A Nerd’s Guide To Iceland

Staff at CCP Headquarters

What has Iceland contributed to the world’s favourite media franchises? Will nerds and fans recognise locations from their most beloved shows and films? Read on to discover just why Iceland is the perfect travel destination for geeks and freaks! 

Remember the days when people were derided as “nerds?” It might seem like a relic of the past, but large swathes of the population have been named as such simply for enjoying interests and hobbies outside of the mainstream. 

Thankfully, these days are long behind us. In the age of the internet, nerds, geeks, and dorks rule the world. Not only have they founded huge fan communities around countless IP’s and franchises, but they have contributed strange and unfathomable leaps in technology, media, and art.

CCP
Photo: Golli. Headquarters of CCP Games in Iceland

Why might nerds travel to Iceland? 


If ever a criticism was thrown at nerds, it was that they were unable – or unwilling – to live in reality. This might explain their affinity for fantastical settings like Middle Earth, Westeros, or far planets like
Star Wars’ Naboo or Dune’s Arrakis. 

Well, good news, geeks! 

If there was any country that could be easily construed as having leapt from a creative imagination, it would be Iceland. With its smooth table-top mountains, blackened coastlines, and quaint settlements, it’s easy to imagine yourself travelling through a place of pure fantasy.  

Iceland was discovered by the Vikings

Reykjavík statue
Photo: Golli. A statue in Reykjavík

Excluding the few Irish monks who once lived on Papey Island, it was the Vikings who discovered Iceland. Having braved cold and tempestuous seas in longships, Norwegian settlers were responsible for the founding of Icelandic society. 

Anyone familiar with the Berserker archetype in fantasy – commonly appearing in universes like Warhammer, Dungeons & Dragons, and Final Fantasy – might be interested to know that it was the Vikings who first inspired it. 

 

 

In Old Norse, the term berserkr described warriors renowned for their sheer brutality and lack of fear. Fighting while entrenched in a hallucinatory daze, these terrifying barbarians instilled horror in all that faced them in battle. By all accounts, such warriors seemed unkillable.

It is commonly believed that these trances might have been the result of them having ingested the psychedelic strain of mushrooms that grow freely around Iceland. While it may sound like a powerful trip, nerds in Iceland may want to avoid this for the sake of their sanity… 

Visit the Viking Festival in Iceland

Viking Festival Hafnarfjörður

For nerds in Iceland seeking out cosplay opportunities, the Viking Festival is held every June in the town of Hafnarfjörður. 

Visitors will see firsthand how Iceland’s earliest settlers dressed, lived, and spent their time. Expect interesting dining options, colourful outfits, and a spot of sword fighting or wrestling. 

J.R.R Tolkien’s Interest in Iceland

Portrait of Tolkien
Photo: J.R.R Tolkien. Public Domain. CC.

J.R.R Tolkien is famously known as the author of The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and The Silmarillion. These are sprawling works of genius that define fantasy to its very roots. Some may know that the writer found much inspiration in the Icelandic Sagas.

But not so many realise that he actually heard many stories of hidden elves and trolls from his Icelandic au-pair, Arndís Þorbjarnardóttir, who lived alongside the Tolkien family in 1929. 

J.R.R Tolkien never had the pleasure of travelling to Iceland himself. But he strongly believed that a knowledge of the Icelandic Sagas was crucial to understanding the foundation of mediaeval writing. In fact, he taught the subject as a Professor of English Language and Literature.

 

 

Actually, it might surprise readers to know that Tolkien did not put much importance on actually visiting the places that inspired him, opting instead to learn about them by deeply immersing himself in written works. In a 1943 letter to his son, Christopher, Tolkien writes:

“The bigger things get the smaller and duller or flatter the globe gets. It is getting to be all one blasted little provincial suburb. At any rate it ought to cut down on travel. There will be nowhere to go. So people will (I opine) go all the faster.”

Nerds in Iceland – know that you’re taking part in an adventure that Tolkien never had the joy of discovering. You can read more about ancient Icelandic beliefs in our article; Icelandic Folklore | Myths & Creatures

The creators largely filmed Game of Thrones in Iceland.

 

 

Winter is coming… 

This iconic phrase – the ominous words of the northern House Stark – is uttered by almost everyone come September in Iceland. 

It is not just for the novelty and truth behind these words. 

In fact, many locations from HBO’s hit series, Game of Thrones, were filmed in Iceland. Given that fact, this island is forever linked with George R.R Martin’s spectacular fantasy franchise. 

Primarily, Iceland’s snowy winter landscapes stood in for anywhere “north of the wall.” This describes that mysterious and unruly region inhabited by wildling tribes, packs of direwolves, and the White Walkers’ terrifying army of the dead. 

When you watch our hero, Jon Snow, traipsing across a plateau of snow, blackened volcanic rock, and expansive sheet ice, there is an excellent chance you’re looking at the Icelandic countryside.

 

Where was Game of Thrones filmed in Iceland? 

File:Joseph gatt game of thrones iceland set.jpeg
Photo: Actor, Joseph Gatt, at Thingvellir National Park in Iceland. Wikimedia. CC.

Some of the most famous Game of Thrones shooting locations that nerds in Iceland will want to explore include:

  • Þingvellir National Park 
  • Svínafellsjökull glacier
  • Mýrdalsjökull glacier
  • Lake Mývatn
  • Grótagjá cave
  • Hverir geothermal area
  • Kirkjufell mountain 
  • Dyrhólaey rock arch
  • Skógafoss waterfall 
  • Stakkholtsgjá canyon
  • Þórufoss waterfall 
  • Þjórsárdalur Valley
  • Reynisfjara black sand beach
  • Dimmuborgir 

Filming Locations in Iceland for Star Wars… and other Sci-Fi

 

 

If there is one beloved science-fiction franchise that dominates all others, it is Star Wars. 

Lightsabers. Jedi knights. Death Stars. Luke Skywalker. Darth Vader. Even those who have not seen the films know all too well what such terms point to. 

In fact, George Lucas’ fantastical world has made such a dent on global culture that it’s impossible to imagine a world without it. Well, wouldn’t you know that two Star Wars films have actually used Iceland as a shooting location?

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader
Photo: Mirko Toller. Wikimedia. CC.

If you remember the opening scenes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), you may recall how an imperial spacecraft lands on terrain defined by its black pebbles. From the ship steps out an officer of the Galactic Empire. Stormtroopers adorned in black-shell suits guard him on either side, demonstrating their superior rank compared to the more typical, easily-killed white-dressed soldiers.

You might not have realised on watching it, but that’s actually Mýrdalssandur desert, an outwash plain of Mýrdalsjökull ice cap. You can visit this site and others while on a sightseeing trip along Iceland’s picturesque South Coast. 

Iceland was also used in Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015). The volcano, Krafla, stood in for the infamous ice planet, Starkiller Base. 

What other science-fiction movies were filmed in Iceland? 

 

 

There are numerous other examples of Icelandic landscapes standing in for the glorious settings found in science-fiction. Nerds in Iceland will want to catch up on their movies before travelling here.

Most people know that Ridley Scott’s follow-up to the Alien films, Prometheus (2012), famously used Dettifoss waterfall in its opening scene. Then there was Christopher Nolan’s 2014 epic, Interstellar, that used the mighty ice cap, Svínafellsjökull, for trailers and marketing materials. 

Only a year before, Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) picked out Reynisfjara beach, marking the first time a film in the franchise was shot outside of the US. Another film that year – Oblivion starring Tom Cruise – used Hrossaborg volcanic crater, Jarlhettur ridge, and Drekavatn lake as shooting locations.  

What Superheroes movies were filmed in Iceland? 

 

 

Superhero movies have become a genre in and of themselves. And with so many action-packed blockbusters released every year, it’s little wonder that some of them used Iceland as a primary filming location. 

One of the first superhero movies to shoot in Iceland was Batman Begins (2005). Christian Bale is seen training in front of the glaciers,  Svínafellsjökull and Vatnajökull, standing in for the heavenly mountains of the Himalayas.

Other superhero films that have since been shot in Iceland include Captain America: Civil War (2016), Justice League (2017), Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), and Thor: The Dark World (2013). 

Are there any other movies that were filmed in Iceland? 

Ben Stiller in Iceland
Photo: Ben Stiller on set in Iceland. Wikimedia. CC.

Wouldn’t you know it… there are! 

One film that puts Iceland firmly in the spotlight is Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020). Starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, the story follows two Icelandic musicians as they take part in the Eurovision Song Contest – a long held dream of the Icelandic people. 

Another famous movie shot in Iceland is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), starring Ben Stiller. Many people often cite this uplifting dramatic comedy as their first introduction to Iceland.

Not only does much of the story take place here, but the director places great emphasis on sweeping landscape shots, unveiling this island’s beauty in true cinematic form.  

Ultimately, Hollywood has used Iceland as a production stage for so many features that it’s tricky to give them all due credit. Among other big titles include Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008), Jupiter Ascending (2015), and The Fate of the Furious (2017). 

Iceland developed EVE Online.

CCP headquarterrs interior
Photo: Golli. CCP Games in Iceland

As mentioned, Icelanders are well adept when it comes to technology. Our young island boasts very fast internet speeds thanks to being between Europe and North America. Thus, it has more-than-capable data centres and servers, making it one of the best places in the world to develop video games. 

The best known video game to come out of Iceland is the epic and complex EVE Online. For those unaccustomed to the game, CCP’s major ongoing project is an enormous living universe where ship captains – or capsuleers, as they are known – take on various missions as part of their chosen faction. 

 

 

Whether that be dominating a nearby star system, or trading in expensive minerals to earn a profit, EVE Online offers its players plenty to do. Though, be warned: EVE Online has been out for over a decade now. With the difficult mechanics and ever changing in-game economy to take into consideration, it will likely take time to truly maximise your time in space.

For those nerds in Iceland interested, CCP commissioned the EVE Online Monument in tribute to their player base. Located at Reykjavik’s scenic Old Harbour, visitors will discover the usernames of thousands inscribed onto the dual domes of the sculpture. It is an interesting and fitting dedication to how users have helped develop and grow the world of EVE Online. 

The Nexus Store – Where Icelandic Nerds Unite!

No photo description available.
Photo: Nexus Facebook.

Nerds in Iceland – are you looking for merchandise from your favourite movie and literature franchises while exploring the country? If so, the famous Nexus Store has you covered. 

Figurines, board games, costumes, and comics are all found at Nexus. While many belong to globally beloved franchises, a devoted selection is dedicated solely to local creations. After all, you may not speak or read Icelandic, but a comic book written and published in this island’s mother tongue still makes for a brilliant souvenir or gift! 

However, be aware that no Nexus stores are located in downtown Reykjavik, so you may need to make a special trip in order to browse their wares. 

Nexus also boasts a great online shop. Even if you can’t make it in-person, it’s worth stopping by its website to see the wide selection of items on offer. 

The Patchwork of Progress

actress ebba katrín finnsdóttir

Resilience Imagine you’re a young woman struggling with addiction. You’ve lost custody over your toddler daughter, and you’re awaiting a court hearing to determine the future of your guardianship. In order to regain custody, social services – against your wishes – have enrolled you at Hússtjórnarskólinn: The School of Home Economics in Reykjavík, founded in 1942 […]

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Icelander Receives Emmy Recognition

Emmy Award

Sigurjón Friðrik Garðarsson received an Emmy award last weekend as a member of a team from Stormborn Studios. The team won the award for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Single Episode for their work on the miniseries Five Days at Memorial on Apple TV+.

The team was chosen from a pool of nominees including popular shows like Wednesday, Ted Lasso and The Umbrella Academy. Sigurjón did not attend the ceremony himself, but watched from home, Vísir reports. “This project came to us two and a half years ago or thereabouts,” Sigurjón said. “It’s about the few days at Memorial hospital in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina hit and the city flooded. Our job was to make the city look submerged.”

Teamwork key to the success

A number of Icelanders have received Emmy recognition in the past, including composers Hildur Guðnadóttir and Ólafur Arnalds. Sigurjón’s role in Stormborn Studios’ team was that of a compositing supervisor. “My job is to make the image look believable, both technically and artistically,” he explained. “I’m sort of a link to the visual effects supervisor who in turn is in contact with the director and producer.”

Sigurjón said that a project of this scale requires teamwork and that many people were involved. “We’re a fairly small studio compared to many others in the field so it’s very fun that the little guy gets recognised as well,” he said, adding that he hasn’t quite taken in the honour yet. “But it’s a great recognition of what we’ve been doing and our work as a team.”

Blackport Garners Recognition at 2023 Edda Awards

verbúðin iceland television

The Edda Awards, the annual awards for Icelandic film and television, were held last night, March 19.

By far the most decorated production of the evening was Verbúðin (English title: Blackport), a historical drama about the fishing quota system in Iceland. Nominated in 16 categories, Blackport took home 9 awards.

Winners in their categories are highlighted in bold.

Film of the Year

  • Svar við bréfi Helgu (A Letter from Helga)
  • Sumarljós og svo kemur nóttin (Summer Light, and then Comes the Night)
  • Against the Ice
  • Berdreymi (Beautiful Beings)
  • Volaða Land (Godland)

Documentary of the Year

  • Velkominn Árni (Welcome, Árni)
  • Út úr myrkrinu (Out of the Dark)
  • Sundlaugasögur (Swimming Pool Stories)

Television Series of the Year

  • Trom
  • Svörtu sandar (Black Sand)
  • Randalín og Mundi: Dagar í desember (Randalín and Mundi: Days in December)
  • Brúðkaupið mitt (My Wedding)
  • Verbúðin (Blackport)

Director of the Year

  • Heimir Bjarnason (Þrot)
  • Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir (Svar við bréfi Helgu)
  • Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson (Berdreymi)
  • Hlynur Pálmason (Volaða Land)
  • Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Gísli Örn Garðarsson & María Reyndal (Verbúðin)

See the full list of Edda Awards nominees here.

The Edda Prize was first awarded in 1999 for excellence in Icelandic film and television and is awarded annually. This year’s award ceremony was noteworthy as the final Edda Awards for both film and television. Future award ceremonies will split the two. In total, some 165 works were submitted for consideration this year. Of these, 117 were television productions, 10 were films, 9 were documentaries, and 22 were children- and youth media.

Read our profile of Verbúðin here.

True Detective Series Will Be Largest-Ever Foreign Investment in Icelandic Culture

The upcoming series of HBO Max television show True Detective will be filmed in Iceland over a 9-month period for a budget of around ISK 9 billion [$64.8 million; €63.9 million]. The project entails the largest-ever foreign investment in culture in Iceland’s history. Minister of Culture Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir says the project is proof that government initiatives are helping put Iceland’s film industry on the map.

Fourth season set in Alaska

While it will be filmed in Iceland, the fourth season of True Detective is in fact set in Alaska, where the story follows detectives Liz Danvers (played by Jodie Foster) and Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) as they investigate the disappearance of six men from a research station. True Detective has received praise from critics and audiences – and won five Emmy Awards.

Film rebate raised from 25% to 35%

Iceland’s government recently raised the repayment for production costs for films and TV series shot in the country from 25% to 35%. Iceland’s Culture Minister Lilja Alfreðsdóttir presented this and other initiatives to members of the film and music industry on a recent trip to Los Angeles.

“I feel a lot of support here in Los Angeles with the initiatives we have been implementing in the last year or so to promote creative industries in Iceland,” Lilja stated. “The True Detective project is the largest foreign investment in the field of culture in Iceland’s history. With a clear vision and multifaceted actions, we are succeeding in making our country a highly respected partner in the world of cinema. International film companies are ready to invest in bigger, longer-term projects than they did. It is a huge victory for Icelandic culture and economy and confirmation that what the government is doing matters.”

Daði Einarsson Wins BAFTA Award

The Witcher / Twitter

Icelander Daði Einarsson has won a BAFTA award for Special, Visual, and Graphic Effects in the Netflix show The Witcher. Daði won the award alongside his colleagues Gavin Round, Aleksander Pejic, Oliver Cubbage, Stefano Pepin, and Jet Omoshebi. The Witcher also won in the category of Make-up and Hair Design at the annual awards last night, held by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Daði is a visual effects supervisor known for his work on the films Everest (2015), Gravity (2013) and Adrift (2018). He was the executive visual effects supervisor for ten episodes of Trapped between 2015-2016. His credits also include two Harry Potter movies, where he worked as an animator and visual effects supervisor.

Daði is not the first Icelander to win a BAFTA award. Musicians Ólafur Arnalds and Hildur Guðnadóttir have both won BAFTAs, for their composing in the TV series Broadchurch and the film Joker, respectively.

Two Additional Film Studios to Rise in Reykjavík

Katla Netflix

Reykjavík Studios Purchases a 4,000 square metre building in the Gufunes district of Reykjavík yesterday in which the company plans to build two state-of-the-art film studios, RÚV reports. Director Baltasar Kormákur says that when renovations are completed, it will be possible to film blockbusters like Harry Potter in Iceland. The project is expected to cost around ISK 1 billion, [$7.7 million; €7 million], and Baltasar hopes it will be completed by the end of the year.

Baltasar’s production company Reykjavík Studios has made a name for itself with many successful television series and films, including Trapped and Katla. The company already has a studio next door to the purchased building, where this year’s Söngvakeppnin competition was filmed. That studio is one of the largest in Europe, and too big for certain projects, according to Baltasar, which is why the new building will be split into two smaller film studios. “There will be a sound-proof wall between them, and there will be two smaller studios that will be more useful for the Icelandic film industry than [our other studio].”

The new studios could also house concerts and events, Baltasar says, but there is much work to be done before that will be possible. “I’m hoping I can put it to use this year,” Baltasar stated. “We are ready to go all-in into construction.”

The studio’s success depends on the government fulfilling its promises regarding reimbursement of film production costs. The current government policy provides a 25% reimbursement of all filming production costs incurred in Iceland, both for local and international production companies.

Trapped Season Three Premieres in Iceland

There’s something for both local and international viewers in the third series of popular Icelandic TV show Trapped, which premiered in Iceland last night. Familiar faces from Iceland’s music and media scenes will impress Icelanders with their handling of minor roles while beautiful landscape shots will charm Icelandophiles abroad, the guests of a new RÚV podcast on the series argued. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson stars as usual in the role of Detective Andri, this time investigating a murder committed on the property of a religious cult in North Iceland.

The creators of Trapped began working on the third season of the show as early as December 2018. Filming finally began in Siglufjörður, North Iceland in September of last year. Shooting was subject to COVID safety protocols: cast and crew had their temperature taken daily when arriving on set, and a COVID safety supervisor was on set at all times to make sure distancing and mask-wearing regulations were followed.

Eurovision and hip-hop stars feature

Among the musicians featured in the show is former Eurovision singer turned yoga teacher Ingibjörg Stefánsdóttir, who is convincing as a meditation guide at the cult. Rock DJ Andrea Jónsdóttir, well-known to locals in Iceland, appears in a bar scene, while hip-hop artist Flóni also appears in the show.

It remains to be seen whether the show’s third series will enjoy as much success as the first two.

The Garden Sweeps Up at Iceland’s Edda Awards

gullregn the garden Icelandic film

Iceland’s Edda Awards ceremony took place last night, handing out accolades to the best film and television produced last year. Ragnar Bragason’s film The Garden (Gullregn) swept up at the ceremony, taking home 9 awards from its 12 nominations. The film won in the categories Best Film, Best Director, Best Script, and Best Actress.

The Garden tells the story of Indíana (Sigrún Edda Björnsdóttir), who lives in a council estate, where she tends to an award-winning tree. Her world is turned on its head when her son Jónas (Eyþór Gunnlaugsson) turns up with a foreign girlfriend (Karolina Gruszka).

Another notable winner was the Stöð 2 TV series RAX Augnablik, focusing on the career of photographer Ragnar Axelsson. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson of Trapped fame took home the Best Actor award for the leading role in The Minister (Ráðherrann). Comedian Ari Eldjárn’s Netflix special Pardon My Icelandic took home the award for Best Comedy Show.

The Icelandic trailer for The Garden can be seen below.

Icelandic Series Katla Premieres on Netflix Today

Katla Netflix/Lilja Jónsdóttir

Just ten years ago it was unthinkable that a foreign company as big as Netflix would be interested in producing an Icelandic TV series for the global market, according to director Baltasar Kormákur. Icelandic series Katla, co-written and co-directed by Baltasar, premieres on the streaming platform today. The fictional drama takes place in Vík í Mýrdal, South Iceland, during a volcanic eruption so intense it starts melting a glacier from which “mysterious elements” start to emerge “with consequences no one could ever have foreseen.”

Katla is the first Icelandic television series produced by Netflix in collaboration with Reykjavík Studios. Containing ten episodes, the series was written by Baltasar along with Sigurjón Kjartansson, Davíð Már Stefánsson and Lilja Sigurðardóttir. Lilja and Baltasar also directed the series alongside Börkur Sigþórsson.

“It’s an idea I got quite a long time ago and was playing around with,” Baltasar told RÚV. “What if the glaciers would melt and we have no idea what’s under them. Then it developed. I knew it wouldn’t be easy because it’s heavy in production.” Then Baltasar received a call from Netflix and the idea suddenly became a real possibility.

Baltasar describes Katla as a combination of folktale, science fiction, and psychological “noir mystery,” a form he says provided lots of freedom. “We stuck to a certain realism in terms of what the situation would be like after one year of a volcanic eruption. But then we let go of the reins and it was as if the team filled with energy, it was a lot of fun.”