by Jonathan Duffy, Arctic Meta
Iceland has a rich cultural history, and a large part of that is cinematic. The country has churned out some of the most creative minds of our time, and there’s a chance something you have watched has been filmed in Iceland or has had an Icelander attached.
Many Icelanders have contributed to big film productions. Atomic Blonde was edited by Elisabet Ronaldsdóttir and guest-starred Icelandic actor Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson. In 2019 Hildur Guðnadóttir took home the first Oscar in Iceland’s history for best original score (Joker).
Iceland has also been a setting for some of the biggest films and TV shows of this generation. Many people come to Iceland each year to see some of the sites from Game of Thrones, Batman Begins and Prometheus.
Dettifoss was in the opening seen of Prometheus (2012)
In the last year, one Icelandic production studio was hard at work producing an original series for Netflix called Katla. Katla was released on June 17 and has since developed a following among tv watchers worldwide. But where was this show actually filmed? What is Katla about? Can you visit the locations of this show? Read on to find out all this and more.
What is ‘Katla’ About?
Katla is set in the small town of Vík, On Iceland’s south coast. The show takes place in a ‘possible’ not-too-distant future. It has been one year since an eruption began at the Katla volcano. Most of the inhabitants of Vík have evacuated the town, but there are a few residents who have remained behind despite the continuing eruption, volcanic ash and other unpleasant environmental situations.
The main arc of the series follows Gríma, a young woman devastated by the loss of her sister Ása, who disappeared on the day of the eruption. It’s hard to say much about what happens in the rest of the series without giving it all away, so let’s just say it appears the eruption seems to have awakened something else.
Katla is an 8 episode series that, at its core, looks at the traumas everyday people face and the way it changes them. It is the first Icelandic drama series to be produced entirely for Netflix. It was created and directed mainly by legendary Icelander Baltasar Kormákur. If you want a slow-burn brooding drama rooted in a little bit of sci-fi and folklore, this is the show for you.
Where Was ‘Katla’ Filmed?
Even though the show is set in a kind of made-up future, the locations are entirely grounded in reality. There are many locations in the series that are real places you can indeed visit.
Source: The 1918 Eruption of Katla. visitklaustur.is.
Most of the volcano activity in the show was created with CGI, but the Katla volcano is an actual place. Katla is indeed a real-life subglacial volcano in the South of Iceland. Katla is currently covered by Mýrdalsjökull Glacier, the fourth largest glacier in Iceland.
Of the 130 volcanoes in the country, Katla is one of the most significant. It last erupted in 1918 for 26 days. Katla is the kind of volcano that makes a real show when it does go off. It’s powerful and destructive, and most people in Iceland believe she’s well overdue. There is currently another volcano erupting closer to the capital of Reykjavík.
Katla Ice Cave
As mentioned above, Katla is underneath a glacier. As the regular melt and freeze cycles of the glacier occur throughout the year, sometimes tunnels or caves from. One of these is the Katla Ice Cave, a brilliant crystal-looking ice cavern.
Vík í Mýrdal is the most southern town in Iceland. Its location is pretty central on the south coast, and for that reason, it’s a popular rest stop for many who are travelling along this part of the Ring Road.
It has around 800 actual inhabitants, but it is still the largest township in a 70km radius. Vík sits directly to the south of the Katla volcano and has a well-known church on a hill overlooking the quaint town.
Vík Black Sand Beach
Located just behind the central gas station in Vík is a gorgeous black sand beach. This is a popular stop for tourists and photographers from all over the world.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Just before the town of Vík is another black sand beach called Reynisfjara. What makes Reynisfjara so fascinating is its hexagonal basalt rock cliff face. This odd effect occurs naturally when lava rock is quickly cooled. The end result is hexagonal columns that give this place an even more otherworldly appearance.
Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks
Although this wasn’t specifically a set in the show, it’s worth a mention. You could even call this place a bit of a guest star (because it’s in the background of quite a few scenes). The Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks are a collection of volcanic rocks that jut out from the ocean off the south coast of Iceland.
They can be seen from both the Vík Black Sand Beach and the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach. Legend has it that these rocks were once trolls who ventured out to sea to try and sink a ship but stayed out too long and were turned to stone by the sun.
The DC-3 Plane Wreck
In the 1970s, a US Navy Plane was flying over Iceland and had to make a crash landing on the South Coast because of an engine problem. There were no casualties, and the plane was abandoned. Since then, the rusted shell has become a popular tourist hot spot. The weathered fuselage sits on the desolate black sands of the Sólheimassandur area.
Source: Inside RVK Studios. RVKstudios.is
Iceland may have some of the most incredible locations for filming, but sometimes the weather isn’t the most cooperative player in the filmmaking game. For that reason, a lot of outdoor scenes need a great deal of planning and attention. Usually, they are shot in a relatively short period of time.
For interior shots (scenes indoors), a lot of the time, the sets are built on soundstages. A large portion of the internal scenes was shot at RVK Studios, a large complex and the first of its kind in Iceland. RVK Studios was founded by the series director, Baltasar Kormákur. The soundstage is located about a 15-minute drive from Reykjavík.
How Did They Film ‘Katla’ During the COVID 19 Pandemic?
Throughout the 300 day shoot of the series, the production only had to shut down once, for two weeks at the start of April 2020. The team were lucky because, throughout the entire shoot, the COVID numbers in Iceland remained relatively small, and the country never went into a total lockdown.
They were also quite lucky that most of the cast and crew were locals, so the risk of contracting the virus was significantly decreased. Katla was actually the first Netflix original series to start shooting again when the rest of the world was just going into lockdown.
For many involved in the outdoor shoots, it was like seeing their country in a whole new way. The South Coast of Iceland is very popular with tourists. If you take the town of Vík, for example, usually the number of tourists can outnumber actual inhabitants of the seaside village by 10 to 1 at most hours of the day. For the crew of Katla, when they arrived to shoot, the distinct lack of tourists was quite eerie. For them, it was almost as though the Vík they knew had become the fictional Vík from the series.
The director himself said it was like a ghost town, but like all Icelanders, he has also said that they are very much ready for tourists to come back.
How Can I See the Katla Film Locations on a Trip to Iceland?
Many of the locations in the show are incredibly easy to visit as a tourist. What makes a Katla sightseeing trip even better is the fact that most of the filming locations are right next to each other.
The easiest way to see them all would be to do so on a self-drive tour. You can leave from the capital of Reykjavík and make it to Vík in about 2 and a half hours if you don’t stop to see some of the other incredible sights along the way.
Reynisfjara, Vík and Vík Black Sand Beach are all places you can visit on your own. If you want to see the DC-3 Plane Wreck, you can park your car at the designated parking lot and walk out to the plane, or you can take a bus. The walk can take up to an hour each way; if you go by bus, it can get you there in about 15 minutes.
If you would like to see the Katla Ice Cave, it’s best to take it in on a tour. This is the only way you can get out to the ice cave, and it’s also the safest.
Take it from someone who’s been to all these places; if you really want to get the most out of it, don’t try to fit it all in at once. I would recommend taking about two or three days to see it all and maybe even fit in some of the other incredible sights of the South Coast.
If you are going to take your time, it’s great to stay somewhere on the South Coast, like the Panorama Glass Lodge. That way, you’re already in the heart of the action and can see the area in depth. One of the best things about the Panorama Glass Lodge is that these private chalets are a stone’s throw away from all the sites, yet still secluded and peaceful.
There’s nothing quite like coming home after a day of exploring to a comfortable private cabin with your own hot tub and a personal skylight so you can take in the wonders of the Northern Lights or Midnight Sun.
Is There Any Icelandic Folklore Based on the Katla Volcano?
When it comes to legends and folklore, the Icelanders don’t do things by halves. Katla is actually named after a cruel witch.
The story goes that Katla had special powers and also a special pair of trousers that allowed her to run as fast as the wind. One night a local farmer stole her trousers and used them to help round up his sheep.
Katla discovered her trousers were missing and immediately knew who had stolen them. She was so enraged that she murdered the farmer and stored his body in a vat of acid, used to preserve food.
Eventually, the authorities found out about the murder, and rather than face the consequences, Katla put on her trousers and ran into the mountain. She hid in a magma chamber, and it’s believed that her magic pants caused that chamber to become the volcano.
What Other Locations Worth Seeing Are Nearby the Katla Film Locations?
There are some incredible locations featured in the Katla series, but there is also a myriad of other notable sites to visit on the South Coast of Iceland.
From the moment you head along the southern part of Route 1, you will begin to see why this part of the country is so sought after as a tourist destination. It is home to some of the most spectacular waterfalls like Seljalandsfoss, with its cascading clear water flowing over the opening of a cave. There’s also Skógafoss, with its waters falling over almost flat volcanic rock, creating a great mist.
Overlooking Vík is Dyrhólaey, a high vantage point that faces the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also a popular spot for the Atlantic Puffin during the breeding season. From here, you can also see the Dyrhóleay sea arch, a famous circular hole in the middle of a sea stack.
After Vík, towards the East of Iceland is the enchanting Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The largest glacial lake in Iceland, Jökulsárlón is home to enormous icebergs that gently float as they seem to glow in blues and whites towards the sea.
At a time when we are constantly going in and out of lockdown, Katla is an incredible show to watch. It’s also a great piece of inspiration if you would love a place to look forward to visiting in the future.