Go ahead and be super surprised, but I’d never seen a single episode of Game of Thrones until August of 2017. Yes. I KNOW. But with a title like “Game of Thrones Location Photos : Jon Snow + Ygritte Cave” you know this blog post will be a worthy (and humorous) read…
I am not sure why I avoided GoT for so long. I’m super busy with weddings and running The Wedding School. I spend time with my kids. When I turn to TV, it’s to turn off my brain, not try to figure out the tangled relationships of the approx. nine thousand Game of Thrones characters.
(Also, the same people who told me I’d love The Walking Dead simply INSISTED that I would love Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead is terrible, so I promptly ignored their other suggestion.)
After being pestered by enough friends to get started, I downloaded the first book onto my Kindle, fired up my HBO GO, and it was off to the races. And that, my friends, is how I lost about a week of my life.
One episode led into another, into another, into another. “Who is that person?” led to “WHY HAS THAT PERSON NOT KILLED THAT OTHER PERSON YET?” and “OH MY GOD DO NOT DO THAT THING!” and too many hours spent watching and re-watching Joffrey’s wedding to figure out whodunnit.
Game of Thrones and my fall vacation
It was around this time that fall wedding season loomed near. For those of you in our wonderful wedding industry, you know that we have “on seasons” and “off seasons”. In the northeast, the “off” season is July, January, February, March, and the first part of April.
The “on” season is every single other month, with a special concentration on May, June, August, September, and October. Fall wedding season is a marvelous rush towards the winter, an exhilarating time full of weddings, engagement sessions, portraits, and celebration after celebration.
With those days getting closer, I decided it was time to take my last precious week of quiet time and head off to Iceland with my oldest daughter. We’ve been in love with this marvelous country for a few years now, visiting it twice in the winter.
This was to be our first late-summer excursion, and we were so happy and excited. We meticulously planned a trip that would take us around the famed Ring Road in a week, booking AirBnB stays and guesthouse visits along the way.
While researching this much-needed vacation, I stumbled across the best Google search of all time. You guessed it, Game of Thrones filming locations.
WHAT IS THIS, YOU SAY? I fell hard into that Google search, realizing that several pivotal Game of Thrones filming locations were right in Iceland. Namely:
- Þórufoss Waterfall, Thingvellir national park, situated right on the Laxá í Kjós River. Featured in season 4, episode 6 “The Laws of Gods and Men.”
- Hengilssvæðið. Featured in season 4, episode 10 “The Children.”
- Þingvellir National Park/Thingvellir National Park. Found in Bláskógabyggð municipality, in the southwestern area of Iceland. Featured in season 4, episode 5 “First of His Name” and also in season 4, episode 8 “The Mountain and the Viper.”
- Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng. Featured in season 4, episode 3 “Breaker of Chains”
- Kirkjufellsfoss/Kirkjufell. Featured in season 6, episode 5 “The Door” and also in season 7, episode 6 “Beyond the Wall”
- Höfðabrekkuheiði hiking area in Vik/Frostfangs. Used for some “beyond the wall” footage. Featured in season 7, episode 5 “Eastwatch”
- Vatnajokull National Park. Also used for some “beyond the wall” footage.
- Dimmuborgir and Myvatn, site of Castle Black, the wildling camp in season 3.
I tried to figure out which ones would fall along our specific driving route, which ones would be easy to get to, and which ones wouldn’t bore my daughter to tears. I settled on one location, the cave where Jon Snow proved to Ygritte that he actually knew some stuff after all…
Game of Thrones Location Photos : Jon Snow + Ygritte Cave
Grjótagjá is a tiny lava cave situated close to Iceland’s lake Mývatn. There is a beautiful thermal spring inside Grjótagjá, but don’t get too excited – unlike Jon Snow and Ygritte, you cannot swim in it.
Grjótagjá is best known in pop culture as where Jon Snow and Ygritte, um, consummated their relationship in season 3, episode 5, “Kissed by Fire.”
Obviously, I had to see this.
The cave itself was surprisingly easy to find, despite how difficult it was to keep my Icelandic GPS properly programmed.
Look for for Grjótagjá in your Google maps before heading out for the day, and you’ll see how close it is to the main road (Highway 1). As you drive west towards Reykjalid, you’ll turn onto road 860, which is a crescent shaped road that connects the main highway to the road just to the east side of the lake.
After turning onto 860, you cannot possibly miss Grjótagjá – you’ll see a parking lot, a sign, and probably a small crowd. Hop out, grab your camera, leave your coat (it’s HOT in there), and crawl in between the rocks.
Tragically, there was no waterfall and barely any room to stand up – to take this picture I was pressed all the way against the rocky back wall of the grotto, laying on a sulfur-reeking rock with my camera perilously close to the steaming hot water.
It leads me to believe that while this is clearly the right cave, some (or all) of the real interior photography had to have been filmed on a soundstage. (There is no waterfall, for example).
Was seeing this thrilling? It was. I always love seeing movie locations in a behind-the-scenes manner. I love looking up places in books when I travel to them in real life.
I’ll never forget, for example, going to a remote square in Rome on our honeymoon because a book I’d read one time had a scene that took place there. Seeing it made that scene come to life in my head in a new way.
What I learned from this Game of Thrones filming locations quest
Okay, so Grjótagjá wasn’t really what I expected. But I’m so glad I went, and I loved the experience of shouting THIS IS WHERE A CHARACTER ON A SHOW I WATCH DID THINGS I CAN’T TALK TO YOU ABOUT to my mortified sixteen year old daughter.
I also learned that sometimes you just have to get away and chase down the love caves, to step off the beaten path and look for Game of Thrones location photos, to scout for scenes from your favorite books, and to get away from life for awhile.
Sometimes you have to pack up your family, or one family member, or just yourself and go away. It’s important for your mind, it’s important for your creative spirit, it’s important.
I love taking my children to see the world. I love seeing the world myself. And even though there was no *Jon Snow, I loved how excited finding Grjótagjá made me.
I hope to find that excitement on every trip I take, every time.
Ring Road Traveling Itinerary
A few fellow photographers asked about my itinerary while traveling the Ring Road, so here it is! Be advised that this trip was taken the last week of August/first week of September. I’d never attempt this trip in the winter!
- Flew into Keflavík International Airport. Exhausted. The flight from JFK is only five hours, but it’s at night and I never can sleep on planes.
- Rented a SUV from Dollar/Thrifty. You’ll take a shuttle to the rental car facilities, but it’s a very short ride. I highly recommend a SUV if you’re wanting to go off the road at all. In the winter, a SUV is an absolute must.
- Drove into Reykjavík. Grabbed some coffee at the Stofan Kaffihús (Location :Aðalstræti, 101 Reykjavík), and picked up some groceries from the local Krónan grocery store (Location : Fiskislóð 15-21, 101 Reykjavík)
- Hit the road and visited Seljalandsfoss. This waterfall (and you know it’s a waterfall, because Icelandic waterfalls are always called foss) is a bit extra-special because you can walk behind it. It’s wet and misty, and totally worth it. Make sure you are wearing good hiking boots with strong tread. Iceland is great in the late summer, but still very wet and slippery.
- Took the ferry from Landeyjahöfn to Vestmannaeyjar. It’s a super easy 35-minute ferry that takes you from the mainland to the Westlands. You can buy a ticket to bring your car on board the ferry, but you don’t need to – you’re heading somewhere that you can easily walk! We left our car in the free parking lot next to the ferry terminal, and it was waiting for us just fine the next day!
- Stayed in a charming AirBnB in the middle of Vestmannaeyjabær. If you’re looking for luxury living, you’ve come to the wrong country. Everywhere we stayed was meticulously, immaculately clean, but it’s certainly not a Four Seasons. This tiny apartment was perfectly located and super comfortable. Highly recommend, and would stay here again. Get out and hike around the town. You won’t regret it. We ate a great dinner at Tanginn (Location : Basaskersbryggja 8, Vestmannaeyjar 900), and came back the next morning for coffee and pastries.
- Woke up and took the ferry from Vestmannaeyjar to Landeyjahöfn. We picked up our car from the overnight parking lot safe and sound, and hit Highway 1 towards Vik.
- Stopped at Skógafoss, which is my daughter’s favorite place in southern Iceland. Take the time to climb the almost four hundred steps to get to the top. The observatory deck at the top isn’t a great view, but the walk at the top is exceptional. I recommend it even in the coldest winter months.
- Had a great hamburger at the bistro at the Hotel Skogafoss. We have stopped at this charming bistro three times now, and there is something oddly spectacular about their burgers. I also quite like their lattes and Skyr cake!
- Walked to the plane crash at Sólheimasandur. This popular tourist spot is actually pretty easy to find. The walk to the crash is between Skógafoss and the coastal town of Vik. To get there, drive past Skógafoss going East on Highway 1. Before too long, you’ll cross over a bridge that has distinctive blinking yellow lights. You’ll see a dirt road to Sólheimajökull Glacier on the left. Do not turn here! Two kilometers after passing that turnoff, you’ll see a dirt road and parking area on your right. There are usually plenty of cars in the lot, but no signs telling you where you’re at. Get out and follow the line of walking tourists towards the beach. You can’t miss it. You’ll see the beach in the distance…just walk towards it. You won’t see the crash until you’re practically right upon it, as you walk over the very last dune.
- Looked over the town of Vik. The first two times we went to Iceland, Vik was our destination. We had previously stayed twice at this charming AirBnB location, which we highly recommend. We also spent a lot of time at Reynisfjara beach, which is amazing even in the winter months. This time, Vik was just a pass-through for us on our way east! We stopped at the top of the town to look out from the Vik i Myrdal Church, which is where we saw the Northern Lights for the first time two years ago.
- Got gas for the SUV in Vik. Um, great, but why are you telling us that you got gas? Well, gas stations in Iceland are few and far between, and you need to gas up when you can! I never let myself get below half a tank of gas, since I had no idea if the next gas station was one mile or three hours away. Since none of my US-based credit cards worked at the pump, I had to buy a couple of gas cards throughout our trip. It’s easy to do. Just go inside, ask the attendant, and pay at the register. If you’re confused (which I was, a lot), just ask.
- Drove south and east on Highway 1, stopping at the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Don’t ask if you should go here. Just go. It’s a super simple drive in the summer, but earlier this year we were sent back to Vik when a complete whiteout forced us off the road and back to town. It was the scariest driving situation I’ve ever encountered, so just be very careful if you attempt this drive during the winter months. In the summer, it’s a gorgeous drive down the coast culminating in the most spectacular glacier lagoon you could ever imagine. Don’t forget to cross under the bridge and look out towards the ocean. The glacier fragments wash up onto the coastline, and it’s spectacular…especially at sunset.
- Ate at Pakkhus in Hofn (Location : Krosseyjarvegi 3, 780 Höfn í Hornafirði). I cannot rave about this restaurant enough. The vegetarian pie was one of the best things I have ever eaten.
- Stayed at the utterly darling Milk Factory (Location : Dalbraut 2, 780 Höfn). This is basically a guesthouse, but you have your own bathroom. Clean, very modern, very bright and meticulously cared for. Great room and excellent breakfast!
- Woke up in Hofn, and hit the road! Grabbed a bit more gas before we headed out of town, as the drive that day was long and gas stations infrequent.
- Drove, drove, drove! We stopped frequently along the eastern coast just outside of Hofn, as the cliffs and beaches were exceptionally beautiful. Remember that you’re following Highway 1 the entire time, and that is virtually the only main road, so it’s almost impossible to get lost.
- Visited Borgarfjörður Eystri. Again, we drove, drove, and drove some more. This was a very car-heavy day, which we didn’t mind. We stopped constantly to get out, hike around, read informational signs, wander up tall hills, get up close and personal with waterfalls, and to take photograph after photograph of our surroundings.
- Stayed at the Blabjorg Guesthouse. (Location : Gamla Frystihusid, 720 Borgarfjörður Eystri) This is a remarkably charming guesthouse. Bonus points for the killer hot tubs, spectacular food, and sweetly-situated location. I highly recommend eating here as much as you can! The food is all homemade, and the menu small and perfectly curated. Breakfasts here are also exceptional. Get out and walk around, look at the Dyrfjöll mountains, and take a stroll by the coastline. It’s a tiny town and can be seen in a day! (Quick note : If you stay at the guesthouse, know that you’re sharing a bathrooom! Bring shower sandals for easy walking around in the shared areas. Also, request a bedroom with a window. We were in a room with no window, and it was great, but we’d have loved to have been across the hall with the water view and big window.)
- Woke up and had a fantastic breakfast at the Guesthouse.
- Hit the road for the jaw-clenchingly unnerving drive out of Bakkagerði. Think hairpin turns, steep cliffside gravel roads, and stressfully high cliffside paths!
- Visited Hverir Поле Гейзеров (Location : NE-2 660, 660 Grand Island.) This weirdly otherworldly land of boiling mud pools, creepy hissing piles of rocks, and hot springs is like something out of a dystopian fairy tale. Enjoy the phenomenal reek of rotten eggs and take in the crazy colors, bizarre landscape, and exceptional photographic opportunities!
- Stopped at Grjótagjá, extensively and excitedly detailed above…
- Swam at the Myvantn Nature Baths. I highly recommend this! Situated in the Lake Mývatn geothermal area, these man-made pools are a must-see. The water in the lagoon comes from the National Power Company´s bore hole, which is located in nearby Bjarnarflag. The mistily blue water is strangely slippery, smells vaguely sulfuric, and will turn your sterling silver jewelry black. The hours that we spent in these baths remain among my favorites from our trip. Forgot your bathing suit and towel? No worries – you can rent them there!
- Drove around Myvantn, and stopped for lunch at Gamli Bærinn (Location : Myvatn and Krafla). I highly recommend eating here! The food in Iceland is fresh, simple, and spectacular. Bonus points for all of the dairy and bread! Double bonus points for the incredible drinking water!
- Continued the drive to Akureyri. The drive to northern Iceland is spectacular, winding from paved roads to gravel roads, through mountains and beside lakes. Highly recommended!
- Stayed at an amazing AirBnB in Akureyri. The host is remarkably organized, and the apartment is beyond utterly charming. The location is a five minute drive to downtown Akureyri, which is a bustling small town with lots to do. Located at the base of Eyjafjörður Fjord, this town is right on the water. You can take whale-watching trips from here, as you’re close to one of the best whale-watching places in the world : Húsavík.
- Slept in, slept some more, slept again. We were officially tired from all the driving, hiking, walking, picture-taking, and navigating!
- Visited the Skjaldarvík Guesthouse (Location : 601 Akureyri) for the fantastic Buggy-n-Bite excursion. This was the only excursion that we booked and paid for on the entire trip and it was worth every single penny. I cannot properly tell you how hilariously horribly wonderful this excursion was. It was pouring rain, we were hooked into four-point harnesses, I was wearing thick gloves and a rain-smeared helmet, and we were rocketing around in a THIS IS CLEARLY DANGEROUS “buggy.” This “buggy” was a mud-spattered machine, and we careened wildly through a forest and then up and down some wicked ski-slope jumps. Despite sliding off the road and ending up stuck on a tree, then having to be freed by our patient guide, the rest of the trip went remarkably well. We then cleaned all the mud off of ourselves and had a great dinner at the Guesthouse with a fantastic dessert.
Day Six and Seven : COMING SOON
I hope this itinerary helps you if you find yourself driving the Ring Road for a week in the late summer! Iceland holds a hugely special place in my heart, as well as in my daughters’ hearts, and I’m sure you will find it as magical as we do!
*For the record, Jon Snow knows nothing. Tyrion Lannister is the best part of the show. The end.