A view spot on the east part of Þingvellir.
Driving east from the Information Center for a while there is a lovely view spot on your right hand side with a breath-taking view of Þingvellir. Don't miss it - on a sunny day it is "wow" - you see lake Þingvallavatn, Mt. Arnarfell and the flatland of Þingvellir.
It is a small view spot but there are benches and tables there and parking for ca 2 cars. And so worth the stop.
Drekkingarhylur - The Drowning Pool.
At Þingvellir not far from Öxarárfoss, lies Drekkingarhylur which has a morbid history. Under laws which passed in 1564 women would be executed by drowning. Some were drowned due to accusations of adultery, purgery, not all of these verdicts were fair by a long shot, one woman slept with 2 brothers, thus executed, one had laid her child on the grass when a bird, most likely an eagle, took the child, woman executed etc. The first woman who got drowned like this was Þórdís Halldórsdóttir in 1618 and the last one was Guðríður Vigfúsdóttir in 1749. They were put in a bag with rocks in it and thrown in. Please be respectful when visiting this place out of respect for all these women who lost their lives there.
Drekkingarhylur II -no throwing of coins.
As Þingvellir is the oldest Parliament in the world, established in 930, then a lot of punishments took place here, dark were these ages of witch-hunting, a lot of people were burnt at the stake, men were hanged or beheaded and women were drowned. While visiting these places of execution please lets show respect for the people who ended their life here. This is not a playground, nor a place to throw coins. This is a really holy place for us Icelanders which we treat with utter respect. The only place where coins can be thrown is in Peningagjá (see my tip on that). I have seen people behaving silly there, posing like they are falling in and going down to the pool, which is forbidden.
Öxarárfoss - a beautiful waterfall.
Öxarárfoss - Öxará-waterfall is the beautiful waterfall at Þingvellir, our national park. From Fagrabrekka, the hill next to the first parking lot, there is a trail with steps leading up to this waterfall. The first photos are taken in April 2008 and the last one is taken in July 2008 - see the contrast. It is magnificent both in winter and summer. Öxará runs into the lake Þingvallavatn, which is the largest lake in Iceland, with lots of trout in it and you can buy a fishing licence at the shop at the intersection. See additional tip for the shop.
You can also visit the waterfall from above from road 36 just after you leave or enter (depending from where you entered the National Park) there is a path leading to the waterfall.
Visit Þingvellir National Park
From August 2007:
Þingvellir National Park is about an hour drive from each of the following: Reykjavik, Selfoss, and Gullfoss. You can drive by the lake, see the historical sights, hike the many trails, and walk to Öxaráfoss waterfall. We enjoyed the hiking trail that went right in the continental fault, going north from the waterfall (see the first photo). There is a visitior center where you can get a map of the park trails.
- Hiking and Walking
Beyond the long rock wall where the AlÞing convened, you'll find the Öxarárfoss (Öxará Waterfall). For some reason, my tour guide didn't direct us that way, so you might have to speed off on your own if you're with a group to get a photo of it. It is said that just below the falls in a deep part of the river, unfaithful wives were once drowned in what is called the Drekkingarhylur pool.
Lake Þingvallavatn is a unique biological ecosystem that was created by a retreating glacier around 12,000 years ago. As the glacier retreated, the remaining water filled the valley here in Þingvellir. Volcanic activity underneath the glacier caused water to drain through the lava making the water here very rich in minerals. It is extremely deep in parts and extremely clear and it struck me as bizarre when our guide mentioned that this was one of the world's premiere places for diving! Who would have thought that divers from around the world would come to Iceland. Apparently, it's the incredible clarity of the water that is the main draw. It's even said that divers with a fear of heights should stay away since the combination of crystal clear water and incredible depths can make you feel like you're swimming in a bottomless pit!
Brown trout, Arctic charr and the three-spine stickleback can be found in the lake and scientists study these fish for the evolutionary progress. Apparently the fish became trapped in the lake when the earth rose around the water here and over the years they have adapted to the unique environment in and around the lake.
More than just the ridge
Not only is Þingvellir impressive for its geology, but also for its historical and political importance in Iceland. It was here, in 930, that the world's first parliament, or legislative body, convened marking the formation of the Icelandic Commonwealth. While Iceland didn't gain its political independence from Denmark until 1944, the formation of the AlÞing well over a thousand years ago was the beginning of the country's famous independent spirit. You can walk down along the path that you'll see in the pictures here surrounded by imposing rock walls and see the place that the early legislators used to conduct their meetings. With the rock face at their backs, orators would greet the crowds and use the shape of the landscape as a natural amphitheater that projected their voices to the listeners. This area is marked by some wooden platforms and walkways when you stand there, it's easy to imagine that it is the year 930.
Spectacular views of the Mid Atlantic Ridge
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is a mostly underwater mountain range running north and south the full length of the Atlantic Ocean from the Arctic to the sub-Antarctic. It was created roughly 250 million years ago when the supercontinent Pangea split apart. The rifting of the tectonic plates formed the ridge and there's nowhere else on land that you can visualize the splitting of continents as well as here in Þingvellir (Thingvellir, in English). I won't go into too much of the geology, but here in this part of Southern Iceland the lava flows have created valleys that allow the ridge to rise above the earth and be seen. Specifically, here in Þingvellir National Park, you'll literally be able to see the edge of the North American continental plate and the European (or Eurasian) plate in one sweeping panorama.
There is a "no-man's land" between the two continental plates that is full of fissures and delicate earth because this is the point where continents are rifting, or splitting apart. This tearing of the earth, which is occurring at a rate of about 2 cm per year, has caused the land to be very volatile, but it's still amazing to be able to drive across from North America to Europe. Yes, you read that right. You can drive from North America to Europe here!
Þing in Iceland means parliament and vellir means plains. The valley is one of the most important places in Icelandic history. In the year 930, the Alþingi, one of the oldest parliamentary institutions of the world, was founded. Þingvellir became a national park in 1928 due to its historical importance, as well as the special tectonic and volcanic environment.
Þingvellir is situated on the northern shore of Þingvallavatn (assembly plains lake), the biggest lake of Iceland. The river Öxará traverses the national park and forms a waterfall at the Almannagjá, called Öxaráfoss. Together with the waterfall Gullfoss and the geysirs of Haukadalur, Þingvellir is part of the most famous sights of Iceland, the Golden Circle.
Þingvellir is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Historical Travel
One bad thing about going with a tour is that you don't have much time to stay at each place as much as you want to. I love churches but I couldn't get close to it as there wasn't enough time.
Þingvallakirkja, the church at Þingvellir, is open daily, 9. a.m. - 7:30 p.m., from the middle of May to the beginning of September. For other periods or opening hours, please contact the Information Center, which handles all reservations for services in the church. Reservations tel. (+354) 482 2660
- Historical Travel
This is one of the best places in Iceland to see evidence of continental drift. It's where the European and North American are basically going in opposite directions, with the resultant chasms and cliffs the immediate evidence. Apparently the movement is very detectable: several inches every century. Even in the depth of winter, the geological interest of this area is evident.
- National/State Park
The little church
This is the site of one of the first churches in Iceland. A Norwegian bishop names Bjarnhardur consecrated a church here in the 11th century. The current structure dates from 1859. although the pulpit dates from the 17th century. Important Icelandic poets Jonas Halgrimsson and Einar Benediktsson are buried in the adjacent cemetery. Very quaint and quiet.
- Historical Travel
- Religious Travel
Almannagja and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge
I'm not actually sure if the large fissure that runs through this park is commonly referred to as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, but I do know the island of Iceland sits right on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and since this is a point where the continental plates separate each year, Iceland gets a bit bigger year by year. Most of the volcanic activity in Iceland is due to fissure volcanoes that result from the splitting of the land in opposite directions. When the land splits, molten lave rises to fill in the gap, eventually cooling to form the new earth and the newest part of Iceland. At Þingvellir, the fissures can be see throughout the park, some are even filled with water. The largest of these fissures is the subject in the accompanying photograph.
Well Almannagja is the largest of these gorges and it may be that these gorges were formed when this area sat on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge centuries ago. I do forget if it ran right under Almannagja or east of it.
- Hiking and Walking
- National/State Park
From the base of the Öxaráfoss, the water leads down to Lake Þingvallavatn via a very picuresque river. Following this river all the way down is about a 30-40 minute walk, but well worth it. There are also no clear trails so you have to maneuver your way through some tougher terrain.