Iceland is a breathtaking country with a diverse landscape. Blue caverns made entirely of ice along the glaciers contrast with the lush greenery surrounding active geothermal sites, and idyllic black sand beaches contrast the incredibly powerful waterfalls scattered across the land.
When you’re planning your Iceland Vacation, don’t forget to add Thingvellir National Park to your list of must-see locations. This post outlines why you should go there and what you need to make the most of your trip.
The Continental Rift
One of the main attractions of Thingvellir National Park is the opportunity to walk between two continents. This is the part of the world where the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate meet. As you walk through the rift– a small valley between the two– you are looking at the geographical edge of two continents. The area is rugged, with ridges carved into the earth as a result of the plates moving incremental amounts for millennia.
For the full effect, you can dive or snorkel in the ravine called Silfra, and immerse yourself in the pristine glacial waters amidst the colorful lava rocks. There are prerequisites and scheduling requirements to partake in this adventure, so check with your travel company before diving in.
Iceland has a lot of waterfalls. Öxaráfoss isn’t mentioned as often as some of the others, like Gullfoss and Seljalandsfoss which have become iconic Icelandic destinations, but it is worth seeing while in Thingvellir National Park.
In fact, if you walk through the continental rift, you will end up at Öxaráfoss, which is hidden by rocks and has a lovely, wooden viewing platform. Note that if you are visiting this area in the winter months (which start early in Iceland), the rocks and viewing platform are extremely slippery.
Like many national parks around the world, Thingvellir welcomes campers during the summer months. There are four designated camping areas within the park– Hvannabrekka, Fagrabrekka, Syðri-Leirar, and Nyrðri-Leirar. Fishing is also allowed in some of the areas, should you purchase a permit from the information center.
If you don’t bring your own camping gear, there are various rental options in Reykjavik, which is only a short drive away from the park on the Golden Circle. Some tour companies also offer camping gear. To keep things simple, consider streamlining your experience and booking with a tour company.
It’s important to note that during the summer months, you’ll experience the midnight sun. There will be no absolute darkness, only a period of twilight around midnight during peak season. This is a benefit for travelers who wish to see as much of the country as possible due to the extended travel hours. On the other hand, it can make sleeping a challenge, so pack a mask!
Aside from the sweeping fields and dramatic cliffside viewpoints, Thingvellir National Park has a lot of historical significance, should you choose to read the posted information throughout the walkways.
Hundreds of years before Thingvellir National Park was decreed as such, it was a gathering place for important governmental decision making. Representatives from each major clan in Iceland gathered to meet in the year 930AD to discuss issues, solve problems, and share news from the different settlements. It became a regular endeavor and represents the early beginnings of modern-day government. Hence why Thingvellir (“Þingvellir” in Icelandic) translates to “the fields of parliament” in English.
Being in this area reminds visitors how ancient Iceland truly is, with proper government gatherings taking place well over a thousand years ago. Thingvellir is where many important decisions were made that would ultimately shift Iceland’s trajectory. In the year 1000, it is where they decided to abandon Paganism for Christianity. In 1944, it’s where they agreed to establish their independence from Denmark.
Thingvellir has something for everyone, from the history buff to the outdoor adventurer. Be sure to spend a day or two in this area for a true Icelandic experience.