Thrones will do for Northern Ireland what Lord Of The Rings did for New Zealand and what Wallander and the Millennium trilogy still do for Sweden. It is possible the series will deliver the widest media exposure that Northern Ireland has ever received outside politics and the troubles."

The series, which began filming in Northern Ireland in 2009, is now broadcast in more than 70 countries and has brought an estimated £80 million into the Irish economy. It has also provided a boost to employment and infrastructure, helped by the creation of two new sound stages.

The show, which has featured a number of Irish actors including Michelle Fairley (Lady Catelyn Stark) and Jack Gleeson (King Joffrey), has created 941 full-time jobs since it began filming and provided work for a variety of companies, including Steensons Jewellers, which creates the house sigils (magic symbols), crowns and jewellery used in the series.

Rosie McNally, who has worked at Steensons for 19 years, has created a number of pieces including the mockingbird brooch worn by Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger. She said: "We're putting together a new line of products based on our Game Of Thrones designs. It's very rewarding work."

It's a fantastic return on the £10.9 million the country has given HBO to help secure filming and its impact is set to become even bigger as the tourism industry embraces the Game Of Thrones phenomenon.

Causeway Coast and Glens, Mourne Mountains, Castle Ward Estate, Downhill Beach and Inch Abbey have all featured during key scenes in the show and are now must-see locations for fans. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board has even begun using some of these locations in its advertising in a bid to attract fans.

A variety of tours are already on offer, including a McComb's coach tour conducted by a guide who appeared as an extra in the show. There are also plans to launch a Quinn's Game Of Thrones bus tour and a Stones And Thrones trip, while those keen to explore by themselves can use the Causeway Coast and Glens' self-drive itinerary.

However, a new tour at Castleward, which doubles as Winterfell in the show, aims to give fans a new immersive experience by combining visits to key filming locations with a taste of what life would have been like in the Stark stronghold.

The 1000-acre Castleward Estate is home to at least nine locations used in the show, including Winterfell, while Tollymore Forest Park is the scene of the first sighting of the White Walkers and the location for the discovery of the dire wolf pups.

As well as giving fans the chance to take a cycle tour of these locations, the Winterfell Day Tour will also allow them to enjoy a re-enactment of King Robert's Winterfell arrival banquet in a replica Stark camp tent. Visitors will also be able to test their archery skills on the range where Jon Snow taught Bran how to shoot and try on official replica costumes and armour.

A spokesman for Clearsky Adventure, which is involved in the Winterfell Day Tours, said: "The Winterfell Day Tour will let you immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and mood of the North."

Game Of Thrones has turned Northern Ireland into a must-see destination for fans and with the announcement that two more series of the show have been commissioned, things are definitely looking bright.

GETTING THERE

Flybe has return flights from Glasgow to Belfast from £109. Aer Lingus flies from Dublin to Glasgow from £73 one way.

Prices for Winterfell Day Tour from £39 for adults and £30 for under 16s.

WHERE TO STAY

Rooms at the Belfast Hilton are priced from £124 per night. Visit placeshilton.com/belfast.

OTHER INFORMATION

The Dublin Winterfell Day Tour launches on Monday. The Belfast tour begins on June 8. Visit gameofthrones tours.com. For more information on the Game Of Thrones self-drive itinerary visit causewaycoast andglens.com/game-of-thrones-itinerary.t1163.aspx.

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