A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2004, Thingvellir was officially recognized as Iceland’s first national park in 1930—a full 1,000 years after it was recorded as the site of the Icelandic parliament, or Althing.
Iceland’s first inhabitants were Norse and Celtic in origin, and the founding of the Althing in the year 930 provided an opportunity for chieftains all over the country to rule together. At this time, the owner of the land that would later become Thingvellir was found guilty of murder. His land was made public and declared the site of the assembly. After that, hundreds of farmers gathered every summer at the Althing to take part in the general assembly, making it a center of Icelandic social life.
Since the park sits on the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the landscapes of Thingvellir are as notable as its history—thanks to continental drift, the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates have been separating over time, creating dramatic faults, canyons, waterfalls and even water-filled fissures that are popular for scuba divers. Once covered entirely by thick expanses of ice, thousands of years and lots of volcanic activity has turned Thigvellir into a fascinating geographical location.
Terms to know
Althing – The Icelandic assembly founded in 930, recognized as the world’s first legislature.
The Golden Circle – Thingvellir is one of three stops on Iceland’s famous sightseeing route, along with the Great Geysir Geothermal Area and Gulfoss, the Golden Waterfall.
Silfra – The deep fissure full of clear water that attracts divers from all over the world.
Mid-Atlantic Ridge – Where the North American and Eurasian plates meet, right in the center of Thingvellir Park. The ridge is cause for the majority of Iceland’s volcanic activity.
Lake Thingvallavatn – The largest natural lake in Iceland, it lies on the northern shore of Thingvellir and was formed by volcanic activity.
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