Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 8 years, you may have heard of a little show called Game of Thrones. What you may not know however is that there are lots of Game of Thrones filming locations in Iceland and many of these you can visit relatively tourist free. We went on a day tour with Gray Line Iceland and although you could drive to all the locations yourself I highly recommend going with the tour as it wouldn’t have been the same without our guide. Since winter has now arrived in the final season of Game of Thrones, there will be even more scenes filmed in Iceland in Season 8.
Our tour started at 10am when we were picked up and taken to the Grey Line bus terminal. We were greeted by our tour guide, Theo, and moved into a different and much bigger bus. There were only 16 people on the tour with an interesting mix of people but the bigger bus was needed because at this point there was a lot of snow on the ground. If you are visiting in better weather you may get a smaller (and a lot cosier) minibus or there may be a lot more people on your tour so the bigger bus may be needed anyway. The largest number of passengers on the tour is around 60 if it’s sold out which can happen if you are going in peak season. If you’re going in the summer it would be best to book this tour in advance.
Theo was a great tour guide and was actually an extra on the show. This meant he had so many behind the scenes stories to tell us, interesting facts and even had pictures to help explain what we were looking at, how the locations were used and other parts of the story. Many of the locations he took us too were also almost completely empty and we hardly saw any other tourists which is always a good sign. This could have been put down to the weather but from the sounds of it, most of the time these locations are pretty empty as many of them are hidden away and only those in the know are aware of them. Even the most well-known filming location,
Þingvellir had barely anyone there as we went to a lesser known part which was actually used for filming. Theo did talk a lot compared to other tour guides but he had so many interesting stories that we didn’t mind at all and he kept us captivated and entertained the whole time. I highly recommend Theo and the Game of Thrones tour to anyone who is a fan of the show.
Our first stop of the day was an unscheduled trip to an Icelandic horse ranch. Since there were so few of us we had made good time getting off which allowed us an extra stop although this one isn’t guaranteed on all tours. If your group is too big, getting on and off the bus each time will take longer so there just isn’t time for the unscheduled stops. Depending on the weather, some stops may also be added or avoided which could affect how long you have at each place and how many stops there are. The horse farm was home to several of the horses that were actually used in the show. The horses were so cute and friendly and we could go right into the paddock with them to pet them. There was even a lovable dog who lived there and wanted to play with us. Icelandic horses are a unique breed specially adapted to the climate so it was great to get up close and personal with them and I’m glad that we got this extra stop. Other breeds of horses are not allowed to enter the country due to the high risk of spreading diseases that the native species are not resistant to so when filming in Iceland, the cast of Game of Thrones will always be seen on Icelandic horses.
After this, we headed to Þórufoss waterfall which was completely deserted. Some of the roads we drove along were covered in knee deep snow and we were the first people who had driven on them all day. It’s hard to imagine some of the filming locations as they were seen in the show when they’re so covered in snow but luckily Theo has photographs of the area so you can compare and the places all looked so beautiful as a winter wonderland anyway. This was one of these locations it’s hard to imagine when you aren’t there in summer and we were actually surprised that it had even been used in Game of Thrones. This waterfall was the setting for a scene in Meereen so it’s very strange to think of a waterfall in Iceland depicting a Mediterranean landscape.
From there, we headed to Þingvellir, a very famous place in Iceland as it’s home to the world’s first parliament and the one place on earth that you can actually go between two tectonic plates. It’s even possible to snorkel between the plates. This is a very common place for tourists to stop on either a self-guided tour or as part of a day trip, however, we still managed to find an area that was practically deserted. Þingvellir is a large national park so many people have heard of it and will head there whilst exploring the golden circle but very few people know the exact area which was used for filming. This is where being with Theo comes in handy since he could take us to the exact spot shown in the series. It was an area with deep ridges and crevasses that had been formed when the earth was being pulled away from each other by the movement of the plates to create this intense landscape. In the warmer months you can walk down into this crevice but while it was snowing this path was shut. It was used for several different locations in Game of Thrones and Theo was even in some of the scenes shot here himself. If you have watched the first episode of the final season, you may even recognise this landscape if only a few dragons were added!
For lunch, we went to a restaurant/shop/gas station in the middle of nowhere which are a common sight around the Icelandic countryside. You can’t eat your own food inside here and this is the only indoor stop around lunchtime so it’s probably best not to bring a packed lunch with you if you go on this tour. Luckily though the place we stopped is a lot cheaper to eat at than anywhere you will find in Reykjavik since it is a lot less touristy so it won’t break the bank. You can also bring snacks with you to eat on the tour but you can’t take hot food and drinks on the bus.
The last stop of the day was the settlement era lodge at Þjórsárdalur valley. This is a reconstruction of a Viking lodge designed on the remains of a real farm settlement found in the area. To get to the lodge it is a short walk up a hill but at this point, the snow was coming down thick and fast and the wind was bitterly cold. It really felt like we were in the far north and winter was coming. This was another place that Theo had filmed at himself and it was the place of a bloody massacre in the show. He took us around the side of the lodge where there was less wind and gave us a demonstration of fighting/killing techniques used in tv and films and recreated his part in the scene he shot there with a willing volunteer. We had a bit of time to wander around the lodge after this to see it from different angles before heading back to the bus. The Viking Lodge is open for visitors to go inside during the summer from June the 1st to August the 31st but we had to settle for an outside view.
On our way back to Reykjavik, we had another unscheduled stop at a small service station to go to the toilet and pick up any snacks. The area had recently been subject to quite a large earthquake where a huge crack had opened up under the shop floor. They had set up a free exhibition showing some of the devastation these earthquakes can cause and the crack was displayed under the floor with a see-through cover and a light down at the bottom to see how deep it had gone. They had also handily labelled the two tectonic plates that had caused this crack so you could actually stand with one foot in North America and one in Europe at the same time. Whilst this wasn’t Game of Thrones related, it was still interesting to see. On the way back, Theo gave us some interesting history of Iceland and the Vikings as well as some recommendations for other things to see and do in Reykjavik so even those that are fans of the show will still enjoy this tour.
Other Game of Thrones filming locations in Iceland
Because Iceland has such varied landscapes throughout the country, there were many filming locations used that were simply too far to be included in this tour. There are other tours that can take you to these areas however as far as I am aware there are no other Game of Thrones specific tours. Other Game of Thrones filming locations include Kirkjufell (the arrow-shaped mountain) located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Vatnajökull, a glacier found in the South of Iceland and used for several scenes beyond the wall, the Grjótagjá cave in the Lake Mývatn region where the famous scene with John Snow and Ygritte was filmed and the Black Sand Beach near Vik in the South. You can read our 5 day Iceland Itinerary which included a trip to the Black Sand Beach on our South Coast tour.