Thingvellir National Park is one of the crown jewels of Iceland’s National Parks and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And if any of the scenery looks familiar to you, it’s because Thingvellir was the shooting location for many Game of Thrones scenes. Not only is the landscape absolutely breathtaking, but there are many exciting things to do and many natural wonders that can be seen here.
In this article, we give you an in-depth breakdown of all things Thingvellir. How to get there, its interesting history, and what you can expect from your visit!
The History of Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir has an incredibly rich history, and you can still see the traces of time all throughout the park. The name ‘Thingvellir’ means “assembly points” and fits the background of Thingvellir perfectly. In the year 930, the first Iceland parliament (aka the Althing) was founded there. In fact, this was actually the first parliament in the entire world!
The parliament would come together at the fields of the river, Oxara ‘till 1798, making it a parliamentary “assembly point” for 868 years. During this time, many important decisions were made here. Some as important as officially converting Iceland to a Christian nation in the year 1000.
It is believed that many 10th-century ruins from these “meetings” are still buried underneath the ground at Thingvellir. In 1930, Thingvellir officially became a National Park in Iceland.
The Geology of Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir is also a place of great geological significance. The entire park sits on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Here you’ll find a gigantic fissure (tear) of over 16,000 kilometers between the North American and Eurasian continents. The fissure is created as the tectonic plates push apart from each other. It is also the movement between these plates that make Iceland so prone to volcanic and seismic activity.
To find out how all this came to be, you’ll need to go back in time (approximately 10,000 years). This was right about when the Langjökull Glacier retreated to where it is found today. This is also roundabout when a shield volcanic eruption started in the area. But this eruption didn’t just occur, and then it was over with. No, this eruption is believed to have lasted up to a century! It is due to this eruption that the park is still outlined by Icelandic shield volcanoes.
But this wasn’t the end of the volcanic activity at Thingvellir. It was just over 3000 years now that an 8-kilometer-long eruptive fissure made its appearance in the valley. It had multiple eruptions with the last ending just 2000 years ago. Although the area has been dormant ever since, it’s just a matter of time before things start up again, so you better enjoy Thingvellir while you still can!
Although not an eruption, the area did experience two severe earthquakes in the year 2000. Even though its origin was the movement of the tectonic plates 40–50 kilometers away, you could still see collateral damage. Once could see rocks falling from ravine walls and water splashing up from the rifts here in Thingvellir. This should give you a good idea of how sensitive the area actually is to its geology.
What to Do at Thingvellir National Park
As we already mentioned, there is plenty to do and see in the park. Some of the amazing things you might want to think of adding to your itinerary include the following:
1. Take a Walk Between Two Continents
Almannagja is a gorge in between the two North American and Eurasian Thingvellir National Park tectonic plates. Throughout most of the gorge, you will find a neatly paved path where you can walk between these two continents.
2. Snorkel or Dive the Silfra Fissure
The Silfra Fissure is a tear between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates that was caused by a massive earthquake in 1789. Today, this fissure/tear is filled with beautiful, clear glacial water.
Here, visitors can either choose to dive or snorkel between the two continents at Silfra Fissure. But please note that diving will require a valid diver’s license and enough experience under your belt. Snorkeling is available to all.
3. Visit Oxarafoss Waterfall
Oxarafoss is one of Iceland’s most beautiful waterfalls and requires just a quick 10-minute walk to reach it. Unlike many other falls around the island, Oxarafoss is quite small and is man-made! But this doesn’t take away from the picture-perfect look that has many photographers clambering to it.
The cascading waters are surrounded by lush, green grass and moss-covered rocks. If you visit during the wintertime, you’ll find parts of this Thingvellir waterfall frozen and a blanket of snow covering the landscape.
4. Stop by the Thingvellir Church
This isn’t nearly as boring as it sounds. Thingvellir Church is one of the prettiest (and oldest) churches in Iceland. With its bright white exterior, black roof, and green trimmings, it’s a photo opp just waiting to happen.
Although the church is mostly closed to the public, there are certain times that it’s open. But these times are so random that, if you have your heart set on seeing the interior, you’ll need to contact the park. If you’re not too creeped out by these types of things, there’s also an old and very historical cemetery that you can visit there.
5. Enjoy the View at Thingvallavatn Lake
This is a Thingvellir lake that boasts the title of the biggest lake in Iceland. Although most use the lake as a pit stop to stretch their legs or just to soak in the views and take a few photos, you are allowed to fish here. If that’s something you enjoy doing, of course.
Where to Sleep at Thingvellir National Park
There are numerous accommodation options around the park. From hotels near Thingvellir National Park to guesthouses, and Airbnbs. You can also choose to camp in the park itself. If you’re planning on visiting whilst on a road trip or you just want to spend more time in the area to make day outings out of it, you can consider the following:
The Thingvellir Campgrounds; What to Know About Camping at Thingvellir National Park
There are two campsites at Thingvellir; Leirar and Vatnskot. Leirar is divided even further into 4 camping grounds. They are called Fagrabrekka, Hvannabrekka, Sydri-Leirar, and Nyrdi-Leirar.
Leirar is situated by the park’s service center and Vatnskot can be found at an abandoned farm site by the lake. Only Leirar is open all year round with Vatnskot closing during the winter months.
How to Get to Thingvellir National Park
If you’re still wondering, “where is Thingvellir National Park located?” Thingvellir National Park can be found in Selfoss in the southwestern part of the island. If you’re struggling to envision what this means; Thingvellir is roughly 45 km northeast of the capital city of Reykjavík.
There are only a few ways of getting to Thingvellir National Park. As the safest country in the world (officially), you can opt to hitchhike if you’re on an extremely low budget, but this is not recommended. Alternatively, you can rent a car in Iceland and travel at your own pace and leisure.
Or you can opt for one of the many day tours from Reykjavík. Many of these day trips to Thingvellir also include other Golden Circle stops along the way. Adding attractions such as Gullfoss Waterfall and Geysir. As we are big fans of autonomy and being able to also explore the rest of the island, we recommend that you opt for renting private transport.
Getting to Thingvellir National Park by Car
The drive from Reykjavík to Thingvellir National Park is only about 45 minutes long, which makes it a great day trip from Reykjavík. Since Thingvellir is an incredibly popular place to visit, we do, however, recommend that you get a move on early in the day to avoid any crowds.
From Reykjavík, you take the Ring Road for 17 kilometers before turning onto Road 36 near Mosfellsbær. Stay on Road 36 for 30 kilometers ‘till you turn right to Thingvellir Parking 1 (it is clearly marked).
Are you DIYing your own Golden Circle self-drive tour to visit a few of the other popular attractions on the island? Well, it’s still pretty simple to reach Thingvellir. Just keep in mind that you need to be driving the Golden Circle counterclockwise. You’ll be parking at the same parking space near the Visitor's Center.
If you don’t manage to get an early start to your day and the parking is full, don’t stress. There are another four parking lots within the park that you can choose from. Any/all attractions are nearby of the parking lots.
Getting to Thingvellir National Park via a Guided Tour
Do you have extremely limited time on the island, or your budget simply doesn’t allow for a car rental? There are plenty of guided day tours to Thingvellir National Park that will save the day in these instances.
Most of these tours kick-start from Reykjavík. And, as we mentioned earlier, they generally take the Golden Circle route to include all those attractions along the way.
Thingvellir National Park FAQs
Below you will find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Thingvellir National Park:
Is Thingvellir National Park Free?
You’ll be happy to know that entrance to Thingvellir National Park is completely free of charge. The only time you will be paying a fee to go is when you pay for a spot on a guided tour.
How Long Should I Spend at Thingvellir National Park?
Those visiting Thingvellir National Park spend about two hours at the park, but keep in mind that this will all depend on what you do there. If you’re planning on taking on some of the Thingvellir National Park hikes, you’ll need to check how long the hike is. Or maybe you’ll like to go snorkel or dive the Silfra which also adds 2-3 hours to your trip.
How Do You Pronounce Thingvellir?
Thingvellir in Icelandic is spelt þingvellir. The reason why most with an international audience write it as Thingvellir should be fairly obvious. Do you have a laptop with the Icelandic thorn (þ)?
It also helps with pronunciation, since the sound of þ is very similar to the th sound in English. By pronouncing it as Thingvellir you’ll be pretty darn close to the local Icelandic þingvellir pronunciation.