Þingvellir National Park is the only UNESCO World Heritage site on the Icelandic mainland and one of the three stops on the world famous Golden Circle sightseeing route, alongside the Haukadalur Geothermal Valley (Geysir) and Gullfoss Waterfall. Just to the south of the park is Þingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest natural lake.
The first thing that visitors to the National Park notice is its sheer aesthetic beauty; dried magma fields, covered in Icelandic moss, sit carved by glacial springs and surrounded by a bowl of ancient mountain peaks.
Two of the greatest attractions in the park are the exposed North American and Eurasian tectonic plates; it is one of the only regions in the world where you can see geology such as this on land.
Visitors are encouraged to walk along the North American tectonic plate, where they can read more about the area’s fascinating formation and history, before descending into the valley below.
Þingvellir can be anglicised to ‘Fields of Parliament’, a nod to the area’s fascinating history and relevance to Icelandic culture. It is here, after all, that the world’s first democratically elected parliament that remains functioning, Alþingi, was formed in 930 AD.
It may seem unlikely that Vikings would want to be under such an uncombative government, but the thirty or so clans that lived in Iceland at the time sought to prosper in their harsh new environment.
The first gathering was such a success that the meetings became annual, and it became a place where disputes were settled, criminals were tried, and laws to the benefit of all were laid down.
This saw the birth of the Icelandic Commonwealth, a time of independence and freedom for the Icelandic people before they became constituents of the Norwegian monarchy. Sessions would continue to be held at Þingvellir until 1798.
Though the parliament was removed by the Danish at this time, it returned 1845 to Reykjavík.
Another major reason as to why Þingvellir is considered so important to Icelanders is the fact that this is where the decision was made to abandon the belief of Paganism and the Norse Gods; the people adopted Christianity in 1000 AD under threat of invasion from Norway.
This turning point in history was left to the pagan lawspeaker, Þorgeir Þorkelsson, who rested on the choice for one day and one night before reappearing to share his decision.
To symbolise the country’s change, he threw idols of his old deities into the northern waterfall Goðafoss, the name of which translates to ‘Waterfall of the Gods’.
Þingvellir is one of the most widely visited attractions in Iceland, in large part due to the fact that it is home to the glacial spring, Silfra fissure, one of the top ten sites in the world for snorkellers and scuba divers.
Silfra (meaning ‘Silver’) is a submerged ravine within the park, boasting visibility of up to 100 metres (328 feet) and a temperature just above freezing. Participants in these tours will be attired at the Silfra carpark in neoprene hoodies and gloves, as well as an undersuit and drysuit for thermal protection.