Discover Thingvellir National Park

If you’re planning to visit Iceland, Thingvellir National Park will definitely be on your itinerary, no matter how long you’re staying. This must-see location is important, not only for outdoor enthusiasts but also for the foundations of Icelandic history. Whether it’s just the first stop on your Golden Circle road trip or you plan to spend a day or two exploring all that Thingvellir has to offer, we’ve got you covered. Find everything you need to know about the only UNESCO World Heritage site in Iceland!

What is Thingvellir?

If you’ve never been to Iceland before, we can’t blame you if you’re unfamiliar with the attraction and all that it means. Thingvellir, or Þingvellir, is a national park spanning 240 square kilometers or 92 square miles. The park is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. In fact, as these plates move away from each other, the park is growing by centimeters every year. It was also the site of the first Viking parliament speakers where families would gather to settle disputes and lay down ancient civilized law.

How to get there

Most people will visit Thingvellir as the first stop on Iceland’s Golden Circle route, starting from Reykjavík and hitting Thingvellir, Gullfoss, and the Geysir Geothermal area. If on a day trip from Reyjavík, the drive will take you around 45 minutes on Route 1. This is a main road and the park is well sign-posted so you won’t miss it.

Thingvellir in Icelandic History

After the settlement of Iceland by Norse Vikings, several clans formed in the 50 years following 874 AD. While their origin and language united them, unique customs and leaders developed over time, and this began to cause disagreements and disputes over land and resources on this new island. In 930 AD, around 30 clan chiefs met at Thingvellir, public land at the time, to have conversations about the establishment of law in Iceland. 

The Alþingi as it came to be known was a very early parliament meeting that was held annually in the same spot. News was shared between clans, criminals were tried, and arguments were settled, all based on collective decisions with no leader at these meetings. While these ran for centuries in the national park, little evidence remains on the activities as these shelters were dismantled after temporary use – however, some building foundations are still visible if you scour the landscape! After the period of Danish colonialism in 1844, the Alþingi was restored to the country’s capital, where it still takes place now.

Green view across Thingvellir National Park

Geology of Thingvellir

As mentioned above, Thingvellir is the spot where two tectonic plates meet. This rift is the reason for Iceland’s explosive volcanic history, and also the reason that Thingvellir itself is so fascinating. The park sits in the rift valley between plates, and it’s the only place on Earth where the edges of plates are visible above the Earth’s surface. Notably, a walk along the Almannagjá Gorge is also a walk along the edge of the North American tectonic plate – isn’t that incredible! 

As well as the obvious, the park is littered with geological oddities and interests. The landscape of the park is entirely formed as a result of its geology – lava fields where magma has cooled from past eruptions, ravines having opened up in past earthquakes, and crumbling rocks from these ancient tremors. Another fascinating feature in the park is Silfra Fissure, filled with glacially cold water.

Things to Do in Thingvellir

This fascinating place in Iceland is the perfect backdrop for some exciting outdoor activities. So whatever you like to get up to, there’ll be something for you at Thingvellir.

  • Hiking: There are some stunning hiking trails in Thingvellir National Park.
  • Fishing: Lake Thingvellir has some of the largest brown trout in Iceland, making it a great fishing location.
  • Horseback riding: There are a number of horseback riding tour operators in Thingvellir, and there is no better way to experience this iconic landscape than on the Icelandic horse.
  • Snorkeling or scuba diving: Scuba diving in Silfra Fissure is something you’ll never experience elsewhere, with some of the clearest water in the world.

If taking in this site as part of a wider Golden Circle tour, the chances are you won’t get to see all the above. The best way to make sure you explore Thingvellir as much as possible is to take it at your own pace. And the best way to take Iceland at your own pace is to rent a car. 

Sunny paved path through Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

If you’re planning even a short trip to Iceland, Thingvellir is a definite addition to your Iceland itinerary. Just a short drive away from the capital, the natural landscapes and outdoor activities available here are a must-see. If you’re looking to save money on accommodation, our campers are a great alternative to camping on the Golden Circle.