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Fan of HBO’s “Game of Thrones?” If you’re really into it, you probably know that some of the show’s most spectacular scenes were shot in Iceland. And, believe it or not, the reality is, the country is even more jaw-dropping in real life than it is on screen which makes planning a visit to its filming locations the ultimate travel experience. While there are plenty of tours that will take you around, you can rent a car and head out on your own.
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Vik, Iceland’s southernmost village, is famous for its midnight black sand beach and its spectacular rock formations that rise out of the sea like the Trolls of Vik. Legend has it that this unique formation of pillars was formed when trolls attempted to drag three ships ashore. The Höfðabrekka hiking area located nearby was used to film the sweeping panoramic vistas that were featured in Season 2 when Jon Snow ventured into the formidable Frostfang Mountains beyond the Wall. This area also appears as the frozen wasteland of northern Westeros, with Mýrdalsjökull glacier serving as the “Fist of the First Men.”
Skaftafell, a wilderness area in Vatnajökull National Park served as the setting for winter scenes beyond the Wall after Season 2, particularly around one of the outlet glaciers of Vatnajökul. Europe’s largest glacier, known as Svínafellsjökull. In this land of ice, you’ll also find stunningly beautiful ice caves, some of which can be explored in winter when cold temperatures have hardened the ice. Expert-led tour guides offer the chance to get close to the brilliant blue frozen ceilings that are studded with stalactites and stalagmites.
Iceland doesn’t just fill in for the land beyond The Wall. The pass to the impregnable Eyrie is actually found in the Thingvellir National Park in the southwest, which is part of a popular tourist route not far from Reykjavik. Look out for it in Season four, when Brienne and the Hound engage in a bloody battle. The park was first used for lush summer scenes, with the green fields, intense blue sky and snow-capped mountains so dazzling it could easily be mistaken for a dream. This is also the area where you can even look for, and with some luck, find rare “dragonglass.” The shiny obsidian or “volcanic glass,” is a slice of cooled lava that serves as a precious resource for fashioning weapons used against the White Walkers.
In Season 4, a goat herder’s son throws rocks into Thorufoss Waterfall which sits in a lush valley near Thingvellir along the Laxá í Kjós River. While the waterfall cascades only about 40 feet, the surrounding scenery is especially awe-inspiring. While the scene was one of the most beautiful of the season, it didn’t end well. The young boy peacefully watched his father’s goats as the grass gently swayed on the hill, but moments later one of Dany’s dragons proceeded to barbecue it all.
In Season 3, Mance Rayder and the Free Folk build a camp on the lava field Dimmuborgir in the Lake Myvtan region near Akureyri in North Iceland. The country’s fourth largest natural lake, it as established as a conservation area in 1974, internationally renowned for its bird life and wide variety of duck species – during the summer there are more different species of ducks gathered on and around the lake than anywhere else on the planet. Surrounded by striking volcanic features, it’s well worth exploring, GoT fan or not.
Grjotagja Cave is famous as Jon Snow and Ygritte’s “love cave.” The small lava cave with a hot spring was the very spot where Jon lost his virginity on the show in Season 3, and the scene that sparked a real-life relationship between the actors themselves, Kit Harington and Rose Leslie who are now engaged. While the cave is surrounded by ice and snow much of the time, inside, the spring can get as hot as 120 degrees Fahrenheit, which may explain at least part of the reason Jon and Ygritte were so hot. It’s located near Lake Mývatn and has been used as a bathing spot for locals for centuries, an ideal place to warm up during the frigid Icelandic winters.
The Dimmuborgir lava field which lies east of Myvatna near Grjótagjá Cave, served as the Wildling Camp. It’s famous for its bizarre rock formations that give it the appearance of being a an entirely different planet. It’s also significant in Icelandic folklore, linked to hell and the home of murderous trolls.
Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng is a site with ruins of a real Viking Settlement-Age farm as well as featuring a recreated Viking-era farmstead that was used as the filming location for Olly’s village south of the Wall in Season 4. While it’s an especially tranquil setting, it was used for a very violent scene when the Wildlings raided a village leaving only the small boy, Olly, as the sole survivor. By exploring the farm, open in the summer months, you can get a glimpse how the Vikings lived, including the long-fire in the main hall where the inhabitants worked and relaxed at the end of the day, telling stories.
Kirkjufellfoss is the jaw-dropping waterfall that’s so often pictured in Iceland postcards and brochures, situated on the north coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It first appeared as the birthplace of the Night King in Season 6. Kirkjufell is the 1,520-foot-high mountain that rises just behind it, used as the “Arrowhead Mountain” in later episodes. The town of Grundarfjordur nearby is a popular whale watching destination, with large numbers of herring coming into its sheltered waters attracting orca whales.