People coming to visit Iceland for the first time usually have one thing on their mind: enjoying the country’s spectacular natural beauty. We are blessed with an abundance of Mother Nature’s creations. And part of our responsibility as Icelanders is to preserve that natural heritage. Iceland’s national parks are a source of pride and joy, and rightfully so. With three amazing ones to choose from, you are spoiled for choice. This is a list of the best national parks in Iceland.
Our Iceland national parks list includes the big three: Thingvellir National Park, Vatnajökull National Park, and Snaefellsjökull National Park. All three parks are very different and have their own unique features, highlights, and things to do.
Like many of the country’s natural attractions, Iceland national park fees range from free to only a few bucks. Keep in mind that you will most likely have to pay for parking. These are preserved areas that require money for maintenance and upkeep.
þingvellir National Park
Sometimes anglicized as “Thingvellir”, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has both historical and geological significance. It rests between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, where you can literally see the earth’s crust cracking apart. The gap is known as the Silfra Fissure and is one of the highlights of Thingvellir National Park in Iceland. Some intrepid travelers have even been known to go scuba diving in the rocky, turquoise water of this gash in the earth.
In addition to being an extremely beautiful place, Thingvellir also has a huge historical significance for Icelanders. This was the original home of our Althingi (parliament), which is the oldest in the world. The island’s most powerful chieftains used to gather here in the 8th century to make important decisions about the affairs of the day. This is also the place where Icelanders decided to convert to Christianity in the year 999.
Eventually, the Althingi left Thingvellir and they now have their headquarters in a building in the nation’s capital of Reykjavik. If you go to the park to see the landmark site, an Icelandic flag marks the site.
Vatnajökull National Park and Skaftafell National Park
I put these two together because they are actually one in the same. Skaftafell used to be its own separate entity, but years ago Vatnajökull absorbed it and now it falls under the jurisdiction of the larger park. The main thing to see here is the mighty Vatnajökull glacier, of which Skaftafell glacier is a part.
Iceland’s largest glacier provides cool activities like glacier hikes, ice cave trekking, and glacier cave exploration. If you’re interested in hiking skaftafell or visiting the ice caves in Vatnajökull National Park be sure to book your tickets well in advance. The highly sought-after activity often fills up quickly.
Make sure to stop by the visitor center beforehand to see all of the other things available to do in the park.
Snæfellsjökull National Park
The lesser known of the three national parks in Iceland in Snæfellsjökull. While many tourists do visit this zone as part of a larger tour of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, it’s not close to more frequented areas like Reykjavik or South Iceland. Still, there’s quite a bit to be said for the park. This is where the characters from Jules Verne’s 1864 classic science fiction novel supposedly takes place. There are also magnetic energy fields in the area that cause sleep disturbances.
If you’re an X-Files fan, you might find Mulder and Scully lurking around, as this is supposedly a meeting place for aliens. And some say that this is one of the chakra centers of the earth. Other than the magnetic energy, I’m not sure how much else is true. Regardless, something is going on and it definitely warrants a visit.
Iceland’s National Parks: Mother Nature in All Her Glory
With so many amazing activities and highlights to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start! Most people make the trek to Thingvellir because it’s so close to Reykjavik and it’s also part of the Golden Circle route. It’s easy to get to and has the awe-inspiring Silfra fissure. Plus, they filmed Game of Thrones there. And what could be cooler than that?
Many people also make their way to Vatnajökull National Park. In addition to all of the amazing outdoor activities available, it’s also right next to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and the Diamond Beach. These are popular destinations for travelers along Iceland’s South Coast.
Lastly, while Snæfellsjökull National Park might not get the same love as Vatnajökull and Thingvellir, it still has its glacier and unusual activity in the area.
A trip to Iceland isn’t complete without visiting at least one of these destinations. So tell us, which of these parks in Iceland seem the most interesting to you? Are national parks one of your favorite activities while traveling?