Thingvellir National Park: The Complete Guide

Oxararfoss waterfall, Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

arnaudbertrande / Getty Images

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Thingvellir National Park

Address
Thingvellir, 801 Selfoss, Iceland
Phone +354 482 2660

Thingvellir National Park—written as Þingvellir in Icelandic—is probably what you're envisioning when you think of the various landscapes Iceland has to offer, even if you've never been to the country. Crystal clear lakes, continental plates, underwater caverns, and volcanic terrain are just some of what you'll find at this natural wonder. The park is located on the north shore of Lake Thingvallavatn, just 30 miles east of Iceland's capital city Reykjavik and easy to reach.

The otherwordly geography and breathtaking landscapes are unlike anywhere else, so don't miss out on this one-of-a-kind park on your trip to Iceland.

Things to Do

First thing's first: Thingvellir is much bigger than you'd think. Geographically, it may not cover as much space as other national parks, but the range of activities is astounding and potentially overwhelming. Thingvellir is a stop on a scenic route through Iceland called the Golden Circle, and many tourists quickly pass through the park before continuing on their drive. If you have the time to afford, it's definitely worth staying longer. The range of activities and things to see is inspiring: scuba diving, visiting farm ruins that date back thousands of years, hiking to Europe's largest panoramic waterfall—the list goes on.

The park also has a lot of historical significance in Iceland since the first Althing—which is Iceland's parliament—first met in Thingvellir over a millennium ago in the year 930. The Althing is still the governing body in Iceland, making it the oldest surviving parliament in the world

You can find the visitor center when you first enter the park near the area's main viewpoint. It's near the path to the Almannagjá fault and it's a good place to start to get your bearings, considering the wealth of information available to visitors.

Best Hikes & Trails

The best part about Thingvellir may be the hiking that's available to all levels of athletes.

  • Almannagjá Fault: For an easy stroll with some worthwhile views, the Almannagjá fault is a great place to start. It's located near the visitor center and has a manmade walkway that will wind you through the two tectonic plates the area is famous for.
  • Öxarárfoss Waterfall: Another easy hike is to the Öxarárfoss waterfall, which you can walk to from Almannagjá. There's a railing system and boardwalk bringing you right up to the waterfall, but you're deeper in the fault line, which is something special.
  • Thingvellir: This isn't a trail but rather an area for those looking for something more rugged and less developed. Thingvellir is basically just expanses of land waiting to be explored. Your best bet is to pop by the visitor center to ask for hiking recommendations based on the amount of time you want to spend exploring Thingvellir.

Scuba Diving

Iceland's unique geology makes it one of the prime diving destinations in the world, with divers able to swim through the continental divide between North America and Eurasia. There are two places in Thingvellir where diving is allowed, but a permit is required in advance and divers must have a drysuit certification—diving with just a wetsuit is prohibited.

  • Silfra: Silfra is considered one of the best places to scuba dive in the world. The water is freezing and there isn't much wildlife, but you're literally swimming between the two continental plates. Plus, the water is so clear that visibility is often over 300 feet.
  • Davíðsgjá: This freshwater lake spot requires some swimming to reach the continental rift, but like Silfra, the water is exceptionally clear and you'll be able to explore caves that have formed in the rocks below.
The Silfra Fissure
TripSavvy / Chris VR 

Where to Camp

Camping where the two continental plates meet is an experience that you can only have in Iceland, and campers can stay at one of two campgrounds at the national park. You do need to pay for a permit when you arrive from the Information Center, but advance reservations aren't necessary for either campground.

  • Leirar: This is the larger campground and it's located next to the Tourist Information Center. It's further divided into four smaller campgrounds, but they're all located within walking distance of each other and easy to reach. Leirar is located directly off of the famed Golden Circle tourist route.
  • Vatnskot: This campground is located on the banks of Lake Thingvallavatn on the grounds of what used to be an ancient farm site. If you want lake views, this is the spot for you.

Where to Stay Nearby

You'll have to travel outside of the park for non-camping options and since Reykjavik is the closest city to the park, that's where most travelers stay. The park entrance is less than an hour away from the capital city, so it's easy to visit on a day trip if that's all you have time for.

  • Butterfly Guesthouse: This family-owned lodging is located in the heart of Reykjavik. The rooms are simple and you can choose a shared bathroom to save money, but the Nordic charm and warm hospitality make it a favorite for tourists.
  • Kruines Hotel: Located on the outer edge of Reykjavik, the biggest draw to Kruines Hotel is that you have a better chance of seeing the Northern Lights away from the light pollution of the city. Since it's not in the city center, you'll have an easier time getting to Thingvellir.
  • 5 Million Star Hotel: If you don't want to stay in Reykjavik, this is arguably one of the most unique hotel options in the world. Guests sleep in a transparent bubble out in the Icelandic forest, directly under the stars (or the midnight sun, if it's summertime). It's about 40 minutes east of the national park entrance.

For more recommendations of places to sleep, check out guides for the best places to stay in Reykjavik and in Iceland.

How to Get There

You can get to Thingvellir National Park from Reykjavik in less than an hour. From the capital city, follow Route 1 north until you hit Route 36 in Mosfellsbær. The road is well-maintained all year and will take you directly to the national park.

During the summer (May through September), there is another more scenic option that visitors from Reykjavik can take as well. Grab Route 1 toward Selfoss from Reykjavik. From there, take a left on Road 431 and follow it on to Road 435 for stunning views of Thingvallavatn (the lake named after the national park). You'll cross Hengill Volcano as you approach the lake. Once you start to descend the mountain, turn left of Road 360. After about 6 miles, you'll take a right on Road 36, which will bring you straight to the visitor center.

Once inside the park, the roads are very clearly marked. There are also plenty of pull-offs where you can hop out for impromptu hiking and photo ops.

Accessibility

While large parts of the Thingvellir are rugged, many of the trails are wooden boardwalks built above the above the ground and fully accessible for visitors in wheelchairs. If you want to explore the park with a travel guide, Iceland Unlimited offers tours of Thingvellir and the surrounding Golden Circle specifically designed with accessibility in mind.

On the mobile app TravAble, users can look up and log the accessibility of a location. While the app is available worldwide, it was developed in Iceland and is especially useful for traveling around the country.

Tips for Your Visit

  • All of the things to see at Thingvellir are outside, so keep an eye on forecasts.
  • Prepare to experience every season in one day: rain, snow, wind, sun, and sleet. You won't ever be too far from your car unless you're planning a larger hike, so have rain gear on hand as well as layers to put on or take off.
  • Hiking boots are a must. Depending on the weather, the ground can change consistency pretty quickly, from solid dirt to muddy puddles. Bring an extra pair of socks, too.
  • In many places, there are no barriers telling you where to keep away. Remember that this land is constantly adjusting and moving and cracks can happen at any time. Practice safety and don't get too close to the ridge's edge.
  • While some natural attractions in Iceland can feel swarmed with tourists—like the Blue Lagoon—one especially nice thing about Thingvellir is that there's plenty of room for crowds to disperse. If one viewing area feels crowded, just hike around and you can easily find solitude.
  • Summer is by far the busiest time at the park, so consider visiting in shoulder season of April, May, September, or October for fewer crowds and weather that isn't freezing yet.
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Thingvellir National Park: The Complete Guide