The Golden Circle in Iceland – Thoughts on Þingvellir National Park

Caleb and I arrived in Iceland very late at night. The sun was still in full force despite it being close to midnight. (Vampires would not do very well in this country.) We made our way to our first AirBNB, which was within 10 minutes of the airport, and tightly closed our blackout curtains and attempted to sleep. Our bodies still believed it to be close to 8 pm Eastern time, so it was a bit difficult adjusting to our new time zone. I had a very heavy itinerary laid out for our first full day in Iceland, and I was eager to start the day running and with good sleep.

In retrospect, I wish I had given my body a day to adjust to the new timezone and spend a calmer day in Reykjavik rather than driving several hours around The Golden Circle. Consider this my advice to you, fellow traveler — if you arrive in a sleep deprived state or foresee sleep deprivation, I will suggest you stay in Reykjavik for a day if possible and enjoy the many things to see there, as it is only 45 minutes from the airport.

If you are in Iceland for a short time, I would not suggest you stay close to the Keflavík International Airport unless you arrive very late at night or need to remain close to meet up with others. Honestly, there is not much to see between the airport and Reykjavik. The drive is easy, but do not expect to see the jaw-dropping landscapes you’ve been dreaming of while you are driving into the rest of the country. Not yet, at least.

Caleb and I set out for the first official stop on our list: Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. which was about an hour’s drive from the Keflavík International Airport area. We reached an overlook to see some landscapes of the National Park, which were okay but not spectacular. We continued our drive to one official parking lot and Visitor Center at the park. Plan to pay for parking and a bathroom break, but otherwise entrance into the park is free.

Þingvellir National Park lays claim to Iceland’s oldest Parliament, and is therefore a historic site of great importance. For nature lovers, the big draw is the canyon that exists within the Park, which was formed by a continental drift. You can therefore walk between two tectonic plates, the North American plate and the Eurasian plate!

Pingvellir Canyon
Almannagjá gorge where the two tectonic plates drift apart

If you have the time and the money, please consider diving or snorkeling between the two tectonic plates in the Park. You can find awesome day tours dedicated to this adventure. There are also opportunities for horseback riding tours.

We enjoyed walking around the Park. There were some beautiful views to see, and the “cool factor” is very high. Where else in the world will you be able to walk between two tectonic plates? Check out the Þingvellir church for some history. There is also the lovely Öxarárfoss waterfall that you can walk up next to and even walk above it.

Oxararfoss
Öxarárfoss waterfall

The downside of the Park is that it is a very popular place to visit, so it is very tourist-centric. This is not an inherently bad thing, but please be aware that if you are expecting to escape into nature and find yourself in a Thoreau-like Walden situation, you likely will not find it here. Admittedly, we visited during the beginning of peak tourist season, so your experience may be less crowded than ours!

Pingvellir view.JPG

In addition, the hiking offered here is very simple and the paths are partially paved, which is fantastic if you are with small children or people who are not very active. It is not much of a challenge for any serious hikers. When walking through the Canyon, we were able to walk up a rocky path to reach the high point of the Park. This was the most strenuous part of our time in the Park. Walking back out of the Canyon to the Visitor Center parking lot is also a bit difficult due to its steady upward trajectory.

At one point we wanted to escape the massive crowds of people, so we went on a trail that also allowed for horseback riding. It was pretty, but it did not hold up to the exceptional hiking we later experienced in other sections of Iceland.

Windswept
Please note: my husband’s hair does not usually look like this. It was very windy!

In my opinion, this Park is absolutely worth seeing, but I would not recommend you spend more than a few hours here unless you intend to camp or take a snorkeling/diving tour or horseback riding tour.

If you’ve visited, what did you think of Þingvellir National Park? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear about the experience others have had!

Resources for Þingvellir National Park


Hey there, fellow adventurer! I’m recounting my epic 10 day trip to Iceland. Would you like to hear about my experiences as a tourist in Iceland and pick up on some good tips and resources? Then consider following my blog, or check back frequently for new updates. 
Happy trip planning!

 

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4 comments

  1. Wow…!! You have shared beautiful photographs and information too. I am planning a tour in Iceland for a short time, I would suggest TripGuide Iceland, as they are offering great tours.

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