What makes Iceland’s three National Parks so special

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Most people that have been to Iceland can agree that Iceland is a country of extraordinary nature and unique landscape. But what makes Iceland’s three National Parks: Þingvellir, Vatnajökull and Snæfellsjökull stick out from other areas of the country?

 

Þingvellir National Park:

Located only 40 km northeast of Reykjavík, Þingvellir – literally “Parliament Plains” is the location of the oldest parliaments in the world, Alþingi, established around 930 and continued to convene there until 1798.
Þingvellir also lies in a rift valley caused by the separation of the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates and nowhere else can you see the edges of both plates as clearly as in Þingvellir.
Some of the rifts are full of clear water, and one of them called Silfra has become a popular snorkelling and diving spot. It is a once in a lifetime experience where you get to dive between the two continental plates.
Þingvellir has been “a protected national shrine” since 1930 and is held in high regards by all Icelanders. Lake Þingvellir (Þingvallavatn) located alongside the National park adds onto the areas picturesque beauty and it’s the perfect stop to catch some great photos. Þingvellir National park is one of the three stops on the popular Golden Circle tour.

 

Vatnajökull National Park

Is a protected wilderness area in South Iceland and Iceland’s largest national park and Europe’s second largest. What makes the park so unique is mostly it’s dramatic landscape. The park circles around Europe’s largest glacier Vatnajökull glacier, with a surface area of 8.100 km2 and also includes Jökulsárlón, a picturesque glacial lagoon with icebergs, and Svartifoss and Dettifoss waterfalls. Skaftafell is the gateway to the park with a visitor center, campground and hiking trails. From there are short and easy trails that lead to Svartifoss waterfall and Skaftafellsjökull glacier. Vatnajökull has many smaller glaciers stemming from it like Breiðarmerkurjökull, which ends at the popular glacial lagoon, Jökulsárlón. There are several tour companies that operate in Skaftafell that offer guided tours and hikes in and around the National park.

 

Snæfellsjökull National Park

Is the country’s youngest national park and only park in Iceland that is situated at the coast.
As with the other National Parks, it is protected due to its extraordinary landscape and natural diversity. It features sites like the mystical glacier Snæfellsjökull, an inactive volcano that is actually visible from Reykjavík on a clear day. Snæfellsjökull volcano was made famous in 1984 by Jules Verne in his popular science fiction book ‘Journey to the center of the Earth’ as the featured volcano in the story.
Djúpalónssandur or the black Lava Pearl Beach is located in Snæfellsnes park. There you will find peculiar rock formations, one which has a large hole in the middle and by looking through it you will see Snæfellsjökull..great place to stop and take a photo.
Mineral springs can be found at various places, such as at the farm Ölkelda and at Lýsuhóll, which has a thermal pool with naturally-carbonated water. Learn more about Snæfellsnes peninsula in our previous blog: “Explore the majestic Snæfellsnes Peninsula”.

Day Tripping-The Golden Circle

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The Golden Circle

 

When visiting Reykjavík you don’t have to go far to experience many of the country’s natural wonders.  For example if you are here on a long layover or only have a few days to spare, you can still manage to see and experience a lot by simply taking day trips from Reykjavík.

One of the more popular day trips from Reykjavík is the Golden Circle and it is popular for a reason.

On this tour you go to the world-famous Geysir geothermal area, Gullfoss- the queen of Icelandic waterfalls and Thingvellir National Park.

But something that not everyone knows is that the Golden Circle is much more than just picturesque landscape and natural wonders, each one of the magnificent places visited actually have a story to tell..

 

Geysir

First stop is Geysir geothermal area which lies in the Haukadalur valley.
The oldest accounts of hot springs at Haukadalur date back to 1294, when earthquakes in the area caused significant changes in local neighbouring landscape creating several new hot springs.
The largest hotspring was named Geysir and eruptions at Geysir can shoot boiling water up to 70 meters in the air.  In 1845, Geysir reached a height of 170 metres and all geysers in the world owe their name to this one.
Geysir eruptions have become more and more infrequent in recent years and have in the past stopped altogether for years at a time.  However, Geysir’s brother Strokkur shoots up a column of water up to 30 meters (98 ft) into the air every few minutes.

 

Gullfoss

Next stop is by one of the most iconic waterfalls in Iceland, Gullfoss with it’s spectacular view of the forces and beauty of untouched nature. The water plummets down 32 meters into a 62 meter deep canyon.  Gullfoss means Golden waterfall because on a sunny day, the water takes on a golden-brown color.  Also a beautiful rainbow appears over the waterfall when the sun shines making it very picturesque.

But Gullfoss is more than just a pretty waterfall, behind the waterfall is also a groundbreaking story about an inspiring woman of the early 20th century, Sigríður from Brattholt.

Sigríður lived on a sheep farm called Brattholt, located next to the massive waterfall and she loved the waterfall.  In 1907 wealthy English investors approached Sigríður’s father, a farmer who owned the land at the time, and wanted to buy the waterfall in order to build a dam for electricity production.  The farmer refused the offer but agreed to lease it.
Sigríður decided she needed to take matters in her hands and went through great efforts in order to protect the waterfall.  In order to get the lease contract voided, she often walked or rode on horseback 120km to and from Reykjavík to urge powerful business men and political leaders to let the waterfall be.  When all that failed she even threatened to throw herself into the waterfall in protest.  Eventually with help of her lawyer, Sveinn Björnsson, who later became the first president of Iceland, they managed to have the contract disposed.
Sigríður’s struggle to preserve the waterfall brought attention to the importance of preserving nature and today she is called Iceland’s first environmentalist and became an inspiration to many women and men to come.  Gullfoss and it’s environment was designated as nature reserve in 1979.

 

Þingvellir

The third sight is Þingvellir National Park which is both geologically and historically significant.

Þingvellir – which directly translates to ‘the parliament fields’ is the location of the oldest parliament in the world, Alþingi.  It became the assembly’s site in 930 AD where over thirty ruling chiefs met for the first time to discuss law on the island and to create a commonwealth.
Þingvellir also became the centre of Icelandic culture.  Every year during the Commonwealth period, people would flock there from all over the country.  And although the duties of the assembly were the main reason for going there, ordinary people also got together at Þingvellir for a various reasons.  It became a meeting place for everyone in Iceland, laying the foundation for the language and literature that have been a prominent part of people’s lives right up to the present day.
Due to its long history, Þingvellir became a National park in 1930 and in 2004, it was accepted as part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Apart from being the location of the oldest parliament in the world, the Þingvellir’s geological traits are also fascinating.
Iceland is the only place in the world where the Mid-Atlantic ridge is above sea-level and the island is actually divided by the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates which pull the country apart by a couple of centimetres per year.
Þingvellir National Park lies in the valley between the two plates and nowhere else can you see the edges of both plates as clearly as in Þingvellir.
Some of the rifts are full of clear water, and one of them called Silfra has become a popular snorkeling and diving spot. It is a once in a lifetime experience where you get to dive between the two continental plates.

The Golden circle tour ends at Friðheimar greenhouse which is one of Iceland’s biggest greenhouses. There you will learn about growing vegetables in a country which doesn’t get much daylight for most of the year.

If you would like to join a Golden Circle tour and make your vacation to the land of fire and ice even more unforgettable you can book your tour here or with your friendly front desk staff.