It was time on the 8th day to leave Reykjavik behind us for the rest of the trip and head out on the trail to discover Westeros… I’m not really a Game of Thrones fan AT ALL, however tracking down some of the filming locations was great fun, and then getting to them was also very rewarding indeed! However that’s not until we had popped in to Reykjavik one last time to see yet another museum – Whales of Iceland! It has some pretty poor reviews on TripAdvisor claiming that it is boring and over priced… Now the models (and yes it is just models – although life sized) are absolutely brilliant, and give you such a great understanding of the sheer size of these animals… but more than this, it is incredibly educational. I can’t think of a better place to go during a family holiday, and even I absolutely loved it – and we didn’t have any kids with us.
When we first headed out of Reykjavik we drove back to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. The park don’t really make any fuss at all about the fact that scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed here, and whilst I understand protecting the heritage and natural beauty of the park, it surely can’t hurt to further improve visitor numbers. There are a few tour groups which come here to show the location of the bloody gate (which is in reality just a crack in the ground – and to be honest there are so many here I’m really not sure which one it was). There are no props left on site when not filming, although I have been told that in some of the more remote filming locations for beyond the wall, they leave many parts of the set in place when not filming.
Whether you go for the Game of Thrones connection or not it is a site of amazing natural beauty and there are some great hidden treasures such as water falls and 2 very special fissures which you can dive in – Silfra and Davíðsgjá. Silfra in particular (the fissure between 2 continents) is very popular, being often regarded as one of the best diving spots in the world at a depth of about 18 meters with visibility of well over 100 meters!
After enjoying a second (drier) visit to Thingvellir it was time to head in the direction of Selfoss, where we stopped for a KFC… We like to try KFC in as many different countries as we can (the same applies to McDonalds) as we like to compare – but in Iceland I think we should have given it a miss! However never mind the KFC, the next real part of the trip is Þjóðveldisbærinn which, whether you are a Game of Thrones fan or not is NOT to be missed. It is a beautiful grass covered farm house and chapel, hidden away from the road which makes it even more special.
To get here, head East out of Selfoss along route one to the first major road to the left which is the 30, until you get to the first right on to the 32… This road is absolutely stunning, especially the closer you get to your goal, which is about 3 quarters of the way along. You will know you are almost there when you see a sign to the right for Hjalparfoss… Sadly we missed this but I have seen photos and it looks like a great place to stop – we were too excited about getting to the next right after this for Þjóðveldisbærinn… The road heads down towards some corporate looking buildings but you want to go left down a dirt track to get to this little gem!
The site is a living history museum which is open from June until August and I would have loved to be able to go inside the buildings, which you can when its open. However we went in October so it was shut. However you can still get to it and have a look around the grounds along with the gorgeous scenery around it… Don’t be put off by the fact that its closed!
We wanted to finish the day in style so booked a night at the multi award winning Hotel Ranga near Hella (well they say it’s near – it was a good few miles), which is a great spot for seeing the Northern Lights… they even have a wake up service, although I foolishly thought it was by phone call. Don’t think you can have a snooze and be woken up by phone! I sleep naked as the day I was born and was very confused when awoken by a loud knock on the doo… This place is super dark which disorientated me even more, and I think the guy making the rounds telling people in person that the northern lights are out got more than he bargained for when I answered he door! However I digress – for the drive from Þjóðveldisbærinn to Hella, if you have a 2WD go back along the 32… We didn’t do this and went further along to enjoy the view across the mountains and then come back down route 26… This is basically a path over an old lava field made by Hekla – absolutely stunning, but not great in a 2WD vehicle!
We made it to Hotel Ranga with lots of time to check in to what is undoubtedly a beautiful hotel, and managed to have a walk around the outside to scout some spots to take photos of the Northern Lights from. After this we grabbed a drink in their VERY well stocked bar… Although I was more than surprised that in a bar where I must have counted about 10 different rums, they didn’t know what a cuba libre is, and when told still managed to get it wrong! There was also time after this to eat in their restaurant, which is award winning in its own right! The food certainly was delicious, but for someone who likes nothing more than a burger from which the grease and sauce drips down you arms, it certainly was a little posh for me.
But we didn’t stay here for those reasons! No… We were there for the Northern Lights (for tips on photographing this beautiful phenomenon click here), but sadly the clouds didn’t play ball! We did manage to see them but because it was slightly over cast and the Northern Lights not too strong it was a little under-whelming I must admit… But nevertheless I managed to get some great shots, and there are staff from the hotel on hand to give you some pointers and lend you their tripods and thermal suits. It really is well catered for the Northern Lights, and the manager was an absolute delight – making sure to speak to every guest in the restaurant!
A truly amazing way to finish off a beautiful day!