Thingvellir National Park: Iceland's Geological and Historical Treasure

Oxararfoss waterfall in Thingvellir National Park

Our beautiful Nordic island is filled with plenty of natural wonders for you to visit. From lava fields to glacier lagoons and even the dazzling Northern Lights , Iceland is a land blessed with abundant natural beauty. Thingvellir National Park is high on the list of Icelandic treasures. Anyone who visits Thingvellir along the Golden Circle route in South Iceland is in for a special treat.

This locale served as a filming location for the Bloody Gate entrance to the Eyrie in Game of Thrones. It's also a place where you can see Earth's crust literally pulling apart. And of course, scuba diving between Iceland tectonic plates or standing where powerful Viking leaders once stood doesn't hurt the park’s appeal either.

þingvellir National Park Iceland and its unique combination of history, geology, and breathtaking scenery awaits you. Let's dive in and find out more. 

Is it þingvellir, Thingvellir or Pingvellir?

So before we get into the park itself, I just want to quickly clear up something about the name. You'll see multiple spelling variations online including þingvellir, Thingvellir, and 

Pingvellir. þingvellir is the traditional Icelandic spelling while the other two are simply anglicized versions of the original. The reason for various spellings is simple; it goes back to the Viking alphabet and Old Norse, which eventually became modern day Icelandic. 

The Icelandic letter thorn (þ), which looks like a “p”, is actually closer to the TH sound in the English words “with” or “think”. So you'll probably see it written as both Pingvellir, Iceland and Thingvellir, Iceland. For the purposes of this article, I'll stick with the anglicized TH version of þingvellir National Park. It stays the truest to the actual pronunciation and spelling of the name of the park in Icelandic.

Thingvellir Iceland: A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Many of the attractions in Iceland that you visit will be unique and spectacular in their own right. But þingvellir National Park in Iceland has another special factor that makes it stand out. In 2004, the park was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The international community recognized both the geological and historical importance of this national park in Iceland. It was an honor to be chosen and this will help with conservation efforts in the park. 

Þingvallakirkja in Thingvellir National Park

So what makes the park so special that it should receive UNESCO World Heritage protection status? Among others are the Iceland continental divide tectonic plates and the country's 1,000-year-old government, the Alþing.

Thingvellir’s historical significance

One of the standout factors that makes Þingvellir so important is its great historical significance. Did you know that Iceland has the world's oldest democratically-elected parliament, and that it all started in the area that today forms Þingvellir National Park?

Þingvellir roughly translates to "Assembly Plains". Long ago, around 930 AD, when Iceland had recently settled by Vikings, the island's most powerful chieftains started gathering here to discuss the affairs of the day. When parliament was in session, Viking leaders would reunite here from all the main settlements across the country.

This general assembly was known by the name of Alþing (Althing) and conducted in the open air next to the Lögberg, or law rock, whose exact location is still unknown to this day. This striking, dramatic rocky outcrop was the perfect setting to decide on serious matters which affected the entire country. Leaders convened to talk about important issues and create a law council, which continues today as the Iceland parliament. The Parliament actually moved to Reykjavík only during the late XIX century

The decisions taken in Thingvelir strongly impacted the path of the Icelandic nation as we know it today. One such decision was when Iceland's converted to Christianity in the year 1000 AD. In the middle of an escalating trade war with King Olaf of Norway, the members of the Alþing decided it would be best to embrace the new religion. Law speaker Thorgeir Thorkelsson then dramatically threw his pagan Norse statues over Godafoss waterfall in a symbolic gesture. 

Iceland is now a Christian nation thanks in part to the decision made in the park to convert to Christianity. Many other important events in our country's history have taken place here. The Icelandic Parliament eventually moved to a building in Reykjavik in 1798, but the original site still holds a special place in the hearts of all Icelanders. Its historical and cultural significance will never be forgotten. This is why we've passed laws to preserve and protect this national shrine.

The geological wonders at Thingvellir National

There is an especially unique geological feature in Iceland: tectonic plates. The country actually sits atop the meeting point of two major tectonic plates, and Thingvellir is one of the few places on earth where you can actually see the meeting of earth’s tectonic plates, so it’s pretty special.

Iceland’s plate boundaries between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are the cause of much of the volcanic activity on the island. This volcanic activity creates our own North Atlantic version of the Ring of Fire and puts the “fire” in our nickname, the Land of Fire and Ice. 

It also produces a rift valley which cuts across many parts of the country, including the Silfra Fissure at Thingvellir National Park. This fissure is filled with pristine glacial water, which makes visibility underwater astonishingly good and turned this area into a popular spot for scuba diving. Underwater adventurers brave the chilly turquoise waters in order to swim between volcanic rock formations and the tectonic plates.

The Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park is famous for scuba diving

Even away from the fissure, the crack in the Earth's crust is slowly moving apart by millimeters every year. It's a pretty cool sight to behold, so it's no wonder that HBO's Game of Thrones filmed scenes of the Bloody Gate in this location. 

What to do in Thingvellir National Park Iceland

Visiting Iceland's first Parliament, scuba diving between tectonic plates, and checking out Game of Thrones filming locations aren't the only things to do here.

I recommend you make a quick stop at the visitor centre at the beginning of your time at the park to get information. It's located near Hakid, the park's main viewpoint, just before the footpath that leads you to the impressive Almannagjá fault. You'll find information about the park and activities. 

There's also an interactive exhibition which covers the history and nature of the park. the multimedia exhibit is a great way to orient yourself and get familiar with the park before you head in. The Thingvellir visitor centre is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Be sure to check out the maps on their website that show the location of hiking trails, Silfra Fissure, Lögberg (law rock), and Öxarárfoss waterfall in order to plan your visit better. 

The centre has a small cafeteria and a shop for purchasing souvenirs.

Outdoor Activities

There are hiking trails all over the park which will give you a nice warm-up if you plan on heading on toward Landmannalaugar.

Horseback riding is also possible on one of the two dedicated horse trails in the park. The incredible Icelandic scenery and surrounding nature or even better when viewed at a slow trot.

Also stop by Thingvallakirkja (Thingvellir Church) while wandering around the park.

Camping in the park

Camping is possible at one of the park’s two campsites. One is the Leirar campground by the park's service centre. It's actually divided into four smaller camping grounds (Fagrabrekka, Hvannabrekka, Syðri- Leirar, and Nyrðri-Leirar), so there will be plenty of room for campers. This is great because in Iceland, you don't make reservations at campsites. The campsite is open in the winter.

The other option is the Vatnskot campground, which is located at an abandoned farm close to the lake. 

Prices are as follows:

Adults: 1300 ISK per night

Seniors (67 years and up) and Disabled: 650 ISK per night

Children and Teens (0-17 years): No charge

There is also a 300 ISK tax per tent, caravan, or camping unit regardless of the number of people in your party.

You can also get a group discount of 15% if you have 10 or more people who pay together.

Lastly, be sure to pick up your camping and angling permits at the information centre when you arrive.

Fishing at Lake Thingvallavatn

This Rift Valley Lake is the largest natural lake in Iceland and is a popular destination in the park. Anglers and fans of fly fishing make their way here to try to get the next big catch with their bait and tackle. Lake Thingvallavatn goes deep, with depths reaching up to 114 meters (374 feet). 

Lake Thingvallavatn in Thingvellir National Park is a popular spot for fishing in Iceland

How to arrive

Thingvellir is approximately 47 km (29 miles) from Reykjavik via Þingvallavegur (Route 36). Assuming weather conditions are good, it will take you just under an hour to arrive in your Iceland car rental. This journey doesn't have an F-road, so you won't need a 4x4 vehicle. You'll find parking lots close to the assembly site and the visitor centre.

Thingvellir National Park: Iceland's geological and historical treasure

This special place on planet Earth is no doubt one of a kind. When planning an Iceland vacation, it's something you absolutely must visit. Whether it's a direct day trip from Reykjavik or part of a larger excursion to the area, you'll be glad you stopped by. 


Recent Posts

See All