Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Thingvellir is a significant historical location in the midst of the stark Icelandic landscape, both societally and geographically. Here, in AD 930, Vikings who had escaped their respective monarchs in Scandinavia set up the world’s first democratic government. Several stone foundations of the ancient encampments remain, while some are said to still unexcavated underground. Not only this, but Thingvellir is situated in one of the most dramatic landscapes in Europe, thanks to it sitting on the border between the North American and European tectonic plates. As a result, a huge rift valley has formed over the past 10,000 years as the shifting plates have been spread and sunk by the movement of the Earth’s crust. This incredible valley, named the Almannagjá canyon, is a rare visual representation of continental drift. There are several other rifts, many of which are full of clear cerulean water and are perfect for scuba diving which dramatically reveals the results of the moving plates. Thingvellir is also situated on the north shore of Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake of Iceland.
Where is it?
Thingvellir National Park is found in the district of Bláskógabyggð, in south-western Iceland. Iceland itself is situated to the north of the UK and to the east of Greenland.
What is it?
Thingvellir is a World UNESCO World Heritage site, as it is both a dramatic geological landscape and a culturally significant historical site. It forms part of the ‘Golden Circle’ of Iceland, along with the waterfall Gullfoss and the geysers of Haukadalur.
Best time to visit?
May and September are the best months to visit Iceland, as these months provide the best weather without the flocks of summer tourists. These also offer great opportunities for whale and bird watching.
There are several waterfalls in Thingvellir National Park, but if you are in Iceland you really must see the mighty Gullfoss waterfall. In the southwest of the Island, the Hvítá river plunges into a canyon, appearing from further away to simply disappear into the earth. From the bottom, though, you can see how huge the waterfall actually is as it cuts through the rock in steps before dashing southwards. Simply staggering.