When you think of Iceland, you likely picture stunning landscapes, geothermal wonders, and a rich cultural history. All these elements come together at Thingvellir National Park, a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the Land of Fire and Ice. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the stops on the famous Golden Circle and offers a unique blend of geological marvels, cultural significance, and outdoor adventures, making it a top choice for travelers. Here are ten compelling reasons to put Thingvellir National Park at the top of your Iceland itinerary.
1. Geological Marvels
One of the most captivating aspects of Thingvellir is its geological significance. The park is in a rift valley where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. Here, you can witness the dramatic boundary between these plates, resulting in fissures, cliffs, and cracks that make for awe-inspiring views. Don’t miss the chance to visit Thingvellir and explore these geological wonders.
The rift valley at Thingvellir is a living testament to the relentless forces shaping our planet. Over millions of years, the Eurasian and North American plates have gradually pulled away from each other. As a result, this region has become a showcase of geological processes in action. In fact, the tectonic plates are pulling the country apart by about 2.5cm (1″) each year!
2. Silfra Fissure
For adventurous souls, Silfra Fissure is a must-visit within the park. It’s famous for its crystal-clear glacial water, and the opportunity to snorkel or dive between the tectonic plates is an experience you’ll never forget. The underwater visibility in Silfra is among the best in the world, offering a surreal journey beneath the Earth’s surface. Be sure to visit Thingvellir and embark on this incredible adventure.
Much of the water is meltwater from Langjökull Glacier, Iceland’s second-largest glacier. It takes about 20-30 years for the water to flow into Þingvallavatn from the glacier. During this time, it is believed that the water touches the Earth’s mantle at a depth of about 8 kilometres. On the other hand, the rain that falls on the nearby lava fields returns to Þingvallavatn within 2-4 months.
3. Þingvellir Church
The Þingvellir Church, a cultural and historical treasure, has a rich history. Originally built in 1017 by Bishop Bjarnharður Vilráðsson, it was reconstructed in 1858 by Reverend Símon Beck.
The church’s tower was added in 1907, and in it, you’ll find three bells: one ancient, another one from 1697, and the third and the largest one is called Íslandsklukka, which was added on 17 June 1944. Inside, you’ll find a pulpit from 1683 and a baptismal font gifted by the Women’s Association of Þingvallahreppur. The altarpiece, painted by Ófeigur Jónsson in 1834, has a fascinating history, acquired by a British artist before returning to Þingvellir in 1974. In 1896, the church received another altarpiece by Danish painter Anker Lund; both are displayed in the church. When you visit Thingvellir, don’t forget to explore the rich history within Þingvellir Church.
In 1928, a priest’s residence was built adjacent to the church. Notably, from 1958 to 2000, the parish priest of Þingvellir Church also served as the national park ranger at Þingvellir, highlighting the close connection between this historic site and Iceland’s natural wonders. The Þingvellir Church, with its rich heritage and artistic treasures, stands as a testament to the enduring significance of this remarkable location. Be sure to visit Thingvellir and experience this cultural treasure.
4. Scenic Beauty
Thingvellir is synonymous with breathtaking landscapes. From the mesmerizing Öxarárfoss waterfall to the serene Þingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest natural lake, the park is a visual paradise for hikers and nature enthusiasts. When you visit Thingvellir, you’ll be immersed in stunning natural beauty.
Nature lovers will find various outdoor activities to enjoy in the park, including hiking, camping, fishing, and birdwatching. The diverse ecosystems and abundant wildlife make every outdoor adventure memorable. Öxarárfoss, far from being the largest waterfall in Iceland, is still one of the most beautiful. The Öxará River descends gracefully over rocky precipices, forming a delicate curtain of water that glistens in the sunlight. The journey to Öxarárfoss is an adventure in itself, with scenic trails that wind through picturesque landscapes, making it a must-visit spot for hikers and photographers alike. You will also find a few places where Game of Thrones was filmed. Be sure to visit Thingvellir and explore its scenic wonders.
5. Cultural Significance
Beyond its natural beauty, Thingvellir holds cultural importance as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The famous Alþingi, the world’s oldest Parliament, was founded in Þingvellir in 930. Members of Parliament met for Alþingi in Þingvellir for centuries.
Þingvellir National Park is also where Icelanders converted to Christianity. Members of Parliament met to discuss the possibility of converting. Ultimately, it was decided it would be in our best interest to do so. People who believed in the old Æsir were still allowed to do so, but mostly in secret. They could not make sacrifices anymore, but other customs, such as eating horse meat, were allowed.
Drekkengarhylur was a site of execution located in Öxará, Þingvellir. It is situated next to the bridge where Öxará falls east of Almannagjá. Women were drowned in Drekkengarhylur for having children out of wedlock and committing incest. Records show that 18 women died there.
The practice was not ancient. It was made legal through Stóridómur (The Grand Judgment), passed in Iceland in 1564. It was the first time the death penalty was imposed for incest—however, the earliest records of execution in Drekkengarhylur date back to 1618. The last woman to be drowned in Drekkengarhylur was in 1739. Men were also executed (beheaded) in the Parliament for the same crimes.
Stóridómur was a set of laws introduced by the Icelandic Parliament, Alþingi, in 1564, following the adoption of Lutheranism in Iceland. The instigators of the laws were the two lawspeakers of Alþingi and the Danish King’s representative in Iceland, Páll Stígsson. The King confirmed the laws the following year. Iceland had recently adopted Lutheranism, and the laws were enacted to reduce moral licentiousness and sexual lust in the country.
The laws brought harsher punishments for various moral crimes, such as incest and having children out of wedlock. They placed the power of execution of the punishment and collection of fines into the hands of the Danish King’s emissaries. When you visit Thingvellir, you’ll step into a place rich with cultural heritage and historical significance.
6. Northern Lights
If you plan on visiting Thingvellir during winter, you’re in for a treat! The remote location and lack of light pollution make it an ideal spot for witnessing the breathtaking Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) phenomenon. These colorful lights dance across the sky, creating an unforgettable experience that will stay with you forever. So, make sure to bring your camera and capture this natural wonder in all its glory. Don’t miss the chance to visit Thingvellir and witness the mesmerizing Northern Lights.
Thingvellir National Park is conveniently located near Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. Whether planning a day trip or including it as a stop on the Golden Circle route, you’ll find it accessible and well worth the visit. When you visit Thingvellir, you’ll embark on an adventure filled with natural wonders, cultural history, and scenic beauty.