Thingvellir National Park is on nearly every Iceland itinerary, and with good reason. Its historical significance, unique landscape and convenient location near Reykjavik make Thingvellir National Park a top destination. This guide will provide all the details, from history to trip planning, for this must-see destination.
In this Guide:
Here’s what we’re covering in this post. We invite you to read the full post or jump ahead to the section you’re most interested in.
- What is Thingvellir National Park
- Things to see at Thingvellir National Park
- Things to do at Thingvellir National Park
- Plan your visit to Thingvellir National Park (All the logistics)
- Get Ready for Thingvellir National Park (Tips & Packing)
What is Thingvellir National Park
From ancient Nordic settlers to the film crew of Game of Thrones, Thingvellir has a way of calling to people. This place has deep historical importance, but is also a unique natural beauty. For those reasons, the national park attracts millions of visitors each year.
Let’s dig into why.
Historical Significance of Thingvellir
Thingvellir is as historically significant as it gets in Iceland. Take the Reykjavik free walking tour or step into the National Museum of Iceland and you’ll hear all about Thingvellir. The history is deep and detailed, but here’s the Cliff Notes version.
Nordic settlers arrived as early as 874 and lived in districts around the island. Each district had an assembly, but one district was becoming too powerful. To limit the power of any single assembly, a general assembly (parliament) was formed with representation from each district.
Parliament needed a place to meet. They chose Thingvellir because of its central location to the majority of the population at that time, and its large, mostly flat open space. The first meeting of the general assembly at Thingvellir was in 930, which is considered to be the official start of the nation of Iceland.
The general assembly met at Thingvellir through 1271, when the Commonwealth was disbanded and Iceland fell to Norwegian rule. It was the longest running parliament known in history. After rule by Norway and then Denmark, Iceland regained its independence in 1944.
After Thingvellir was no longer a meeting place for parliament, it remained import to the Icelandic people. The site served as a social hub, nationalist symbol, and the location for many national celebrations. Even today, Thingvellir serves as an important place of remembrance and a symbol of independence for Icelanders.
The area of Thingvellir was designated a protected national park in 1930, the first in Iceland, and will always remain a part of the Icelandic nation.
Natural Significance of Thingvellir
The geology of Thingvellir is as interesting as its history. In fact, the natural history might be even more complicated than the human history. I’m not qualified to get into the details, but I’ll scrape the surface. (See what I did there?)
The most notable natural feature is the continental divide, which cuts right through Thingvellir National Park. This is where the Eurasian and North-American tectonic plates meet. The plates are divergent, meaning they are slowly moving away from each other at a rate of 2.5 cm a year.
This divergence creates a gap in the earth’s crust, which is visible in different ways throughout the park. You can walk between these two plates at Almannagjá Gorge or watch the Öxarárfoss waterfall cascade over the North-American plate. In some spaces the gap fills with water, like at Silfra fissure where you can dive between continents.
The movement of the tectonic plates creates an active volcanic and fissure zone. It’s been 2000 years since the last volcanic activity in Thingvellir, but activity is assumed to resume at some point in the future. Earthquakes are constantly felt in the area, but they are usually small. The last significant earthquake at Thingvellir was in 2000.
Also at Thingvellir is Lake Thingvallavatn, which is the largest natural lake in Iceland. The water that fills the lake has been extensively filtered through the nearby volcanic rock, the same volcanic rock that makes up the base of the lake. These features create a unique habitat for immense biodiversity, even though the lake is very cold.
To really boil it down, what you’ll find at Thingvellir are some really cool rock formations, beautiful crystal clear water, and a nice waterfall to top it off.
Things to see at Thingvellir National Park
When you first arrive at the main entrance to Thingvellir National Park, you might look out from the first view point and ask yourself “Why am I here?”
At first glance, Thingvellir National Park looks pretty, but maybe a tad boring compared to the geysers and waterfalls on your itinerary. (Or was that just me?) But keep going! Once you start to explore Thingvellir National Park, you’ll start to uncover its beauty and importance.
Here are a few things you’ll want to see while you’re at Thingvellir National Park.
- Almannagjá Gorge: As you walk through this gorge you’re actually walking between the two tectonic plates that divide Europe and North America. There is a path that starts near the visitor center and leads through a portion of the gorge. This gorge was also a filming location for Game of Thrones.
- Lake Thingvallavatn: This is the largest natural lake in Iceland. It’s known for its biodiversity and crystal clear water, making it popular for fishing.
- Öxarárfoss waterfall: Öxarárfoss is the only waterfall at Thingvellir. It’s quite popular and can get crowded, but is really lovely. The water is falling off the edge of the North American tectonic plate.
- Thingvellir Church & Residences: There were no permanent structures at Thingvellir until a church was built sometime around 1000. That building no longer exists, and the church you see today was built in 1859. The nearby residences were built for the Prime Minister in 1930 and have had numerous purposes.
- Peningagjá: This location isn’t on the Thingvellir guide map, but it is a beautiful place to see the crystal clear water that cuts between the ridge. It’s a short walk from the church and the location is listed on Google Maps.
Things to do at Thingvellir National Park
A visit to Thingvellir National Park can be as simple as a nice a stroll with lovely views. If you’re interested in taking your visit to the next level, there are options for that as well. Let’s peek at what there is to do at Thingvellir National Park.
The most popular thing to do at Thingvellir National Park is to hike along the walking paths to some of the most popular sites in the park. You can download a trail map here.
The main paths are well marked and well maintained. Paths are a mix of gravel and dirt walkways and wooden boardwalks. Some parts are steep and rocky, including the short hike up to the waterfall and returning to the visitor center through Almannagjá Gorge. Generally though, the path is mostly flat.
There are signs throughout the park with historical information in English & Icelandic.
Thingvellir Walking Route
Here’s a sample walking route that will take you to some of the main sites at Thingvellir National Park in just about three miles.
Thingvellir Free Walking Tour
Park rangers host a free walking tour every day at 10 AM. The one-hour tour begins at Thingvellir church. Guests will be lead on a short walk through the nearby sites and where they’ll learn more about the history of Thingvellir.
The church where the tour starts is a 2K walk from the main parking lot (P1) or a 10 minute drive plus a 10 minute walk from parking lot P5. Be sure to arrive by at least 9:30 to get to the tour on time.
We didn’t account for this distance and missed the tour. We did pass the large tour group during our walk through the park, and it appeared to be quite popular.
Scuba Dive or Snorkel Dive Between Continents
I wasn’t kidding when I said you could take your visit to the next level. Silfra Fissure is one of the most popular destinations in the world for scuba diving and snorkeling. The water is remarkably clear due to the filtration through nearby volcanic walk. It’s not for the faint of heard though as water temperatures are a cold 35-39°Fahrenheit year round.
Heart of Iceland Exhibition
Inside the visitor center there is a small interactive museum where you can learn more about Thingvellir and its role in Icelandic history. We didn’t go inside during our visit for pandemic safety reasons.
Admission is 1000 ISK (about $8 USD).
I’m no fish person, but this is definitely a thing. Lake Thingvallavatn is home to some of the largest Brown Trout in the world because this particular species evolved in isolation here in this lake.
You can only fish inLake Thingvallavatn from May 1 through September 15 and there are specific rules around the type of equipment you use and how it’s cleaned. You can read a personal account and get more information about fishing in LakeThingvallavatn here.
Plan your Visit to Thingvellir National Park
Now that you know all about Thingvellir, let’s start planning your trip. Here are a few things to know in advance to ensure you have the best trip possible.
When to visit Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is the first stop for most visitors on the Golden Circle route. This means that mornings at Thingvellir are the busiest. Fortunately, the park is very spacious so crowds do not significantly detract from the experience. If you really wanted to avoid crowds you could come in the later afternoon, but we don’t think that’s necessary.
The national park is open all year and is technically open to the public 24 hours a day. However, the visitor center and other amenities only operate during specific times. The hours are typically from 9 AM – 5 PM but vary based on the specific location and day of the year. Thingvellir is a great place to visit during all seasons. The summer months have much better weather for spending time outside, but a snow covered frozen Öxarárfoss waterfall is a thing of beauty.
When choosing what season to visit, evaluate everything you want to do in Iceland during your trip. Other activities, like the Northern Lights (winter) or driving the full ring road (summer), will dictate your season more than Thingvellir will.
We visited in the summer, when temperatures average in the 50s Fahrenheit. It was very pleasant to be outside, and we didn’t find the summer crowds insufferable.
How much time do you need at Thingvellir National Park?
We recommend spending 2 – 3 hours at Thingvellir. This gives you time for an hour of walking between the top sites, and allows time to read all the signs, take lots of waterfall photos, and grab coffee or a snack from the visitor center.
If you’re planning on additional activities, such as fishing or diving, you’ll of course need more time.
How to get to Thingvellir National Park
If you’re starting in Reykjavik, Thingvellir is easily accessible via car in about 1 hour. Take Route 1 until you pass the town of Mosfellsbær. Turn onto Route 36 / Þingvallavegur and then signs will take you to the main parking lot (P1) at the visitor center of Thingvellir National Park.
Unfortunately there is no public transportation from Reykjavik to Thingvellir.
If you don’t want to or can’t rent a car to drive to Thingvellir, the other option is to visit with a tour group. Most of these tours will cover the full Golden Circle route and span a variety of activities and durations.
Where to park at Thingvellir National Park
There are three paid parking lots at Thingvellir: P1, P2 and P5. You can pay for parking at booths in the lot or online via Check-It. Prices are as follows:
- Cars 5 seats or fewer: 750 ISK ($6 USD)
- Cars with 6 – 8 seats: 1000 ISK ($8 USD)
Most people driving to Thingvellir will want to park at the main parking lot (P1). This parking lot is located near the visitor center and lookout point. P1 is the largest parking lot and is the most accessible for anyone driving from Reykjavik.
The advantage to parking in the main lot is that you start near amenities like bathrooms, food & drink, and visitor center information. You also begin your journey to the rest of the park by walking down through the beautiful Almannagjá Gorge. (However, you will have to walk back up it to return to your car.)
There is another parking lot (P5) located lower in the gorge. The P5 lot is good for those who might not be able to walk up and down the gorge path. Parking in this lot will give you a mostly flat walk to the church and a large portion of the park with minimal elevation.
To get to P5 from the visitor center or if you’re coming straight from Reykjavik, you’ll need to drive around most of the park first. Getting to the P5 parking lot will add at least 10 minutes to your trip.
Lastly, parking lot P2 is located near Öxarárfoss waterfall. This parking lot is only about a quarter mile in distance from the waterfall, but it is a relatively steep hike up to the viewing area.
Each of these parking lots can be found in Google Maps by searching “Thingvellir Parking” and the lot you’re searching for (e.g. “Thingvellir Parking P1“).
How much does Thingvellir National Park Cost
There is no admission cost for Thingvellir National Park. It’s free to enter the grounds, see the waterfall, and read about the history. There are additional costs associated with the park that you’ll most likely run into, though.
The three main parking lots at Thingvellir charge 750 ISK ($6 USD) for cars with 5 seats or fewer and 1000 ISK ($8 USD) for cars with 6 – 8 seats.
Food and drink is available at the visitor center. It’s a small convenience store style cafeteria where you can pick up pre-made sandwiches, chips, beverages, etc. A cup of regular coffee and a muffin costs about $5 USD and a sandwich close to $15 USD.
Any activities outside of hiking, such as the exhibition at the visitors center (1000 ISK / $8 USD) or diving ($200+ USD), will be an added cost. We spent about $50 USD for two adults with parking, coffee and lunch.
Where to stay near Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir is a one hour drive from Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik, which is where we recommend staying. You’ll have the best pick of accommodations, as well as having all the other amenities (read: coffee shops) near by.
We stayed at Kex Hostel and highly recommend it. It has a great location just across the road from the shore walk and a great price. Kex is a family friendly hostel, and we had a great stay with our toddler. But if you’re cooler than us, don’t shy away! Non-parents seemed to be having plenty of fun there, too.
If you are interested in staying on property at Thingvellir National Park, your only option is camping. There are two campgrounds at Thingvellir.
There are no reservations required, but you will need to purchase a permit at the visitor center. The cost for camping at Thingvellir is 1300 ISK ($10 USD) per adult. Children under 18 are free. There is not an additional fee for parking at the campsites.
Amenities at Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir has a solid lineup of amenities that will make your visit easy and comfortable. Here is what you can expect to find during your visit.
- Free Wifi: No
- Bathrooms: Yes. There are clean bathroom facilities near the 3 main parking lots at Thingvellir National Park, including the main visitor center. Bathrooms were free to use near the waterfall, however may require a small fee at the main visitor area. (I need to confirm, I’m sorry!)
- Parking: Yes, for a fee. There are three main lots, each cost $6-$8 USD to park for the day. (See parking details.)
- Coffee: Yes. American drip coffee and espresso beverages from an automatic machine were available for purchase.
- Food: Yes, convenience store style food is available for purchase. This includes things like packaged snacks, pre-made sandwiches, and bottled beverages.
- Vegetarian / Vegan Food: Yes. A vegan kebab wrap was available for purchase in the visitor center.
Get Ready for your Trip to Thingvellir National Park
With the logistics out of the way, it’s time to finally get ready for your visit! Here are a few things to know before you go to Thingvellir.
Tips for Visiting Thingvellir
- Download the Visitors Guide. You can find the visitor guide here, which includes a map. Save it to your phone before you go. This is particularly important if you don’t have a cellular data plan as there is not free wifi.
- Preload walking route in Google Maps. If you have a route in mind, like the walking route we provided, open it in Google Maps before your visit while you have cell service or wifi. Even if you don’t have cell service in the park, your location will show up as a dot in Google Maps. This will allow you to generally follow your route, even without service.
- Be sure you pay for parking! There is a parking fee at the three main lots, and it’s closely monitored. Failure to pay will result in a hefty fee later.
- Arrive on time for the walking tour. If you’re planning to take the walking tour, account for the 30 minute walk from the main parking lot (P1) or the 10 minute drive plus 10 minute walk from the closer lot (P5). The walking tour starts at 10 AM every day.
- Be aware of the terrain. Thingvellir is a rift zone, meaning that it’s prone to geological shifts. The ground is constantly, though not usually noticeably, cracking and moving. Watch your footing and stay aware of your surroundings.
What to Wear to Thingvellir
Nearly everything at Thingvellir is outdoors, so plan for the weather. If you’re visiting in the summer, dress in light layers as you may warm up as you hike. If you’re visiting in the winter, be sure to bundle up as the temperature dictates.
We visited in July. My toddler and I each wore short sleeves under a Patagonia Better Sweater. We kept our sweaters on most the time, but it was nice to easily take them off as needed. Kenny just wore his trusty cotton long sleeve and was comfortable the whole day.
A majority of the park is exposed to the elements, meaning there’s no shade from the sun or cover from the rain. On sunny days, consider a shirt with built in UDF protection. Consider wearing a jacket that is water resistant, just in case it rains unexpectedly.
If it is raining, I can’t recommend waterproof pants enough. You’ll look ridiculous, but holy smokes is it nice to be dry. They’re definitely worth the investment for an Iceland trip and you’ll reach for them many times.
Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes. We wore running shoes with good traction and were fine in the summer. I could see needed hiking boots in the winter though, especially if it was snowy or icy.
What to Bring to Thingvellir
In addition to the clothes on your back, there are a few more things we recommend bringing with you.Also be sure to check our minimalist Iceland packing list to help get ready for your whole trip.
- Snacks & water: Maybe it’s just me, but I’m always hungry. Since you’ll be out walking around for a while, keep a snack bar on you or pick up some chips at the visitor center. Be sure to throw away your trash!
- Poncho: If you aren’t otherwise wearing rain gear, consider bringing a rain poncho to keep handy just in case. We also have this adorable baby poncho for Zoe.
- Waterproof Backpack Cover: Iceland weather changes quickly and rain is always an option. We kept a waterproof backpack cover with us at all times, just in case.
- Baby Carrier: Parents of small children will want to pack a baby carrier. Some of the paths are steep and not safe for strollers. We used the Nuna CUDL carrier. We have a separate post dedicated to baby wearing for travel, which includes our best tips and reviews of our favorite baby carriers.
Thingvellir National Park is a great place to start an epic Golden Circle Road trip. We hope you were able to find all the information you were looking for to plan a perfect visit. If there’s anything we missed, let us know in the comments!
Whether you’re in Iceland now or planning your dream trip, we hope you have an amazing adventure.
Our Full Iceland Itinerary
Planning a trip to Iceland? Here’s a look at our full itinerary for this trip…
- Minimalist Iceland Summer Packing List (That Fits in One Carry-On!)
- Detailed 3-Day Reykjavik Itinerary with Walking Routes
- Reykjavik City Guide – Everything to Know About Iceland’s Capital City
- Whale Watching in Reykjavík with Special Tours
- Planning Guide: Self-Drive the Golden Circle in Iceland
- Guide to Thingvellir National Park in Iceland
- Guide to Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland
- Guide to Iceland’s Geysir Hot Spring Area
- A Perfect Visit to Seljalandsfoss Waterfall + Bonus Hidden Waterfall
- Planning Guide: Skogafoss Waterfall in Iceland
- Guide to Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve on Iceland’s Southern Coast
- Complete Guide to Vik, Iceland
- Guide to Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in Iceland
- Guide to Jökulsárlón, Iceland’s Glacier Lagoon