Þingvellir National Park: Your Complete Guide

What is Þingvellir national park?

October 24, 2022

Þingvellir National Park: Your Complete Guide

What is Þingvellir national park?

October 24, 2022

Þingvellir National Park (sometimes spelled Thingvellir National Park in English) is simply one of the must-see sights in Iceland. Combining Icelandic history with geology that’s truly unique, Þingvellir is one of the most popular destinations in southern Iceland. A visit will show you why.

In this blog post, we share some of the highlights of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. And, while we’re here, we’ll give you some important tips on how to get around too.

Why not visit Þingvellir National Park on a Golden Circle tour in Iceland? Read on to find out more.

What is special about Þingvellir National Park?

Þingvellir National Park holds a special place in the culture and geography of Iceland. Visit Þingvellir and you’ll be walking on the site of over a thousand years of Iceland political history.

For most visitors, that may feel a little strange. Far from any major settlement, you’ll find yourself in a place of exceptional natural beauty—not in the typical halls of power we associate with politics. Instead, here you’ll find waterfalls, lakes, volcanic activity, and Silfra, Þingvellir’s incredible tectonic trench.

Whether you’re coming to the country for a historical tour or to see some of the world’s most beautiful sights, Þingvellir is one place you can’t miss on your trip to Iceland

What is the historical importance of Þingvellir in Iceland?

Þingvellir remains historically important in Iceland as the original site of the country’s first parliament. In fact, that’s what gives the site its name. In Old Icelandic, Þing means “assembly” or “meeting”, and völlur means “field”. Add them together and you have the “assembly place” of Þingvellir.

The spectacular landscape of today’s national park was once the place where Iceland’s political decisions were made. In the 9th century, the population of Iceland was growing dramatically, and the many different groups who lived here decided they needed an assembly to collectively manage conflicts and make decisions.

They chose Þingvellir as the place where that would happen. And in the year 930, the first national assembly—or Alþing—took place. That event is recognised as the founding moment of the Icelandic nation.

However, the history of the place wasn’t all rosy. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Danish monarch took over Iceland and disbanded the Alþing in 1798. Yet it would later play an important role in the campaigns for Icelandic independence. For example, it was here in 1874 that King Christian XI of Denmark granted Iceland its constitution.

Today, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Þingvellir is rightly celebrated as the place that’s been at the heart of Iceland’s national culture for over a thousand years.

The geology of Þingvellir

Þingvellir is not just a site of historical significance. A visit to the birthplace of the Icelandic nation takes you to one of the most impressive landscapes in Iceland too.

The special thing about Þingvellir is its position in a rift valley, a valley formed when two tectonic plates move apart. It’s one of the very few places in the world where you can actually walk between two tectonic plates.

Iceland itself was formed by the movement of the two tectonic plates known as the Eurasian plate and the North American plate. As the two plates moved away from each other, new land emerged in the space in between. That’s known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and Iceland is one of the only places where you can see it above the land.

At Þingvellir you’ll see the mid-Atlantic Ridge revealed in all its drama. Walking in the rift valley between the cliffs of the tectonic plates, you could say that you’re neither in Europe nor America, but in the gap in between. As the plates move, the valley—and Iceland itself—is widening by 2.5 cm (roughly an inch) every year.

Yet it’s not just the tectonic plates that form this landscape. Like much of Iceland, Þingvellir was once covered in glaciers. And beneath them volcanic activity rumbled away, creating the distinctive rock formations you see today.

Where is Þingvellir National Park?

If you’re inspired to visit Þingvellir, the good news is that it’s incredibly easy to visit. It sits less than 50 kilometres (31 miles) to the east of Reykjavik and can be reached in just over half an hour by road.

The national park itself is surrounded by some of the most distinctive landscapes in southern Iceland. To the north-east, there’s the Langjökull glacier, whose meltwaters feed most of the rivers in Þingvellir. To the south-west, you’ll find the Reykjanes peninsula that extends out into the north Atlantic.

Þingvellir is part of the world-famous Golden Circle, Iceland’s best-known travel itinerary. You’ll discover more about that below, but for now let’s explore some of the adventures you can enjoy in the national park.

What to do at Þingvellir National Park?

Þingvellir National Park has something for everyone—from the geology buff and the history fan to the amateur photographer. For those in search of a more active experience, there’s something for you too.

Here are some of the top things to do in Þingvellir.

Snorkel or dive in the Silfra fissure

Þingvellir’s mid-Atlantic Ridge doesn’t have to be explored on foot. Instead, get a thrilling perspective on this geological marvel from underwater on a snorkelling or diving experience.

The national park is home to Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Fed by underwater springs, as well as the meltwater from the Langjökull glacier, it’s a vast sight to behold. What’s more, it benefits from crystal-clear waters, giving you a lot to see below the surface too (in fact, some say it has the clearest waters in the world).

For those brave enough to face the cold, the most rewarding place for a dive in Lake Þingvallavatn is the Silfra trench. A crack in the earth created by earthquakes caused by tectonic movements, it offers a truly unique diving experience.

Marvel at the rock face as you swim between sections of the earth’s surface—and meet some of Þingvallavatn’s fish while you’re down there. - Discover underwater adventures on snorkelling and diving tours in Iceland

SD2

Visit the Öxarárfoss waterfall

The south coast of Iceland is home to many breathtaking waterfalls. They each have their own unique character, and Öxarárfoss is no exception.

Öxarárfoss flows from the river Öxará into the Almannagjá gorge, one of the most dramatic sections of Þingvellir’s mid-Atlantic Ridge. Waters fall about 13 metres (44 feet) onto the rocks of the trench, kicking up atmospheric clouds of spray.

In winter, the whole torrent is known to freeze over and becomes a popular destination for ice climbers.

Explore the park on the hiking trails

At about 240 km² (92 square miles), there’s so much to explore in the Þingvellir National Park. And the park’s extensive range of hiking trails can take you to all the best spots in the area.

There are options here for every ability. Öxarárfoss, for example, can be enjoyed as part of hikes that can take just an hour or two. Alternatively, longer routes take in all sides of the park—including Silfra, Þingvallavatn, and more.

Go fishing in Lake Þingvallavatn

For a different type of fun, try your hand at fishing in Lake Þingvallavatn.

As one of the largest lakes in Iceland, Þingvallavatn is home to three of the only five types of fish in the country: brown trout, Arctic charr, and three-spined stickleback. But while that might sound like an uninteresting catch, you’d be surprised.

Rather, in the clear waters of Þingvallavatn you’ll find some of the largest brown trout in the world. They grow to such an enormous size because they have been living here in isolation for thousands of years, with no direct predator.

It’s a great place for an incredible catch.

Experience the rest of the Golden Circle

As we mentioned above, Þingvellir is one of the three main sites that make up Iceland’s famous Golden Circle. If you’re visiting the national park, it’s definitely worth exploring the other sites on the itinerary: Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir Geothermal Park. Both are unmissable destinations on any journey through the south of Iceland.

Gullfoss rightly deserves to be one of the best-known waterfalls in Iceland. Here, the icy waters of the Hvítá river tumble down two dramatic steps before roaring through a tight canyon.

Like Þingvellir, it combines serene beauty with history, as once upon a time the waterfall was under threat by a project to develop the area for settlement. Luckily, it has remained in its gorgeous form for future generations.

And if Gullfoss offers the joys of witnessing water fall from great heights, at the Geysir Geothermal Park you’ll witness water spurting tens of metres into the air. That’s thanks to the volcanic activity that takes centre stage here.

Geysers are volcanic features in which hot water is forced out of the ground thanks to volcanic heat—and it was this very park that gave its name to the phenomenon. They’re a mesmerising sight and there’s nowhere better to see them.

Other attractions near Þingvellir National Park

There’s so much more to see around Þingvellir—from spas to craters and innovative farms. Here are 5 further highlights so you can enjoy everything that the area has to offer.

Kerið volcanic crater

Just off the Golden Circle route, you’ll find the volcanic crater known as Kerið. Visitors come for the unique reddish hues of its rocks, which contrast with the green of the surrounding countryside and the azure blue of the water the crater contains.

It’s thought that Kerið was once a cone-shaped volcano. However, after it erupted some 3,000 years ago, it’s likely that it used up all its magma and collapsed into itself. The crater you see in the ground is all that’s left. It’s a beautiful sight all by itself, and it gives you a different perspective on Iceland’s volcanic landscapes.

Friðheimar Greenhouse

One of the most surprising experiences nearby the Þingvellir National Park can be had at Friðheimar. At first glance, it’s a greenhouse that grows tomatoes. Yet this unusual Icelandic crop is grown entirely by geothermal heat.

Combining cutting edge farming methods with incredibly tasty meals, it makes for a compelling and unexpected stop on your journey in the area.

  • Visit the greenhouse on a tour of the Golden Circle and Friðheimar

Flúðir geothermal village

The little town of Flúðir is another destination that’s well worth adding to your day out around Þingvellir. Known for its green landscapes and its powerful geothermal activity, it’s one of the best places in the area for you to relax in a hot spring.

The so-called Secret Lagoon in Flúðir is Iceland’s oldest thermal spa. Created in 1891, it fell into disuse—but has since been renovated. It’s a beautiful historic place to relax.

Brúarfoss waterfall

We said above that every waterfall in Iceland has its own character. Brúarfoss, a short distance to the east of Þingvellir is known as the bluest waterfall in Iceland. It may be small, but its colour makes it very special.

It takes its name (meaning “bridge waterfall”) from a bridge that once crossed its torrent. While it was destroyed back in the 17th century, its name endures.

Laugarvatn Fontana Spa

At the centre of the Golden Circle, in the village of Laugarvatn, is the Fontana Wellness centre. After a day of exploring the natural wonders in the surrounding area, you definitely deserve to unwind in this renowned, restorative spa.

The spa benefits from its proximity to a freshwater lake, which can be part of your treatment—if you’re brave enough for a dip.

When is the best time to visit Þingvellir National Park?

Þingvellir National Park is an incredible destination at any time of year. But what you can expect to find there will differ depending on the season.

For example, in the summer you’ll see the beautiful green of Iceland’s landscapes. You can expect long evenings and warmer days too.

However, in winter the scene will likely all be covered in snow. At this time of year, you may be able to witness one of Iceland’s serene winter sunrises, which can happen as late as mid-morning.

Ultimately, there’s no best time to visit Iceland. All seasons have their perks—and the choice is entirely yours.

How to get to Þingvellir?

Þingvellir is easily accessible by road from Reykjavik. A little less than 50 km from Iceland’s capital, you can reach it in under an hour.

You do have a number of options of how to get there. It’s possible for you to hire a car and drive yourself to the national park. Or you can join one of the many tours that run to the site.

Tours to Þingvellir National Park

You can visit Þingvellir on any tour to the Golden Circle. Running daily throughout the year, tours can take you by bus or by private vehicle. Alternatively, if there’s something else around Þingvellir you’d like to try, it’s easy to add something extra to your trip too.

  • Visit Þingvellir alongside the other highlights of the Golden Circle—Gullfoss and the Geysir Geothermal Park—on a Golden Circle direct tour. It’s one of the most popular tours in Iceland for good reason.

Visit Þingvellir National Park with Reykjavik Excursions

Whichever tour you choose, you can expect an unforgettable day out with Reykjavik Excursions. With tours running throughout the year, we can help you visit Þingvellir National Park in comfort and style, whatever the season.

Of course, it’s not just Þingvellir that you can visit with us. Wherever you want to reach from Iceland’s capital, we’ll be there to make the journey easier.

From a Golden Circle tour to a trip to Iceland’s Highlands, book your adventure with Reykjavik Excursions.

REYKJAVIK EXCURSIONS BLOG

Get inspired! Information and tips and must see places in Iceland, fun facts, customs and more.

Northern Lights in Iceland: Your Guide

In this post, you can discover everything you need to know about seeing the aurora borealis in the land of fire and ice.

Read Blog

Þingvellir National Park: Your Complete Guide

What is Þingvellir national park?

October 24, 2022

Þingvellir National Park: Your Complete Guide

What is Þingvellir national park?

October 24, 2022

Þingvellir National Park (sometimes spelled Thingvellir National Park in English) is simply one of the must-see sights in Iceland. Combining Icelandic history with geology that’s truly unique, Þingvellir is one of the most popular destinations in southern Iceland. A visit will show you why.

In this blog post, we share some of the highlights of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. And, while we’re here, we’ll give you some important tips on how to get around too.

Why not visit Þingvellir National Park on a Golden Circle tour in Iceland? Read on to find out more.

What is special about Þingvellir National Park?

Þingvellir National Park holds a special place in the culture and geography of Iceland. Visit Þingvellir and you’ll be walking on the site of over a thousand years of Iceland political history.

For most visitors, that may feel a little strange. Far from any major settlement, you’ll find yourself in a place of exceptional natural beauty—not in the typical halls of power we associate with politics. Instead, here you’ll find waterfalls, lakes, volcanic activity, and Silfra, Þingvellir’s incredible tectonic trench.

Whether you’re coming to the country for a historical tour or to see some of the world’s most beautiful sights, Þingvellir is one place you can’t miss on your trip to Iceland

What is the historical importance of Þingvellir in Iceland?

Þingvellir remains historically important in Iceland as the original site of the country’s first parliament. In fact, that’s what gives the site its name. In Old Icelandic, Þing means “assembly” or “meeting”, and völlur means “field”. Add them together and you have the “assembly place” of Þingvellir.

The spectacular landscape of today’s national park was once the place where Iceland’s political decisions were made. In the 9th century, the population of Iceland was growing dramatically, and the many different groups who lived here decided they needed an assembly to collectively manage conflicts and make decisions.

They chose Þingvellir as the place where that would happen. And in the year 930, the first national assembly—or Alþing—took place. That event is recognised as the founding moment of the Icelandic nation.

However, the history of the place wasn’t all rosy. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Danish monarch took over Iceland and disbanded the Alþing in 1798. Yet it would later play an important role in the campaigns for Icelandic independence. For example, it was here in 1874 that King Christian XI of Denmark granted Iceland its constitution.

Today, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Þingvellir is rightly celebrated as the place that’s been at the heart of Iceland’s national culture for over a thousand years.

The geology of Þingvellir

Þingvellir is not just a site of historical significance. A visit to the birthplace of the Icelandic nation takes you to one of the most impressive landscapes in Iceland too.

The special thing about Þingvellir is its position in a rift valley, a valley formed when two tectonic plates move apart. It’s one of the very few places in the world where you can actually walk between two tectonic plates.

Iceland itself was formed by the movement of the two tectonic plates known as the Eurasian plate and the North American plate. As the two plates moved away from each other, new land emerged in the space in between. That’s known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and Iceland is one of the only places where you can see it above the land.

At Þingvellir you’ll see the mid-Atlantic Ridge revealed in all its drama. Walking in the rift valley between the cliffs of the tectonic plates, you could say that you’re neither in Europe nor America, but in the gap in between. As the plates move, the valley—and Iceland itself—is widening by 2.5 cm (roughly an inch) every year.

Yet it’s not just the tectonic plates that form this landscape. Like much of Iceland, Þingvellir was once covered in glaciers. And beneath them volcanic activity rumbled away, creating the distinctive rock formations you see today.

Where is Þingvellir National Park?

If you’re inspired to visit Þingvellir, the good news is that it’s incredibly easy to visit. It sits less than 50 kilometres (31 miles) to the east of Reykjavik and can be reached in just over half an hour by road.

The national park itself is surrounded by some of the most distinctive landscapes in southern Iceland. To the north-east, there’s the Langjökull glacier, whose meltwaters feed most of the rivers in Þingvellir. To the south-west, you’ll find the Reykjanes peninsula that extends out into the north Atlantic.

Þingvellir is part of the world-famous Golden Circle, Iceland’s best-known travel itinerary. You’ll discover more about that below, but for now let’s explore some of the adventures you can enjoy in the national park.

What to do at Þingvellir National Park?

Þingvellir National Park has something for everyone—from the geology buff and the history fan to the amateur photographer. For those in search of a more active experience, there’s something for you too.

Here are some of the top things to do in Þingvellir.

Snorkel or dive in the Silfra fissure

Þingvellir’s mid-Atlantic Ridge doesn’t have to be explored on foot. Instead, get a thrilling perspective on this geological marvel from underwater on a snorkelling or diving experience.

The national park is home to Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Fed by underwater springs, as well as the meltwater from the Langjökull glacier, it’s a vast sight to behold. What’s more, it benefits from crystal-clear waters, giving you a lot to see below the surface too (in fact, some say it has the clearest waters in the world).

For those brave enough to face the cold, the most rewarding place for a dive in Lake Þingvallavatn is the Silfra trench. A crack in the earth created by earthquakes caused by tectonic movements, it offers a truly unique diving experience.

Marvel at the rock face as you swim between sections of the earth’s surface—and meet some of Þingvallavatn’s fish while you’re down there. - Discover underwater adventures on snorkelling and diving tours in Iceland

SD2

Visit the Öxarárfoss waterfall

The south coast of Iceland is home to many breathtaking waterfalls. They each have their own unique character, and Öxarárfoss is no exception.

Öxarárfoss flows from the river Öxará into the Almannagjá gorge, one of the most dramatic sections of Þingvellir’s mid-Atlantic Ridge. Waters fall about 13 metres (44 feet) onto the rocks of the trench, kicking up atmospheric clouds of spray.

In winter, the whole torrent is known to freeze over and becomes a popular destination for ice climbers.

Explore the park on the hiking trails

At about 240 km² (92 square miles), there’s so much to explore in the Þingvellir National Park. And the park’s extensive range of hiking trails can take you to all the best spots in the area.

There are options here for every ability. Öxarárfoss, for example, can be enjoyed as part of hikes that can take just an hour or two. Alternatively, longer routes take in all sides of the park—including Silfra, Þingvallavatn, and more.

Go fishing in Lake Þingvallavatn

For a different type of fun, try your hand at fishing in Lake Þingvallavatn.

As one of the largest lakes in Iceland, Þingvallavatn is home to three of the only five types of fish in the country: brown trout, Arctic charr, and three-spined stickleback. But while that might sound like an uninteresting catch, you’d be surprised.

Rather, in the clear waters of Þingvallavatn you’ll find some of the largest brown trout in the world. They grow to such an enormous size because they have been living here in isolation for thousands of years, with no direct predator.

It’s a great place for an incredible catch.

Experience the rest of the Golden Circle

As we mentioned above, Þingvellir is one of the three main sites that make up Iceland’s famous Golden Circle. If you’re visiting the national park, it’s definitely worth exploring the other sites on the itinerary: Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir Geothermal Park. Both are unmissable destinations on any journey through the south of Iceland.

Gullfoss rightly deserves to be one of the best-known waterfalls in Iceland. Here, the icy waters of the Hvítá river tumble down two dramatic steps before roaring through a tight canyon.

Like Þingvellir, it combines serene beauty with history, as once upon a time the waterfall was under threat by a project to develop the area for settlement. Luckily, it has remained in its gorgeous form for future generations.

And if Gullfoss offers the joys of witnessing water fall from great heights, at the Geysir Geothermal Park you’ll witness water spurting tens of metres into the air. That’s thanks to the volcanic activity that takes centre stage here.

Geysers are volcanic features in which hot water is forced out of the ground thanks to volcanic heat—and it was this very park that gave its name to the phenomenon. They’re a mesmerising sight and there’s nowhere better to see them.

Other attractions near Þingvellir National Park

There’s so much more to see around Þingvellir—from spas to craters and innovative farms. Here are 5 further highlights so you can enjoy everything that the area has to offer.

Kerið volcanic crater

Just off the Golden Circle route, you’ll find the volcanic crater known as Kerið. Visitors come for the unique reddish hues of its rocks, which contrast with the green of the surrounding countryside and the azure blue of the water the crater contains.

It’s thought that Kerið was once a cone-shaped volcano. However, after it erupted some 3,000 years ago, it’s likely that it used up all its magma and collapsed into itself. The crater you see in the ground is all that’s left. It’s a beautiful sight all by itself, and it gives you a different perspective on Iceland’s volcanic landscapes.

Friðheimar Greenhouse

One of the most surprising experiences nearby the Þingvellir National Park can be had at Friðheimar. At first glance, it’s a greenhouse that grows tomatoes. Yet this unusual Icelandic crop is grown entirely by geothermal heat.

Combining cutting edge farming methods with incredibly tasty meals, it makes for a compelling and unexpected stop on your journey in the area.

  • Visit the greenhouse on a tour of the Golden Circle and Friðheimar

Flúðir geothermal village

The little town of Flúðir is another destination that’s well worth adding to your day out around Þingvellir. Known for its green landscapes and its powerful geothermal activity, it’s one of the best places in the area for you to relax in a hot spring.

The so-called Secret Lagoon in Flúðir is Iceland’s oldest thermal spa. Created in 1891, it fell into disuse—but has since been renovated. It’s a beautiful historic place to relax.

Brúarfoss waterfall

We said above that every waterfall in Iceland has its own character. Brúarfoss, a short distance to the east of Þingvellir is known as the bluest waterfall in Iceland. It may be small, but its colour makes it very special.

It takes its name (meaning “bridge waterfall”) from a bridge that once crossed its torrent. While it was destroyed back in the 17th century, its name endures.

Laugarvatn Fontana Spa

At the centre of the Golden Circle, in the village of Laugarvatn, is the Fontana Wellness centre. After a day of exploring the natural wonders in the surrounding area, you definitely deserve to unwind in this renowned, restorative spa.

The spa benefits from its proximity to a freshwater lake, which can be part of your treatment—if you’re brave enough for a dip.

When is the best time to visit Þingvellir National Park?

Þingvellir National Park is an incredible destination at any time of year. But what you can expect to find there will differ depending on the season.

For example, in the summer you’ll see the beautiful green of Iceland’s landscapes. You can expect long evenings and warmer days too.

However, in winter the scene will likely all be covered in snow. At this time of year, you may be able to witness one of Iceland’s serene winter sunrises, which can happen as late as mid-morning.

Ultimately, there’s no best time to visit Iceland. All seasons have their perks—and the choice is entirely yours.

How to get to Þingvellir?

Þingvellir is easily accessible by road from Reykjavik. A little less than 50 km from Iceland’s capital, you can reach it in under an hour.

You do have a number of options of how to get there. It’s possible for you to hire a car and drive yourself to the national park. Or you can join one of the many tours that run to the site.

Tours to Þingvellir National Park

You can visit Þingvellir on any tour to the Golden Circle. Running daily throughout the year, tours can take you by bus or by private vehicle. Alternatively, if there’s something else around Þingvellir you’d like to try, it’s easy to add something extra to your trip too.

  • Visit Þingvellir alongside the other highlights of the Golden Circle—Gullfoss and the Geysir Geothermal Park—on a Golden Circle direct tour. It’s one of the most popular tours in Iceland for good reason.

Visit Þingvellir National Park with Reykjavik Excursions

Whichever tour you choose, you can expect an unforgettable day out with Reykjavik Excursions. With tours running throughout the year, we can help you visit Þingvellir National Park in comfort and style, whatever the season.

Of course, it’s not just Þingvellir that you can visit with us. Wherever you want to reach from Iceland’s capital, we’ll be there to make the journey easier.

From a Golden Circle tour to a trip to Iceland’s Highlands, book your adventure with Reykjavik Excursions.

REYKJAVIK EXCURSIONS BLOG

Get inspired! Information and tips and must see places in Iceland, fun facts, customs and more.

Northern Lights in Iceland: Your Guide

In this post, you can discover everything you need to know about seeing the aurora borealis in the land of fire and ice.

Read Blog