Game of Thrones Tours Launch In Europe

horslips5, Flickr

Game of Thrones fans can now visit familiar filming locations on new walking tours around Belfast, Northern Ireland and Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Here all all the details for you Game of Thrones fans out there, courtesy of tour company Viator:

  • In Belfast, a 9-hour private tour takes visitors along the Causeway Coastal Route, which should be instantly recognizable to any fans of the HBO series. Pose for photos on the Dark Hedges road before crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and see the caves where Melisandre of Asshai gave birth to a shadow baby before stopping for lunch at Ballintoy Harbour, which is known as Lordsport Harbour in the series. The tour also includes a stop at the UNESCO-listed Giant’s Causeway.
  • Four-hour walking tours in Dubrovnik take fans to the setting of King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms in the series. Visitors will check out Lovrijenac Fortress and climb the city walls that were attacked by the Baratheons in the first series, from which point they can look out over Blackwater Bay. According to Viator, a guide will also take visitors to several city parks used to film countryside scenes in the series.

In addition to Northern Ireland and Croatia, Game of Thrones has also filmed in Malta, Iceland and Morocco – but no tours have been announced there as of now. The fact that these tours have been developed, however, is a powerful testament to the effect popular culture has on tourism.

[Via Skift]

Five Places To Anchor Yourself In Titanic History

“Titanic” 3D hit cinemas this week just in time to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the ship’s fateful voyage. But the box office isn’t the only place you can pay tribute to the ship. Two new Titanic museums are opening up just in time to celebrate the ship’s anniversary, and there are many other places that are keeping the ship and its passengers’ legacy afloat. Below are some places where stories of the Titanic live on.

Titanic Museum Attraction
Branson, Missouri
You can’t miss the Titanic Museum Attraction in Branson, Missouri mostly because of its massive size and shape (even among all of Branson’s other over-the-top attractions). The exterior is designed to replicate the ocean liner, complete with an iceberg at the museum entrance. Inside, guests receive a “passenger boarding ticket” with the name and story of an actual Titanic passenger (the idea is to find out if you survived or perished through the course of your stay). The museum also has displays about what each class looked like, as well as plenty of authentic Titanic memorabilia including lifejackets, deck chairs and letters. The museum will hold a special musical tribute to the Titanic on Saturday, April 14, the 100th anniversary of the night the ship fatally struck an iceberg. Descendants of actual Titanic passengers are expected to attend and there will be a lighting of an eternal flame during the tribute. The attraction also has a sister museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.Maritime Museum, Southampton
Southampton, England
The goal of this soon-to-be-debuted museum is to tell Southampton’s side of the Titanic story. One of England’s largest passenger ports, the Titanic left from Southampton on its maiden voyage and the city lost 500 residents when the ship sank. The museum will explore the lives of the working-class crew as well as the impact their tragedy had on families back home in Southampton. Visitors follow the careers of cooks, stewards and watchmen, and the tour culminates in a teary-eyed video featuring recordings from survivors.

Titanic Belfast
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Another newbie to the crop of museums is the Titanic Belfast Visitor Center opened last Saturday to celebrate the birthplace of the Titanic. The museum is located in the heart of Belfast on one of the slipways where the ship was built. Now the world’s largest museum dedicated to the Titanic, the $160-million center looks similar to the Sydney Opera House with four prows of the ship jutting out in different directions. The museum houses exhibits where visitors can learn about the construction of the ship as well as the rich story of Northern Ireland’s maritime heritage. At the time of writing, tickets were already sold out through April 16.

Titanic Historical Society Museum
Indian Orchard, Massachusetts
The oldest Titanic museum in the U.S. is the Titanic Historical Society Museum in Massachusetts. At the entrance of the museum visitors are greeted with a 9-foot model of the ship. Inside, Titanic fanatics will find artifacts from the ship and its passengers, many of which were donated by survivors. Highlights include the lifejacket of the wealthy John Jacob Astors, original blueprints of the ship, a rivet from the ship’s hull, a carved oak chair from the ship’s dining room and even the wireless message received by the Titanic that stated the location of the fatal iceberg (it never made it to the bridge of the ship).

The Jane Hotel
New York, New York
For a little slice of Titanic history that is closer to home for many of our readers, stop by the ballroom of the Jane Hotel. Known for small, ship cabin-esque rooms and discount prices, the hotel is actually anchored to the ship’s past. Back when it was known as the American Seaman’s Friend Society Sailors’ Home and Institute, the hotel put up surviving crew members after disaster struck. A private memorial was held in the hotel on April 19, 1912. Today it remains a respite for weary travelers. The hotel will be offering two signature cocktails that commemorate the Titanic anniversary in its ballroom: the Bourbon-based “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” in honor of the only woman to row a boat to safety after the tragedy, and the Champagne-based “ST-705,” named as such for the 705 passengers that survived.

Images (top to bottom) courtesy the Titanic Museum Attraction, Titanic Belfast and The Jane Hotel.

Belfast airport now charging for smoking

Belfast, smoking areaBelfast International Airport has introduced a new charge. After deciding to charge people £1 ($1.64) to drop off passengers and £1 for a clear plastic bag to put liquids in, now passengers are going to be charged £1 to use the smoking areas.

Airport officials defend the charges saying it costs them extra to maintain separate smoking areas, which are used only by a minority of the passengers.

Smokers will have to insert a pound coin into a coin slot to open the doors to the smoking area. Do you think this is fair? Take the poll below or sound off in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Piotrus via Wikimedia Commons]

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Five things to do in (and around) Dublin, even in the rainy winter

things to do in dublin

Ah, Dublin. Home to Guinness, a Leprechaun museum, an absurdly tall spire and the famous / infamous Temple Bar quarter. It’s also home to around 300 days of cloudy or rainy weather, which begs the question: why are you fixing to fork out hundreds, possibly thousands more just to visit in the summer? There’s no question that the weather in Europe is far more palatable in the spring and summer months, but it’s also shockingly expensive. A flight to anywhere within the EU jumps up by orders of magnitude as soon as you select June, July or August as your departure date and in the case of Ireland, there’s really no need to hand over extra to an airline when you could be spending those dollars Euros on attractions, pub food and better hotels. I’ve always been a fan of visiting places in the off-season, and Dublin’s no different. Read on to learn of five slightly off-the-wall things to do in (and around) the Irish capital.

%Gallery-117267%Visiting U2′s former recording digs: Windmill Lane Studios

things to do in dublin

A good part of the entire world knows that U2 hails from Ireland, but if you’re a hardcore fan, you owe it to yourself to see where things began. The (now-defunct) Windmill Lane Studios is where the group recorded Joshua Tree, War and Boy, and while the studio itself has now relocated to a different section of Dublin, the prior building still stands as part of the Rock ‘N Stroll history trail. It’s covered in graffiti, and you’ll know you’re near the entrance when you start seeing loads of U2 shout-outs from tourists around the globe. Feel free to pack a Sharpie and leave your token of appreciation (and hometown) behind. Directions to the studio are here — this is one time where you’ll need to read up rather than trusting Google Maps.

A dainty stroll through Powerscourt Gardens and The River Walk

things to do in dublin

What’s a trip to Dublin without a trip out of Dublin? The Powerscourt Estate sits just 45 minutes south, within County Wicklow, and it’s a slice of age-old paradise. The House & Gardens are well worth exploring — it’s some of the most beautiful grounds these eyes have ever seen — and since it’ll tough to return after just a day, I’d recommend an overnight stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt. You’ll get free cycles to rent, a free pass to the absolutely stunning River Walk and pampering that you’ve always dreamed of. The only problem? It’ll make your city center digs seem downright plain. Read more on our visit here.

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Pub hop on O’Connell Street and the Temple Bar area

things to do in dublin

If you’re coming to Dublin for the first time, there are two names you really need to know within the city center: O’Connell and Temple. The former is dotted with a massive spire and includes a number of famed pubs and shops, while the Temple Bar area is just across the bridge (look for the giant Heiniken sign, and turn right). There, you’ll find budget accommodations (hostels galore), and more pubs than any lightweight could ever visit in a night. The Auld Dubliner is a personal favorite for grub and drinks, and the live musicians that show up there are tremendously talented. Oh, and make sure you order Guinness. Anything else just wouldn’t be Irish enough.

Venture west to the Cliffs of Moher, The Burren and Bunratty Castle

things to do in dublin

The east coast is gorgeous, but the west? Doubly so. Paddywagon Tours offers a 12 hour day trip to the west of Ireland, hitting County Galway (and the Bay), Corcomroe Abbey (a gorgeous church left in ruins), Poulnabrone Dolmen Portal Tomb (a standing monument from 4,000+ years ago), The Burren (a totally unique and mind-blowing rocky landscape), Doolin (Ireland’s unofficially official Irish music capital), the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher and finally, Bunratty Castle. At around $70 per person (admission to the Cliffs inclued), you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better value when it comes to gawking at the highlights on the opposite side of the Republic. Try to peek the forecast ahead of time and lock down a day with a lesser chance of rain, but even if it pours, take a raincoat and soak it all in — Ireland wouldn’t be as green as it is without nature’s tears, you know!

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Leave the country… by car

things to do in dublin

If you’re brave enough to take the wheel while situated on the passenger’s side of the car (not to mention remembering to keep your motorcar on the left of the road), you can head straight to Northern Ireland via road. And you’ll be there in under two hours. Belfast and the surrounding areas offer some pretty extreme outdoor activities, and while it may be a bit chilly and rainy in the off-season, you’ll be fighting fewer crowds all the while. If you aren’t so adventurous, the lovely lads at Paddywagon offer another day trip to Belfast, and we can personally attest to their adeptness at handling reverse traffic.

[Images provided by Dana Jo Photography]

All of these activities were enjoyed during the height of the off-season in Ireland, and I’d obviously recommend ‘em to anyone. Pack a few warm layers and a solid raincoat, and head out with a mind to enjoy yourself no matter what. If you have any other off-season Dublin must-dos, toss ‘em into the comments section below!

Why You Should Go to Belfast Right Now

Why Belfast is the most exciting places to go right nowThere’s a second-floor lounge across the street from Belfast’s ornate city hall. It looks like a lot of cosmopolitan lounges in any capital city on the planet: colored backlighting, sleek banquettes, and electonica seeping from the speakers. But Apartment, as it’s called, is kind of radical. Why? Because of the floor-to-ceiling front windows.

To understand why these windows are so revolutionary, let’s go back ten years. Apartment opened in 2000 when the center of town was still desolate and citizens were still wary of car bombs. “People thought we were mad when we first opened,” said Apartment’s manager, Morgan Watson, when I sat down with him for a drink, amid the club’s thumping DJ beats and crammed cocktail-quaffing crowd. “After the Good Friday peace agreement in 1998, we thought it was time to take back the city center. And the floor-to-ceiling windows which look out at city hall are symbolic of this—it’s our way of saying let’s look at the future.” Since then a dozens pubs and clubs have popped up, all evoking more SoHo chic than the sectarian sensibilities of the past.

Which is why Belfast is one of the most exciting places to go right now. This city of 275,000 people was once a city with reputation for having the world’s best knee and skull reconstruction specialists in the world. And for good reason. There was a demand for them. But, as evidenced by the continued (peaceful) existence of Apartment’s front windows, all that is changing.

Titanic-sized portions of foreign investment have transformed the city’s Victorian streets–many of which still boast ’50s and ’60s–era butcher shops and pharmacies-into a cosmopolitan 21st-century city; and where an infectious spirit of optimism has emerged, one akin to Eastern Europe a few years after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Sure, there have been a few hiccups in the peace process, but going to Belfast now is no longer a dare in the way it used to be. When I spent a few days there, I couldn’t help but feel I was watching the city’s rebirth happen in front of my eyes.

But, you’re probably recalling right now, weren’t there some flair-ups of the Troubles in Belfast just this last July? There were, but that was because of the usually incendiary Orange Order parade, a Protestant procession that occurs annually in mid July. Just avoid Belfast and Northern Ireland’s six counties around then, and you’ll be fine. And even if you do find yourself in Northern Ireland during the procession, have no fear. If there is violence, it’s not aimed at tourists.

“We’ve been trying to put Belfast on the nightlife map,” Watson told me, regarding both Apartment and the city’s next generation. “People are starting to realize that there’s more to Belfast than just bombs and bullets.”

That said, one of the most intriguing aspects of the city is taking in the graffiti along the walls that still separate the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods.

The next morning, accompanied by Hugh, a friend of a friend, I left the center of town and headed for Shankill Road and Falls Road, two infamous Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, respectively. Seeing these parts of the city–knowing that this reality still exists–Hugh explained, is an integral part of the Belfast experience.

As our BMW freely glided from religiously segregated neighborhood to religiously segregated neighborhood, barbed wire-topped “peace” walls separating them and flags marking each area’s allegiance, Belfast seemed to go from optimistic to ominous. Though British troops are gone and neighborhood checkpoints have disappeared, the out-of-the-center neighborhoods are a sober reminder of the recently ended Troubles. Hugh steered my attention to various points of past thuggery: a bomb blew up a pub here, stray bullets killed innocent people there. Now, I thought, was as good a time as ever to ask an important question: how can you tell who’s who?

“Spell my name,” he said, as if he’d been expecting the question.

“H-U-G-H”

“Right,” said Hugh, as he swung the car around slower traffic. “That’s how it would sound if I spelled it also. But a Protestant would spell it like this: H-U-G-H. Hear the difference?”

I didn’t. To my non-Catholic, non-Protestant, non-Irish ears, it all sounded the same.

“It doesn’t really matter to us either,” Hugh said. “Though we’re not fully integrated, we’re also not worried about these differences now.”

Just then, Hugh stopped the car. We idled in the shadow of a towering, gray wall. “People come from all over the world and leave their messages here,” he said, and then pointed to some squiggly red lines painted on the wall. “See what some Berliners did–they painted those red lines on the wall to symbolize cracks in it.” A nearby spray painted slogan read, “The biggest wall in Belfast is the one in people’s minds.”

That night, as I ate at Cayenne, a restaurant from one-time Michelin-starred chef Paul Rankin, who has received accolades the world over for serving elevated Irish fare, I realized there was a big picture window in the front of the restaurant. I think I’ll never think of windows the same again.