Thingvellir National Park is one of the jewels in Iceland’s crown, a mysterious landscape in a country steeped in myths and legends. Here, the terrain shifts and changes, the sky shines and stretches endlessly in all directions, and history runs very deep. Birthplace of Iceland’s parliament, the Althing, in 930 AD, many regard Thingvellir (or Þingvellir as written in Icelandic) as the very birthplace of the Icelandic nation itself. The park is a part of the famous Golden Circle tourist route and is simply not to be missed on any visit to Iceland. Here you can experience scenery unlike anywhere else and partake in adventures that you will never forget. Join us today as we share the story of Thingvellir and some suggestions for your visit. And while you’re here, please have a look at our range of Iceland Day Tours. Our Iceland Golden Circle Waterfall Tour includes a stop at Thingvellir, along with taking in many other highlights from the Golden Circle.
A History of Thingvellir
Iceland’s parliament, the Althing (or Alþingi in Icelandic) is the oldest continuously running parliament in the world, and, while it is today based in Reykjavík, its story began in the majestic, volcanic lands of Thingvellir. From the 10th to the 18th centuries, this open air parliament met for two weeks each year. The country’s most powerful leaders would gather to settle disputes, forge agreements, and bring into existence new laws. It was also here in 1,000 AD that the Althing decided that Iceland was to be officially a Christian country, and the park remains home to the delightfully picturesque Thingvellir church. For its importance in Iceland’s history, Thingvellir was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004 and it represents a kind of spiritual centre for the nation. The remains of the early parliaments can still be found within the park today, with some 50 turf and stone
booths having been identified. It is thought that archaeological fragments going right back to the 10th century survive beneath the surface. The land here has been shaped by farming and this long, observable history provides a fascinating insight into how Vikings moved from their pagan, warring way of life to a settler culture focused on agriculture. The distant, mysterious world of the Icelandic sagas seems to come alive here.
Thingvellir’s Extraordinary Landscape
Located on active volcanic lands and sat between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, Thingvellir impresses guests with an otherworldly beauty. This is the only place on earth where the Mid-Atlantic Rift is visible above sea level and it’s a magnificent experience to walk through Thingvellir’s valleys in the knowledge that you are standing between two of the world’s major tectonic plates – here, continents collided. In Thingvellir you stare in wonder at millions of years of geological processes. And the changes never cease, every year the plates move apart by a further 2.5 cm. However, while the area does experience earthquakes and is volcanically active, most quakes are minor and fortunately no volcanoes are expected to erupt anytime soon! For a once in a lifetime experience, visitors with diving experience may want to consider diving in the Silfra fissure. This deep, underwater crack in the earth’s surface is a result of the pulling apart of the tectonic plates, and here you’ll be able to swim in some of the clearest waters on earth.
Hiking in Thingvellir
The best way to enjoy Thingvellir is by hiking one its many trails. The park offers routes of varying degrees of difficulty, from short, easy walks, to longer and more taxing hikes. Whatever route you choose, there’ll be no shortage of enchanting sites to see along the way. History enthusiasts will love exploring the abandoned farms dotted around Thingvellir, including the Hrauntun farm, which was abandoned in the 15th century following an outbreak of the bubonic plague. The ruins at Grimsstadir are said to have once been the home of Grimur the Small, a figure linked to The Sagas of Icelanders. For natural beauty, walk through the valley where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and you will reach the hypnotising Öxarárfoss waterfall, a perfect spot for pictures. For scenic views across Thingvallavatn Lake, take the walk to the Almannagjá gorge.
Adventures in Thingvellir
Aside from the diving mentioned above, Thingvellir offers guests a variety of unforgettable ways to connect with nature. Iceland is home to its own native populations of horses, which are famous for their four-beat tölt gait. Horseback riding across the lands of Thingvellir is a tradition stretching back centuries, and the park is home to two trails dedicated to the activity today. Exploring Iceland’s unparalleled natural landscape on horseback is an experience unlike any other, a once-in-a-lifetime memory to take home. Elsewhere, fishing enthusiasts can relish excellent fishing spots at Thingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest lake. The lake is home to some of the world’s largest brown trout, along with healthy populations of Arctic char. Clear water, fresh air, and stunning scenery – a perfect place to fish.
This brings to an end our guide to the Thingvellir National Park. We hope we’ve inspired you to start planning your visit! If you have questions, we’d love to hear from you, please don’t hesitate to contact us.