All about Iceland’s National Parks

You’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views and stunning scenery everywhere you look in Iceland.

The “Land of Fire and Ice” is a treasure trove of captivating natural jewels and elemental splendor, with the most diverse geological features you could ever hope to see in one country!

But even here, some places are so magical, mysterious, and magnificent that they have been awarded special status.

These are Iceland’s three National Parks:

·        Þingvellir (the oldest and the site of Iceland’s famous Viking parliament)

·        Vatnajökull (the largest National Park in Europe)

·        Snæfellsjökull (the inspiration for “Journey to the Center of the Earth”)

More than a hundred other nature reserves, natural monuments, and parks now protect nearly 20% of Iceland’s most precious environments.

Here’s what you need to know about Iceland’s National Parks!

Where are Iceland’s National Parks?

Þingvellir National Park is easily reached with a 45-minute drive from Reykjavík and is a featured stop in our popular Golden Circle tours.

Vatnajökull National Park is in southeast Iceland and covers 13% of the country; you can see it on our Glacier Lagoon tours.

Snæfellsjökull National Park covers the tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland, just a couple of hour’s drive from the capital city. Explore it on our Snæfellsnes National Park tour!

Thingvellir National Park with a sunset

All about Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir is the most historically significant place in Iceland and one of the most dramatic sights too!

Situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, it’s where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are pulling apart (at the same speed your fingernails grow).

It’s a stunning rift valley where you can walk between two continents!

This is where the early Viking settlers met to make their laws and hold summer festivals. Iceland declared independence from Denmark here in 1944 – it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

Þingvellir means “Assembly Plains” - the towering cliffs formed natural amphitheaters for chieftains and elders to have their say in one of the world’s first parliaments. This is where the nation of Iceland was born.

On our Golden Circle tours, you can explore this fabulous place, enjoying walks between the fissures and diving deep into Viking history. Angling, horse riding, and scuba diving experiences are available too.

Vatnajokull National Park Glacier

All about Vatnajökull National Park

Vatnajökull National Park includes Skaftafell in the southwest and Jökulsárgljúfur in the north, and large parts of it are concealed under a massive icecap!

Gigantic glacier tongues reach down toward the sea, creating glittering lagoons filled with immense icebergs at Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón.

The icecap covers several active volcanoes, and when these erupt, they can trigger glacial floods that sweep all before them!

On our Glacier Lagoon tour, you’ll see the twisted bridge girders that remain after the last great eruption.

Back in 1783, the effects of the Laki volcanic eruption here were so catastrophic that some say the changes in climate and the resulting crop failures were a factor in the French Revolution a few years later! 

Majestic mountains tower above the glacier tongues, including Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnúkur.

Skafatell offers thrilling hikes and beautiful waterfalls, including the black basalt columns of Svartifoss.

Further north lies Dettifoss, one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe!

Snaefellsjokull National Park view from Londrangar

All about Snæfellsjökull National Park

Snæfellsjökull National Park encloses one of Iceland’s most famous volcanoes, the inspiration for Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” the book that put Iceland on the map.

Some say that the Snæfellsnes peninsula is a mystical place, one of Earth’s seven so-called “chakra” energy centers.

Others say that Snæfellsnes is “Iceland in Miniature” because all of its finest features can be found in this 100-km peninsula.

The National Park takes its name from the 700,000-year-old active stratovolcano that occupies the peninsula’s far end, rising nearly 1500 meters above the sea.

Don’t worry – it’s been at least 1700 years since it last erupted!

There’s a lot to see here, including the spectacular rock arches at Arnarstapi, jagged bird-filled cliffs at Lóndrangar, beautiful black and golden sand beaches, and relics of Iceland’s rich fishing culture.

When did the National Parks open?

Þingvellir was declared a National Park in 1930, marking a thousand years since the ancient Viking parliament was established there.

Snæfellsjökull National Park was established in 2001.

Vatnajökull National Park was formed in 2008 when the existing park was merged with Skaftafell in the southwest and Jökulsárgljúfur in the north.

How big are the National Parks?

Vatnajökull National Park is the largest in Europe at 13,952 km2 (5,387 sq miles).

Þingvellir is about 240 km2 (93 sq miles).

Snæfellsjökull National Park is the smallest, covering 170 km2 (66 sq miles).

What should I bring with me to the National Parks?

Bring a camera. Or your smartphone. You’re going to take a LOT of pictures!

As always, dress in layers that are comfortable and easy to take off. The weather in Iceland is famously changeable, so you must be prepared.

Bring scarves, gloves, hats, windproof pants, and sturdy shoes.

Depending on the season, you might need all of these!

·         Thermal undershirt

·         Thermal leggings/tights

·         Thick socks

·         Long-sleeved shirt 

·         Warm fleece 

·         Touch screen gloves (to access your phone’s camera) and mittens

·         Heavy-duty waterproof parka 

 

Safety at Iceland’s National Parks

Listen to your guides before exploring Iceland’s National Parks.

Stay on marked paths, and don’t tread on the moss!

Don’t risk injury from a fall. No picture is worth risking your life!

We offer a range of tours featuring visits to Iceland’s National Parks for you to choose from, with different schedules and formats.