With the premiere of House of the Dragon, the prequel drama depicting the Targaryen dynasty’s rise and conquest of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, it's the perfect time to reacquaint yourself with that world, on a visit to the Game of Thrones Studio Tour, the world’s only permanent exhibition devoted to the biggest TV show ever.

The Studio Tour’s journey through Game of Thrones begins in a manner that harks right back to the eerie opening moments of that very first episode. To say more would be a crime punishable by a visit from the King’s Justice Ser Ilyn Payne, and I’m not about to risk that – but it’s a great way of immersing you in the show’s world. And soon after entering you find yourself deep in the frozen lands beyond the Wall, face to face with the Big Bad himself: the sinister Night King, flanked by his terrifying White Walkers.

As it draws you on, the Game of Thrones Studio Tour takes you on two parallel journeys. One is through the saga itself, following every twist and turn of the road to the Iron Throne. Along the way the worlds of Westeros and Essos open up in a way that makes you feel like you’re actually there – whether it’s in the mess hall of Castle Black, with a cauldron of soup bubbling away over a crackling log fire, or in the Dragonstone map room with its huge carved dragon heads and friezes. Or in the Great Hall at Winterfell, arranged in a way that recalls the final episodes as the surviving Starks and their allies prepare to take the battle to their enemies.

The other journey that you follow is the behind-the-scenes evolution of the show, from script to screen – beginning with detailed storyboards that plot every beat of the action, through elaborate design drawings and hugely impressive miniatures and maquettes, to the finished product – with costumes, prop weapons, prosthetics and full scale sets that are awe-inspiring in their artistry and attention to detail.  

Take the costumes, for instance; every element has been thought through and pored over. The painstaking ornamentation applied to clothes and armour expresses the personalities of the people that wear them – so the Starks’ costumes, although befitting their noble status, are primarily designed for warmth and survival in the harsh North, by contrast with the ostentatious display of power and wealth favoured by the Lannisters.  

There are subtler hints at character too; at first glance Littlefinger’s outfit is plain to the point of anonymity, giving nothing away - but hidden deep in the folds and seams are richer but still muted patterns, hinting at the seething ambition he works so hard to conceal. Euron Greyjoy’s vicious-looking armour includes a scabbard secreted in the small of his back to conceal a dagger – the perfect tool for a backstabbing maniac of a pirate.

The craftsmanship is staggering – just one example is the pikestaff belonging to Areo Hotah, the bodyguard of the Prince of Dorne, Doran Martell. Areo appears in just a handful of scenes but his signature weapon is a work of art, inlaid with jewels and intricate patterns. It’s this meticulous attention to detail that’s one of the most impressive aspects of the Game of Thrones Studio Tour. Some of these objects are barely glimpsed onscreen, like Lyanna Stark’s wedding collar, only seen in the briefest of flashbacks – but they add to the richness and depth of the worldbuilding, making the characters and the cultures they inhabit live and breathe in a truly extraordinary way.  

It’s easy to miss out on the smaller details, like a nondescript wooden crate that seems like it might be there to add some background colour – but then you realise there are growls and scrabbling noises coming from within, and this is none other than the box containing a ‘live and kicking’ wight, that the Hound hefts into the Dragonpit to prove the threat of the army of the dead is real.

There’s so much to see that the tour’s designers have cleverly sited the café halfway through – they are clearly proud of the show’s achievement in bringing a whole world to life so vividly and want you to be able to take your time savouring it. To experience everything the Game of Thrones Studio Tour has to offer, you’ll need a good four hours at least. Take the time as well to talk to the friendly tour guides and staff; many were extras in the show and have their own special memories and stories to share (our initial guide was a member of the Night’s Watch).

It’s also important to say that while Game of Thrones is very much for grown-ups, the Studio Tour is designed as an attraction that the whole family can enjoy. The five year old wildling in our company was bowled over by Wun Wun the giant and the vast dragon skulls. He had great fun with the many interactive exhibits, especially one that lets you design a shield with your own noble house sigil (so much so, that we had to visit again after a break in the café). Another big hit were the screens that demonstrate the CGI effects, transforming you from a stick figure to a computer wireframe and then to an armoured Kingsguard or a shambling zombie – although the disco shapes he threw probably weren’t what the designers had in mind…  

Yet another interactive exhibit we all loved lets you take part in the defence of Winterfell during the Long Night, using fire arrows to fend off the remorseless onslaught of the Night King’s army. There are plenty of amazing photo opportunities too, such as taking on a White Walker with Jon Snow’s sword Longclaw. And no visit would be complete without the chance to instal yourself on the Iron Throne as the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms (our little lord found himself flanked by an honour guard of real-life Lannister soldiers for the occasion).

Whether you’re a card-carrying Thronie or a casual visitor, the tour offers a compelling insight into the production of a blockbuster show that rewrote the rules of what television can achieve. And of course you can supplement your visit by seeing some of the other attractions around Northern Ireland that have become iconic for their links to the show, like the Doors of Thrones or the Glass of Thrones trail. But whether the Game of Thrones Studio Tour is your starting point or the end of your quest, it’s a not-to-be-missed attraction. 

Take adventage of the ‘Kids Go Free’ offer running during Summer. For information and to book tickets, visit gameofthronesstudiotour.com 

Game of Thrones Studio Tour
Game of Thrones Experiences
See how it all began, from script to screen at Game of Thrones Studio Tour.

Created in official partnership with Warner Bros., the world’s first and only Game of Thrones Studio Tour has arrived in Northern Ireland.   Located at the authentic filming location of Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge, County Down, Game of Thrones Studio Tour invites you to experience the world of Game of Thrones like never before.