George R. R. Martin. Anybody who has been following television for the past few years will be familiar with his name, as it was his fantasy novel series that acted as the basis for the hit TV adaptation Game of Thrones. Though the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, was released in 1996, Game of Thrones the TV series wouldn’t appear on our screens until 2011. For the next eight years after that, the show would go from strength to strength, drawing in more audience appeal before finally concluding in 2019. Compared to the rest of the show, the final season was something of a sour note to conclude on.
Nonetheless, it was still an iconic series that has loyal fans all over the world. During the filming, many locations throughout our own world were used, from the green landscapes of Northern Ireland to the hottest regions of Spain. This is a project based on A song of Ice and Fire though, so they had to have had a cold location to film the lands north of the wall. For that, there is one country that fitted the bill perfectly: Iceland. Also, spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones, but if you don’t mind that, keep going.
For the next stop, swap out the sun cream for thick layers because the next stop on this list is the most sparsely populated country in Europe which sits in the Arctic Ocean Iceland. In a special feature about filming in Iceland, the producers mention that the reason they used locations like this country is that it creates a unique environment which just cannot be replicated on green screen. And honestly, I can see why. Iceland’s unique rock formations and glaciers - some of which can be visited yourself along with a tour guide - make this country an area of stunning natural beauty.
Iceland is not just a spot that Game of Thrones fans can enjoy but movie buffs as well, as other projects shot here include Star Wars, Batman Begins and Interstellar. A lot of the Game of Thrones locations filmed here were usually for those beyond the wall, as well as the scenes of dragon flight in later seasons. Fans of the wildlings are going to be in for a bit of a challenge though, as some of them can be a bit hard to find. Just makes your adventure in Iceland that much more adventurous, though!
Know Before You Go
The main airport to get into Iceland is the country’s main international airport Keflavík, which is one of the hubs for Icelandair. There are several airports to travel domestically in Iceland, with Reykjavík being easily reachable by bus, and the other three airports - Akureyri in the North, Egilsstaðir in the East, and Ísafjörður in the Westfjords - only about an hour’s flight from Reykjavík
While public transport within Iceland is a decent way of getting around, there are a few things worth noting. There are no trains here, and the buses operate on a seasonal pattern but always start operating at 7 am and finish at 11:30 pm. An example of which is the Ring Road, the main road that travels across the full circumference of the island. There are bus services which travel across the road throughout the summer, but there are less in operation during the winter.
The official public transport website is worth checking out, and they also have a free app to help you navigate. Also, a handy item to have if you’re staying in Reykjavik is a Reykjavik city card, which allows you free access into galleries, museums and saunas as well as free bus travel throughout the city during the card’s duration.
Driving a car is almost a necessity if you want to get anywhere outside of the cities and towns in Iceland, and the best place to get one is either Reykjavik or Keflavik. You need to be at least 18 years old and have held your license for a year. Drivers under the age of 25 are likely to incur a young driver surcharge on top of the rental costs. Traffic drives on the right, and it is forbidden to go off-road or up marked trails.
Depending on what you want to do, there are different times you may want to visit Iceland. While it can get very cold during this time, the best time to see the Northern Lights is between September and March, while the best time to visit for the heat is between June and August, with long days of sunlight and even a chance to see the midnight sun. The weather can get windy and stormy here, so be ready in case the weather suddenly changes.
The currency used in Iceland is Icelandic Króna. Also, locals rarely carry cash here, so you should be able to get away with just using your credit or debit card.
One of the attractions that draw people to Iceland are their geothermal springs. You’ve probably seen a photo of someone posing in the Blue Lagoon or another hot spring in Iceland. Well, now there is one that has been immortalised is Grjótagjá. This natural hot spring in a cave is where Jon and Ygritte have a private moment with each other in season three.
It’s open 24 hours and free entry to the public. Don’t forget your bathing suit! But also double check with the guides - though this spring has been used for years as a bathing spot by the locals, a nearby volcano erupted in 1975, raising the water temperature in this spring to dangerous levels, and people weren’t allowed to go in. The heat has fallen since then, and people are allowed to swim there again, but better to be safe than sorry.
Thingvellir National Park / Nesjavellir
Outside the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík by about 40 kilometres is the Thingvellier National Park. Also known as Þingvellir, this UNESCO world heritage site was used as a location for scenes on the other side of the wall. This includes the Oxararfoss Trail, which was actually a popular tourist destination before the Game of Thrones film crews arrived.
One of the challenges that they faced was shooting here holding the tourists off while they made the most of their filming. Also, while other Iceland scenes were shot during winter, the Bloody Gate scenes were shot during the summer, and for a country that is well known for its cold, the warm summer was an unpleasant surprise for the actors and extra who were wearing furs and armour.
Scenes shot here include Arya Stark and The Hound travelling together, Sansa Stark and Littlefinger approaching the Bloody Gate, and the sword fight between Brienne of Tarth and the Hound.
The land beyond the walls is a vast place, and few locations will stand out to fans. One of them is the First of the First Men, in which the Night’s Watch suffer heavy losses against the White Walkers. This was shot at Mýrdalsjökull Glacier, the fourth-largest ice cap in Iceland and the most frequented for glacial hiking and ice climbing.
Don’t worry, there isn’t much to worry about here. No White Walkers, just Iceland’s largest volcano of, Katla, which at the time of writing is apparently long overdue for an explosion. And I mean it, there’s nothing to worry about - this volcano is closely monitored by experts, so access will be cut off in the event that Katla stirs. In fact, you can even visit Katla along with the glacier with the help of a professional guide if you want to.
Located on the western side of Iceland, the Snæfellsnes peninsula is nicknamed ‘Iceland in miniature’ due to all the natural features in this area. One of the most famous landmarks in this area is a win peaked glacier called Snæfellsjökull. However, for fans, this location is worth visiting for another easily recognisable landmark
The unique Kirkjufell Mountain, which translates to church mountain, is known as Arrowhead Mountain in the show, appears twice in Game of Thrones, first in season six then in season seven. The mountain itself isn’t too far from the town of Grundarfjörður, and you can hike up the mountain, but this can only be done in the summer and should be done with a guide, as tragic accidents have happened here.
A short drive away from Grjótagjá is another location for the wildling scenes. Near Lake Mývatn, Dimmuborgir is recgonizable for its large basalt towers which have been created by lava movement in the area. The name Dimmuborgir actually translates to The Dark Fortress.
I wonder if that is what encouraged the producers to come out to this location, as it is here that in the show Jon goes undercover with wildlings, and it is this particular location which is used for Mance Rayder’s Wildling camp in Season three.
Where to stay
Located on the Western side of Iceland in Snaefellsnes Penninsula, this hostel and theatre was converted from an old fish processing factory, and during the summer, you can get complimentary tickets to events hosted here.
Mid Range - Akureyri Backpackers, Akureyri
The private rooms at this hostel offer a comfortable stay with a central location in Akureyri, within walking distance of many different cafes and restaurants.
Luxury - Guesthouse 1x6, Keflavik
With its own thermal bath, private parking and a shuttle service to the airport, this edo-friendly guesthouse is a great place to stay at the start or end of your trip.