A Guide to Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park in Iceland

One of the most extraordinary places in Iceland is Þingvellir National Park. Located within the Golden Circle route, Þingvellir park offers a unique geological and historical experience unlike any other. As the site of Europe’s first parliament, established in 930, Þingvellir played an important role in Iceland’s cultural heritage. Additionally its a place of very unique geological features as you can walk through a rift valley between two continents. In this Þingvellir guide, you will find information that will help you make the most of your visit to this historic Icelandic landmark. 

How to get to Þingvellir

The national park is located approximately 40 km [131 mi] northeast of Reykjavík city and is easily accessible by car via Route 36 and is usually either the first or last stop of the Golden Circle tour. Þingvellir is easily accessible by car and the journey will take about 1 hour, depending on traffic conditions.

Exploring Þingvellir area

When you visit Þingvellir National Park the first thing to keep in mind is to take your time. The area has so much to see and given its rich history there is a lot to learn and explore. Here are some of the highlights:

Þingvellir´s Visitor Centre

At the visitor centre you can learn about the history and significance of Þingvellir through exhibits and displays. This way you have introduced yourself to the captivating history of the sights you are about to see. 

Lögberg (Law Rock)

Is one of the ancient assembly sites in the park. This is where the lawspeaker read the law of the land during the annual assembly of Alþingi parliament. The laws were proclaimed and settled and anyone attending could make their argument there. The exact location of Lögberg is unknown due to the changing geography of the area but two possible locations have been identified, one of which is marked with a flag pole.

Almannagjá gorge

This is one of Iceland’s most magnificent geological wonders. The rift valley known as Almannagjá is where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are slowly pulling apart. You are able to walk between the two tectonic plates through the gorge and admire the rugged cliffs and landscapes shaped by millennia of tectonic activity. Be sure to look up and try to see the troll-faces engraved in the cliffs.

Silfra fissure

While on the topic of two tectonic plates it is worth mentioning Silfra fissure. This fissure lies at the rim of Þingvallavatn Lake and is very large and deep. Here you can have a very unique experience of diving or snorkeling between two continents in the clear blue, glacial waters of Silfra. 

Öxarárfoss waterfall

This waterfall is just as beautiful in the summer as in the winter. During the cold months the waterfall can freeze which makes for an extremely unique and beautiful sight. The waterfall is located near the parking lot of Þingvellir National Park and falls around 12 metres [39 ft] from a beautiful, square lava cliff. 

Drekkingarhylur pool

This pool of water, originating from Öxará river, is one of the places in Þingvellir with the darkest history. The name of the pool literally translates to The Drowning Pool, and that is exactly what it was. Here women were drowned as punishment for either having a child out of wedlock or when committing the crime of incest. Records show that 18 women were drowned in the pool, with the last one being executed in 1739. 

Þingvallakirkja church

The Þingvallakirkja church within the national park was built in 1859 but according to the Icelandic saga´s a church has been standing there since 1017. The church is closed to the public unless staff is present but it is possible to look through the windows or participate in free guided tours with one of the rangers, usually starting around 10 AM. 

Practical tips when visiting Þingvellir National Park

  1. How much time do you need at Þingvellir
    Make sure to have enough time as it is quite easy to spend up to two hours exploring the area. The National Park is big and there is a lot to see and read about. Enjoy the walk and learn as much as you can about this remarkable, historical site.
  2. Safety first
    Always respect warning signs and closed off areas while walking through the park. Designated walking paths are always available and restricted area´s are marked off with ropes or signs. Þingvellir is a natural reserve and both flora and fauna get to stay in peace.
  3. Accessibility
    Even though Þingvellir National Park is easily accessible by car, exploring the area has to happen on foot. Therefore it is advisable to wear good and comfortable walking shoes and dress appropriately.
  4. Picnic areas
    Pack a picnic, especially during the summer months. There are designated picnic areas and benches available throughout the park and it can be a great opportunity to have a little refreshment amongst the magnificent views of the valley.

A visit to Þingvellir National Park should be on the travel itinerary for every person visiting Iceland. Its rich history and natural beauty are unparalleled and it’s the perfect place to walk through some of Iceland’s most important historic sites with your own two feet. Whether you are tracing the footsteps of the Vikings or awestruck by the geological wonders, experiencing Þingvellir will leave you with a deep appreciation for Iceland’s cultural and natural heritage. 

 

Golden Circle Driving Itinerary

Gullfoss waterfall Iceland

One of Iceland’s top-rated and most popular attractions is the Golden Circle. As the name implies, it is a journey that takes visitors on a circle from and to Reykjavík, stopping at three locations along the way. 

These three stops are Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall. Each location has its own wow factor, whether due to its rich history or captivating nature. 

The whole route is just over 230 km [145 mi], which can be driven in about 3.5 hours without stops. Needless to say, each location should be enjoyed and explored, taking in nature’s beauty, making it the perfect full-day trip from Reykjavík city. 

 

First Stop: Þingvellir National Park

The journey’s first stop is Þingvellir National Park, a captivating sight, rich in Icelandic history ranging beginning in the 10th century. 

The drive from Reykjavík’s centre to the National Park is about 45 km [28 mi], taking approximately one hour to drive. 

The National Park’s historical richness comes from the general assembly, or Alþingi, established there around 930, which continued to convene until 1798.

Þingvellir National Park is also an incredible natural sight, standing on the continental divide between North America and Eurasia. Therefore, the area is divided between the two continents, and visitors can easily walk between them. This divide is due to Iceland sitting on two tectonic plates, leading to a crack forming between the continents, creating a no-man’s land in a way not belonging to either continent. This crack formed Silfra fissure, a spectacular sight and a popular diving and snorkelling spot. 

 

How Much Time Do I Need at Þingvellir National Park?

In order to explore Þingvellir National Park’s main sights, 1 to 2 hours is recommended. That way, visitors can walk around, explore the fissure and the park and soak in its history. 

 

Second Stop: Geysir Geothermal Area

The second stop is the famous Geysir geothermal area. The drive from Þingvellir National Park to there is just over 45 km [28 mi], which also takes about one hour to drive. 

The famous Geysir belongs to the geothermal area, which is also the home to its more active counterpart, Strokkur. Strokkur usually erupts every 6 to 10 minutes, and its height can reach 40 metres. However, it usually goes up around 15 to 20 metres. 

The area’s erupting geysers and bubbling mud pots create an environment so unique it resembles another planet but is, in fact, just one of Iceland’s unparalleled locations. 

 

How Much Time Do I Need at Geysir Geothermal Area?

The geothermal area in itself is not very large, so walking around the main sights takes little time. However, as the geyser eruptions are a fascinating experience, visitors might want to stick around and see the hot water explosion a few times. Therefore, spending around one hour at the Geysir geothermal area is recommended.

Strokkur geysir erupting in the geysir geothermal area Iceland
Photo: Golli. Strokkur erupting

 

Third Stop: Gullfoss Waterfall

The journey’s last but certainly not least stop is the Gullfoss waterfall. The drive from Geysir geothermal area to Gullfoss is a short one as it is only 10 km [6 mi], which takes about 15 minutes. 

The waterfall cascades down two tiers, where its upper waterfall has a drop of 11 metres [36 ft] and the lower one 21 metres [69 ft]. Gullfoss derives from Hvítá river and plunges into a deep canyon. The waterfall’s name means golden waterfall, describing the golden-toned mist that can often be seen glazing over the water. 

From the car park, a short path leads visitors to a viewing platform, allowing them to enjoy the view over the breathtaking waterfall. The glory of Iceland’s second-largest glacier, Langjökull, can also be enjoyed from the viewing point. 

 

How Much Time Do I Need at Gullfoss Waterfall?

To enjoy the breathtaking views of Gullfoss waterfall, factor in about 30 minutes up to one hour. 

Gullfoss waterfall in the Golden Circle by summer
Photo: Golli – Gullfoss waterfall

 

Other Golden Circle Activities

Besides the three main Golden Circle stops, many attractions and activities are around.

Laugarvatn Fontana and the Secret Lagoon offer a spa-like experience for visitors to enjoy Iceland’s warm, geothermally heated water. Laugarvatn Fontana is located by Laugarvatn lake where visitors can also jump into the cold water before enjoying a warm sauna. The Secret Lagoon is located in Flúðir village and is Iceland’s oldest swimming pool. Either lagoon is perfect to include in the itinerary, possibly at the journey’s end, before heading back to Reykjavík.

 

Skálholt is a historical place in Iceland, a former school, monastery, cathedral and dormitory for over 700 years. Today, it serves as a Lutheran church and an education and information centre for the Church of Iceland.

 

Kerið is a stunning volcanic crater lake and is truly a hidden gem. The crater is one of Iceland’s youngest volcanic craters, only 6.500 years old, formed by a collapsed volcano. 

Kerið Crater seen from above
Photo: Golli. Kerið Crater

 

Where to Eat When Driving the Golden Circle

When driving the Golden Circle, there are many spots to enjoy a good meal along the way. 

Geysir Restaurant is located in Geysir geothermal area in Hotel Geysir. The hotel and the restaurant were designed to blend the building into the environment by using materials reflecting the surrounding nature. The restaurant offers a wide variety of dishes, ranging from lighter dishes to Icelandic seafood and international dishes with ingredients sourced directly from regional farmers.

 

Located in the Bláskógabyggð region is Friðheimar, a restaurant and tomato farm. Friðheimar is a family-run business that grows delicious tomatoes year-round and serves guests tomato soup with freshly baked bread. Stopping at Friðheimar would be convenient after visiting Þingvellir before heading to Geysir.

 

Efstidalur is a farm, cafe and restaurant offering a variety of products straight from the farm, such as ice cream, skyr and feta cheese. The restaurant also offers beef from the farm and other local food. Eftidalur is conveniently located on the way from Þingvellir to Geysir, making it a perfect stop on the way.

 

Farmers Bistro is located in Flúðir village and is Iceland’s only mushroom farm. It also encompasses a restaurant serving food made from ingredients grown on the farm. The restaurant is located by the Secret Lagoon, so visitors can conveniently combine the two at the journey’s end before heading back to Reykjavík.

 

How Long Does the Golden Circle Take?

Driving the Golden Circle takes about 3.5 hours in total, without stops. Therefore, including stops at each location, visitors should factor in at least 6 to 7 hours to get the full experience. More time should be factored in if other activities are added to the tour, such as visiting the Secret Lagoon or others.

 

Can I drive the Golden Circle on My Own?

Yes, travellers can undoubtedly do the Golden Circle route in their own car. It should always be kept in mind that driving conditions can vary depending on time of year and weather, so driving with caution is essential. 

However, many Golden Circle tours are offered where visitors can enjoy the convenience of experienced guides and a driver, taking the group to the main attractions. Many tours combine other activities, such as snorkelling in Silfra fissure, visiting Friðheimar tomato farm, entering the Blue Lagoon or others. 

Available Golden Circle tours can be seen here.  

Scuba Diving and Snorkelling in Silfra fissure

Two people scuba diving in Silfra Fissure

Nested in the heart of Iceland’s unique landscape, more specifically in Þingvellir National Park, is Silfra fissure. Þingvellir National Park is a remarkable sight on its own as it has a rich history and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Further, the national park’s area is divided between two continents, North America and Eurasia, letting visitors check two continents off the list. Scuba diving and snorkelling in Silfra fissure has become a popular tourist activity, where visitors can swim between the two continents. 

 

How did Silfra fissure form?

The rift of the Silfra fissure was formed in 1789 when earthquakes accompanied the movement of the tectonic plates, forming a crack between the two. As the ice from Langijökull glacier melts during the summertime, it flows down towards Silfra and gets filtered through the lava field on the way. By the time the water from Langijökull glacier reaches Silfra, it has been travelling for about 70-100 years. The fissure only keeps getting bigger and better, as it grows about 2 cm each year with the tectonic plates drifting apart. 

People snorkelling in Silfra fissure taken from above
Photo: Silfra fissure snorkelling

 

Plunging into the crystal clear water of Silfra

In addition to being able to easily walk between two continents, it is also possible to swim between the two. Silfra has become a mecca for scuba diving and snorkelling enthusiasts around the globe and is an extraordinary experience unlike any other. Visitors can choose to either dive or snorkel in the fissure, which is possible during both winter and summer. 

Taking a dive into the crystal-clear glacial water of Silfra, divers and snorkelers can expect to see captivating underwater landscapes with visibility exceeding 100 metres [328ft].

 

Snorkelling in Silfra 

Snorkelling between the two tectonic plates is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Anyone above the age of 12 can participate and therefore there is no need to have any sort of certifications. The only thing needed is to fill out a medical form online before arrival. 

Clad in drysuits to make the experience less chilly, snorkelers float effortlessly on the water’s surface, taking in the breathtaking underwater world beneath. The slow glide through the Silfra Fissure allows participants to enjoy the sight of the colourful underwater landscape, marine life, and geological formations. Snorkelers can even drink the water as it is filtered through lava field capillaries, making it a refreshing drink at around 2°C – 4°C [25-35°F] year-round. 

 

How long is the Silfra Snorkel experience?

The snorkel trip is about 2.5 hours from the meetup at the diving spot. If participants choose to add the pickup and drop off from Reykjavík’s centre, the total trip is around 6 hours. Participants are in the water for about 30 minutes. 

 

What’s included in the Silfra Snorkelling?

The Silfra snorkel experience is for those who can swim and want to embark on a unique adventure. Participants are provided with a dry or wet suit, full snorkel gear and an introduction to the fissure and Þingvellir National Park’s history. The experienced guides explain the wonders of the lagoon and take you on a journey through the main Silfra Big Crack, Silfra Hall, Silfra Cathedral, and Silfra Lagoon. 

Some tours include a pickup from Reykjavík’s centre for an additional fee; however, choosing a tour with meetup on the spot is also available. 

At the end of the tour, participants receive images from the snorkel adventure, which the guide will snap on a GoPro underwater. So make sure to bring your largest smile and smile through the coldness.

See the Silfra snorkel tours available here.

A snorkeller at Silfra Fissure in Iceland
Photo: Golden Circle and Silfra Snorkelling Tour

 

Scuba Diving in Silfra 

For certified scuba divers, Silfra offers a unique opportunity to explore a unique geological underwater wonder with unmatched visibility of over 100 metres [328ft].

National Geographic has described Silfra fissure as one of the top dive sites in the world. Therefore, Silfra is  a must-visit for divers. 

The underwater landscape is a blend of deep crevices, caves and fascinating rock formations. The environment below thus resembles another world. Divers exploring Silfra can navigate the four main parts of the fissure. Those are the big crack, Silfra hall, Silfra Cathedral and the Silfra Lagoon.

The maximum depth of the dive is 18 metres [59 feet], but the average is around 5 metres [16 feet].

 

How long is the Silfra Dive experience?

The total trip is about 3 hours from meetup at the diving spot. If participants choose to add the pickup and drop off from Reykjavík’s centre, the whole trip is around 5 hours. 

 

What’s included in the Silfra Scuba Diving?

The experience is for those holding a scuba dive certification, PADI Open Water or an equivalent one, and a dry suit certification. Upon arrival, divers are equipped with drysuits to withstand the cold glacier water, ensuring a comfortable and safe experience. 

Before heading in for the dive, participants get an introduction to the unique history of the Silfra fissure and the national park before getting briefed on the dive site. The guide will provide you with all needed diving equipment before exploring the unique wonders of the fissure. 

Some tours include a pickup from Reykjavík’s centre for an additional fee. However, tours with meetups on the spot are also available. 

The surreal beauty, the geological significance, and the sense of exploration make diving in Silfra an unforgettable adventure.

See the Silfra Scuba Diving tours available here

A photo of Ants Stern and Jóna Kolbrún Sigurjónsdóttir diving in Silfra fissure in Þingvellir national park Iceland
Photo: Ants Stern and Jóna Kolbrún Sigurjónsdóttir – Diving in Silfra

 

The Diving and Snorkelling Experience

The Silfra Fissure brings about an adventure that lets participants step into a unique world where boundaries between continents blur. Whether snorkelling or scuba diving, the Silfra experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and testament to Iceland’s eccentric and contrasting landscape. Despite the chilly glacier water, the experiences’ rewards outweigh the challenges when participants get to explore the magic of Silfra. 

 

How do I get to Silfra Fissure in Þingvellir National Park?

Þingvellir National Park is located about 45 km [28 mi] from Reykjavík’s city centre. Driving to the National Park by car takes about 50 minutes via Þingvallavegur road. 

Once arriving to Þingvellir National Park visitors will need to park their car at parking lot P5. From the parking lot the cars and huts market with diving and snorkelling should be visible.

Many tours to the Silfra fissure do offer transportation from Reykjavík such as Silfra Snorkel Tour with Transfer and Golden Circle and Snorkeling Tour

Here is a map of the car park in Þingvellir National Park to get to the Silfra meeting point.

 

Tours to Þingvellir National Park and Silfra Fissure

For those wanting to explore Þingvellir National Park and the Silfra fissure, many tours can be embarked on. 

The Silfra Snorkel Tour with Transfer is a tour to Silfra fissure including drive from Reykjavík, a guided explanation of the national park, all equipment and the snorkel tour itself.

 

The Hot and Cold Snorkeling and Spa Tour combines the Silfra snorkelling with an Icelandic spa experience. After snorkelling between the two tectonic plates, participants can warm up in Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal spa.

 

The Hot and Cold Diving and Spa Tour is a scuba diving tour in the Silfra fissure combined with an Icelandic spa experience at Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal spa.

 

The Private Silfra Snorkeling Tour lets a private group snorkel between the two tectonic plates for a more intimate and immersive experience.

 

For those wanting to visit Þingvellir National Park and exploring the Silfra fissure without diving or snorkelling, Golden Circle Tours are a great option. The tours take participants on a journey to the three locations, Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area and Gullfoss waterfall.

 

Golden Circle and Snorkelling in Silfra can also be combined with the Golden Circle and Snorkeling Tour

Reshuffling of Environmental Agencies Merges Ten into Three

Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson.

Plans to reorganize ten agencies in environment, energy, and climate into three were announced today by the government.

The plans were first discussed yesterday at a meeting where Minister of the Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson. He highlighted the need to have fewer, stronger agencies to streamline regulations, while also highlighting the benefits of institutional knowledge that will allow employees to work in and move between what were previously different agencies.

Under the new organization, environmental regulations in Iceland will be split between the Nature Conservation and Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Environmental Sciences, and the Climate Agency.

environment iceland
Stjórnarráð Íslands

Under the new schema, the Nature Conservation and Heritage Foundation would combine Vatnajökull National Park, Þingvellir National Park, and the Nature Conservation Department of the Environmental Agency. The new Institute for Environmental Sciences will bring together the Meteorological Office, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, the Icelandic Land Survey, Iceland GeoSurvey, and the Natural Research Centre at Mývatn. The new Climate Agency will then comprise of the National Energy Authority and all departments of the Environmental Agency outside of Nature Conservation.

The new structure will hopefully bring greater flexibility to energy and environmental policy in Iceland, with projects now more easily transferred between formerly separate agencies.

While final details of the new structure have not yet been decided, minister Guðlaugur also announced that they will prioritize job creation in rural areas, and involve the municipalities as much as possible in the decision-making process.

In the announcement, the minister stated: “the main goal is to strengthen the institutions of the ministry to deal with the enormous challenges that await us as a society, where climate issues are at the top of the list. With the new institutional structure, the aim is to increase efficiency and reduce waste resulting from redundancy and lack of cooperation. There is also great scope for increasing the number of jobs in rural areas, and creating more desirable workplaces.”

The reorganization will affect approximately 600 employees in various agencies, some 61% of which are in the capital region.