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Discover Thingvellir National Park: A Gateway to Iceland's Natural and Historical Wonders


Thingvellir National Park

    Few things in Iceland hold such a significant place in the nation’s heart as Thingvellir National Park. It contains ancient man-made waterways, a rift between worlds, and an incredibly rich cultural history. 

    If there is one thing you should cross off the Iceland holiday list, it’s the park. In this article, we deep-dive into what makes this the ultimate stop on a Viking holiday.

    The Geological Marvel of Tectonic Plates

    If you thought the continents on Earth were stationary and didn’t move around, think again. The entire crust of the Earth is split into huge so-called “tectonic plates” that float on top of Earth’s magma and slowly drag our continents around.

    These plates interact with each other in different ways, creating hot spots of geological activity that sometimes result in new land masses, just like how Iceland was formed. Some crash into each other, others sort of rub against each other, and the rest move away from each other. Iceland happens to sit on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is the Eurasian and American Tectonic plates moving away from each other.

    Tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park

    These three types of borders are often what create earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other geological phenomena (like mountains). For reference, the tectonic plates are roughly 125 kilometers thick on average, which might give you an idea of the magnitude of what can happen when these behemoths “interact” with each other.

    Exploring the Depths: Snorkeling and Scuba Diving at Silfra

    If you want to get hands-on when it comes to the division of the Eurasian and American tectonic plates, there is a spot in Thingvellir National Park that will make you jump up and down (and into the water) with joy! The Silfra fissure in Thingvellir is a glacial lake created from the boundary between the two plates and is one of the coolest (both in reputation and temperature) spots to go snorkeling or diving at.

    Snorkeling and Scuba Diving at Silfra

    In this freezing-cold lake, you can get into a thick, dry suit that keeps you warm enough to swim through a series of amazing areas of crystal-clear water. There is a specific place that used to be narrow enough for a person to hang suspended in the water and touch both tectonic plates at the same time. Now, the plates have moved too far away from each other for anyone to do this.

    To be allowed to dive in the Silfra Fissure, you need to have at least an Open Water diving certification or higher. You must have made at least 10 logged dives in a dry suit, and you need to have dived in a dry suit within the last 2 years. When you dive into the fissure at Thingvellir National Park, you are only allowed to go down 18 meters, regardless of how deep and crystal clear the lake is. To snorkel, you just need to be healthy enough to not get any health issues when swimming in the cold water.

    Where is Thingvellir National Park?

    If you are chilling in Reykjavik and don’t want to go too far away from town, Thingvellir National Park is going to be a great attraction for you. Not even 50 kilometers northeast of the capital, this gem sits snuggly at the foot of the dormant volcano Skjadbreidur in southwestern Iceland.

    The Historical Tapestry of Þingvellir

    Before Þingvellir became a national park, it had a much more important purpose for the nation. When the Settlement Era started to come to an end in Iceland, there was a need for law and order. This is what sparked the creation of a meeting place, much like the ones in the Viking homelands. An Allþing was created. The word “Allþing” literally translates to “meeting place”.

    This is where the island's residents came together to hold trials, indulge in trade, and make connections and deals between families and farms. Thingvellir National Park is also where the first parliament of Iceland was created around 930, making it the oldest legislature in the world. 

    Iceland didn’t have a king or queen until 1262, when Icelanders came together at Thingvellir to swear allegiance to the Norwegian king. Until this point, there hadn’t been a clear leader of the country, sparking power struggles between the local leaders. When they swore allegiance to the king, the local power struggle diminished, and the Allþing lost some power. Members of the Law Council kept some power and continued to meet for hundreds of years after that to decide new laws, trade, and settle disagreements.


    Today, this is one of many of Iceland’s incredible national parks and holds no legal importance.

    The Legacy of Þingvellir Church

    Not long after the Allþing was established, Iceland converted to Christianity, and a church was built at what is now Thingvellir National Park. This was around the year 1000 when the Norwegian king of the time sent timber and a bell as gifts to the newly established church. 

    The church that stands at Thingvellir National Park today is not the same as the one that was built in the 1000s. The current church was finished and consecrated in 1859. The pulpit in the church, though, dates to the year 1683.

    Renting the church for events costs roughly 20,000 ISK. Otherwise, the church is mostly open as long as there are staff nearby.

    Adventure Awaits: Activities in Þingvellir

    Even if the parliament is no longer coming together at Thingvellir National Park, there is still plenty of activity there. It’s a great place to visit on an Iceland holiday if you’re looking for a good mix of activities, attractions, and cultural history in one place.

    Thingvellir is the crown jewel of the Golden Circle, just northeast of Reykjavik, It is a must-visit if you want to get the most out of your holiday in Iceland.

    Horseback Riding Through History

    If you like animals and enjoy being in nature, riding on an Icelandic Horse through this otherworldly landscape will be the treat of a lifetime. Icelandic Horses are world-renowned for being calm, hardy, and reliable – perfect for a ride in the rugged lava fields and great for riders of all experiences.

    Back in the time of the Settlement Era, people from all over Iceland would ride on horseback to get to Thingvellir. This is your chance to experience the area like the Vikings did a thousand years ago.

    There are plenty of horseback riding tours that will take you through the surrounding landscape, so make sure not to miss out!

    The Hiker’s Paradise: Trails and Landmarks

    Going to Iceland and not hiking in nature is like going to the Blue Lagoon and not swimming in the mineral-rich waters. In and around Thingvellir National Park there are plenty of hiking trails that will take you through a journey of time and wonder. 

    There is a large area, roughly 5 kilometers in diameter, that is encompassed by Road 36 and Lake Thingvallavatn. This area has a lot of easy trails, well suited for anyone who can walk on their own. On the northern side of Road 36, there are many more hiking trails, but most of them are of the longer variety and cover terrain that can be tough to navigate for the unseasoned hiker.

    The Photogenic Beauty of Öxarárfoss Waterfall

    The centerpiece of most of the activity in Thingvellir National Park is the Öxarárfoss Waterfall. This is a man-made waterfall that is believed to have been diverted to support the assemblies many centuries ago. The waterfall is 13 meters tall and incredibly beautiful, perfect for a photo session.

    Öxararfoss waterfall

    You will need to take a short 10-minute hike before you reach the falls.  It’s not difficult at all and is suitable for anyone who can walk on their own. This area is accessible throughout the year, and the waterfall can completely freeze over in the winter, creating a wall seemingly made of crystals.

    The Photogenic Beauty of Öxarárfoss Waterfall

    How to Get to Thingvellir National Park

    Since this is one of the most popular spots for visitors in the high season, there are two main ways of reaching Thingvellir National Park in Iceland.

    Do a Self-Drive – Be the Master of Your Adventure

    If you are like us and enjoy taking the reins for your travels, renting a car, camper, or motorhome is going to be the way to go. We suggest checking out your preferred transport vehicle and booking it online before landing to ensure that you get what you want.

    When you’ve picked up your vehicle of choice (that you cleverly picked out beforehand), you take the first exit out on Ring Road 1 and follow it until you can take a right on Road 36. After that, it’s smooth sailing on the same road until you reach the visitor’s center at Thingvellir National Park. This won’t take you more than 45 minutes, so it’s an excellent day tour if you have a day to spare in the capital.

    If you’re feeling adventurous and want to extend the fun, continue the Golden Circle trip and experience attractions like the proud Geysir and the stunning Gullfoss.

    Where is Thingvellir National Park

    Get on a Tour and Relax

    If you don’t like driving around, then a tour from Reykjavik will fit you like a glove. Since tours go to Thingvellir National Park all year round, you can come whenever you want to experience the site. In Iceland in summer, however, there is a clear abundance of these tours, so you will be able to catch one with ease.

    A tour to Thingvellir National Park is often a part of a Golden Circle tour, so make sure you check which tour you get on. Alternatively, you can check which attractions you can find around the Golden Circle and match that with the departing tours. Many will also be multi-day tours that will take you around the area to visit the many attractions along the Golden Circle.

    The only downside with the tours is that you will have to share space and keep to the given timetable.

    Conserving Þingvellir: Efforts and Importance

    It’s not lost on anyone that Thingvellir is an incredibly important place for Iceland. In 1928, a national law was passed to protect the Thingvellir National Park, exactly 230 years after the last assembly was held there.

    Today, the park is one of the most visited national parks in Iceland, which means that strict rules need to be in place to protect its environmental and cultural significance. When you visit Geysir and other attractions, there are boardwalks with railings and specific marked paths that you need to adhere to. Few people in this world are as protective of their nature as Icelanders are.  

    Where to Stay Near Thingvellir National Park

    Given the popularity of this area, it’s as easy as pie to find good accommodation options. Accommodation, in this sense, is everything from camping (like the Vikings of old did) to staying at luxurious all-inclusive hotels (which a Viking would probably also have loved to do if it was an option). 

    For those who enjoy being close to nature, the best option is going to be the Thingvellir Campgrounds. Here, you can hook up your motorhome to electricity all year round, as well as have access to washing and WC. The only thing you’ll have to live without in the winter (between December and March) is the showers. Camping in Iceland in winter might not sound too enticing, but with the proper gear, it’s as cozy as can be.

    If you prefer to sleep in a house, there are the Thingvellir Cottages for rent at the site. These are budget-friendly options to the luxury hotels like Borealis Hotel where you can enjoy all that a top-notch hotel has to offer.

    What’s Close to Thingvellir National Park?

    As we already mentioned a couple of times, Thingvellir is a part of the most driven route in Iceland: The Golden Circle. Here are some of the most common stops along this route that we think are worth visiting:

    Planning Your Visit: Tips and Recommendations

    Regardless of what you prefer to do on your holiday, Thingvellir National Park will have something for everyone. Coming in the summer will mean more crowds, but the most beautiful setting. Wintertime will allow you some privacy and allow you to explore without competing with many other visitors.

    If you want to get the most out of your experience, we recommend a self-drive and camping. The best way to do that is through an Iceland motorhome rental and make sure that you get exactly what you want out of your holiday!