Walking between 2 continents in Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park was founded in 1930 being the oldest protected area from the country, a place which played a very important role for Icelandic people, being the place where the first parliament in the world was born.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about the history of this place, the most important attractions and the cultural and geological aspects that make this place one of the most visited sites in the whole country.

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Location and getting there

Thingvellir National Park Iceland is located in Bláskógabyggð in the southern part of the country, about 40 kilometers away from the capital city of Reykjavik.

It is without any doubt the most popular attraction from the country, not only because of its proximity to Reykjavik but also because of its historical, geological, and cultural significance.

Thingvellir Þingvellir National Park National Park Iceland Golden Circle
Þingvellir National Park Iceland Golden Circle

National park Iceland Thingvellir is the only place on Earth where you can touch with your both hands the North-American Tectonic plate and Eurasian tectonic plates.

The park is extremely accessible from Reykjavik is located on the Golden Circle route so you can get here with a rented car or with a guided tour.

If you want to explore this beautiful attraction in your own way without being stressed by schedules, groups, and other similar things, then you definitely have to rent a car.

Iceland Car Rental Car Hire Ring Road
Iceland Car Rental Car Hire Ring Road

In this way, you have the mobility and freedom to go wherever you want, to stay for how much you want, and to fully enjoy the beauty of the place.

Get the best price for your car rental today

There are also guided tours from Reykjavik to this magnificent park, tours that last for the whole day, and offer guided trips across the Golden Circle with a stop to this national park.

Reykjavik: Golden Circle Full Day Tour with Kerid Crater is the best choice if you are looking for guided tours across the Golden Circle with a stop to Thingvellir National Park.

The tour lasts for about 8 hours and takes you from your hotel from Reykjavik and has the following stops: Kerid Crater, Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir, and Thingvellir National Park.

Reykjavik Golden Circle Full-Day Tour with Kerid Crater
Reykjavik Golden Circle Full-Day Tour with Kerid Crater

Origins of the name Þingvellir National Park

The name Þingvellir comes from Þingvǫllr which means Old Norse meaning assembly fields.

The place took its name from the Icelandic national parliament which was founded here in 930 and functioned in this place until 1798.

Pingvellir Thingvellir national park Tectonic plates in Iceland
Pingvellir Thingvellir national park Tectonic plates in Iceland

The name of the park is very often anglicized as Thingvellir and sometimes you might found it written as Pinvellir, but this is not correct as the letter “þ” (thorn) from the Old English is “th” not “p”.

History of Þingvellir National Park

This place become a national park mainly because people wanted to protect the last remains of the parliament site and also the beautiful attractions and the unique landforms from the area.

Based on historical evidence, this part of Europe began to be populated in 874 CE when Norwegians established here the first permanent settlement.

Over the centuries, the territory where is Iceland today was populated also by Celtic and Norse people, but the Norwegian people were the most powerful ones.

Iceland Thingvellir National Park Golden Circle
Iceland Thingvellir National Park Golden Circle

If initially there was just one important Norwegian family that settled on the island, in a couple of decades the number of the family increased but the most powerful one was still the first who colonized the island.

So this is how appears the need of other people living on the island to limit the power of the first Norwegian family settled here and so the first parliament appeared.

The person in charge of finding the suitable location for the assembly was a guy called Grimur Geitskor.

Meanwhile, the person who owned the Blaskogar, the region today known as Thingvellir was found guilty of murder and his land was declared public.

Grimur Geitskor heard about this and after a short inspection of the area, he considered it perfect for a general assembly: there was enough space for temporary dwellings, enough grass for the horses to graze, and accessible for people who lived all across Iceland.

Based on historic evidence, people living in the easternmost part of the country had to travel 17 days to get to this public assembly.

Thingvellir National Park places to visit in Iceland by car
Thingvellir National Park Northern Lights

The first gathering took place in the summer of 930 and this is the moment when the Icelandic nation was born, and also the moment when the first parliament appeared in Europe.

The parliament was in place in Thingvellir between 930 to 1271 and the landmark Law Rock was used as a natural platform for those holding speeches; every person who attend the assembly was entitled to present his case.

The assembly known as The Law Council served both Supreme Court and Parliament and members can be elected from a certain category of people.

Þingvellir National Park the social center

Thingvellir National Park Iceland played a very important role in Icelandic society and its culture.

Each year, during summertime, for about 2 weeks, people from all over the country come to this place to take part in the yearly assembly to express their opinion and discuss their problems.

Iceland Thingvellir national park Tectonic plates
Iceland Thingvellir national park Tectonic plates

Initially, people gather here only to take part in the annual assembly, but after a short period of time, they understand that these gatherings are good to sell goods and offer a wide variety of services.

In the following years, these gathers were used for merchandisers from all over the country to sell their goods and this was the best way to spread the news and to play all kinds of games to bond strong relations between people from different parts of Iceland.

Geography of Thingvellir National Park Iceland Golden Circle

Þingvellir National Park is located right on the Golden Circle route and is famous for its volcanic and tectonic environment in a rift valley.

This is the only place on Earth where you can touch with both of your hands these two tectonic plates in Iceland.

The cracks and faults that cross the area can be seen better in Almannagja a beautiful canyon formed by these two tectonic plates.

Pingvellir Thingvellir national park Tectonic plates in Iceland
Pingvellir Thingvellir national park Tectonic plates in Iceland

Part of the rift is covered with crystal clear water and along the rift, there is a special place known as “coin fissure” or Peningagjá, a place full of sparkling coins because starting with 1907 people start to throw coins from a manmade bridge hoping to bring luck and fortune into their lives.

The river that crosses through the national park is called Oxara and it forms a beautiful waterfall at the Almannagja known as Oxararfoss.

Inside the park, there is also a lake and on the northern part of the lake, there is the world-famous scuba diving place called Silfra fissure, ranked among the 10 best places for scuba and snorkeling in the whole world.

The best way to explore the Þingvellir National Park Iceland tectonic plates is to dive with professionals as we did.

We choose to book a seat at Silfra Fissure Snorkeling Tour with Underwater Photos, one of the best tours from the area that includes a guided snorkeling tour at the Silfra Fissure, dry suit, and other snorkeling equipment as well as hot drinks and snacks and some amazing photos of the unique experience.

Silfra Fissure Snorkeling Tour with Underwater Photos Guide
Silfra Fissure Snorkeling Tour with Underwater Photos Guide

If you don’t have a rented car and you are staying in Reykjavik, there are also tours that have transportation included plus the diving activity.

Silfra: Snorkeling with Underwater Photos & Pickup Service is the best tour for you if you stay in Reykjavik as besides the activities mentioned above you also have included the transport between your hotel and Thingvellir National Park.

Silfra Snorkeling with Underwater Photos and Pickup Service Guide
Silfra Snorkeling with Underwater Photos and Pickup Service Guide

Movement of tectonic plates Iceland

The area is periodically shaken by earthquakes as the two tectonic plates: North America and Eurasia are constantly moving.

The last major earthquake was recorded in 2000 when the stones fell into the rifts, the water splashed up and it became too muddy to see something into the rift.

Iceland Silfra Scuba diving snorkeling tour
Iceland Silfra Scuba diving snorkeling tour

The tectonic plates move constantly, the yearly average is 2 cm but the tensions inside the rift are extremely high and that is why periodical earthquakes take place.

Actually, the whole of Iceland owed its existence to a mantle plume that is located on the eastern side of the ridge channel.

Geologic history

During the last Ice Age, it is believed that the whole of Iceland, including Þingvellir National Park, was covered with a huge layer of ice, more than 1,000 meters thick.

Under this important layer of ice, volcanoes were still active and spit lava that melt the glacial shield and remodeled the land.

Around 18,000 years ago when the temperatures started to raise, the layer of ice melt and gradually revealed old rocks and lava fields.

Thingvellir national park Geology
Thingvellir national park Geology

Based on the evidence we have, specialists believe that the beautiful Lake Þingvallavatn appeared 12,000 years ago when the first glaciers started to melt.

10,000 ago when the glacier reached its actual position, a huge eruption took place and so Mount Skjaldbreiður appeared.

About 3,000 years ago a 9 kilometers eruption fissure appeared on the northeastern part of the park and Þjófahraun was born.

The last eruption took place 2,000 years ago and since then no eruption took place inside the park, but nobody can tell for sure for how long the park will remain dormant.

Vegetation and wildlife in Thingvellir National Park Iceland Golden Circle

Inside Þingvellir National Park you can find around 175 species of plants representing more than 40% of the Icelandic flora.

On the lake inside the park live more than 50 species of birds that stay here all year round and about 30 species of birds that come here during the Icelandic summer.

Iceland Thingvellir national park Tectonic plates
Iceland Thingvellir national park Tectonic plates

The most famous bird that comes to lay its egg in this part of the world is the great northern diver, a very protective bird that becomes quite aggressive in protecting its territory and its little chicks.

Besides the birds, inside the park you can spot some cute foxes as well as the mink, an animal brought in Iceland around 1931 mainly for its fur.

But as it happens quite often, some of the minks managed to escape and populated the whole area of the Icelandic territory.

Things to do in Þingvellir National Park

1. Dive or snorkel in Silfra Fissure

You cannot visit Iceland and especially Thingvellir National park without diving or snorkeling in Silfra Fissure right at the mid-Atlantic ridge from lake Thingvallavatn.

You cannot go on your own to explore the Silfra Fissure as it is too dangerous and against the law; you have to be accompanied by a professional diver.

Iceland Silfra Scuba diving snorkeling tour
Iceland Silfra Scuba diving snorkeling tour

It is a very crowded place as it is unique in the world so you’d better book your seat in advance to be sure you don’t miss this experience.

Silfra Fissure Snorkeling Tour with Underwater Photos, one of the best tours from the area that includes a guided snorkeling tour at the Silfra Fissure in a small group, dry suit, and other snorkeling equipment as well as hot drinks and snacks, and some amazing photos of the unique experience is the right choice.

Silfra Fissure Snorkeling Tour with Underwater Photos Guide
Silfra Fissure Snorkeling Tour with Underwater Photos Guide

If you have a rented car you can book directly this tour, but if you are staying in Reykjavik you will need also transportation from the capital city to Thingvellir National Park.

Those who are providing the tour mentioned earlier, have a package with transportation included.
Silfra: Snorkeling with Underwater Photos & Pickup Service is the best tour for you if you stay in Reykjavik as besides the activities mentioned above you also have included the transport between your hotel and Thingvellir National Park.

Silfra Snorkeling with Underwater Photos and Pickup Service Guide
Silfra Snorkeling with Underwater Photos and Pickup Service Guide

You can also dive in the Davíðsgjá because the water is also clear and you have good visibility, but the landscape is definitely less spectacular and you cannot touch the tectonic plates with both of your hands at the same time as you can do in Silfra.

So, all across the national park there are only two places where diving is allowed, and you need a permit to dive and all divers must have a drysuit certification (diving with a wetsuit is prohibited).

2. Hike inside the park

This national park is crossed by an impressive number of trails, with different lengths and degrees of difficulty.

The most popular ones are: Almannagjá Fault, Thingvellir, and Öxarárfoss Waterfall and I will tell you some short information about each of them.

Almannagjá Fault

This is quite an easy trail that starts at the visitor’s center and it is very clearly marked as it is covered by wood and winds across the two tectonic plates.

Thingvellir

Well, this is not quite a trail, it is the area overall and refers to the part of the park that is wilder and less crowded.

If you don’t want to follow the beaten path and you are looking for some new adventures, then go to the visitor’s center and discuss with the guide the hiking options from the area.

Thingvellir national park canyon Iceland
Thingvellir national park canyon Iceland

Just tell him how much time you would like to spend inside the park, the level of difficulty of the trail and he will give you the right suggestion.

Öxarárfoss Waterfall

Another popular hike inside Þingvellir National Park is the one that leads you to the beautiful Oxararfoss.

Oxarafoss waterfall in Iceland Thingvellir national park
Oxarafoss waterfall in Iceland Thingvellir national park

You can also get to the waterfall from the Almanngja trail and the path is very well marked so you will easily get to this beautiful attraction.

Sleeping close to Thingvellir National Park

Luxury: without any doubt Hotel Grimsborgir – Your Golden Circle Retreat 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 breathtaking views, and outdoor geothermal hot tubs.

Hotel Grimsborgir - Your Golden Circle Retreat Northern Lights
Hotel Grimsborgir – Your Golden Circle Retreat Northern Lights
Hotel Grimsborgir - Your Golden Circle Retreat Room
Hotel Grimsborgir – Your Golden Circle Retreat Room
Hotel Grimsborgir - Your Golden Circle Retreat spa
Hotel Grimsborgir – Your Golden Circle Retreat spa
Hotel Grimsborgir Golden Circle Iceland Thingvellir Hotel
Hotel Grimsborgir Golden Circle Iceland Thingvellir Hotel
Hotel Grimsborgir Golden Circle Iceland Tingvellir National Park Hotel
Hotel Grimsborgir Golden Circle Iceland Tingvellir National Park Hotel
Hotel Grimsborgir Golden Circle Iceland Tingvellir National Park Luxury Hotel
Hotel Grimsborgir Golden Circle Iceland Tingvellir National Park Luxury Hotel

Mid-level: Borealis Hotel 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.

Borealis Hotel Iceland Tingvellir Park
Borealis Hotel Iceland Tingvellir Park
Iceland Borealis Hotel Tingvellir National Park
Iceland Borealis Hotel Tingvellir National Park

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.

Heradsskolinn Historic guesthouse iceland Sunset
Heradsskolinn Historic guesthouse iceland Sunset
Heradsskolinn Historic guesthouse iceland Room
Heradsskolinn Historic guesthouse iceland Room
Heradsskolinn Historic guesthouse iceland Northern Lights
Heradsskolinn Historic guesthouse iceland Northern Lights

 

Heradsskolinn Historic guesthouse iceland
Heradsskolinn Historic guesthouse iceland

Conclusion

Today people come to Þingvellir National Park not only for history and geology but also for the unique opportunity to dive and snorkel in the place where North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.

There are also the animals and the rich fauna that attract many visitors, not to mention that an impressive number of scenes from Games of Thrones was filmed here.

Although a very popular destination among tourists from all over the world, Thingvellir National Park kept its charm and mystical air and once you see it you will fall in love with it.

This national park is the first stop when driving the Golden Circle followed by The Great Geysir, located in a volcanic activity area,  some amazing waterfalls in Iceland, and of course a short stop at Secret Lagoon, followed by a stop at Haukadalur Valley one of the best hot springs from the area.

 

Plan your trip to this beautiful place: Logistical tips and tricks

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
We never leave home without World Nomads Insurance or Safety Wings Insurance as they offer the best services and a good value for money.

Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected events and cost like illness, 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 Rentalcars. com as they have free cancellation 24 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.
 

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