Thingvellir – or Þingvellir – is Iceland’s most important historic site and its oldest national park. Located where the North American and Eurasian plates meet, it’s the rift valley where you walk between two continents. It was also the location of the country’s first parliament, the Alþing. The dramatic landscape, with its towering cliffs and rugged lava, makes it one of the most atmospheric places to visit during a trip to Iceland, as well as one of its most fascinating. But while you’re there, what else is there to do near Thingvellir? Here are a few suggestions.
Snorkel in the clear waters of Silfra
Meltwater from Langjökull glacier floods fissures which opened up as the tectonic plates drifted apart. That same meltwater has been on a decades-long journey through cooled lava. The rock acts as a very efficient filter, making the water crystal clear when it emerges at places like Silfra. Diving and snorkeling are permitted, though dry suits are essential due to the exceptionally low water temperature. But to see such an incredible landscape through such extraordinarily clear water is well worth any discomfort you might experience when your hands get cold. And they will!
Feel the spray of Öxarárfoss on your face
It’s possible to experience another of Thingvellir’s watery attractions without having to take off your coat and shoes. Tucked out of sight of the Alþing, yet just a short stroll away lies the pretty waterfall Öxarárfoss, which tumbles over the rocky face of the Almannagjá gorge. Small by Icelandic standards, it measures just thirteen meters tall and six meters wide and is especially cute in winter when the water freezes completely. Fun fact: the River Öxará, feeding Öxarárfoss, is the only one of Lake Þingvallavatn’s sources that don’t originate from a natural spring.
Fish for trout in Lake Þingvallavatn
With an area of over 80 square kilometers, the lake is Iceland’s largest (Þórisvatn is bigger, but is technically a reservoir). The lake contains substantial stocks of both brown trout and four varieties of Arctic char. But it’s the former that’s the crowd-puller – the lake is home to what many claim to be the largest wild brown trout on the planet. It’s not uncommon for fishermen to land a specimen that’s 10lb or more, and the record is over three times that size. If you’d like to try your luck, book with an approved operator and remember, fishing at Lake Þingvallavatn operates strictly on a catch and release basis.
Learn the difference between tölt and skeið as you ride Icelandic horses
Back home, you may have walked, trotted, and cantered. But in Iceland, you’ll be able to add tölt (a quick but smooth, almost gliding, pace) and skeið (a full-on, lightning speed gallop) to that list. For centuries Thingvellir was a stopping off point for travelers on horseback. These days you won’t be able to ride your horse through the assembly site or the Almannagjá fault, but the two dedicated horse riding trails at Thingvellir won’t disappoint. Experienced riders will also enjoy traversing the ancient lava field created by Hengill volcano and the aptly named Valley of Horses at Maradalur on the way to Thingvellir on a multi-day ride organized by Eldhestar.
Whatever you choose to do, we think you’ll enjoy visiting Thingvellir National Park and its surroundings.