Thingvellir (or, in Icelandic, Þingvellir) is the only place in the world where you can stand between two continental plates, in a distinctive geological landscape that changes every year. Part of the Golden Circle, Þingvellir is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an important historical location in Iceland. Visit Thingvellir National Park all year round and explore one of the most unique geological sites in the world!
Located in southwest Iceland, Thingvellir (or Þingvellir, in Icelandic) is held in high esteem thanks to a rich cultural and geological history. Thingvellir is known as the birthplace of Iceland as a nation, and home to the oldest ongoing parliament in the world. In the boundaries of this unique national park, the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates drift away from each other. You can walk in the seismic rift valley that marks the border between the two continents. The plates slowly shift apart by 0.78 in (2 cm) a year, changing the landscape and creating an extraordinary sight.
Along with breathtaking hiking routes, Thingvellir National Park also offers an exceptional diving opportunity at Silfra Fissure. In Silfra, you can snorkel or dive between two tectonic plates in the clearest water on the planet!
One of the most iconic destinations in Iceland, Thingvellir National Park is part of the three main attractions of the Golden Circle. If you’re in Iceland, you must visit Þingvellir!
Thingvellir National Park is located in southwestern Iceland, around 28 mi (45 km) northeast of Reykjavik. It’s often the first stop of travelers on the Golden Circle and is located just off the famous Ring Road.
The best way to visit Thingvellir National Park from Reykjavik is by renting a car or on one of our tours. Public transport does not run between the capital and Þingvellir.
When traveling from Reykjavik, take Road 1 towards the North, heading out of the city. Drive through a town called Mosfellsbær and take the first exit at the roundabout located just outside the town. Get on Road 36 that will take you to Þingvellir and follow the road signs. It takes around 45 minutes to reach the national park from Reykjavik.
There’s also a summer road from Reykjavik with great views of Lake Thingvallavatn along the way.
Take Road 1 towards Hveragerdi/Selfoss on the south coast. Soon after leaving the city, turn left onto road 431 and follow it all the way to road 435 (Nesjavallaleid). This road is open from May to September, depending on the weather. Cross the Hengill volcano and turn left on road 360 (Grafningsvegur). Drive along the picturesque banks of Lake Thingvallavatn for around 7 miles (11 km). Then jump onto Road 36 and follow the signs to Thingvellir National Park, which is around 5 mi (8 km) from there.
Þingvellir occupies a special place in every Icelander’s heart thanks to its significant role in Icelandic political and cultural history.
The history of Þingvellir dates back to the Viking Age, when Norsemen settled far and wide along the shores of Europe and even North America. Due to a land shortage and internal territorial disputes in Norway, many people packed up their belongings and made the move to other lands, one of which was Iceland. One of the first Norwegian settlers in Iceland was Ingólfur Arnarson, who reached Reykjavik around 870 CE. Many people followed his example and established farmsteads along Iceland’s shores.
While most came from the same country, the settlers had different visions for their new lives and started to disagree about how the lands would be ruled. District assembles started to form, but the main power circulated Reykjavik, where Arnarson’s descendants dominated. A general assembly was needed in order to limit their power.
Þingvellir and the Start of the Icelandic Nation
Grímur Geitskór, a half-brother of Iceland’s first lawspeaker, was asked to find a suitable location for the assembly (Althingi), the local governmental system. Around the same time, the landowner at Bláskógar (an old name for Þingvellir) was convicted of murdering his servant and stripped of his rights. Þingvellir became public land and a clear opportunity for Grímur.
Bláskógar was considered a convenient location for the assembly meeting, as it was relatively central, (only) taking around 17 days to reach it from the farthest corners of Iceland. The sheltered location was perfect for an assembly meeting as there were enough firewood and water on the site. Bláskógar became the assembly site and was dubbed Þingvellir, which translates to “fields of assembly.” In 930 CE, over thirty chieftains gathered together to take part in the first Icelandic national parliament, Alþingi. Most scholars mark this year as the start of the Icelandic nation.
The first meeting was so successful that chiefs returned to Þingvellir every year. Alþingi became an institution, a time when districts shared their news of the previous year, altered old laws and created new ones.
Alþingi – The First Parliament
The Icelandic Commonwealth period ran from the year 930 until 1262. The law council, Lögrétta, was the supreme institution of the Alþingi, and the Lögberg or Law Rock was its focal point. It was also a natural platform for holding speeches. A Lawspeaker was elected for a three-year term and presided over the council as the Althingi’s mouthpiece. All decisions were made collectively.
Legislative and judicial authority gradually transferred from the hands of Alþingi to Norwegian and later Danish rulers, and the Althingi became more of a ceremonial rite and festival in Icelandic society. The last assembly meeting at Þingvellir was held in 1798.
In 1843, the King of Denmark agreed to host an advisory assembly in Iceland. The following year, the country’s first official election was held, reinstating the Althingi, albeit now based in Reykjavik. With the exception of the period between 1799 and 1844, the Althingi has run consistently since its inception. To this day, it’s still the world’s longest running, ongoing parliament.
Independence Celebration at Þingvellir
The most important day in the history of Iceland was celebrated at Þingvellir on June 17, 1944. Despite the wind and rain throughout most of the day, many people gathered to celebrate Iceland as an independent republic. Sveinn Björnsson, the first president of the new republic, unveiled a new national flag and coat of arms. No longer under Danish rule, Icelanders have enjoyed liberty ever since.
Þingvellir has always been a special place for Icelanders, but there have been some issues with its preservation. In 1907, State Antiquarian Matthías Þórðarson published an article highlighting the importance of maintaining and preserving Iceland’s neglected nature, citing Þingvellir as an example of disuse. In 1913, teacher Guðmundur Davíðsson also wrote an article, where he discussed national parks in the US. Davíðsson blatantly accused his countrymen of neglecting the most important historical site in the country.
In 1930, Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park was established as the first national park in Iceland. This act gave Þingvellir protected status, and Davíðsson was appointed as Þingvellir’s first National Park Warden.
In 2004, Thingvellir National Park joined the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Thingvellir National Park lies on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a gigantic, 9,950-mi (16,000-km) fissure that stretches between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates. Iceland is the only place in the world where the fault line is above sea level.
The plates move apart from each other at a rate of 0.78 in (2 cm) per year. Iceland has an increased seismic and volcanic activity because it’s located on top of the Atlantic ridge. The last volcanic activity in the area occurred 2,000 years ago, but no-one can say when the next one might happen.
Þingvellir’s unique landscape is a result of the blanket of 10,000-year-old lava fields. Several eruptions in the area, shifting tectonic plates, and erosion over eons formed the extraordinary rift valley that we see today.
Þingvellir’s visitors have a range of activities to choose from. From one of the best diving sites in the world to great hiking trails and world-famous fishing spots, Þingvellir has it all!
Scuba dive or snorkel in the clearest fresh water in the world in Silfra Fissure. A large rift lying at the rim of the Lake Thingvallavatn, which is filled with glacial water from Langjökull glacier. The water travels through the finest natural filtration of dense lava fields before it reaches Silfra. The water that flows into the fissure is so pure that divers and snorkelers can enjoy unparalleled visibility of up to 328 ft (100 m). Nowhere else can you snorkel in between two tectonic plates with such ease.
Hiking is one of the main activities at the park, as Þingvellir offers great trails with exceptional views. One of the most popular trails leads to Öxarárfoss Waterfall. Game of Thrones fans will recognize this location from Seasons 1 and 4 of the HBO series, as the Bloody Gate that marks the entrance to the Eyrie. Hiking through Almannagjá gorge, the path takes you across the point where two tectonic plates meet, which means you’ll walk between two continents!
Fishing in Lake Thingvallavatn (Þingvallavatn) is a fisher’s dream. Angling enthusiasts from all over the world are drawn here by the world’s largest wild brown trout. Arctic char and the three-spined stickleback also dwell in the lake’s clear freshwater.
Ion Adventure Hotel
Hotel Edda Laugarvatn
Lake Thingvellir cottages
Þingvellir Golden Circle Cottage
Holiday Home Laugarvatn
Hrísholt Private House
Leirar campsite - open all year round.
Vatnskot campground - open June to September.
National Park café - a small cafeteria inside the information center. It serves grilled sandwiches, salads, hot dogs and soup.
Silfra restaurant - based in Ion Adventure Hotel, offers Nordic Cuisine.
Northern Lights Bar - inside the same Ion Adventure Hotel, offers beers, liqueurs, and spirits from microbreweries around Iceland.