“Winter is coming. We know what’s coming with it.”Jon Snow, Game of Thrones
Snow transforms Iceland’s landscapes, and not just in the winter months. Even in the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall, you can experience snow in the North. In fact, on a recent mid-October counterclockwise road trip around Iceland, we were grounded for a day by a powerful blizzard.
Iceland’s winters should be approached cautiously, but for Game of Thrones film crews, they were the perfect way to depict the northern reaches of the fictional continent of Westeros. In the TV show’s first season, computer-generated imagery (CGI) was used to depict The Wall, a massive barrier protecting the Seven Kingdoms from the monsters beyond.
With the show’s popularity and an increased budget; however, many of Game of Thrones’ frozen scenes were filmed in Iceland in Season Two. Much of the storyline of possible heir to the Seven Kingdom’s Iron Throne, Jon Snow, is filmed in the wintry regions. And over the course of eight seasons, filming extended to warmer settings too.
Here are 10 breathtaking Iceland landscapes used to film Game of Thrones scenes.
SVINAFELLSJOKULL GLACIER – VATNAJOKULL NATIONAL PARK
Game of Thrones filming in Iceland began with Season Two settings in Northern Iceland that captured the long winter of the northern kingdom, and beyond. One of these settings is Svinafellsjokull Glacier.
Once dubbed Iceland’s Hollywood Glacier because its accessibility and frigid beauty made Svinafell an ideal location to film scenes. Not just for Game of Thrones, but also for films such as Interstellar and Batman Begins. Then, in 2018, a fracture was found in the glacier, possibly caused by global warming and the location’s popularity. Svinafellsjokull was closed due to the dangers of rockslides and avalanches, but visitors can still view the glacier edge at Vatnajokull National Park.
The other setting, Godafoss, or “waterfall of the gods,” is said to have received its name from an old Icelandic tale. It’s believed that a Viking ruler cast his statues of pagan gods into the falls, and thus, a legend was born.
The 98-foot horseshoe-shaped waterfall is impressive, especially under a snow blanket. Seen in late Fall, or Winter, when Iceland’s proximity to the Arctic Circle ensures an extended Golden Hour it’s obvious why this area was chosen for Game of Thrones Season Three. It’s an ideal environment to show Jon Snow’s journey beyond the wall.
When Jon Snow ventures north of The Wall in Season Three, he meets Mance Raydar. The King-Beyond-the-Wall leads the Free Folk, or “wildings” who don’t recognize the laws of the Seven Kingdoms.
Lake Myvatn and the geothermal regions that surround it proved to be an excellent place to show Jon’s adventures. And it’s also where you can find Grjotagia Cave, the geothermal grotto setting of Jon Snow and the wilding Ygritte’s love scene.
The cave scene was replicated in a studio because it was too small for the filming. And the cave itself was later closed to the public due to the negative impact from the influx of tourists because of the Game of Thrones effect. It’s open to visitors again, but as it’s located on private land, it’s subject to possible closure at any time.
HVERIR GEOTHERMAL AREA
Although there’s no lack of winter scenes in Iceland, snowstorms don’t show up on demand. That’s where the geothermal mud pots at Hverir, near Lake Myvatn, proved useful.
When it was time to film the Season Three scene where Samwell Tarly braves a blizzard to return to the Night’s Watch men guarding The Wall, the steam rising at the fumaroles of Hverir were used to create the illusion.
THINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK
Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its cultural value. From 931 until 1798 it was the site of the Alping, the annual Viking parliament. But it’s also a valley rift where the Eurasian and North American continents meet.
The national park was used to film multiple GOT scenes in Season Four.
At this point in the story, Jon Snow has left the wilding, Ygritte. And the Free Folk leader has commanded her to attack a southern village. Pjooveldisbaerinn, Commonwealth Farm, is the replica Viking farm used for this scene.
Meanwhile, the waterfall, Thorufoss, is where one of the Khaleesi’s dragons, Drogon, incinerates a herd of goats.
And at the tip of the valley rift, the Almannagja Canyon serves as the setting for three Season Four scenes. In Episode One, it hosts a wilding camp. While in Episodes Five and Eight it’s the site of the Bloody Gate on the eastern edge of the Kingdom of Mountain and Vale.
JOKULSARLON GLACIER LAGOON
By Season Seven, White Walkers, mythical ice creatures, roam the land. They command an army of the dead and seek nothing less than the eradication of all life.
Glimpses of the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon can be seen as the White Walkers march south towards The Wall. The real glacier lagoon is stunning, and the highlight of any visit to Iceland.
Sadly, its very growth, measured at 500 square meters per year, is a potent reminder of the real-world threat of global warming.
Kirkjufell, or “Church Mountain,” is reputed to be the most photographed mountain in Iceland. Its natural shape makes it an ideal setting to film the Game of Thrones’ Arrowhead Mountain.
The fictional mountain is a landmark north of The Wall where Jon Snow battles the army of the dead assembled by the Night King.
REYNISFJARA – BLACK SAND BEACH
Universally recognized as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Reynisfjara features black sand, basalt sea stacks, and dangerously powerful waves. Located near the southern town of Vik, the Black Sand Beach is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions.
In Season Seven, it’s where the White Walkers’ army of the dead march on the Night Watch castle at Eastwatch by the Sea as they breach The Wall.
Arguably the most thrilling scene in Game of Thrones occurs in the premiere of the final season when Jon Snow and the Khaleesi take to the air astride dragons. The actual ride takes place on a mechanical buck in front of a green screen, although the setting was filmed with the use of a helicopter at Fjadargljufur Canyon.
The canyon first gained attention when it was featured in Justin Bieber’s “I’ll Show You” music video in 2015. Then, between 2015 to 2019, it saw over a million visitors.
The impact was so severe that in 2019 the environmentally sensitive area was closed to the public for a time. Unfortunately, it proved difficult to keep visitors at bay and in subsequent years, the canyon fluctuated between being open or closed. It is open to the public at this time, with some ledges roped off.
If there were to be a happy ending to Game of Thrones, the series would’ve ended with the first episode of Season Eight. After flying through the canyon, Jon and Daenerys land at Skogafoss Waterfall and share a passionate kiss.
It was a short-lived happiness and even the waterfall isn’t as it appeared; it was double stacked to appear taller.
And yet, for the most part, Iceland’s natural beauty surpasses anything seen on television.
WINTER TRAVEL IN ICELAND
Winter driving in Iceland can be hazardous, and there are certain roads that are closed. But all these sights can be reached easily from Iceland’s main ring road, Route 1. For more trip planning recommendations, check Iceland travel tips.