HBO is probably the United States' most popular and acclaimed cable network, closely linked to the so-called 'golden era' of television thanks to a string of massive shows including The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, and Westworld

Despite that success, and the popularity of those massive shows, it's surprisingly difficult to watch HBO live or browse its back catalogue in the UK or many other countries beyond the US. Here's how to watch HBO live or access the network's back catalogue through the HBO Now streaming service from anywhere, along with the best ways to watch HBO shows on UK channels.

How to watch HBO Now in the UK

If you want guaranteed access to everything HBO produces - including its extensive back catalogue - the easiest, cheapest legal method is to sign up for the HBO Now streaming service, which costs $15 per month - though there is a free trial.

This Netflix-esque streaming platform lets you watch all of HBO's content. While it doesn't include the option to live stream the HBO channel itself, it does add most original programming and films within minutes of the start time, so you can watch the latest Game of Thrones or Westworld episode almost-live. 

The big downside is that HBO uses geo-targeting to block users from outside of the US, so if you head to the HBO Now website you'll just see an error message. Of course, there is a way round this: use a VPN. This masks your IP address, allowing you to browse the web as if you're based in another country - in this case, as long as you connect through a US server, HBO will believe you're trying to watch from the US.

Our most recommended VPN is NordVPN, which you can sign up to from $2.75 per month, but check out our guide to the best VPNs for streaming video if you want to look at some of the other VPNs we've tested that are particularly well suited to streaming platforms like HBO Now.

Once you've signed up for your VPN of choice, simply activate it (making sure to select a US server) and head to the HBO Now website to sign up, or get hold of the HBO Now app on your device of choice. You should then be able to watch as if you were in the US.

As always when using a VPN to access content abroad, be aware that you'll be in violation of HBO Now's terms of use, so the company could theoretically cancel your account if it realises you're using a VPN. Proceed at your own risk.

HBO Now vs HBO Go

There's one small potential confusion worth clearing up: the difference between HBO Now and HBO Go.

For reasons best known to itself, HBO operates two separate streaming services which offer almost identical features and interfaces, and it's a little confusing to the novice. The main difference is how you pay for them though: HBO Now is a standalone service that anyone can sign up to for $15 a month, while HBO Go is provided to existing HBO cable subscribers free of charge.

If you're not in the US you're almost certainly not paying for HBO on cable, so you won't be able to sign up for HBO Go anyway. However, if you are a US cable subscriber who's staying or living abroad, you should be able to access HBO Go through a VPN just as you can with HBO Now.

Watch HBO shows on Sky Atlantic or Now TV

If signing up for both a VPN and HBO Now sounds like too much work - or money - then there is one more option in the UK: Sky Atlantic.

Sky has a deal with HBO to exclusively air the American network's shows in the UK, meaning that most major HBO shows - including both Game of Thrones and Westworld - air on Sky Atlantic. Some of these shows are even aired at the same time as in the US, so you don't have to risk GoT spoilers from American viewers. In addition to that the channel offers a number of shows from other premium American networks such as AMC and Showtime.

Because of that premium content, you can't add Sky Atlantic to a TV package with another provider - it's exclusive to Sky subscribers. So if you want to watch the latest HBO shows on Sky Atlantic you'll need to sign up to Sky - the channel is included in the Sky Entertainment package from £20 a month.

There is a cheaper way to access the same content: Sky Atlantic's shows are also included in the Now TV Entertainment Pass, which costs £7.99 per month and allows you to stream a variety of TV shows - from Sky channels and beyond, including the HBO series - from your phone, games console, smart TV, or PC.

Now TV is definitely the cheapest way to watch HBO shows in the UK, but it does come with one big disadvantage: while it always has the most recent shows, the service's access to the back catalogue varies considerably as licensing deals change. That means that at some points it will have every season of Game of Thrones, or the entirety of The Sopranos, but the next month it might be gone, so it's a less reliable way to watch old HBO shows than HBO Now is.