Did you know there are dragons in Iceland? I know…crazy, right? The country is known as the Land of Fire and Ice thanks to its explosive volcanoes and massive glaciers. But could Iceland also be the land of dragons? Absolutely! Iceland is a magical place with lots of folklore (most Icelanders supposedly even believe in elves), so why not dragons? While I can’t guarantee you’ll find the fire breathing, medieval type of dragons like Khaleesi’s beloved Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion on Game of Thrones, you will discover other types of scaly companions in some unexpected places. Let’s go hunting for dragons in Iceland.
Do dragons really exist in Iceland?
If you ask historians and those who wrote the Icelandic Sagas, the answer is yes! According to these stories, back in the days of the Vikings, there were many protective spirits running around Iceland. In the famous saga about the history of the kings of Norway, poet and historian Snorri Sturluson wrote about a giant dragon swooping down a valley near Vopnafjörður fjord. It scared the approaching man and caused him to flee, thus giving up his mission to make landfall. This dragon is actually one of four spirits that supposedly guarded Iceland. You’ll see a dragon, a bull, a vulture, and a giant as the shield bearers on the country’s official coat of arms.
This tradition in Icelandic mythology is still honored today. When visiting Iceland’s parliament in Reykjavik, see if you can spot a dragon amongst the bas-relief sculptures that decorate the windows of the Althingi.
But are there really dragons in Iceland? Or are they just tall tales cooked up by storytellers of the past? Or perhaps, much like the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland, they’re a mixture of both local folklore and people trying to make sense of what they’ve witnessed. It’s entirely possible that Iceland’s dragons are really just giant lizards that used to run around the island. We can never really be sure. There are legends of a creature called the Lagarfljót Worm (another monster that lives in a lake), which date back to the early parts of Iceland’s history. Perhaps the word “dragon” is just a mistranslation and what they really want to describe is a large serpent. This creature has been spotted in recent times near Hallormsstaðir in East Iceland, so this could be the Icelandic dragon we’ve been hearing about all along.
Game of Thrones and Dragons in Iceland
Anyone who is a Game of Thrones fan (or an Iceland fan) can tell you that many of the iconic show’s dramatic outdoor landscapes were filmed in this small Nordic country. From areas north of the Wall to Wildling and White Walker territory, Iceland is home to a multitude of backdrops where battles, tragedies, and standoffs took place on the hit HBO series. The Háafell farm in Borgarfjörður, West Iceland is one such filming location. As the home to the country’s only goat farm with livestock whose lineage dates back over 1,000 years, these Icelandic goats are the real deal.
Who can forget the scene from Game of Thrones in season four where Khaleesi’s fearsome black and red dragon goes hunting while breathing down fire from the sky. Drogon picks up a poor, frantically bleating goat and flies away as a young shepherd boy looks on helplessly. This all happened in Iceland. While Khalessi’s “child” may have been created by digital effects, the goats in the scene are very real. No animals were harmed in the making of the production. But Cassanova (the goat carried away by the dragon) became a fan favorite.
And of course (spoiler alert!) let’s not forget the epic sequences in season seven that take place north of the Wall. First, Khaleesi loses one of her children (Viserion) when she swoops in and rescues Jon Snow in a battle with the Night King and the White Walkers. In the season finale, the Night King rides a newly zombified Viserion as the dragon’s icy blaze destroys a section of the Wall and decimates the Night’s Watch. We all felt chills (no pun intended) as we watched the White Walkers cross south of the Wall.
Hunting Dragons in Iceland – Lake Lagarfljót and Beyond
Whether or not you believe in dragons, you’ll find that Iceland has plenty of folklore to keep you satisfied. See if you can spot the dragon in the country’s coat of arms or the sculptures above the Althingi’s windows. If you’re feeling really adventurous, take a trip to Lake Lagarfljót. Try to have an encounter with Iceland’s version of Nessie (if you dare). And of course, you could always play it safe. Just watch episodes of Game of Thrones from the comfort of your own home. If there really are dragons in Iceland, why risk it?