Throwing coins into Peningagjá.
It has been a national tradition for hundred years to throw coins into Peningagjá (Money fault) and make a wish. This fault was earlier called Nikulásargjá, but changed its name due to this tradition.
This tradition started after the fault was bridged when the Danish king Frederick VIII paid Iceland a visit in 1907.
There are a myriad of coins in Peningagjá and some tourists have been tempted to try to collect money from there, which is absolutely forbidden (who wants to steal someone's wishes?) and extremely dangerous, as the water is deadly cold, meaning that it would result in death if one is not rescued in time. The water is very clear and up to 25 metres deep and on a sunny day it is a mesmerizing sight watching the coins sink. It is said that you will get your wish if you can watch the coin until it reaches the bottom. I go there many times a year and always throw money into the fault and make a wish. You can throw money from the bridge into both sides of Peningagjá, but please do not throw coins into other faults or any other rivers or ponds in Þingvellir. I have seen various ponds glistening with coins. Þingvellir is a very special and holy place for us Icelanders, let's take good care of it.
Please don´t make cairns here.
This tip is about "things not to be done" really. There is a special view-spot on road 36. After driving through a desert like landscape for some period of time all of a sudden the view of Þingvellir and lake Þingvallavatn opens up. It is a beautiful sight, so most people stop here to take photos.
Somebody thought of making a cairn here as a kind of "I was here" and other people have followed in his/her footstep. Now there are myriads of small cairns here and some of them have graffiti on them!
This is damage to Icelandic nature and annoys the hell out of us Icelanders. I have seen similar cairns in other places on the Golden Circle. It is allowed in one place that I know of at Laufskálavarða cairn where travellers crossing the sands for the first time are adviced to put one rock to a cairn for luck.
Cairns in Iceland were made to show the way, so they cannot be tampered with. Some of them are many centuries old.
Or maybe I should just chill and go with the flow?
Now it is not every day that one can walk in the Mid-Atlantic ridge. But in Þingvellir the tectonic plates are actually visible, in earlier days the rift where the plates meet used to be a lot more shallow, but has sunk more and more over the years and it is said that the Vikings might not even recognise Almannagjá rift anymore.
There are many rifts in Þingvellir with Almannagjá rift being the largest and best known. One can walk from the Interpretive center (see my tip) down Almannagjá rift or reach it from below. From Peningjá one can take a walk across Öxará river and reach Almannagjá and behind Hotel Valhöll (which has burnt down) there is a trail which leads you straight into Almannagjá rift.
Once Almannagjá was open to cars but now one can only walk here.
When I was a teenager my parents owned a summer cottage at Þingvellir and during the bright summer nights I used to roam around Almannagjá by myself, not a soul in sight. Now Þingvellir are filled with tourists and groups with tourist guides, but all the same it is always a breath-taking experience walking in Almannagjá.
In March 2011 a big hole was discovered in Almannagjá rift, and a fench was put up to keep people from falling in. It is believed that this hole developed during the earthquakes in 2000 and 2008, but we don´t know this yet. It is just lucky that nobody fell in and hurt themselves as this is on the path where every visitor walks when visiting Þingvellir.
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park is one of the main stops on the popular Golden Circle route. We visited on our Golden Circle tour with Iceland Guided Tours. Þingvellir is the site of the oldest parliament in Europe, established in the year 930. It is also located on the crest of Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are separating. Due to its historical and geological significance, it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since its a national park, it's pretty big, but probably the most popular area is near the assembly site. Lögberg, the law rock, was were the assembly met and where the exact spot is believed to be, there is a flag pole. Just north of the assembly site is Öxarárfoss waterfall and there are a network of trails to get around to the various sites. There are several rifts here and with bridges providing a way to cross and get a good look at them. Peningagjá (the actual name is Nikulásargjá) is called the money rift, because people throw coins in. The water is so clear and the visibility so good that you may be able to see a coin reach the bottom, 25 m in some places. South of here is Slifra, another rift near Þingvallavatn lake where people dive in the rift. Unfortunately, we didn't have time, but rift diving sounded like a lot of fun, although very cold. The visitor center is off route 36 just above the assembly site. A viewing area called Hakið is located here and provides for great views of Þingvallacatn and the rifts. There used to be a trail leading down to Almannagjá rift from here, but a hole opened up in the trail and it's closed for safety reasons. The day we visited, it was raining and so we didn't get to spend as much time here as we could have, but it was a really beautiful and interesting place.
- Historical Travel
- Hiking and Walking
- National/State Park
Lake Þingvallavatn in the National park is the largest lake in Iceland 83,7 km2 large. There are 3 islands in the lake and the normal depth is 34 m with the deepest part being 114 m. Þingvellir is located on the mid-Atlantic ridge and there are a lot of rifts in the lake. Water runs from Öxarár river into the lake and underground water runs from the lava at Þingvellir and even from Langjökull glacier which can be seen from Gullfoss (see my tip on that).
Þingvallavatn lake is a very popular lake for fishing amongst Icelanders. There is a lot of trout in Þingvallavatn and the small planktivorous char (murta). I used to fish in Þingvallavatn a lot as my grandparents had a cottage by the lake on the east-side and later my parents had a cottage by the lake on the west-side so this lake is special to me. One can buy a fishing-licence at the Information center at Þingvellir. The open season is May 1st - September 15th.
If you go on the lake on a boat take care as the weather can change in a jiffy from being like a mirror (ever so pretty) to being like a wild ocean. Having spent so much time near the lake I've seen it happen so many times. Several people have drowned in the lake and some of them have never been found again - very sad.
A view-platform overlooking Þingvellir - Hakið.
Before entering the National park of Þingvellir, depending on which route you take, we took the route from Mosfellsdalur (north-east of Reykjavík), there is a scenic platform, view-spot, with breathtaking view of Þingvellir and the lake.
You can walk from there down the trail and into Almannagjá, the great fault. Well, you could, now they have temporarily closed it off as they found a big rift beneath the road (see my tip). There are a lot of toilets there (since April 2011 there is a charge for using the toilets) and an Interpretive center, which is very well made, see the pictures from inside the center. There are large TV monitors and touch-screens in different languages, making the history of Þingvellir come alive. I recommend going there, the whole show takes ca 40 minutes, but you can chose which ones you want to watch by touching the screen. Admission is free and it is open from 9-17 o' clock from 1st of April - 1st of November. You can get more information on the Interpretive center on Interpretive center There is now a small tourist store here as well.
On the walls are writings of known Icelanders about Þingvellir - it is all in Icelandic.
In the ceiling you will see what the sky looked like above Þingvellir in 930 - when the first parliament was established.
On one of my Northern light tours the bus stopped here and we waited for 2 hours in the hope of seeing the lights. More and more busses arrived and I think in the end that there were 4-5 busses on this spot all of them on Northern light tours.
This view-spot is called Hakið and there are now (November 2010) talks about fee collection to Hakið, no to the national park itself, only to Hakið. Nothing has been decided yet though. Sometimes there are up to 15 busses on the parking lot (which is not that big) and they are have added even more toilets. They now charge a fee of ISK 200 for using the toilets.
The national graveyard behind Þingvallakirkja.
There is a national graveyard behind Þingvallakirkja church since 1939 and the great Icelandic poets Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-1845) and Einar Benediktsson (1864-1940) are buried there.
South-east of the church is Þingvallakirkjugarður graveyard with a lovely lichgate, which was raised there on the 150th anniversary of Þingvallakirkja church.
Þingvellir Information center.
The Information center at Þingvellir is at Leirar, close to the camping grounds, which are very popular, as just exploring Þingvellir and its surrounding areas, angling in lake Þingvallavatn etc. can keep you busy for a whole day and then some. The Information center is open only during the summer time from the 1.05 - 1.09, and they give you all the information needed for visiting Þingvellir, and you can buy camping and angling permits there. The angling period is from the 1.05 - 15.09 only. They have a caféteria which is open for a couple of more months from the 1.04 - 31.10 and only during the weekends in the winter time. The Information center is a good place to start your exploration of Þingvellir after visiting the Interpretive center. There was a hotel at Þingvellir, Hótel Valhöll. I stayed there a couple of times, a lovely hotel with 29 rooms, a restaurant and a conference room. Unfortunately the lovely hotel burnt down in the summer of 2009 :(
Vinaskógur - Friend Forest
Close to Þingvellir National park is a lovely little forest called Vinaskógur or Friends forest. It was opened in 1990 when Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was president here in Iceland. The forest is a symbol of friendship and peace amongst men. The idea is that when the President of Iceland shows Þingvellir National park to his guests that they would stop in this forest and plant a tree. Many head of states have come here to plant trees and there are two pillars in the middle of the forest with the many names of the head of states. The two trees planted on June 26th 1990 were by Vigdís Finnbogadóttir and Her majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Since then the names on the pillars have grown. I don't know if you can read the names from the pillar on my photos, but they are so many - and all the heads of states visiting Iceland are taken to this forest to plant a tree.
The trees are all original Icelandic trees and the protector of the forest is our president.
The Vikings said that when they came to Iceland it was covered with trees - they all but used up the wood, so Iceland is quite barren so we are always planting trees to get a least some of the forest back. When I was 12 my job was to plant trees in Heiðmörk forest, it is lovely to see the large trees in that area now.
What a lovely little forest this is - built on friendship and peace :)
There has been a church at Þingvellir since the conversion in Iceland to Christianity in 1000 but this church at Þingvallir was raised in 1859. You can see the year 1907 on its tower and that year the Danish king came to visit Þingvellir and the tower was rebuilt. The bells in the tower are 3, one ancient, one from 1697 and Íslandsklukkan is from 17th of June 1944.
There is a national graveyard behind Þingvallakirkja and another graveyard in front of the church to the south.
The church is open from mid May to September 1st from 9-19:30.
The minister of Þingvallakirkja is Kristján Valur Ingólfsson (2009).
Lögberg - Law Rock.
Lögberg or Law Rock is the place where Alþingi was first held in 930AD. It is debatable where Lögberg was exactly located, but it is believed to have been on a rock pedestal where the flag pole is now located. The other theory is that Lögberg was located inside Almannagjá rift by the rock face.
Lögberg was the focal point of Alþingi and from there the law speaker could be heard clearly. And from here all speaches were held and significant news were "broadcasted" from here. The law speaker was the most powerful man of Alþingi.
When at Þingvellir you will notice a beautiful mountain to the north, in winter time it looks like a glacier, but is actually an extinct central volcano. It is called Botnsúlur and is 1.075 m.
One can hike to the mountain and the hike up the mountain takes ca 3 hours, I haven't done that though, but I know this is a popular hike.
When throwing coins into Peningagjá, which I always do when visiting Þingvellir, I always stop to take photos of Mt. Botnsúlur, especially in the winter time, as the white mountain makes a beautiful contrast to the black lava of Þingvellir. Have a look at my photos and judge for yourself :D
Bláskógar - The Blue Forest at Þingvellir.
Bláskógar "The Blue Forest" at Þingvellir is one of few forests in Iceland. It is a lovely small forest with picnic tables and benches.
The name Blue Forest "Bláskógar" is the old name of the area around Þingvallavatn lake. The owner of Bláskógar, Þórir kroppinskeggi, was found gulity of murder and it was decided to take his land and then use it for the Parliament planes. So when referring to old Þingvellir "The Parliament Planes", before it became the place for the Parliament, the name for it was Bláskógar.
The whole area is still called Bláskógabyggð, but I always refer to this small forest as Bláskógar.
Walking inside a fissure leading to Öxarárfoss.
There are several routes which one can take which lead to Öxarárfoss waterfall. As you can see from my previous tip there is the upper route where you can see the waterfall from above. From the parking lot you can also take a path inside the fissure where you can walk to the waterfall and see it from below. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the waterfall. It is quite an interesting route walking down into a fissure.
I add this here just to give you an idea of what can be done at Þingvellir, if you are there for just a short time then it is best to drive down to the waterfall. If you live here or are not pressed for time then you can take various routes.
The upper route to Öxarárfoss waterfall.
Öxarárfoss waterfall at Þingvellir is such a lovely waterfall and usually people watch it from below. But there is another route to see it from above as well. I grant you that the view from below is much more breathtaking though. But for me the whole of Þingvellir with all its fissures is breathtaking and while taking this upper route to the waterfall you walk by a large fissure with many extraordinary lava formations. There is also a path inside the fissure where you can walk to the waterfall and see it from below. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the waterfall.