You will probably recognize Grjotagja Lava Cave from a particularly, um, steamy moment between Jon Snow and Ygritte near a hot spring inside a surprisingly cozy cave. It actually is a cozy cave in real life, inconspicuous and easy to miss if you don't know what you're looking for. That the particular scene was filmed in a studio, but the set was a painstakingly detailed recreation of Grjotagja, with a small waterfall added for effect.
The cave is far from secret, as it's now a well-known location for travelers. That being said, it's still worth a spot on your itinerary, as you can catch it when it's not quite as packed.
Long before the cave was featured in "Game of Thrones" (season 3, episode 5), the subterranean hideout was thought to be the home of outlaw Jón Markússon. Caves were often the home for lawbreakers throughout Iceland's history, as it was often thought that the dangerous lava caves were also home to trolls and other dangerous creatures. One thing we do know for sure: locals loved and frequented the hot spring that is housed within this cave up until the 1970s. It was then that something, frankly, terrifying began to happen that made it impossible to swim in its water; between the years of 1975 and 1984, the Krafla volcanoes erupted nine times. This volcanic activity and lava flow caused the cave's waters to boil, making it far too hot to swim in.
Currently the water is a comfortable temperature, but it is unstable and know to rapidly heat up without warning. Take care if you decided to test the hot spring with your hands or feet.
How to Visit
To get to Grjotagja Lava Cave, you'll have to travel to northern Iceland, near the Lake Myvatn region. There is a parking lot adjacent to the cave, but you can also take a hiking path from the nearby Dimmuborgir lava fields.
Getting into the cave is a careful process. There are jagged rocks lining the tiny entrance, levels of wider rocks to navigate, and not a whole lot of room to move around once you're inside. You can head off toward the right side of the cave, which has more room for sitting. Toward the left there are fewer places to plant yourself without getting wet. There's often a steady stream of tourists going in and out so finding a peaceful spot can be difficult.
The interior of the cave is the real draw of this area, but there is also a large crack in the volcanic rock along the top of the cave that draws a crowd of photo-seekers.
Tips for Visiting
It can get incredibly busy in Grjotagja Lava Cave. Be patient as you wait to enter the cave; you'll want to watch your steps as you take the short descent into the cave. If you plan on spending any extended amount of time in the cave, find a sitting spot as far away from the entrance as possible.
If you're visiting after dark, bring a flashlight as there is not natural or installed lighting inside. There have been times in the past where entry to the cave has been blocked off—do not ignore these warnings if they are up when you visit. This cave is located on private property and has been compromised by visitors in the past who have disrespected the space. When you visit, make sure to leave no trace and bring everything out that you bring in.
During the winter, the rocks around the entrance can get slippery. Take extra care navigating the area if this is the case.
What to Do Nearby
Dimmuborgir is a great activity to pair with Grjotagja, as you can walk between the two. There are plenty of hiking paths for all levels at Dimmuborgir and the history and folklore behind the area cannot be beat.
You can also visit the nearby Hverfjall crater, Myvatn Nature Baths, Námafjall Geothermal Area, Stóragjá hot spring, Lofthellir cave, and more. By visiting Grjotagja, you've already put yourself within visiting vicinity of the other Diamond Circle sights, setting you up for a fantastic weekend trip.