Þingvellir National Park – Historical Site
Þingvellir means assembly fields. In the year 930 AD, Iceland’s historic democratic parliament, one of the first in the world, was founded here. Most Icelandic people regard Þingvellir as a sacred place. Around the year 1000 AD the great Law Speaker, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði Þorkelsson, declared Iceland’s peaceful conversion to Christianity right here at Þingvellir. A unique compromise was arrived at which made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. Pagans were still permitted to worship the Norse Gods in private and the disaster of what could have been a violent civil conflict was avoided.
A flag marks Lögberg e. the Law Rock where the Law Speaker or Chief Goði stood to proclaim the law in the olden days. You will be able to stand in the spot where history was made – what a magical photo opportunity! Those pictures will make you the envy of all your friends.
The geological processes which shaped the land at Þingvellir National Park are every bit as remarkable as the great historical events which took place there. Since 2004 Þingvellir has been listed on UNESCO‘s World Heritage List for its geological the uniqueness and historical significance.
Where is Þingvellir located? How to get to Þingvellir?
Þingvellir (Þingvellir) is in South Iceland, just 40 km from Reykjavík. You just need to follow Highway 1 (the Ring Road) through the little town of Mosfellsbær before turning to your right onto the road numbered 36. From Borgarnes, if you take the shortest route along Highway 1 and then the road numbered 52, the distance is around 89 km. There many interesting places nearby, a few of which are Gullfoss (70 km), Geysir (60.3 km), Fontana Spa/Laugavatn (29.1 km) and Selfoss (40.3 km).
Thingvellir, Þingvellir or Pingvellir?
The name Þingvellir has long been problematic to those visiting Iceland. First, it’s the letter Þ, that many refer to as “the long P” but actually is pronounced “TH” and then it the double “L” that requires you to make some kind of a click sound in the right side of your mouth to fully get it right. (This click sound error is the same error many made while trying to pronounce the newly-famous glacier volcano Eyja-fjalla-jökull).
Icelanders will fully accept you writing it Þingvellir (the proper Icelandic way) or Thingvellir but once you are writing it Pingvellir you are pretty far off. We are not even quite sure how that started.
With pronouncing the word it’s best to split it up and try saying something more along the lines of “Thing-vedler”. This is the quickest way to say it 98% right!
Why is Þingvellir the best place to see Continental plates move apart?
The Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet at Þingvellir. They for long have 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, in fact even on world-class. The reason is that at Þingvellir you can so clearly and beautifully see the 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 but very likely the most stunning one!
The reason why the drift can be seen so clearly at Þingvellir is that by the end of the last Ice Age period, about 10-11 thousand years ago, great volcanic eruptions happened in the Þingvellir area. A few of the eruptions happened under the glacier before the Ice Age glacier completely disappeared and formed tuff ridges and mountains. After the land became ice-less again large and wide volcanoes formed, the famous and Icelanders favorite, Skjaldbreiður, being one of them. These eruptions made the far area more rugged, the closer area flatter but still didn’t fill up the meeting of the continental plates so still today Þingvellir remains the best place to view this astonishing natural phenomenon!
The best place to views the meeting of the continental plates at Þingvellir
By standing on the Hakið viewing point you get a view over the whole area, the gigantic valley and see very clearly how it drifts apart. The vista is absolutely stunning! You can also walk down to Almannagjá to see some more interesting places in the park and there you can get a stronger feel for this unique place.
By Snorkeling or Diving
Silfra is a fissure that cuts right in the middle of the meeting of the continental place. It formed quite recently in an earthquake and quickly filled up with water that had been filtering through the lava field for hundreds of years. This means that the water, the originally comes from Langjökull glacier, is extremely clear and many say that the visibility for divers is the best in the world!
We offer both snorkeling and diving tours in the fissure, offering your great dry suits so you stay warm in the glacial waters. The experience of floating in between the continental plates, looking like it seems, right into the earth corse, is without comparison and truly awe-inspiring!
What you can’t miss at Þingvellir national park!
- Öxarárfoss waterfall: The waterfall is extremely stunning and you need to see it. Öxarárfoss e. Axe River waterfall is located in the Almannagjá ravine so it’s hard to miss. The waterfall was once moved by Vikings to make it’s located more suitable for the Alþingi parliament meeting.
- Drekkingarhylur pond: Where they used to drown women who had babies out of wedlock. A tragic but beautiful place and has a great sign to read all the history of it.
- Peningagjá pond: Where people have thrown coins for food fortune for a very long time and they glisten beautifully in the water. A stunning site in the crystal clear glacial water.
- Lögberg: e. The Law Rock – The exact location of the Lögberg is unknown, because of the changing geography of the rift valley over 1000 years but most believe it to be in Almannagjá. Lögberg was the place where the Lawspeaker would speak from and speeches and announcements were made from the location. Anyone attending Alþingi could make their argument from the Lögberg rock.
- Almannagjá: The ravine/gorge at Thingvellir where you can walk with high lava walls on both sides and see some stunning views in the meantime. Must-walk!
Can I see the continental plates move apart with bare eyes?
The continental plates or the tectonic plates move very slowly apart so you cannot see it with bare eyes. Nonetheless, it does move significantly over the years so if you visit a few times with some years apart you might be able to spot the difference!
Why does the water in the Þingvellir lakes never freeze?
The water in the lakes, Silfra, Drekkingarhylur, Peningagjá and the others never freezes due to the fact that it maintains the same temperature all year around. About 3-5°c on low land and 2-3°c on highlands.
Filming at Þingvellir, Hollywood Films, Music Videos, and TV Shows
Game of Thrones: Thingvellir appears in the shows as the narrow path leading to the Eyrie and again as the location of Arya and Sandor Clegane’s journey. For the third time, it appears when Brienne and the Hound engage in a bloody battle.
What not to do at Þingvellir?
Visit without a guide, reading the signs or reading up before. This place is very historic and fascinating, but if you don’t know what you are looking at it might not live up to its expectations!
Litter! It’s very important that you don’t litter whilst exploring this great historic site. The park is very well kept but with all the visitors coming every day we need all the help we can get to keep it in good shape.
Go on flat shoes in winter! It’s very important to have sturdy boots while walking around in winter at Þingvellir, crampons might even be needed, you can buy them at any gas station for cheap.
Interesting places near Þingvellir
- Laugarvatn and Fontana Spa
- Skálholt historic church
- Sólheimar Eco Village
- Efsti-Dalur Farm – sells homemade ice cream
- Drumbó River Rafting Base
- Flúðir (1 hours drive)
- The Secret Lagoon (1 hours drive)