Iceland is known for being one of the primary locations where HBO’s Game of Thrones TV series is shot. For those who haven’t been following it, Game of Thrones is an HBO series that has garnered a lot of fame and attention due to its complex storyline, compelling character sketches, war scenes, and of course, game changing dragons. Based on the much lauded book series ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, the TV show has millions of viewers hooked due to the unpredictable nature of the show, the lifelike strategies and politics, the various theories around the lives of the characters and the gorgeous locales where the shoots happen.
Kirkjufell, the chosen location for the backstory of the whitewalkers
This American fantasy drama is acclaimed for its gory death scenes that don’t shirk away from violence and bloodbaths. Unlike the show, their locations chosen as backdrops are very peaceful and tranquil. In this post, we will explore the various places in Iceland, besides the tourist favorites like the blue lagoon
, that have become a huge draw for travelers and tourists visiting Iceland to experience the breathtakingly beautiful places where Game of Thrones is shot. The show, abbreviated as GoT, inspires such loyalty from fans that many of them come dressed in fake animal skins and furs for their GoT tours in Iceland. Unlike the locations used in Morocco, Malta, Greece, Scotland and Spain, which showcased the highly recognizable landmarks of the region, the filming locations in Iceland are a bit difficult to find as the filmmakers used the natural locations in Iceland to their advantage, and the stunning Icelandic scenery holds its own against the recognizable landmarks in the other countries.
Iceland Game of Thrones Locations
Iceland represents the northernmost tip of Westeros, the main continent which serves as the primary chessboard of Game of Thrones locations. The natural rawness of the landscape in Iceland is such that the makers preferred to shoot many parts of the Game of Thrones in Iceland, rather than have their scenes computer generated or make do with artificial snow ( as a few episodes were shot in the first season. For the cold and icy ‘North of the wall’ scenes, the programme makers have shot many scenes around the Hverfjall volcano in the Lake Myvatn region of Northern Iceland, which is easily recognized as the area ‘Beyond the Wall’.
To showcase the wild expanses north of The Wall, Vatnajökull National park in Iceland was the ideal location. Vatnajökull, which is Europe's largest glacier and covers about 3,100 sq. miles of southeast Iceland, also appears in season two of Game of Thrones. The scenes that were set in The Frostfangs and at the Fist of the First Men were shot on the Svinafellsjökull glacier in Vatnajökull National Park and the nearby region in November 2011.
Dimmuborgir, a frozen lava field near Lake Mývatn
was the location chosen for Mance Rayder's wildling army. The entire encampment was built here while shooting for season three of Game of Thrones in Iceland. The filming took place in temperatures much below freezing, and sometimes dropped as low as -11°C.
Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir) Iceland doesn’t depict just the land beyond The Wall. The pass to the Eyrie is found in the Thingvellir National Park, quite close to Reykjavik. You will remember it from season four when Brienne and the Hound engage in a gory battle in this location. The scenes at The Bloody Gate were also filmed at Þingvellir National Park, a World Heritage Site where the Viking parliament was established. Various other scenes were filmed in that area, such as:
Wildlings roaming South of the Wall
The stone ravine, where Ygritte and Tormund Giantsbane are meeting Styr and his group of cannibal Thenns is also filmed in the Þingvellir National Park.
Thenns and Wildlings meet in the canyon, Styr is introduced. S4E01
After leaving The Hound, Arya on her way to find a ship to Braavos. S4E10
Walk around the Settlement Era Viking Lodge in Þjórsárdalur valley where elaborate scenes were shot and a particularly hair raising massacre in the series took place.
Other scenes from Game of Thrones shot in Iceland
Drogon the dragon hunts for goats. S4E06
The Hound and Brienne of Tarth fight for Arya Stark. (only visited during summer season). S4E10
The Bloody Gate. Lord Baelish (Littlefinger) and Sansa Stark on the way to the Eyrie. S4E05
The Hound and Arya on the same route. S4E08
Wildlings and Thenns attack what is often called Olly's farm/village. S4E03
Game of Thrones Iceland - Difficulty in shooting scenes
While each episode is a treat to watch, the crew and the cast have had to overcome various obstacles during the filming of Game of Thrones in Iceland. When filming ‘Hardhome’, star Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) said that it took them three to four weeks to shoot for a sequence that made up just 20 minutes of the screen time. Apart from this, they have to weather storms, extreme cold (especially in the Icelandic locations), and having to act while accounting for non-existent elements like dragons and direwolves that are created later using CGI.
Game of Thrones Tour Iceland
There are many tour outfitters that let you take a Game of Thrones tour in Iceland. These are quite detailed and you can even see exact places in Iceland shown in the Game of Thrones series, though some are seasonal and the summer may not be the best time to visit
these. Travellers are mesmerized by the tales of the ‘Seven Kingdoms’ during the various tours available. Many are led by crewmembers on the show. One if the tours is from Jon Thor Benediktsson, who was also the guide for the Game of Thrones crew for their shoots. He takes the tour to show the famous ‘Ice Wall’ and the enthralling places where the ‘North of the Wall’ is shot. Another is led by Theódór Hansson, who was part of the show as an extra and as a stunt double.
The Svínafellsjökull Glacier in Iceland besides Game of Thrones, scenes from Batman begins and Interstellar were also filmed here. Photo by Govind
Some Highlights of the Game of Thrones tour according to different tour-guides:
Travel to North Iceland to experience the film locations showcased in Game of Thrones.
Visit the areas where the men of the Night's Watch, including Samwell Tarly and Lord Commander Mormont, are attacked by the White Walkers.
Walk the land that Jon Snow, Ygritte, and the Free Folk cross to reach the Wall.
Visit the cave where Jon Snow and Ygritte have their first intimate romantic encounter.
Learn about how the Free Folk, like the ancient Vikings, lived and survived in their harsh environment.
Game of Thrones Tour - optional activities
Go on a best-seller day tour
and visit Thingvellir, filming location for Game of Thrones season four, as well as Gullfoss waterfall and the famous Geysir hot spring on an afternoon tour (Or add an extra day and take a full-day tour visiting Game of Thrones sites in South Iceland).
Take a northern lights hunt from Reykjavik, either by bus
or on a jeep
2 nights at a hotel in Reykjavik with private facilities, including breakfast (except arrival day)
2 nights at a hotel in Akureyri with private facilities, including breakfast
Round-trip flight to Reykjavík-Akureyri
Guided tour of Game of Thrones locations in North Iceland
Entry fee to Myvatn Nature Baths
One of the more expensive Game of Thrones tour in Iceland has been prepared under the direction of an Icelandic actor Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, who played a major role in the series as Gregor Clegane (better known as "The Mountain") in season four. During this tour, you journey to the dramatic gorge at Thingvellir – the stomping ground of the White Walkers and the trail of the Wildlings from "Beyond of the Wall". During this tour, you can also explore Thjorsardalur and the "Settlement Era Viking Lodge" – the location of one of the greatest massacre and most elaborate scenes of the GoT series.
Other Game of Thrones shooting locations
The Dark Hedges, near Stanocum in County Antrim in Northern Ireland
These iconic trees lining the entrance to Gracehill house, have been used as a filming location to represent the King's Road. The Stuart family planted this avenue with beech trees in the eighteenth century. The compelling landscape is an impressive feature and after two centuries, the majestic sight of these trees has gone on to become one of the most stunning natural spectacles in Northern Ireland.
The Strangford Castle Ward Estate and the Castle Ward tower in County Down, Northern Ireland is an 18th-century National Trust property, that is known as the location of Winterfell on the show. The estate is open to the public and comprises of 332 hectares of landscaped gardens, a revived tower house, Victorian laundry, theatre, restaurant, shop, saw mill and a working corn mill. Winterfell serves as the backdrop for the series pilot and most of season one. It’s also where you will find the Whispering Wood and iconic scenes from the show including Robb Stark’s camp, the Baelor battle, and the confrontation between Brienne and the Stark guards. The Game of Thrones crew spent eight weeks here before the pilot episode at Castle Ward, building the set of Winterfell and hundreds of actors and crew worked on the filming here. A replica of the Winterfell Archery Range has been beautifully recreated in the courtyard at the exact spot that the filming took place.
The Azure window in Malta, shown in Game of Thrones.
The Azure Window, also known as the Dwejra Window, is a natural limestone arch created thousands of years ago on the island of Gozo in Malta. About 28 metres tall, this arch recently collapsed during a sea storm. The area nearby is famous in its own right and is a well renowned spot for scuba diving. It has been been featured in movies like Clash of the Titans (1981) and The Count of Monte Cristo (2002). The archway offered the backdrop for the Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s wedding in season one of Game of Thrones.
The Mdina city gate, a historical monument in the Western Province in Malta is shown as King’s landing, the royal capital of Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms. This has been done using many existing spots as a backdrop. The first was Mdina, the old capital of Malta. A medieval walled town boasting strong defensive Norman fortifications and moats, was a perfect fit, according to the crew.
Game of thrones was also shot in Dubrovnik, which portrays King's Landing
Dubrovnik in Croatia portrays King’s landing from Season 2 onward. The location was shifted to Dubrovnik from Malta to film the King’s Landing scenes by the sea.
The Minceta Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage site on the Dalmatian Coast in Dubrovnik. It was featured in the finale of season two, as the House of the Undying.
The Ounila River and the red citadel of Ait-Ben-Haddou in Morocco was chosen as the setting for the city of Yunkai on the show. Featured in the third season of Game of Thrones, this lies along the old caravan route that connects the Sahara and Marrakech in Morocco
The stunning town of Essaouira in Morocco, another UNESCO world heritage site, is depicted as the ancient city of Astapor, which played a vital role in the season three finale of GoT. Daenerys Targaryen spends a lot of her time in the exotic environs of Slaver’s Bay, home to fictional ports of Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen.
Fort Manoel, built by the Knights of Malta for over 30 years in the 17th century, served as an active military establishment until 1906. In Game of Thrones, it serves as the Sept of Baelor—the holiest spot in Westeros.