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Staff at CCP Headquarters
Photo: Golli. Staff at CCP Headquarters.

A Nerd’s Guide To Iceland

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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. 

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