Þingvellir, You Little Beauty

Something I have realised this summer is that I'm a bit of a National Park nerd (particularly when adding the labels into this post and four or five different parks appeared), so it won't surprise you that Þingvellir was one of the places I was most excited to visit on the Golden Circle tour in Iceland. Þingvellir is particularly important, not just a gorgeous location to visit. It was Iceland's first UNESCO heritage site, and is significant historically, culturally and geologically. Unsurprisingly, with all that going on, it definitely did not disappoint.






The park sits right on the mid- Atlantic Ridge. It's a pretty weird experience to drive into the park and have the edge of the Eurasian plate pointed out to you as you head into, what Rúnar called, "no mans land" before arriving in front of the American plate. I don't know what I was expecting, really, but it definitely wasn't for the gap to be so huge. I guess I was expecting to see more fault lines than a huge expanse with a lake in the middle. The largest one is Almannagjá, itself being canyon like, and the one you can follow a walk way along to the top to get a view across the Rift park. All these cracks, and faults where the plates meet- or repel each other- are the cause of measurable earthquakes in the area. 

Þingvellir is home to the world's first ever parliament, or Alþingi. It was established by the Vikings way back in 930AD and stayed on the plains of Þingvellir until 1798! Even after the union between Iceland and Norway in 1262, the Alþingi still held its sessions. The National Park was founded to protect the remains of the existing parliament. The Alþingi sessions were in fact held outside, Þingvellir translates as "Parliament Fields". The National Park was later expanded to protect the natural phenomenon (more about that later) of the area. It was the first National Park in Iceland and they decreed that it was to be "a protected shrine for Icelanders, the perpetual property of the Icelandic nation under the preservation of parliament, never to be sold or mortgaged". Alþingi laid the foundation for an independent national existence in Iceland.

In the beginning Alþingi was the general assembly of the Icelandic Commonwealth, where the countries leaders met to decide legislation and sort of justice. Eventually all free men could attend the assemblies, and it brought in all different Icelander's trying to sort out their disputes. Those attending assembly stayed in temporary cabins until their session was over. The centre of the gathering was Law Rock, where the law speaker took his seat. He would recite the laws in effect, and it was his responsibility to proclaim the procedural law of Alþingi to those attending each year.

Autumnal colours looking across to the Almannagjá rift

If you're less into history and more into nature, then Þingvellir will tickle your fancy. Camp grounds are open from June 1st- September 1st and there are tons of hiking trails around the park. Outside the wooden footpath trail around the ancient parliament, most of the others are associated with old, abandoned farm houses. It is also possible to go horseback riding (something I definitely want to do when I eventually return to Iceland). Horseback riding is not permitted on any roads where motor vehicles can drive, and is not permitted near the Almannagjá rift.

I didn't find this out until it was too late for me to organise, but you can dive between the tectonic plates. I repeat, you can DIVE BETWEEN the tectonic plates. You would essentially be swimming between America and Europe- how insane is that? Diving is permitted in two of the submerged rifts, Silfra and Davíðsjá. Silfra being the more popular of the two. The reason for its wide acclaim is the insanely clear water- usually when diving good visibility is around 25 metre's, but here it is almost 200 metres! The water is also pretty cold, sitting at around 4C, yet it does not freeze in the rifts. You can see the clarity on the walk towards the ancient parliament site as one of the rifts is scattered with coins glittering back at you from the depths of the water. People started throwing in coins in 1907 after it was bridged for King Frederick VIII of Denmark's visit based on European legends.


Can you see all the coins? 

In the lake there is also great fishing. Angling season is from May 1st- September 15th.  Scientists have been watching the brown trout in the lake as their rate of evolution is much quicker in the water conditions there. You can also drink the water from this lake as there are springs coming up through, often you can see the air bubbles floating to the surface near them. Whilst on the Golden Circle tour, we drank from plastic cups at the lake, it being 90% spring water.  


Þingvellir, you little beauty

Have you visited Þingvellir National Park? Were you as fascinated by it as I was? 

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Comments

  1. I went to Iceland before my west coast tour and enjoyed there the lush greenery and awesome views of nature. Here I explored the many attractive spots like Golden Circle, Vatnajökull National Park, The Ellidaar river and Blanda. I enjoyed my best fishing experience there. I must say there that you shared a great blog post about Iceland.

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    1. Thanks Jack :) Going during the fall gave the place some awesome colours, in fact one of my friends said it was her favourite time of year to visit the park.

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  2. I was here in 2012- just a quick stop to check out the gap between the plates- so cool but a little creepy! I didn't expect it to be so big!

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    1. Everyone says the same, it's amazing how wide it is, I was expecting it to be super small!

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  3. I did a Golden Circle tour as well.. it is so pretty!

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  4. I'd love to go here, I find it to be fascinating and beautiful as well! How cool that you can dive between them!

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    1. Isn't it, I totally want to go back and dive between the plates, it would be stunning

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  5. Ohh I would love to go camping here! Looks especially beautiful I'm sure in the summer. Fishing, camping, and swimming between tectonic plates? I'm in!

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    1. And horse back riding, too! It would be incredible to camp and do all those things :)

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  6. We went snorkeling in Silfra! It was cold, but so much fun! We always love national parks, too--some of our favorite places to explore. Great photos--thanks for the trip down memory lane!

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    1. You already did it? OMG!! Amazing! How did you find it? I'm suuuper jealous!

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