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As one of the three UNESCO world heritage sites in Iceland, the landscape at Þingvellir National Park is like another planet. A chasm divides the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates and you can walk and swim between continents here. Close to Reykjavík, Þingvellir National Park is usually the first stop on the famous Golden Circle route.
Þingvellir National Park adorned in rich autumn hues
Best time to visit
All year-round
Coordinates
64.28226, -21.07594
Distance from Reykjavík
51.8km (32mi)

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Exploring Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park history

Þingvellir (sometimes written as Thingvellir) National Park is a protected area of Iceland where two great tectonic plates meet. Folk flock to this vast stretch of landscape to witness the unique geology of Iceland brought to the surface.

Iceland is the only place on Earth where you can see the continental rift above the sea and the Almannagjá fissure allows you to walk between the tectonic plates, showing off the clearest example of the continental seam. As you walk between the black volcanic rock of the ravine, North America is on one side of you and Eurasia on the other. For millennia, the plates have been drifting apart by approximately 2.5 centimetres each year.

Apart from the island’s fascinating geology, Þingvellir National Park offers an insight into the human history of Iceland too. At Lögberg Rock, you can see the spot where Iceland’s and the world’s first parliaments gathered. The Alþingi first assembled in 930 AD, during the Viking age. Today, the spot where lawmakers and speech-givers would gather all those centuries ago is marked by an Icelandic flag.

In 1930, Þingvellir was awarded national park status, making it the first national park in Iceland, and in 2004 Þingvellir National Park’s UNESCO status was made official, making it one of the world heritage sites on the mainland of Iceland.

A group of people walking down the Þingvellir national park in Iceland
Hiking trails meandering across the volcanic landscape at Þingvellir.

Hiking and walking at Þingvellir National Park

Hiking trails meander across the volcanic landscape at Þingvellir. The most popular walking route runs through the Almannagjá fissure where you can admire the dramatic rock formations that have been created by the drifting of the continental plates.

This route is paved, taking you past waterfalls with an optional path to the site of the first parliament. Overall, it takes around half an hour to walk this 1.3 mile (2 kilometres) trail at a leisurely pace with time to snap pictures along the way.

For those who want to stretch their legs a bit more, there are plenty of longer trails throughout the national park. The trail from the visitor centre to Öxarárfoss waterfall takes in the classic route through the Almannagjá fissure and beyond, past the pretty Þingvallakirkja – a wood-clad church dating back to the 19th century. After around 7 kilometres (4.5 miles), you’ll reach Öxarárfoss Falls, tumbling over a cliff and crashing against the jet-black rocks below.

Overall, Þingvellir covers an expanse of around 240 square kilometres, and former bridle paths wend their way across the land, providing miles and miles of walking trails. Check a Þingvellir National Park map at the visitor’s centre to see where you can explore on foot. It is worth noting that camping is only permitted at designated campsites, and wild camping is not allowed.

A person snorkeling in the pristine waters of Silfra lake in the Þingvellir National Park in Iceland.
Snorkelling in pristine waters between two continents is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Snorkelling and diving at Þingvellir National Park

Within Þingvellir National Park, you’ll find one of the only places in the world where you can snorkel or dive between the continental plates. The Silfra fissure is filled with fresh spring water that has been filtered through porous volcanic rock, so the visibility down here is exceptional.

You can see over 100 metres clearly, which is a good thing as the other-worldly rock formations between the plates are a sight to behold. You don’t need any special qualifications to join a snorkelling experience at Silfra, but you do have to be an adequate swimmer.

For Scuba diving, you need to be PADI qualified and an experienced dry suit diver – the icy water is too cold for a wetsuit. There are plenty of organised diving and snorkelling tours to Silfra which include pick-up from Reykjavík.

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Near Þingvellir National park you can find amazing sights!

Things to See Around Þingvellir National Park

The national park is vast, covering a massive swathe of Iceland’s rugged landscape. Beyond the limits of the national park, you’ll find some of Iceland’s other natural wonders. A short drive away, Langjökull (the country’s second-largest glacier) offers a chance to explore a man-made ice tunnel. A Langjökull monster truck experience is a popular addition to a Golden Circle or Silver Circle experience.

Often the first stop on a Golden Circle tour, visitors tend to pair a trip to Þingvellir with a stop at Gullfoss waterfall and a stop at Geysir Geothermal Area. The three together make up the classic itinerary of this circular route from Reykjavík.

Of course, Þingvellir is also only a forty-five-minute drive from Reykjavík itself so all the sights of the capital are within easy driving distance, including the Sky Lagoon. This geothermally heated outdoor bath juts out over the North Atlantic Sea and is the perfect place to unwind with spa-like treatments after a day exploring the wild countryside.

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