Incredible Ways to See Thingvellir National Park

Fishing on the Öxará river is a tranquil way to experience Thingvellir National Park
Fishing on the Öxará river is a tranquil way to experience Thingvellir National Park | © Valery Voennyy / Alamy

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Just northeast of Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, is Thingvellir National Park. There are few places that better represent the natural beauty and historic intrigue that has come to characterise this country.

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Thingvellir National Park, measuring roughly 91sqkm (35sqmi), is not only home to mountains, volcanoes and the largest lake in the country, but is also considered the birthplace of democracy in Iceland. Plus, this Unesco World Heritage Site lies within a rift valley that marks the joining of two continents, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. There are plenty of reasons to visit Thingvellir. Find out how best to explore it below.

You can now book your trip with us – Culture Trip’s small-group, five-day Iceland tour is the perfect choice to discover all the best features this dramatic country has to offer.

Take the walking trails for a gentle way to see Thingvellir National Park

Snorkelling in Silfra and Davíðsgjá

Silfra and Davíðsgjá are two submerged rifts within Thingvellir National Park, and both offer fantastic snorkelling and diving spots thanks to the clear waters that fill them. This clarity allows divers to see the the rifts within the lakes, and to swim close to them before they deepen and widen. These are lakes that have been ripped open as a result of volcanic eruptions throughout history, with glacial water falling from above and filling the holes left behind.

Anyone wishing to dive must have a dry-suit certificate, and diving or entering the caves alone is prohibited. For those seeking a unique experience, visit during June or July, that way you’ll be able to dive in the late evening, when the light is at its most beautiful.

You will need a dry-suit certification to scuba dive in Silfra

Visiting the birthplace of Icelandic democracy

OK, so the Icelandic parliament, or Althingi, may actually be in Reykjavík today, but it started in Thingvellir and remains the oldest-running parliament in the world. Established in 930, Althingi was an outdoor assembly where the leaders of the country would gather to decide on legislation. Even when Iceland was under Norwegian rule, in the early 20th century, laws brought in by the Norwegians still had to be approved by Althingi. The name Thingvellir translates as Parliament Plains, and this area continued to be used as the political epicentre of Iceland until 1798. While Icelandic elders may no longer meet in Thingvellir, it’s still possible to visit the sites where rules were made and laws were passed.

The Icelandic parliament has now moved to a spot in Reykjavik

Fishing in Thingvallavatn Lake

Within the park is Thingvallavatn Lake, the largest lake in Iceland. It is home to many varieties of arctic char and sticklebacks, as well brown trout that can grow to 11kg (25lb). The best spots for trout are by the river Öxará and Efra-Sog, where a mixture of strong currents and healthy food supplies has resulted in huge fish populations. The rifts, lava and land subsistence of the area have all created a habitat that is diverse and fertile, rich in minerals and vegetation, despite the chilly temperatures.

Anyone wanting to fish within Thingvellir can go during the angling season, which starts at the beginning of May and runs until mid-September.

Thingvallavatn is the largest lake in Iceland, and an excellent fishing spot

Trying to ‘tölt’with an Icelandic horse

Icelandic horses are medium sized, but incredibly strong, able to withstand the harsh conditions due to their fur They’re also one of the few horse breeds with five gaits. In addition to the standard varieties – walk, trot, cant and gallop – Icelandic horses can also tölt. This is a quick but smooth gait that, according to Siggi Anton, a local guide and photographer who takes groups through Thingvellir, can be tested “by riding along with a full pint of beer and finishing without spilling a drop.”

Within Thingvellir, there are a number of different routes for horse riding, as well as specific horse trails, each offering a fantastic way to see the terrain. Be warned: riding through the assembly site is prohibited.

Icelandic horses are one of only a few breeds in the world with a fifth gait

Hiking the unique trails of Thingvellir

There are any number of hiking trails worth taking throughout the park. Many are connected to former farms or to the assembly site. If you hike along the Öxarárfoss Waterfall Trail you’ll be able to walk through the crater where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, which is a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience. For something a little more gentle, the Almannagjá gorge is easy to reach, being more a walk than a hike, but moving through the two huge rock faces is still spectacular, and the top of the canyon offers incredible views of Thingvallavatn lake.

Hike the Oxararfoss Waterfall Trail to pass the point where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet
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