Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights at Lake Thingvallavatn, Thingvellir National Park. Iceland. Thingvellir National Park is a Unesco World Heritage site.
Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson/age fotostock
One of the most popular day trips from Reykjavík, this dramatic and scenic rift valley is both the historical site of Iceland’s Viking parliament and a geological wonder in its own right. Among the highlights are the Almannagjá cliffs, where the island’s chieftains and most of the Icelandic population traditionally congregated for an annual Alþing (general assembly), the last of which was held as recently as 1798. Wooden walkways around the park lead to other sites of interest like the black-roofed Þingvellir Church and Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. There are also waterfalls, flower-filled valleys, and abundant wildlife. It is possible to organize a diving trip to explore the tectonic rift that divides the Eurasian and North American plates, and there’s a visitor center with great views and decent coffee as well as exhibitions and a gift shop.
Snorkel the Ends of the Earth in Iceland
One of the top five dive sites in the world, Silfra is a lava fissure filled over with glacial water, which is so pristine that the visibility is 120 km deep. The water takes 300 years to reach the pool from a glacier, and as it filters through volcanic soil and rock, it purifies. It’s so pure, you can drink it as you swim through it. To snorkel the fissure—which exists because Iceland is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates separate—you have to wear a teddy bear suit under an extremely elaborate dry suit, plus neoprene over your head and hands, since the water is 3 degrees Celsius. The dive is worth the uncomfortable gear: you’ll never see a color blue like that anywhere else, and the fact that you float over the ends of the earth is pretty cool.
Inukshuks in Iceland
My husband and I traveled around the periphery of Iceland (on Ring Road) over a 9-day trip this summer. We loved every bit of it. This was shot on our day 1 in the country, as we approached Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park from Reykjavik, where a number of small inukshuks (inuksuit) basked in the beautiful evening light. In the background is the Thingvatn (lake). Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park is a part of what is called “Golden circle” , a very popular tourist route in South Iceland, just outside Reykjavik, and includes major sights like the national park, Gullfoss (one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls), and a couple of geysers (Geysir, Strokkur)
World's First Parliament Site
My husband and I traveled around the periphery of Iceland in about 9 days this summer. This shot of the site of the world’s first parliament (@ Thingvellir National Park) was taken on the first day of our trip. The Parliament or Alþingi was established at Thingvellir in 930 and the site is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The national park (Iceland’s first) was founded in 1930 to protect what remained of the original parliament site and was later expanded to protect natural phenomena in the surrounding area. In the background you can also see the cracks or faults that traverse this region due to the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates. Some of the rift has very clear water and people go snorkeling in those waters (we did not).
January 2012, 10.30 a.m. - Sunrise over Thingvellir. A magic spot, where the first democratic system was founded 1000 years ago and where you can see two continents drifting apart (70 meters in the last 10.000 years - take your time to watch!).
Iceland's National Park, or "Field of the Parliament"
Thingvellir National Park is becoming well known as one of the places where HBO films Game of Thrones. Besides that cool factor, the park offers an unique view of Iceland‘s tribal and Viking history, even though parts of the park can feel a bit field trip -esque. Regardless, I recommend Thingvellir for a day of easy exploring, plenty of moments when you actually are in GOT’s “the Eyrie” (hello, Instagram!), and for other adventurous activities like snorkeling the glacial pools (see my post on Silfra), open-road biking, or hiking to one of the area’s volcanoes.
I read somewhere before I arrived that Icelandic landscapes looked like the moon. Nowhere was that more true than here.
Rift of the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates
Here at the historic site of the Alþingi (Parliament) and Lake Þingvallavatn, you can stand in the rift of the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates This makes for a visual experience as to how the earth is always evolving.
The Golden Circel Tour
A MUST!!! I could go on and on and ON about things you MUST do while you are in Iceland but if you had limited time or funds and had to choose just ONE tour, I highly recommended the golden circle tour. This tour gives you the opportunity to do a multitude of sightseeing all in one day. You visit Thingvellir National Park, Geyser & Gullfoss waterfall. If you use the same company I did, Iceland Horizon you also get TWO added bonuses at the end of the tour along the route returning to your hotels. I will not tell you what they are but I WILL tell you they are VERY worth it and without a local you will not get these added experiences!!! To find out what these two gems are, you have to book the tour. ;) +354 866 7237 Our tour guide, Gerda and bus driver were also WONDERFUL. They were a husband and wife team and their relationship dynamic was pleasant and adorable. They made the drive fun and super informative. Once in Thingvellir National Park you also have an opportunity to stop at a little snack and souvenir shop where you can buy postcards and postage and send your photographic souvenirs off to your family and friends before you even leave Iceland! This is one of my favorite things to do while traveling. :D Be sure to mention that Hilda sent you if you decide to book this incredible tour! :D For more photos of this tour visit www.worldworthwandering.com
On the way to Thingvellir National Park, we stopped to pet some Icelandic Ponies. Icelandic Ponies are the purest on earth - completely free of disease. Because of this, no other horses or ponies are allowed in the country. They are friendly and beautiful. If you see any on your journey, pull over and they’ll let you pet them!
Make a Wish in Thingvellir National Park
In Thingvellir National Park there is an area called the Wishing Well. Toss in a coin and make a wish amidst the beautiful Icelandic scenery - definitely worth a penny!
Never thought of Iceland as a snorkeling (or SCUBA) destination? Well think again. It might take a dry suit (warmer than a wetsuit) and a couple of layers, but it’s well worth the effort. Snorkeling here allows you to float between the North Atlantic and European tectonic plates - and rewards you with majestic compilations of black lava rock, shocking green grasses, muted tan rippling sand, and brilliant blue water. It’s honestly on a par with just about any Caribbean diving I’ve ever done. Aside from the stunning beauty and seeing an exotic destination from a completely new angle, snorkeling Iceland provides you with one hell of a cocktail party story for the rest of your life.
Where the ‘Things’ Are.
This is Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) - the site of an ancient Parliament. The ruling Vikings organized their annual gathering (“thing”) here every summer. The people came to settle their quarrels or impose their will, to talk together and to trade. At 5:00 P.M. on a snowy Winter evening, with limited visibility, we stand alone on the ridge and wonder what this place must have looked like during a crowded “thing”. Visit in Winter for unspeakably beautiful views like this. You have the added bonus of sightings of the Northern Lights at that time!
Þingvellir is a region just outside of Reykjavik, and sometimes overlooked by travelers set on exploring the golden circle. Þingvellir circles around a large lake and has some amazing views. I recommend driving around the full length of the lake. There are many drop offs and hiking bases along the road. Just off the northern tip of the lake there is a hike you can take down a valley where they filmed a few episodes of Game of Thrones. My favorite part of the drive was all the farms we past filled with Icelandic horses.