A few kilometers from Reykjavik there is a site of such geological and historical significance that UNESCO added it to its World Heritage List in 2004. Þingvellir (or Thingvellir) National Park is a beautiful park of 237 square kilometers that you must absolutely visit if you travel to Iceland.
I went on an excursion to discover the main attractions of the Golden Circle, a popular tourist route in southwestern Iceland. One of our first stops was at Thingvellir Park, a park I was anxious to discover (in fact, it’s probably what I was most looking forward to seeing in Iceland).
My only disappointment: not being able to spend more time there (this is unfortunately the problem when you are part of an organized tour). The park is huge and beautiful and has a good network of trails for hiking. You can even go scuba diving! This is on my list of activities to do absolutely if I have the opportunity to return to Iceland one day.
But my short passage through Thingvellir allowed me to observe its many cracks and particular rock formations. Thingvellir is located between the American and European tectonic plates, which move a few millimeters apart each year. Volcanic and tectonic activity has therefore given the park its relief and is undoubtedly one of the best examples on a global scale of the continual movement of Earth’s tectonic plates. A trip to Thingvellir and hop!, we just went from one continent to another without even noticing it!
But Thingvellir isn’t only significant in a geological way. It is also where the oldest parliament in the world was born. Thingvellir, in Icelandic, literally means “Plains of the parliament”. At the time of the colonization of Iceland (before the year 1000), it was agreed that the new nation needed laws and guidelines. Thingvellir was conveniently easy to access for everyone. Hundreds of people started meeting for about two weeks each year in Thingvellir. There, decisions were made, new laws were drafted, criminals tried and punished when found guilty. Amongst other things, it was decided there that Iceland should adhere to Christianity. The Icelandic assembly met there until the end of the 18th century (yes, you read correctly, the parliament gathered in Thingvellir for almost 800 years!).
Today, Thingvellir hosts the Icelandic prime minister’s summer residence and is arguably one of the most visited places in the country. The park is particular and imposing, and one almost has the impression to hear the echoes of the first inhabitants of Iceland …
By the way, fans of the TV series Game of Thrones, know that the park was used to shoot scenes that take place north of the Wall!