It's sort of hard to understate the importance of this little bit of countryside to the Icelandic nation. Pretty much everything of national significance happened here until the tiny village of Reykjavík grew too big for its boots and stole the show.
The name Þingvellir roughly translates to Parliament Plains; which is rather descriptive, truth be told. It is, after all, a large plain, edged by cliffs, upon which the world’s oldest surviving parliamentary system, Alþingi, was founded and met annually.
This is just one of the reasons Þingvellir is a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Þingvellir sits on a rift valley (hence the cliffs) and is being quite literally pulled apart by the forces of plate tectonics. It is possible to cross from the Eurasian plate to the North American plate and back again, and again, and again, until the novelty wears off.
After your intercontinental travels without needing to cross oceans, you can then finally check out the water. Þingvellir is famous for water. It boasts: the clear and deep Lake Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland and world-famous dive/snorkelling site; the majestic but underappreciated Öxaárfoss waterfall; the nearby Drekkingarhylur pool where women found guilty of being witches used to be drowned; and the unfathomably clear blue water in peningagjá, where you can watch coins sink tens-of-metres all the way to the bottom…“And much, much more!” – to borrow a hackneyed advertising slogan.
Þingvellir has a small museum and visitor centre, and excellent toilet facilities. These may not be reasons to visit; but they are surely welcome extras! As is the fact that Þingvellir is extra-rich in plant and animal life (in the summer) and traditionally one of the warmest places in the country on nice sunny days. In the winter, on the other hand, Þingvellir can be a lot colder, windier and snowier than Reykjavík – so be warned.
It can be argued that the establishment of the Alþingi parliament marked the birth of the Icelandic nation, and that there had simply been some Norwegian and Celtic people living on the island of Iceland for 56-or-so years before that. So, in keeping with Þingvellir’s role in the establishment of the Icelandic nation in 930AD, when the Alþingi was formed, it was deliberately chosen as the place the Republic of Iceland was formally declared on 17th June 1944. No witches were drowned that day.
Þingvellir makes an excellent day trip all by itself. You won’t exhaust yourself with the list of things to see and do; instead you will enjoy a relaxing day of strolling the national park and exploring it in some detail…including its not-at-all-unimpressive list of things to see and do (as hinted at above). If you are a somewhat faster-paced, impatient, or simply strapped-for-time, visitor, however, you’ll be pleased to hear that Þingvellir is one of the three main stops on the famous Golden Circle tour: a handful of Iceland’s most iconic natural attractions all packaged together in one splendid day trip. The choice is yours!