Þingvellir: Where History and Nature Collide
Þingvellir National Park, located in the southwest of Iceland not too far from Reykjavik, is another stop on the Golden Circle Route. It’s the first stop that most tourist will make after leaving Reykjavik, and is about an hour away from the capital.
Þingvellir is a site of great historical and geological significance in Iceland. It is the site of the first Parliament, which was formed there in 930AD. Though the Parliament no longer operates out of the area, it is still a protected area and a National Park.
Þingvellir is also the spot where the North American and Eurasian continental plates meet – and are slowly pushing apart. The action of these plates is the reason Iceland has such unique geological features. Basically, if Þingvellir was not the way is it, Iceland would not be the way it is.
The valley around Þingvellir is unlike any you’ve ever seen – with undulating valleys and hills that seem to be constantly shifting, and in fact, actually are, if only a fraction of a millimeter each year. Visitors to the valley can actually walk between the cracks, seeing either side of the plates looming above them. Because of the constant movement, dozens of earthquakes happen here each day. Most are very, very mild though and it’s most likely that you won’t even feel them.
Lake Þingvallavatn is a popular spot for recreation in the summers, as is the rest of the park. Icelanders and tourists come to came, fish, hike, and horseback ride throughout the area. Lake Þingvallavatn contains some of the clearest water in the world. It melts from glaciers in the center of the county and slowly filters through volcanic rock and ash to make its way to the Lake.
The clarity of the Lake, and its position over the mid-Atlantic rift, makes diving and snorkeling a popular activity here as well. While divers here will see few, if any, fish, they will get the chance to descend into the crack in the Earth. If you aren’t certified to dive, you can don a dry suit and snorkel and bob on the surface of the Lake, looking down into the crack from above.
Tours of the Golden Circle all stop at Þingvellir though you can easily drive yourself. If you do, figure on about an hour for the drive, depending on conditions, and one to two hours to explore. In summer, a visitors center is open, bus service runs from Reykjavik to the park, and you can camp overnight.
If you’re on a budget and want to see the Northern Lights, check the forecast, skip the pricey Northern Lights tours, and just head out to Þingvellir to watch the show.
Photo by taivasalla