BELFAST, Northern Ireland — A new product has been added to the aisles at historic St. George’s Market: dragon eggs. Targaryen-farmed, no less.
The idea for the remote-controlled eggs that vibrate when curious customers lean in for a closer look was hatched by Tourism Ireland and HBO, the network behind the epic fantasy drama “Game of Thrones.”
Like Daenerys and her dragons, Northern Ireland and the HBO hit share an intimate bond. Most of the sprawling series is filmed here. Within a 75-mile radius of Belfast, to be exact.
Starting in April, wooden signs — some topped with replicas of three-eyed ravens — began popping up along the rugged landscape, directing people to well-known “Thrones” locations like Winterfell and Dragonstone. It’s all part of a three month-long publicity stunt aimed at promoting the launch of the drama’s fifth season and the tourism tied to the show’s success.
The world’s most-pirated TV series is the biggest thing to come out of Northern Ireland since the Titanic, and tourism officials know it. They’re hoping the fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels will work the same kind of magic on their visitor numbers as “Lord of the Rings” did for New Zealand.
Last year, I joined the growing ranks of “Game of Thrones” fans making a pilgrimage to Northern Ireland to see some of the spots where the magic literally happens.
“The groundswell of people understanding how much of the show is shot in this country is only starting to happen now,” Robbie Boake, “Game of Thrones” supervising location manager, told me in a phone interview shortly before my trip. “The tour operators are only starting to get busy and understand that there’s a lot to show people. Word of mouth has spread.”
Near the tiny village of Cushendon, I was one of a steady trickle of tourists doing my best to ignore the light drizzle as I made my way down a short coastal path. I was told you can see Scotland in the distance on a clear day. This was not a clear day. But I wasn’t here to see Scotland. I was here to check out the cave where sorceress Melisandre gave birth to a shadow baby in season two.
Stepping into the dark mouth of the eerie cavern while the waves crashed outside instantly transported me to that memorable scene.
Fans looking for a bit of real-world Westeros will want to hit Clearsky Adventure Centre near Downpatrick, roughly 45 minutes from Belfast. Clearsky occupies the 16th century courtyard that doubled as Winterfell, crib of the Starks.
Visitors can dress up in “Game of Thrones” garb and try their hand at archery in the same place that Robb Stark and Jon Snow attempted to school Bran in the use of a bow and arrow. (Normally, Renaissance Fair-style role play is not my jam. But I’ll admit that it was fun donning one of those heavy-as-hell cloaks and posing for some hammy pictures.)
You can rent mountain bikes at Clearsky and get a scroll map showing various routes dotted with “Game of Thrones” filming locations, like the tree that held a trio of hanging corpses encountered by Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister on their trek to King’s Landing.
In nearby Tollymore Forest Park at the foot of the Mourne Mountains — the rocky backdrop to the Eyrie — we pedaled to the serene spot where Jon Snow doled out direwolf pups in season one. A short hike leads to a circle of tall trees where a slew of dismembered wildlings were artfully arranged in the chilling series premiere.
Day trips that take in these sites, among others, are available from Belfast and Dublin through GameOfThronesTours.com, or you can book directly at Clearsky.
Another option, McComb’s coach tours, is based out of Belfast. Stops include a picturesque fishing harbor in Ballintoy, where Theon Greyjoy — in his pre-Reek days — arrived home to the Iron Islands. You’ll get a photo op at the Dark Hedges, the beech trees that flanked the Kingsroad as Arya Stark, disguised as a boy, escaped King’s Landing.
Travelers who’d rather go the DIY route can pick up a rental car and “Game of Thrones” map at Budget or plot their course with these helpful resources from Tourism Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland.
“It’s the adaptability that the countryside has to offer which makes Northern Ireland so valuable to a series like this,” said Boake, a South Africa native.
He’s used the versatile landscape of this wee country — measuring one-tenth the area of Illinois — for everything from scenes set in warmer climates, like the city of Vaes Dothrak, to those that unfold in the icy tundra north of the Wall. The deep-pocketed production also has filmed in Iceland, Croatia, Malta, Morocco and Spain.
The main soundstages for “Game of Thrones” are in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, in the massive Paint Hall complex behind the impressive Titanic museum (a must-see). Visitors aren’t allowed inside the film studio, so forget about getting a peek at the Iron Throne.
You might, however, get a glimpse of Hodor hanging around Belfast. The actor who plays him, Kristian Nairn, is a longtime DJ at the gay nightclub The Kremlin.
“Game of Thrones” airs at 8 p.m. Central, 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific on Sundays on HBO.