The Alþingi is an incredibly important part of Iceland’s development. As the oldest parliament still active today, its formation in 930 AD as a gathering of Viking chiefs in Þingvellir National Park pushed the Commonwealth Era of Iceland. Its significance continues to this day, from what happens inside the parliament building to the meaning of the building’s construction in itself. Find out more about the history and modern-day of Iceland’s Parliament building.
The first formation of any kind of parliament or democratic society started after the settlement of the country began around 874 AD. During this time, Viking arrivals to Iceland from neighboring land masses would settle in separate clans and would often deal with disagreements with battles or fighting.
In 930 AD, 32 clans decided that they would meet regularly in Þingvellir National Park to discuss issues among the people. At the time, the Norwegian kings who ruled over the land had little interest in settling disputes among commoners. These meetings would seek to solve issues through communication rather than fighting amongst themselves. While this was not 100% successful, and fights broke out, the parliament was where new laws were established and disputes were settled.
The meetings would decide the outcomes of blood feuds, fight to keep power with the people, and, in some cases, were known to grant divorces to unhappy wives. For this reason, and for so early in the country’s history, experts around the world recognize the progressive nature of the Alþingi institution. Meetings at this “parliament” had no leaders, but instead, a “Lawspeaker” was elected to record and announce any new laws that were decided.
Today, the Alþingi is a much more modern institution. Iceland’s parliament building sits in the heart of the country’s capital. The construction of the Icelandic Parliament house out of Icelandic stone was organized in 1874 to mark the millennium of the settlement of Iceland. Since its inauguration in 1881, all meetings of the Alþingi have been held in the building, not including those events held in Þingvellir National Park, the site of the original ancient meetings a millennium ago.
The Icelandic Parliament building stands in central Reykjavík opposite the Dómkirkjan. This lies on Austurvöllur Square near Lake Tjörnin, close to a number of the capital’s museums.
Reykjavík is a small city and, therefore incredibly walkable. Wherever you are staying in the city, the Parliament House is within easy reach. From the Hallgrimskirkja, possibly the most iconic building in the city, the Alþingi is just a 15-minute walk away. With the columns of the Hallgrimskirkja behind you, follow Rainbow Street (Skólavörðustígur) before turning left onto Bankastræti. Follow this street until you reach a left turn onto Pósthússtræti, where you turn right at the end. From here, you should be able to see the Alþingi.
Located in the heart of Iceland’s capital city, there are plenty of attractions nearby to form a jam-packed day in Reykjavík. Here are a few items to add to your city-break itinerary:
The City Hall of Iceland is a modern-looking building housing a miniature replica of the city inside. The building is located on the banks of Lake Tjörnin, a small body of water in the center of town, a hot spot for bird-watching in an otherwise very urban atmosphere.
If you’re looking for a quirky museum, Iceland’s Punk Museum is a great detour on your tour of Reykjavík. The exhibit is housed in a converted public toilet and showcases the fascinating history of punk music in Iceland. Music fans will love this small piece of Icelandic culture.
This interactive museum is a great experience for the whole family. Learn about the settlement of Iceland, including real insight into how the first arrivals on Icelandic shores lived.
Reykjavík is full of great places to stay to match any budget or travel requirements. There are countless restaurants to enjoy, particularly downtown, within easy walking distance of the Parliament House.