Iceland: The Perfect Movie Set
Whilst New Zealand may be busy trying to brand itself as Middle Earth, in recent years Iceland has become the set of choice for many film and television directors dragging their cast and crew for sparsely populated lands and breath-taking scenery. We travel through ever changing landscape of Iceland to visit behind the scenes of some of the screens biggest hits over the past few years including Game of Thrones, Thor 2 and upcoming blockbuster, Noah, featuring Russell Crowe, Ray Winstone and Sir Anthony Hopkins.
These are our top places to see.
Famous for: Batman Begins, Walter Mitty, Tomb Raider and Game of Thrones
The winding track up to Vantogull around the region of the Sultartungnagil has the most breath-taking views across the mountains and down to the shore of the Atlantic. In our eyes, most famous for the brilliant opening scene in Batman Begins with one Christian Bale and his dark sided mentor Liam Neeson.
Access is good with a loose tarmac track from the main ring road, which assuming it doesn’t snow means you can get all the way to the top in a pretty average 4×4 and once you’re there, we promise you won’t want to leave.
Stay: There isn’t much around, the small fishing town of Höfn is within 30 minutes and your best bet, with great views of the Glacier at Vatnajökull, then check Hotel Höfn.
Jokursalon Ice Lagoon
Famous for: James Bond: Die Another Day and Lara Croft Tomb Raider
Needing no introduction, the home to one of the most captivating and visually stunning car chases ever filmed. Die Another Day. With 007 in his Aston Martin Vantage and that convertible Jaguar XK racing across the ice and with no CGI needed (well probably the guns!). Although the Lagoon has a natural outlet to the sea, for the film this was blocked with a man-made dam to keep the water cold enough to freeze and was filmed just two days after the dam was completed. The Ice Hotel however was all CGI, sorry to disappoint!
Also, take a walk over the road towards the beach where you will see the remains of huge icebergs scattered over the black sands with waves crashing down upon them. One of the most surreal things you will probably ever see.
Stay: Similar to above, so a stay in Hotel Höfn or passing on the way through is the way to go.
Famous for: Game of Thrones, Walter Mitty and Batman
Films actually become irrelevant here, the opportunity to walk on the largest Glacier in Europe is one in a lifetime. It’s the third biggest in the world and has an average depth of 300 metres of solid ice. It’s the most awe-inspiring and quite humbling experience you may ever encounter. A guide / the right kit is essential, it looks like, it’s cold like ice and trust us it is as slippery as ice! So spike clamp ons are a must.
Stay: No-where close, stop for the walk and move on.
Famous for: Noah (2014)
The black beach is vast and a sight to behold. Framed by rock formations at either end, including to the East columns climbing out of the Atlantic Ocean towards the cave which has to be seen to be believed. Although created completely by nature, the step formation looks more like the inside of a giant rubix cube, seemingly symmetrical and square in nature.
Home to what is sure to be one of the blockbusters of 2014, Noah by Ridley Scott, the beach and waves crashing onto its banks leave a lasting impression. Watch out for the wind though, it can get pretty strong!
Stay: Hotel Edda Vik is brand new and currently being completed. Typically minimalistic in a Scandinavian manner, it’s simple but does the job very well.
Famous for: Thor 2: A Dark World and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Waterfalls are a plenty in Iceland, and one of the most famous is Scogfoss. Featuring in the 2013 epic that was Thor 2 (though we know it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea!), the falls measure some 63 metres in height and are scalable right to the top with a purpose built stairway. Hope off half way up though to overlook the pool, just be careful as it gets slippery during winter!
2 other falls are close by and well worth a look, Selsjalandfoss is of similar height but slightly less busy and you also have the added advantage of being able to walk behind the billowing water. Our tip is head left (whilst looking at the falls) around 300 yards where you will find a smaller and partly hidden waterfall. But follow the small path into the cave and be refreshed as the splashing waters land at your feet.
Stay: The quaint and very local Hotel Anna is off the beaten track and typically Icelandic. Oh and the dogs are friendly.
Famous for: Noah
As you continue east make a short stop over in the caves of Raufar. Completely unmarked you would hardly know they were there (until you fall in!). Over 1KM in length, the first 300 yards is easily accessible on foot with good natural light shining through the open caverns. You will also be following in the footsteps of a great, as this is the underground home of Sir Anthony Hopkins in the 2014 flick, Noah. Who said, “What I really enjoyed about this was going to Iceland. That cave was a real cave, not far from the hotel in fact. About half an hour out of Reykjavik. Iceland is a beautiful place to visit and be – a grand scale epic island.”
If you want to go round the bend and under the road, lights, rigs and climbing gear will be needed with no light and a very icey path into the abyss.
Stay: Just pass on through.
Famous for: Noah
A 10 minute detour from the main ring road is well worth the effort as you come across the mass that is the gggg lake. Frozen ripples in winter create an eerie scene as the mountains fall into the waters on the far side. During the years the depths can raise and lower up to 4 metres as the surrounding snow melts.
Stay: If you have to, a tent!
Famous for: Flags of our Fathers
One of the few places in the world where you can touch two continents. The tectonic plates of America and Europe meet in the only place on earth above water. At the present the plates drift apart approximately 2cm per year and the gorge currently measures some 25 metres across.
It was the home of Clint Eastwood flick, Flags of our Fathers which was shot and based in the Perninsula for 6 weeks, mimicking the beach and terrain of Japan during the second world war.
Stay: Reykjavik is just a 40 minute drive, our advice is stay there and add in a day of the city, it’s all you need.
Famous For: The Fifth Estate (2013)
The capital, and most famous in recent years for the superb The Fifth Estate, charting the rise, and fall of Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks. Reykjavik is of course somewhere you will pass through and see. For me it doesn’t live up to expectation. However a quick 24 hour blast is worth the trouble, with highlights being the xxx church, the magnificent Garda Centre which looks like a glass glacier overlooking the harbour and also check out the quirky and lovely little quaint independent coffee shop, Stofan Café and the character Liam working there.
Stay: Icelandair Hotel Marina is our favourite, review here.
Famous For: Game of Thrones
If you are travelling in the north, there is one stop you must make. The area of Lake Mývatn which is the home to the now world famous ‘Nights Watch’ and beyond the wall between England and Scotland in HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Each season cast and crew continue to come back for the breath-taking scenery, that fits perfectly into the storyline.
Stay: Akureyri is known as the capital of the North and is just 60KM from the Arctic Circle. Hotel Nordurland is bang in the centre and pretty reasonable.
There we have it, our guide to all things film in Iceland. It’s an amazing place to explore in Summer or Winter and not as expensive as you might think. Flights from the UK are run daily by EasyJet and IcelandAir.
All images copyright Average Joes, apart from Sir Anthony Hopkins. That’s all him.