Thingvellir is a favourite stop among travellers along the Golden Circle route. It has been a National Park in Iceland since 1930 and was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2004. When Viking settlers arrived in the 10th century it was the site they chose as the meeting place of Althingi, the world’s oldest parliament.
The location may seem a bit out of the way, but the unique geology created a natural amphitheater perfect for public speaking including the high rock wall of Logberg (Law Rock). Here the laws of the land would be recited from memory. The parliament’s members, godar, discussed and decided new laws and passed on judgments in Althing.
Aside from its historic interest, Thingvellir holds a special appeal for nature lovers. It is the visible site of the mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The plates are being pulled apart at a rate of 2 centimetres (nearly an inch) per year, creating the Thingvellir Rift Valley. The geology here is not only interesting to learn about but also spectacular to behold.
In winter it also offers a great view, especially after dark when the Northern Lights reign supreme on the sky. When snow covers the lave field and the days are short, the landscape becomes almost surreal. A visit to the national park offers some great photo opportunities in the winter. Thingvellir has been a favorite spot among professional and amateur photographers for years, and for a good reason.
According to a law, passed in 1928, Thingvellir shall always be the property of the Icelandic nation, under the preservation of the Alþing. The National Park was formerly founded in 1930, marking the thousand-year anniversary of the Alþing. Later the park was expanded to protect the incredible and diverse nature of the park. It was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2004.
Thingvellir tectonic plates
Thingvellir is notable for its unusual tectonic and volcanic environment in a rift valley. The continental drift can clearly be seen in the cracks or faults which traverse the region. At the park center you can learn more about Thingvellir’s geology.
At Almannagja, one of these faults on the west side of the plain, you can see the easternmost edge of the North American tectonic plate. It is normally submerged in the Atlantic Ocean. On the east side at the Heidargja Gorge, you are at the westernmost edge of the Eurasian plate.
South of Thingvellir you can see lake Thingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Lava fields stretches into the lake from the north and there are many fissuers in the lava. There you’ll find that water from the lake has found its way along with large trouts and arctic chars. Many tourist either go snorkeling in the lake and the many fissures, most notable Silfra Gorge (see below) or go fishing in the lake.
What to see in Thingvellir
There is much to explore in the park including the 20 meter (66 ft) Oxara waterfall, and the Nikulasargja Gorge, better known as Peningagja (Money Gorge) because it is customary to toss coins (and sometimes credit cards!) into the icy-cold water and make a wish.
The Oxararfoss Waterfall is a beautiful waterfall, though the pool under it has a darker story, for men and women were drowned there, after being sentenced to death in the Middle Ages.
The view from the top of Almannagja, where the visitor center is located, is stunning. Don’t forget your camera.
Snorkeling in Thingvellir
Thingvellir is also home to Lake Thingvallavatn known best for Silfra Gorge, an extraordinary dive site where you are literally swimming between continents in clear, glacial water. If you like snorkeling, this is something you need to try out.
How to get to Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir is located about 45km northeast of Reykjavik. If you drive the ring road north out of Reykjavik and pass the town Mosfellsbaer, you take the first exit to the right at a roundabout onto road 36, which leads you to Thingvellir.
Is there an entrance fee?
Thingvellir does not have entrance fee as such, but if you travel by car you will have to pay a parking fee of 500 ISK. The ticket is valid for the whole day and at all parking lots.
The Golden Circle
Check out our complete guide to the Golden Circle and West Iceland.