National parks of Iceland are among the most beautiful protected areas in the whole world and come with stunning sceneries, unique landforms, and beautiful waterfalls.
All over the country, there are 3 national parks that are very popular among hikers and tourists from all over the world.
The parks cover about 14% of the total surface of the country and are completed by more than 120 protected areas where fauna and flora can grow undisturbed.
All the three parks from the country are packed with amazing attractions so visitors hurry to explore the area and take unique photos.
All these parks have a rich history behind them and are one of the most interesting landforms on the whole planet.
National parks Iceland are maintained and managed by the Environment Agency of Iceland whose main tasks are to encourage the use of sustainable resources, promote environmental protection, and advise tourists interesting in hiking and exploring the Icelandic wilderness.
During the summer months, there are plenty of programs initiated by the Environmental Agency of Iceland and volunteers can participate in different activities to conserve the protected areas.
Until 2008, there were 5 national parks in Iceland:
- Þingvellir National Park in South Iceland settled in 1930
- Skaftafell National Park, with a total surface of 4,807 km2 area located in South Iceland founded in 1967
- Jökulsárgljúfur National Park from North Iceland which was founded in 1973
- Snæfellsjökull National Park with a surface of 170 km2 area located in West Iceland and founded in 2001
- Vatnajökull National Park with a total surface of 13,952 km2 area from North-East Iceland which was settled in
Starting with 2008, the two national parks Skaftafell and Jökulsárgljúfur were included in Vatnajökull National Park which is now one of the largest parks in Europe and by far the largest from Iceland with a total surface of 14.141 square kilometers.
Conditions to name an area an Iceland national park
Iceland is amazing and unique and maybe most of you wonder why there are only 3 national parks all across the country.
In order to get the rank of a national park, an area must fulfill the following criteria, which are generally valid all across the world:
- the area must be wild and people intervention to be at its minimum
- the ecosystem must not be changed significantly by any human occupation or exploitation
- future investment, change, and development plans should follow a strict guidance
- the entrance to the park must be allowed only for educational, recreational, and inspirational reasons.
Getting to the Iceland national parks
The easiest way to get to each of these beautiful national parks in Iceland is by a rented car as the car gives you the freedom and the mobility so needed to explore such a wild country like Iceland.
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At the entrance of each national park Iceland, there are parking lots and most of the parking places have a daily fee.
Generally, the fee is somewhere between 500 to 1000 ISK (4 to 8 USD) and the validity of the ticket is for the entire day.
Some of the parks might have more than a parking lot like Thingvellir National Park but the ticket bought from a parking lot is valid for the entire area from the entrance of the park.
There are also guided tours and trips that allow you to explore these wild and beautiful areas of the country, but the prices are higher than the cost of a rented car.
Indeed you don’t have anything to worry about as the guide takes care of everything, but if you are traveling on a small budget then you should consider renting a car instead of buying guided tours.
Now let me tell you the most important things about the three Iceland national parks, useful information to properly plan your trip to Iceland.
National parks of Iceland
1. Þingvellir National Park
Because of its history, geology, and cultural importance, Thingvellir National Park is the only UNESCO World Heritage site from Iceland since 2004.
The park is conveniently located about 40 kilometers away from Reykjavik right on the Golden Circle route.
A short history about the park
Thingvellir National Park is the place where the first National Assembly was founded in 930 AD, is considered the first elected parliament from the whole world.
According to the historical evidence, one of the oldest national parks in Iceland, Thingvellir was the place where the early inhabitants used to gather in camps and decide over the faith of their people.
Most of the attendees of these meetings traveled for days, even weeks on foot or by horseback with the main purpose of making the voice of their people heard.
It was a great time for inhabitants from that time to meet new people, learn new things and listen to many interesting and stunning stories about life told by others.
Thingvellir National Park is also the place where the Icelandic people decided to drop their pagan ways and to start to believe in God, becoming a Christian nation.
When visiting this park you have the unique chance to walk on the footprints of our ancestors, to touch the stones that witness so many important events all over the years.
This is also the place where the two tectonic plates meet: The Eurasian and the North American one, and is the only place on earth where you can touch with both hands at the same time.
There is only one place like this on Earth and here I am talking about the Great Rift Valley from Eastern Africa.
The distancing between these two tectonic plates started from the ice age period and along time these plates produced a fissure, an incredible geological feature that is visible today.
The best way to explore this unique landform and for a unique experience, you definitely have to dive into the cold waters of Þingvellir Lake to touch with both hands at the same time the Eurasian and North American plate.
For quite a long time Silfra Fissure is considered to be among the 10 best places to dive and snorkel from the whole world.
Silfra Fissure Snorkeling Tour with Underwater Photos is the right choice for those of you looking to take part in a one-of-a-lifetime experience of snorkel where the two tectonic plates meet.
The tour lasts for about 3 hours and in the tour price, you have included a guided tour at Silfra Fissure. You also get a dry suit, and snorkeling equipment to keep you dry and warm, hot drinks, and some cookies at the end of your adventure, and free photos of this unique moment.
Silfra Fissure is an epic place with many unique and interesting features and it can be split into four distinct areas:
- the toilet, a narrow gorge at the entrance of the Fissure
- Silfra Hall, the widest point of the fissure that offers a dramatic view of the whole picture
- Silfra Cathedral, a dark and mysterious place
- real Blue Lagoon, a shallow area with many fissures and cracks.
The most spectacular feature is Almannagja located on the eastern part of the North American tectonic plate with almost 8 kilometers long. The western part of the Eurasian plate is called Hrafnagja and has 11 kilometers.
The next stop on your tour across the park is the beautiful waterfall Oxararfoss, a stunning water drop that goes down over the side of the Almannagja River.
The name of this waterfall translates as Axe Falls and the origins of the name are debatable. Some say that the name comes from the large number of executions that took place in this area. Others say that the name comes from the ax, a symbol of the land ownership at that time.
Sleeping close to Þingvellir National Park
-Luxury: without any doubt Hotel Grimsborgir Goldencircle is the best hotel in the area, if not from the whole country. It is located along the Golden Circle and offers amazing facilities, clean and spacious rooms with a breathtaking view, and outdoor geothermal hot tubs.
– Mid-level: Borealis Hotel Iceland is located about a 10-minute drive from Thingvellir National Park and each room comes with a private bathroom, a seating area, and wooden floors. The on-site restaurant serves not only breakfast but also dinner and you have to choose from a long menu of international and local products.
-budget: located on the Golden Circle route, Heradsskolinn Historic Guesthouse Iceland offers dorms and private rooms in an old school transformed into a beautiful hotel. The rooms come with a great view of the lake or the surrounding mountains and some of them have private bathrooms.
2. Vatnajökull National Park
The largest of all 3 national park of Iceland, Vatnajokull National Park is a real gem with glaciers, glacier lagoons, and many natural wonders.
It covers a huge surface, mostly covered with ice that encompasses from the Diamond Beach and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon to the south up to Odáðahraun, Holuhraun, and Trölladyngja, to the north.
Vatnajokull means the Water Glacier and this massive glacier covers about 13% of the total surface of the country.
Until 2008, in the vicinity of Vatnajokull National Park, there were two other parks: Skaftafell National Park and Jökulsárgljúfur National Park.
History of the park
The scientists concluded based on the studies they made that the ice cap of this glacier started to form about 2.500 years ago.
The place was extremely fertile, the inhabitants of that time used to raise heard of ships, collect eggs from wild birds and go to the coastline to hunt seals, fish, and whales.
But everything changed dramatically in 1362 when Öræfajökull erupted in 1363, the eruption that destroyed the landscape and the community that lived in this part of the country.
Since that time, the area is known as the “Wasteland” and it was no longer used by people that moved closer to the coastline and far away from the volcanoes.
But around 1783 things became worse when the second eruption strike; this time was another volcano Grímsvötn, the eruption that determined the last people to move away from the area.
Covering more than 8.100 square kilometers with ice, Vatnajokull is today known to be the largest in Europe with more than 500 meters of thick ice.
The main attractions from the park are:
- The Diamond Beach
- Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
- Bardabunga Volcanic Crater
- The Crystal Ice Cave
- Laki Craters
- Falljokull Glacier
- Svinafellsjokull Glacier
Nature lovers and adventures will find this park an amazing place for their next adventure as there are many interesting trails and activities to try in the area.
The most popular one is obviously the guided tour on the glacier and the tour that I have picked was called Skaftafell National Park: 3-Hour Glacier Hike, a 3 hours guided tour that starts at Skaftafell visitor center from where you will pick up your ice axes, helmets, harnesses, and crampons.
The tour will start in a bus that leads you closer to the glacier, and then you will continue walking on the glacier to spot the deep cracks and crevasses that shape the landscape of one of the most spectacular national parks in Iceland.
What I can tell you for sure is that Vatnajokull National Park is full of spectacular places, amazing landforms, and beautiful landscapes.
Here you can find one of the most interesting and stunning ice landscapes from the whole world and this Iceland national park is definitely the most popular in the country.
Like I said earlier, there are plenty of amazing places to see inside the park, and now it’s time to tell you some words about the most popular ones.
Skaftafell National Park
Skaftafell National Park is home to the highest mountain from Iceland with a maximum height of 2.110 meters (almost 7.000 feet).
The long and icy tongues of Vatnajokull stretch into the Skaftafell reserve and a wide range of hiking trails that start from the Sfaktafell Visitors Centre go along the glacier.
An extremely easy and popular hike is the one that goes to Svartifoss or the Black Waterfall a beautiful waterfall with a black basaltic wall and surrounded by dramatic cliffs.
Jokulsargljufur National Park
This beautiful national park, now part of Vatnajokull National Park is full of impressive waterfalls, natural resources, and natural wonders.
Among the most visited waterfall from the park, I would like to mention: Dettifoss waterfall, Rettarfoss waterfall, Selfoss waterfall, Asbyrgi Canyon, and Hafragilsfoss waterfall.
This part of Iceland is fabulous with its majestic waterfalls, beautiful sights, nature reserves and offers many hiking options.
Actually, Dettifoss is the most powerful from the whole of Europe has more than 100 meters in width. Its force is incredible and you can feel it and hear it if you stay in the area around the waters, as it is like a rumble of continuous thunder.
One of the most beautiful, but quite long and challenging hikes is the one along the rugged Asbyrgi canyon that has about 14 kilometers long.
This magnificent place is located in the most northern part of Jokulsargljufur National Park and its horseshoe shape attracts mountain lovers from all over the world, although the hike here is quite challenging.
The walls of the canyon have around 100 meters in height and in the area, you can find many colorful summer flowers and trees, things quite rare in Iceland.
Sleeping close to Vatnajökull National Park
-luxury: the luxurious rooms from Fosshotel Lagoon awaits its guests with clean and cozy rooms with huge windows overlooking the mountains, a great restaurant, and a bar. The glacier lagoon and Diamond beach are half an hour away from the property.
-mid-level: nestled in the middle of the wilderness Seljavellir Guesthouse Hofn is a great place to spend your night and observe the Northern Lights as the place is far from any light pollution.
– budget: the simple but clean Laekjarhus Farm Holidays Iceland located just 15 miles from the Glacier Lagoon is run by an Icelandic family of farmers, a great place to set your camp and explore the area.
3. Snæfellsjökull National Park
Located in the western part of the country and considered to be one of the wildest national parks of Iceland Snæfellsjökull National Park is definitely something you have to include in your travel plans besides the Ring Road and Golden Circle tours in Iceland.
Compared with the other two national parks from Iceland, Snaefellsjokull National Park is smaller but packed with many beautiful attractions.
The main attractions of the park are:
- Snaefellsjokull Glacier
- Djupalonssandur Beach and Dritvík
- Londrangar Rock Formations
- Songhellir Cave
- Vatnshellir Cave
The protected area includes a part of the beach, some small and picturesque fisherman villages, and untamed nature.
The highest point from the park is the Snaefellsjokull Glacier with a total height of 1.445 meters that can be seen from distance during days with clear sky.
The easiest way to get to the park is with a rented car and this is also the best way to explore the area as you have freedom and mobility to move around as you wish.
Have a unique experience by exploring the area in your own rented car
Whether you prefer day trips from your hotel or a tour around the country, car rental is the best way for creating your own experience and live your dream vacation
Or you can choose for a day trip from the capital city of Reykjavik to see the spectacular mountains and the breathtaking scenery.
Our recommendation is From Reykjavik: Snæfellsnes Peninsula Full-Day Tour, a great day tour that shows you the highlights of this remote part of Iceland.
The tour starts in Reykjavik in front of your hotel if you choose for hotel pick up with a 2-hour drive to Vatnaleið, a wonderful viewpoint located on your way to the final destination: Snaefellsjokull National Park.
On your trip, you will stop and admire the beautiful fisherman villages of Grundarfjordur, Hellnar, and Arnarstapi as well as the impressive craters Ljósufjöll and Kirkjufell.
Don’t forget to take sun cream with you as you will stop for a short walk on the beautiful Djúpalónssandur beach and your hiking boots to go up to majestic Snæfellsjökull glacier.
The whole tour lasts for about 10 hours and includes all the highlights of the peninsula, very well presented in the Jules Verne book called “Journey to the Centre of the Earth.”
Because of its beauty and the incredible density of nature’s wonders, locals and tourists call this part of the country “Iceland in a nutshell” so you definitely don’t have to miss this amazing place.
Being such a popular area, you will easily find restaurants, cafes, tours, and swimming pools as well as all the amenities you might be looking for for a wonderful holiday.
Sleeping close to Snæfellsjökull National Park
– luxury: hidden between the impressive lava fields, the beautiful Arnarstapi Cottages Iceland is the best choice for your stay in this part of Iceland. Each cottage comes with a private bathroom, a beautiful patio, and an electric kettle.
– mid-level: the clean and beautiful Vid Hafid Guesthouse Iceland located on the coastline with amazing rooms facing the mountain or the sea, all with private bathrooms and great amenities.
– Budget: Grund I Grundarfirdi Iceland is a beautiful guesthouse with a shared bathroom but is extremely great located, close to Snæfellsjökull National Park with a long list of outdoor activities available around the property.
All these national parks of Iceland are settled with a very precise purpose, those of protecting the country’s unique habitat and the beautiful wilderness areas.
Icelanders played a very important role in preserving the environment and they are strongly motivated to keep this country so wild and untamed for future generations.
After the beautiful and majestic waterfalls, the unique and healing hot springs, national parks in Iceland are the thirds most important thing that attracts thousands of tourists each year.
So, what are you waiting for?!
Pack your bag and hit the road as a spectacular country is waiting to be discovered by nature lovers from all over the world!
Logistical tips and tricks for your trip
Book your accommodation
We always use Booking.com as they have the best price-quality ratio and they offer a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and villas to choose from.
You will find here all types of accommodations, from the cheapest ones to the most luxurious.
Don't forget travel insurance
Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected events and cost like illness, COVID, injury, theft, or travel cancellation.
We never go on any trip without travel insurance and there were many cases when we had to use it.
Renting a car
We like to explore a country on our own and a car gives us the mobility and freedom to do that.
We always rent our car from Discovercars as they have free cancellation 48 hours prior to starting date and a wide range of car rental companies and options to choose from all over the world.
Tours and attractions
When we are looking for some adventure or we simply want to break up the monotony and discover new places, we always use GetYourGuide.
We love it because we always find the most amazing experiences, with free cancellation and a large variety of activities and tours to choose from.
Airplane tickets and holiday packages
Expedia is our ally when searching for the best price for airplane tickets as it works as an aggregator for a huge number of airlines and we always find the best price for our flights.
Travel tip: use Expedia when you are searching for holiday packages as they have many last-minute offers and great discounts for hotels, flights, and even the whole holiday packages.