The beautiful Sn;fellsnes at sunset.

Where can you find Game of Thrones filming locations in Iceland? Do you want to visit the breathtaking scenery of the lands Beyond the Wall or the Bloody Gate? Why did the producers choose Iceland and how did the cast and crew get on filming here? Winter is coming, so read on and get to know the ins and outs of Game of Thrones in Iceland. 



CONTENTS

   1 - What is 'Game of Thrones'

   2 - Why Was Game of Thrones Filmed in Iceland?

   3 - Þingvellir National Park

       3.1  The Bloody Gate

       3.2 Brienne & the Hound

       3.3  Countryside Meereen

   4 - The Glaciers of Iceland

       4.1 The Fist of the First Men

       4.2  Beyond the Wall

       4.3 Jon & his Band of 'Merry' Men

   5 - The South Coast of Iceland

       5.1 Olly's Village

       5.2 Catching a Wight

       5.3  Eastwatch-By-the-Sea

   6 - North Iceland - Mývatn Region

       6.1  Ygritte & Jon Snow's Love Cave

       6.2  Mance Rayder's Wildling Camp

       6.3  Corner of the Haunted Forest

   7 - West Iceland - Snæfellsnes Peninsula

       7.1  The Mountain Shaped Like an Arrowhead

   8 - Honourable Mentions

      8.1 The Mountain That Rides

      8.2  The Icelandic Horse

      8.3  Extras

 

What is 'Game of Thrones'?        

Games of Thrones is a hit fantasy-drama television epic adapted from the book series a ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ by George R.R. Martin. Since its 2011 inception, the show has experienced unbridled success, culminating in a devoted audience of over 25-million tuning in to each highly anticipated new episode.

Scouted initially as a location for snowy shots Beyond the Wall, Iceland has served as a backdrop for many poignant scenes in the show since Season 2 and is confirmed to feature in the keenly-awaited final instalment to be aired in 2019—at least so it appears as stars Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) and Emilia Clark (Daenerys Targaryen) were spotted here in February 2018. 



The ambition and sheer scale of the show have expanded the boundaries of television and, understandably, accrued a broad and fiercely loyal fan base to boot. Game of Thrones creators have married the plot of the show so seamlessly to iconic Icelandic landmarks that each year thousands of Westerosi devotees flock to the country to walk in the footsteps as their favourite characters.

Why Was Game of Thrones Filmed in Iceland?            

"When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground."

Iceland has long been a popular international filming location; alongside breathtaking natural scenery, the sub-Arctic position of the island creates unique and often moody innate lighting conditions. An enticing combination for any film-maker.

The unique and varied landscapes Iceland has to offer are widely described as otherworldly and many of its natural features are associated with native mythologies and folklore. Defiant sea stacks are petrified trolls, rock formations are said to be inhabited by ‘hidden people’, and legendary volcanic eruptions the results of the wrath of gods. In this land of legends, dragons and White Walkers are, by Icelandic standards, not too bold a leap of the imagination. 



After the success of the first season, the producers were granted an increased budget (and confidence in the producers' artistic license) to further develop the world of Games of Thrones. Instead of ploughing these funds into VFX (visual effects), the producers sought to invest in authentic locations that would naturally evoke the world they were trying to create.

So when scouting for a real-world environment to represent the land North of the Wall, described in the novels as a brutal, barren and frozen landscape, the Game of Thrones creators settled on Iceland. Boasting the largest ice caps in Europe as well as harsh winter weather conditions, Iceland lends elemental realism to scenes played out on screen.

Since Season 2, some of the best-known attractions in Iceland have doubled for locations on either side of the wall. For the fourth season, the cast returned in the summer months to film inside dramatic gorges and amidst verdant moss-covered lava landscapes. 



One quality the producers do remark upon is that although many locations appear to be incredibly far-flung, many are accessible and close to well-travelled routes, making them perfect to transport equipment, cast and crew.

The uninterrupted Icelandic nature offers endless possibilities for visions of pre-industrial fantasies and the stark, severe beauty of the land tell the brutal story of Game of Thrones as if it were its own history.

This article serves as a comprehensive guide for all Game of Thrones filming spots in Iceland to date and how you can find them. The shooting locations will be listed starting from the closest to the capital, Reykjavík going in an anti-clockwise direction around the country following Highway 1, the Ring Road, which encircles the whole island.

Spoilers!

You do not need to be a Game of Thrones fan to appreciate the vast and untarnished beauty of Iceland, however, in the guide that follows, we explore the country closely through the lens of the show and there will be inevitable spoilers should you not be up-to-date.

Thingvellir National Park          

An arieal view of Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only one in Iceland.

One of the most-visited locations in Iceland, Þingvellir National Park is one of the three main attractions that make-up the famous Golden Circle route which also includes Haukadalur Geothermal Valley and the magnificent Gullfoss waterfall.

In addition to featuring repeatedly in Game of Thrones, Þingvellir is remarkable for a number of reasons. The only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Iceland, it was the meeting point for the first Icelandic parliament, the Alþingi, formed in 930 AD. The Alþingi is still in operation today, albeit now in Reykjavík, rendering it the world's oldest active parliament. 

The rugged Almannagjá gorge dominates the scenery and it is exceptional as it marks the space between the Noth American and Eurasian tectonic plates. As you walk in your heroes' footsteps, through the mossy walls of this ridge, there is the extra novelty that you are in fact walking between two continents. This marks the boundary of the Mid-Atlantic Rift on which Iceland is formed, and it's the only place on earth this natural phenomenon is visible above sea-level.

There are many tours which operate out of Reykjavík to travel the Golden Circle, some even explore the attractions with a Game of Thrones twist. You can easily rent a car and explore the area for yourself at your own leisure; the route is well-maintained and manageable any time of year. 

Let's take a look at some of the main shooting locations from Þingvellir National Park. 



'The Bloody Gate' | Oxararfoss Trail          

The Almannagjá gorge is used in multiple scenes in Game of Thrones.

Although a popular and busy tourist attraction, the Game of Thrones location managers could not resist the stunning charm of this path between continents. The cast and crew shot for three days in the summer, keeping the tourists at bay and making the most of this epic landmark.

The Öxarárfoss trail features in the fourth season as the narrow passage leading to The Bloody Gate, an ancient fortification guarding the entrance to the formidable Eyrie. Both Stark sisters make their way to the gate to reach their estranged Aunt Lysa but under very different circumstances; Sansa is accompanied by Littlefinger, Lord Petyr Baelish, in Episode 5, and Arya Stark is taken there by the Hound, Sandor Clegane, as his prisoner in Episode 8.

Although their stories diverge remarkably, both sisters' scenes are shot between the iconic crags at Þingvellir. The natural ridges of the exposed tectonic plates tower above the characters and lend to the impenetrable quality and imagined history of this renowned fictional passageway.

The same area is shrewdly used for a scene just South of the Wall in which the newly betrayed Ygritte and Tormund Giantsbane are introduced to the cannibal Thenns. The scene opens with Ygritte fletching arrows under a precarious balancing rock; as you walk down the trail (towards the waterfall), keep your eyes peeled to the North American plate to your left, and you might be able to spot it!

Filming in the summertime does not come without its challenges. On top of blocking off the area to large numbers of tourists, it was particularly warm during the days of filming, especially in the sheltered walls of the trench. Although 25°C (77°F) may not seem very uncomfortably warm to some, consider the actors and extras dressed in furs for the wildlings or heavy armour for the Westerosi. "You know nothing Jon Snow!"



Brienne & the Hound | Nesjavellir, Thingvellir          

In the final episode of the fourth season, Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne run into Arya and the Hound while making their own way to the Bloody Gate. Upon realising Arya's identity, Brienne begs her to join her so as to fulfil her oath to Catelyn Stark.

What follows is arguably one of the most gruelling and intense altercations in the show to date, culminating in Brienne's victory as she kicks the Hound over a cliff. Seven separate locations in the Nesjavellir area were chosen to film this gruesome custody battle. If you find yourself in the area during the milder months, go for a hike around the stunning Hengill mountain and see if you can spot any familiar backdrops.

Arya Stark on an Icelandic horse about to escape for Braavos.

Although Brienne is victorious in battle, she fails to win over Arya who steals away on a horse to eventually make her way to Braavos. The shot above shows her at the top of Öxarárfoss waterfall astride an Icelandic Horse shortly after she has left the Hound to perish.

Although it is not possible to climb the same vantage point, you can visit the waterfall on ground level by walking to the bottom of the trail at Þingvellir and following the signs.

Countryside Meereen | Thorufoss                     

 

The sixth instalment of Season 4 opens to the scene of a young goatherder listlessly casting rocks into a waterfall when suddenly, Daenerys' largest dragon, Drogon, flies over and incinerates the flock. 



Þórufoss waterfall is to the East of Þingvallavatn and it is less than an hours drive from Reykjavík, making it one of the most accessible locations to visit. If you are on your way to see The Golden Circle, it is only a short detour before your first stop at Þingvellir National Park (Road 48 off of route 36).

The Glaciers of South Iceland        

An astonishing 11% of the land mass in Iceland is covered by glaciers.

Iceland is home the largest ice cap in Europe, Vatnajökull, and 11% of the country is covered by glaciers. Several of the scenes North of the Wall are filmed on these icy giants as they well represent the harsh and unforgiving nature of the region described in the books.

The first season of Game of Thrones was shot using a huge amount of fake snow, however, armed with an increased budget and a larger number of scenes Beyond the Wall, fake snow just wasn't going to cut it in later seasons. The glaciers of Iceland offered an irresistible yet often challenging alternative. 



A lot of the scenes atop glaciers were filmed in the depths of winter when the days are short and the number of daylight hours can be counted on one hand. The crew's strategy was to transport the gear in the morning before the sun came up so that when it did, the cameras could start rolling immediately. At the end of the day, all of the gear would have to be taken off the glacier once again.

The Fist of the First Men | Myrdalsjökull        

In Season 2, the men of the Night’s Watch trek through the Frostfangs to reach the Fist of the First Men in hopes of gaining a vantage point over their wildling enemies. As they bunker down to prepare for an attack from Mance Rayder's army, they are taken unawares by an unexpected enemy: the dreaded White Walkers.

These scenes were shot on Mýrdalsjökull glacier, Iceland’s fourth largest ice floe and the most popular for glacial hiking and ice climbing. There is no need to fear wildlings or wights atop this glacial mass, only Katla, the volcano brewing underneath it, which also happens to be long overdue for an eruption. 



Miscellaneous scenes Beyond the Wall | Svinafellsjokull   

Svínafellsjökull glacier is a favourite location amonst hikers as well as the cast of Game of Thrones.

An outlet of Vatnajökull glacier, Svínafellsjökull has been nicknamed, 'The Hollywood Glacier' as it has featured in numerous blockbusters, including Batman Begins (a lesser-known piece of trivia is that Jack Gleeson, the actor who portrayed villainous King Joffrey in Game of Thrones, also plays a cameo in Batman Begins as a little boy).

The cinematic appeal of Svínafellsjökull lies in its sharp ridges of deep electric blues punctuated with veins of black ash, scars of volcanic eruptions through the centuries. 



This location is used for scenes Beyond the Wall in Seasons 2 and 3. Located in Skaftafell Nature Reserve, it is a popular destination for glacial hiking. 

Jon & His Band of 'Merry' Men | Gigjokull         

Gígjökull is similar to Svínafellsjökull in that it's an outlet of a grander glacier, Eyjafjallajökull—the great volcano glacier that became famous in 2010 after an eruption sent tons of ash particles in the skies, bringing European air traffic to a halt. Its name also gained notoriety for being incredibly difficult to pronounce, flummoxing journalists worldwide.

In Season 7, Jon Snow leads an unlikely group of misfits, the 'Dirty Dozen' Beyond the Wall to retrieve a Wight. Many characters in this story arc had not met before and in turn, had not filmed in Iceland before, for example, Iain Glenn who plays Jorah Mormont and Ian Dempsie who portrays Gendry.

The South Coast of Iceland           A lonely but defiant sea stack.

As well as glaciers, the South Coast of Iceland boasts many eye-catching attractions, rich in beauty and diverse in nature. A few of these sights sparked the imagination of the show's producers and are listed below. 



There are a number of ways to visit the South Coast; you could book a day tour starting out from Reykjavík; alternatively, you could rent a car and see the sights for yourself. You could spend a day or a week in this part of the country as there's always more to see!

Olly's Village | Thjodveldisbaerinn Stong         

A reconstructed Viking era house in the South of IcelandNestled in the alluring Þjórsárdalur valley, Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng is a reconstructed Viking-era farmstead and the setting for the barbaric slaughter of young Crow, Olly's parents and village folk.

Although it may seem tempting to draw comparisons between the savagery of the wildlings and the violence of pillaging Vikings, the reconstruction at Stöng was built as a celebration of 1100 years of settlement rather than violent raiding.

Þjórsárdalur is a beautiful valley on the South Coast and features many attractions including hot springs, forests and one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland, Háifoss. There is also a campsite there, so if you feel like roughing it like a wildling, bring a tent! 



Catching a Wight | Stakkholtsgja Gully          

Stakkholtsgjá Gully

Stakkholtsgjá gully is an imposing moss covered canyon near the Þörsmörk highland reserve and it serves as the location for the scene in which Jon Snow and his 'merry' men ambush a Wight to take back to Kings Landing



The Southern Highlands conditions were incredibly cold and frozen over, creating quite a few difficulties for the cast and crew but resulting in compelling footage. The subsequent fight on the lake was actually filmed in Belfast although it was seamlessly knitted together so that the audience would never guess the transition.

Eastwatch-By-the-Sea | Reynisfjara Beach & Dyrhóaley    Dyrólaey in the summertime.

The South Coast of Iceland is defined by its long black shores, dotted with impressive rock formations such as the Reynisdrangar sea stacks and the Dyrhólaey sea arch. The bold outline of the cliffs of Dyrhólaey was used as the template for the CGI Wall which protects the Seven Kingdoms, and the beaches the landing grounds for our noble heroes.

There was a fair amount of controversy during the filming of Season 7 at this location when vehicles transporting the cast, crew and equipment scarred the beach with tire tracks without the necessary permissions from The Environmental Agency of Iceland. 

Myvatn Region, North Iceland | Beyond the Wall    

Mývatn is the name of a lake and its surrounding area in the North of Iceland, just an hours drive away from the Capital in the North, Akureyri. It is a popular sightseeing destination as it boasts many diverse and impressive natural features and it is one of the key stops on the popular Diamond Circle route. 



Ygritte & Jon's Love Cave | Grjotagja Cave      

Grjótagjá cave at its finest.

Grjótagjá Cave is nestled on private property in the Lake Mývatn region and it serves as the backdrop for wildling Ygritte and Jon Snow’s much anticipated intimate encounter in Season 3. It is one of the best-known caves in Iceland, famous for its dreamy multi-shaded blue warm water and jagged rock ceiling.

Up until the 1970s, local Icelanders used to bathe in the geothermal pool that floods the floor of the cave. After a series of eruptions in the nearby Krafla volcanic system, the water in the cave began to warm, eventually rendering it unsafe for human use. 



The pool is fed by two separate hot springs and temperatures range from 45-50°C., obviously a bit too hot for actors Kit Harrington and Rose Leslie to act in, even for a steamy love scene. In the show, there is a waterfall added with CGI as well as the actors themselves but otherwise, Grjótagjá cave looks as wonderful as it appears onscreen.

The cave has two entrances and until recently it was open to the public for viewing and even to dip your feet in if you were feeling brave. Unfortunately, due to the inappropriate treatment of the cave by visitors, it is now closed off. This is a terrible shame but serves as a cautionary tale to encourage respectful behaviour while visiting Iceland.

Mance Rayder’s Wildling Camp | Dimmuborgir Lava Field    

Mance Rayder's wildling camp at Dimmuborgir.

Dimmuborgir is a rugged lava field known for its peculiar rock formations which have been likened to a dark medieval fort, hence why its name translates to “Dark Castles”. In folklore, the area is said to be home to Iceland’s most feared troll, Grýla.

Within the world of Game of Thrones, this area is used as the backdrop for the King Beyond the Wall’s base camp, inhabited by the Free Folk in anticipation of their assault on the Wall.

It's not far from Jon and Ygritte’s cave and in fact, one of the rock features here was used as the external entrance to the romantic lair as it appears in the show.

Corner of The Haunted Forest | Hverir         

Steaming fumarole in the Námafell geothermal area.

At the start of Season 3, we see Samwell Tarly fighting his way through a formidable storm or so it would seem (or steam). The effect of the ‘blizzard’ is actually thick steam emerging from geothermal vents at Námafell geothermal area.

Actor, John Bradley, may not have been completely acting his distress as he was probably experiencing a fair degree of discomfort, spending hours in hot, wet sulphurous clouds.

West Iceland | Snaefellsnes Peninsula       

Snæfellsnes is a popular destination and looks great in Game of Thrones.

The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is often referred to as Iceland in Miniature due to its copious diverse array of natural features. If you are driving the Ring Road around Iceland, the peninsula is a worthy detour or, similarly, it makes for a great day trip destination from Reykjavík. 



‘The Mountain Shaped like an Arrowhead’ | Mt. Kirkjufell    

Muntain shaped like an arrowhead.

Kirkjufell mountain, on the beautiful Snæfellsnes peninsula, is no stranger to the camera lens as it has often been celebrated as ´the most photographed mountain in Iceland´. You will recognise this angular peak as ‘The Mountain Shaped like an Arrowhead’ first seen in Bran Stark's vision in Season 6, Episode 5, ‘The Door’.

In its debut shot, Kirkjufell mountain is shown in its summery green glory as the backdrop to Bran’s vision which perceives the violent creation of the first White Walker (the Night King) at the hands of the Children of the Forest. The scene is shot in front of Kirkjufellfoss waterfall, a modest but stunning sight which greatly contributes to the magic of the scene, be it yours or Bran’s apparition.

Later, in Season 7, the Hound, Sandor Clegane, guided by Beric Dondarrion, envisions this elevation in the flames ultimately leading these characters to accompany Jon Snow to retrieve a Wight from Beyond the Wall.

Despite its significance in the show, none of the cast members actually performed in Mount Kirkjufell’s shadow; it was shot in both the summer and the winter and then CGI’d into the series.

Some fans have speculated that the "Mountain Shaped Like an Arrowhead" may have a future role to play in the final season's climax as this was the setting for the White Walker's creation. Could it be the locus for the destruction of the Night King's undead army and the salvation of Westeros?

Almost all day tours to Snæfellsnes will include a stop at this infamous attraction and it’s a sight not to be missed should you be driving in the area.

Honourable Mentions     

What follows is not exactly a guide to physical locations used in Game of Thrones rather they are examples of the show's interwoven relationship with Iceland.

Pegasus is the Icelandic film production company that facilitated filming in the many of the locations listed above and has only received praise from the producers. What follows, however, is a list of the Icelandic faces you can see in front of the camera so, now your watch begins.

The Mountain, a not so honourable character...       

Iceland's relationship with Game of Thrones goes further than physical filming locations; one of the country's own portrays a significant role in the show.

Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson plays Ser Gregor Clegane, otherwise known as 'The Mountain That Rides', or, quite simply, 'The Mountain'. He has co-founded his own brand vodka company, The Mountain Vodka.

Björnsson's incredible size is not just for the television screen and in 2017,  he won the title, Strongest Man in the World. Icelanders have a long-running relationship with strongmen and he is not the first and will most likely not be the last to win the title.

The Icelandic Horse       

The Icelandic Horse features often in Game of Thrones.

The Icelandic Horse is renowned the world over for its extra gate, the 'tölt' as well as its intelligent and calm temperament. You can spot the Hound and Arya Stark on the back of these noble creatures and the Night's Watch makes good use of their shaggy coats Beyond the Wall.

Icelanders are very fond of their horses and you can opt for a horse riding tour in almost any area of the country.  Just watch out for dragons. 



Extras           

Game of Thrones banner.

Many of the extras featured in all of the scenes mentioned are Icelandic, wildlings and Westerosi guards alike! One thousand people applied to appear as extras in the second season of the show and only fifty were selected, most of them exhibiting Viking heritage as bearded and with long-hair. 


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