Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir) is a natural marvel. It’s no wonder it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its pristine and surreal-looking topography even caught the eyes of the makers of Game of Thrones, and that’s why it was featured in a few of its interesting episodes. Given its a quick 45-minute drive from Reykjavik, do you think missing out on a view that can’t be found anywhere else is worth missing out on? Not at all! So, make sure you witness the meeting of North American and Eurasian tectonic plates if you happen to visit Iceland.
Þingvellir was historically regarded as a sacred place. It is the place where the foundation of a democratic parliament was laid and is, therefore, tied to the legacy of the nation. The conversion of Iceland to Christianity was marked in 1000 CE after the famous speaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði Þorkelsson declared it at Þingvellir.
If you wish to take back a piece of historical legacy with you, make sure you get photos at the Logberg because Iceland’s trips are incomplete without a visit to this spot.
Even though this is a current phenomenon, the geological activity which has made Þingvellir National Park the talk of the town will definitely have it go down in history.
Located in the heart of southern Iceland, Thingvellir National Park is 40 kms away from Reykjavik. The park is open for visitation from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm daily.
Reaching this place is fairly easy. You can take Highway 1 (the Ring Road), then passing through the town of Mosfellsbaer, take a right turn to road number 36.
Another route to reach this place goes through Borgarnes. You can take the same Highway 1, but instead of road 36, take road number 52. The distance between Borgarnes and Thingvellir National Park is 89 km.
Gladly, Icelandic people are very fond of their language. ‘This makes sure that the origin of the word doesn’t lose its essence while trying to pronounce it correctly in English. This is not to say that the letter Þ hasn’t caused confusion. It looks like the English letter but is nowhere close to it in pronunciation. Rather, it sounds like “TH.” The peculiar pronunciation doesn’t stop there because you have to get it right. The “LL” needs to create the right impact and right sound, especially on the right side of the mouth.
So, before you go here, start practicing saying “Thing-vetlir.” Nevertheless, Icelanders will still accept you with your fancy accent!
The Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet at Þingvellir. For a long time, they’ve been slowly drifting apart, creating the dramatic and rugged rift valley which runs through the sight. Þingvellir is one of the most extraordinary geological sites in Iceland.
At Þingvellir, you can clearly and exquisitely see how the two continental plates drift apart. Iceland is one of the few places in the world where you can see this happening on dry land, and it’s very likely the most stunning one!
The plate boundaries can be seen so clearly at Þingvellir because by the end of the last Ice Age, about 11,000 years ago, great volcanic eruptions happened in the Þingvellir area.
These eruptions kept lava flowing, reaching miles and miles and making the vast area more rugged and spectacular, creating heights and depressions.
For some reason, the lava didn’t manage to fill up the existing crack. With time it started to open up even wider, decreasing the possibility of it ever filling up. Now, with the additional drift of 2 cm every year, it isn’t likely to ever do so.
This makes the Þingvellir the best place to view this astonishing natural phenomenon, as the landscape before you will display the drifting of the tectonic plates in the traditional dramatic way Icelandic nature loves to do!
Hakio viewing point is by far the best way to get perspectives of the entire landscape. The point commands views of the drifting plates, and maybe that’s the reason why tourists flock to the site.
A little walk down the valley takes you to the scenic terrain surrounding Almannagja and Thingvellir Rift Valley. To get an insight into the historical legacy of Iceland, make sure you explore the pathway between the North American and Eurasian continents.
The divide on either side of the gorge is facing North American and Eurasian continents, respectively. While the elevated side is toward the North American continent, the side toward Thingvellir Lake commands views of the Eurasian continent.
By Snorkeling or Diving
Even though terrestrial views are beautiful, witnessing the tectonic plates underwater is just unmatched. Silfra is the one that offers a sneak peek of the moving and gliding continental plates right in the lap of water. This cut is a recent formation filled with water that had been passing through the lava field for several hundred years.
Yet another reason to dive into the waters is its source – the pristine Lagjokull Glacier that allows visitors to have amazing visibility underwater.
Snorkeling and diving in tropical locations is definitely exhilarating, but diving in the glacial waters is just a whole new level. Not only are the waters immaculately clean, but also soothing and refreshing.
Imagine diving into the crux of earth and looking at its very skeletal – special, isn’t it?
Don’t mess up the environment - It’s likely that you will be producing waste while on your trip, but that doesn’t justify littering. Cooperate with the management and maintain this site in its best form.
Do not wear uncomfortable footwear - Given the fact that Þingvellir is located in the coldest part of the earth, even sneakers are counted in the list of uncomfortable shoes. To beat the cold and enjoy yourself to the fullest, durable boots and even crampons are needed.
Do not swim in Silfra without guidance and surveillance - Formalities regarding swimming in the lakes are quite strict. This is done for both your and the park’s safety. The extremely cold waters make it impossible to swim without a dry suit, but additional guidance and service from a certified tour company is still very much mandatory.
Do not fly drones. Thingvellir is beautiful, no doubt, but is also highly protected. So, if you’re seen flying drones here, you might get into trouble. Click pictures and record videos, but adhere to the rules.
Witnessing an actual movement of the continental or tectonic plates is near impossible, owing to the fact that they tend to move very slowly. Two centimeters a year implies that almost no change can be detected in a matter of days. So, if you want to feel the rush of actually spotting a difference, you have to visit them every once in a while!
Can you imagine being at the coldest corner of the earth and not seeing a single lake freeze? The topography of Iceland is totally surprising. This is made evident by the fact that the lakes of Silfra, Drekkingarhylur, Peningagja and others maintain a moderate temperature throughout the year and receive a constant flow of water at all times.
The temperature of the water dips to a minimum of 3°C and a high of 5°C. In the higher land, lakes maintain a range of 2-3°C and remain like that even when it's freezing above the land.
Visitors can ask for assistance from the Visitor Centre, located by the footpath of the top end of Almannagja gorge. There is a regular 40-minute multimedia display in languages like English, Danish, French, Icelandic, and German. The center is open from September 1 to May 31 from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm and from June 1 to August 31 from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm.
For more information about the camping site, you can access the Information Centre. Details about the national park, its history, biodiversity, Thingvellir hiking trails and horseback riding trails are all listed together. You can also get updates on the road conditions and interesting places. It is open from June to August between 9:00 am to 10:00 pm and from September to May between 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Car Parking and Toilets
Car parking costs about 500 ISK (less than $5) for a regular car. This is a full-day car parking charge, which can be made through all credit/debit cards. The Pay and Display car parks are:
Toilets are located at the P1 car park by the Visitor Centre and charge around 200 ISK. These are open from 09:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Guesthouse, B&B and Farmstays
Cabins and Cottages
Another great thing about Thingvellir National Park is that it allows visitors to camp inside the premises. Thingvellir National Park has two camping sites, which are equipped with amenities like showers, toilets, washing machines and dryers.
2. Vatnskot is located by the Lake Thingvallatn and is open from June 1 to September 1.
Campers are only allowed to camp at the designated campsites. Camping along the South Coast is forbidden and is liable to a penalty.
Game of Thrones has always chosen dramatic landscapes for the filming of its episodes. No wonder they found Thingvellir National Park ideal for the shoot of the episodes featuring Arya and Sandor Clegane’s journey. The park also makes an appearance when Brienne and Hound come face to face for a ferocious fight.