Iceland: The Land of Fire and Ice

Written by Lillian

October 23, 2022

What do “Game of Thrones”, “Interstellar”, and “The Dark Knight” Trilogy have in common? They all used the gorgeous, remote island of Iceland as their backdrop when filming! More recent movies, such as Will Ferrell’s “Eurovision Song Contest: the Story of Fire Saga” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, have put Iceland at the center of their narratives. 

After seeing Iceland on the big screen, I felt so compelled–I had to see it in person. I flew to Iceland’s capital Reykjavík, and I rented a car to explore the famed Ring Road: a highway that circles the entire island. But first, I had to load up on Icelandic snacks including pastries, licorice, and pylsa (Icelandic hot dogs covered with raw onions, fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard, and a remoulade sauce).

Icelandic pastries; I got the Kanilsnúða (cinnamon roll) and Vínarbrauð (Vienna bread: a puff pastry with a layer of fruit jam). 

Bragðarefur: an Icelandic blended ice cream similar to a Dairy Queen Blizzard. This was a size small, and the ice cream was literally too big for its container! I filled mine with chocolate and Icelandic licorice, a staple on the island.

After sampling the local cuisine, we took to the road! The first stops were the Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi waterfalls located on the Southern portion of the island. Close by was Skógafoss, a 60m waterfall which marks the former coastline of Southern Iceland. These waterfalls were gorgeous, but so frigid. The air temperature was 2 degrees Celsius; that paired with the cold misty water made my bones shiver! It was all worth it for the amazing views of the tumbling, unpredictable water.

Some of the stunning waterfalls along the Southern Coast of Iceland!

Further down the Ring Road lies the Reynisfjara beach. The black sand is striking as it emerges from the sea, formed from the erosion of volcanic rock. It is framed by a cave formed from regular basalt columns, which are oddly geometric for a naturally occurring rock feature. Out in the sea loom two rock pillars which have been compared to trolls in folklore. The day was overcast when we made it out to the beach, and the environment reminded me of a scene from Game of Thrones. The beach actually was featured in the series as a beach near Eastwatch near the Wall, a fact we learned shortly after visiting.

The black beaches of Reynisfjara which was featured in Game of Thrones as part of the Wall. It is characterized by the black beaches and basalt column cliffs.

After a weekend of hiking, we decided to take a much needed Spa Day at Blue Lagoon: a man-made geothermal spa. One of the most striking qualities of the spa is the opaque powder blue of the water that stays at a constant 38˚C. The color is due to the mineral Silica, which is a chemical compound of Silicon and Oxygen known for its regenerative properties. At the spa, there are complimentary Silica mud masks and drinks.

Best way to relax from a semester of non-stop travel? A trip to a geothermal seawater spa in Iceland!

Finally, I attempted to watch the Northern Lights before I left Iceland as a swan song to the trip. Iceland’s proximity to the North Pole and its remoteness makes it an ideal location for seeing the Northern Lights. Only on one of the days that we were in Iceland were the clouds clear enough to see the Northern Lights. We drove an hour away from the city to a dark, remote parking lot near the side of the Ring Road and waited. While the Northern Lights sadly never appeared, the night was ideal for stargazing. I was able to see the Milky Way for the first time! I don’t think I have ever seen so many stars!

So far, my trip to Iceland has been my favorite GTL trip. I loved the landscape of Iceland; the snow-capped volcanoes and large glacier patches covered the horizon. Everywhere else was dominated by moss covered Volcanic rocks and steam rising from geothermal vents. It’s no surprise that so many movies and television shows have been set in this distinct other-worldly island. It was a weekend filled with views that took my breath away, and I’ll never forget it.