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Iceland's wonders through the pop culture's lens

Nadja Beschetnikova
March 23, 2018

Everyone knows that Iceland is beautiful. With its natural wonders this country has always been a coveted destination for the tourists. The triumphant performance of the football team at the recent European Championship and a rising popularity of the Icelandic music bands caused even greater interest.

But what exactly has Iceland to offer? Visiting other countries you normally know in advance the names of the main attractions. But it is different when you are preparing for a trip to Iceland. In most cases, you even find it impossible to pronounce these names. When a couple of years ago that volcano erupted it was difficult not to sympathize with all the news presenters.  

Good thing, that Iceland and her picturesque landscapes were featured in numerous of films, music videos, books. Associations with the particular works will help to structure the route, and most importantly, remember the names. The most advisable way sightseeing is a drive around Route 1, Iceland’s 832-mile ring road. Most communities and settlements as well as popular tourist attractions, such as the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, Dyrhólaey and the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon are located on Route 1.


Small wonder, that Iceland’s supermundane sceneries inspired many filmmakers. Iceland is rightfully called the ‘Hollywood of the north’. Every year Iceland get big film productions coming here to take advantage of what the country has to offer, both in the form of fantastic backdrops but also in the form of tax rebates and incentives movie companies can enjoy here.

From Bond to Interstellar - the list of films shot in Iceland will satisfy the taste of fans of various genres.

1. Jökulsárlón lake - Die Another Day, 2002

The car-chase-on-ice sequence is a stand-out moment in this Bond adventure, as drivers tussle with their vehicles on the frozen Jökulsárlón lake.

Situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, it developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

You can book an exciting boat trip on the glacier lagoon in one of four amphibian boats. During the excursion, you sail among the huge icebergs and get to taste the 1000-year-old ice.

Though the lake may appear ghostly and lifeless at the first sight, it’s a misleading impression. The lake is filled with fish that drift in from the sea along with the tides. Seals gather in large numbers at the mouth of the lake to catch fish during the winter. Large numbers of seabirds, particularly Arctic terns, which nest nearby, gather to catch herring, trout, salmon, and other fish and krill.

Among other tours to book, the glacier jeep tour is highly recommended if you ever wondered how the glacier looks from the top. During this 3-4 hour journey, you will discover amazing glacier valleys Sultartungugil and Kálfafellsdalur with an astonishing view of the beautiful mountains, Esjufjöll and Öræfajökull.

The natural Glacier Valley Kálfafellsdalur served as a scenery for movies such as Batman Begins and the Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and also the popular TV series Game of Thrones.

2. Skaftafell - Interstellar, 2014

Director Christopher Nolan seems to be a huge admirer of the northern beauty. He filmed at the same location in Iceland twice.
First, he visited the glacier at Skaftafell national park when he was filming Batman Begins (2005), and then came back for the Interstellar movie.

Skaftafell National Park is situated between Kirkjubæjarklaustur, and Höfn in the south of Iceland. Skaftafell is renowned in Iceland for its agreeable climate and the sunny days in summer, so the place is perfect for hiking and camping.  

The scenery around Skaftafell is full of stark contrasts. The various glacial tongues are flanked by jagged mountains, while the sandy wasteland sits side by side with waterfalls and birch trees and occasional rowans. One of the most famous glaciers is Svínafellsjökull. Máfabót and Svínafellsjökull stand in Interstellar for two different planets. The lowland Máfabót, between the sea and a river, was a location where Miller's water planet scenes were filmed. Svínafellsjökull appeared as the Ice Planet. When you walk on the glacier Svínafellsjökull, you actually feel as if you are exploring an extraterrestrial terrain.

Svínafellsjökull location in Interstellar

Here you can book an exclusive winter-only tour to a natural ice cave. Natural Ice Caves are only found during the wintertime when the glacial rivers retract and the water freezes. New caves are formed in different locations each year.

3. Skógafoss waterfall - Thor: The Dark World, 2013

Skógar is seen as a southern gateway to the eternal ice of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier. The name Skógafoss means "forest waterfall" and goes back to a time when this part of the country was still covered with forest. The sixty-meter-high drop of the Skógafoss once formed the southern coastline of Iceland. Today the sea is five kilometers from Skógafoss and there is not much left of the forest.

In Thor movie, this dramatic waterfall appeared in sequences set in the mythical home of the gods, Asgard.

The water masses of the Skógafoss rush down freely in a single gush, no cascades, no interruptions, just a single perfect curtain. The Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country with a width of 15 metres (49 feet).


1. Thrihnukagigur volcano – Kaleo

Today, new bands have a hard time. To attract attention in the overcrowded world of music, you really need to distinguish yourself.
Marketing teams are puzzled over how to promote the performer, while Kaleo, the Icelandic indie-band, had just to turn to the wonders of nature of their native country, in order to attract world’s attention.

In 2015, Kaleo shot a live performance of the song inside Trihnukagigur volcano in Iceland. Band’s member and film crew descended into the volcano's magma chamber. The video has almost 10 million clicks on YouTube.

Trihnukagigur was discovered in 1974 by cave explorer Árni B Stefánsson, and opened for tourism in 2012. It's the only volcano in the world you can explore because it hasn't erupted in about 4,000 years, which means it’s a dormant volcano. The name of the volcano is literally translated as Three Peaks Crater. It’s located near Reykjavík.

“I think it took like 26 hours to get all the gear down there, shoot the video and get everyone out. And, you know, obviously the volcano, the acoustics from there, that was ... that was special," recalls Julius Son, a lead singer in Kaleo.


1. Húrra club, Reykjavik

Scandinavian writers are well-known for their bloodcurdling crime thrillers. In fact, Northern countries have the lowest crime rate in the world. Iceland hadn't had a single murder since 2015 until the plot worthy of the most creepy fiction story came true in real life.

Reykjavík’s prime live music venue gained even more fame after the disappearance which shocked Iceland. Birna Bjárnsdóttir, 20, was last seen on 13th January 2017 after partying in the club.

Within days, the hunt for Birna became the largest missing person search ever mounted in the country. It involved over 120 different police, coastguard and specialist search-and-rescue units, as well as 11 tracking dogs and almost 1,000 volunteers who scoured 4,350 miles of Icelandic roads and coastline.

Unfortunately, there was no happy end. Birna Bjárnsdóttir was found dead on a desolate beach on the Reykjanes peninsula eight days after she went missing. Thomas Möller Olsen, a member of Greenlandic trawler Polar Nanoq, has been found guilty of the murder of Birna Brjánsdóttir.

But, hopefully, the creepy story doesn’t prevent you from visiting this dark and raw bar with a range of beers on tap, including a huge selection of local beers, and happy hour runs till 9 pm. The bar is the best spot to experience the Reykjavík’s nightlife.

All the major bands in Iceland play regularly during the week and there are great DJ's on the weekends. Húrra is a blend of bar, club and live music venue, which makes it a perfect place to close out the evening, and just relax after spectacular excursions to the Iceland’s natural wonders.