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  9. Iceland: Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park - Where You Walk Between Two Continents

Suffering from a severe case of jet lag we had a fitful night’s sleep and were really hungry by the morning, for food and exploration! We quickly found a coffee shop and had our fill of coffee, hot chocolate and pastries. Boy, oh boy things are very pricey in Iceland. Next stop was to pick up our rental car and begin our Icelandic experience.

40km from Reykjavik, Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) National Park is a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. Its name is derived from the Old Norse Þingvǫllr, from þing (“thing, assembly”) and vǫllr (“field”), meaning assembly fields. The Alþingi (assembly) at Þingvellir was Iceland’s supreme legislative and judicial authority from its establishment in 930 until 1271. The Lögberg (Law Rock) was the focal point of the Alþingi and a natural platform for holding speeches. Þingvellir was the centre of Icelandic culture. Every year during the Commonwealth period, people would flock to Þingvellir from all over the country, sometimes numbering in the thousands. They set up dwellings with walls of turf and rock and temporary roofing and stayed in them for the two weeks of the assembly.

Þingvellir is notable for its unusual tectonic and volcanic environment in a rift valley. The continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates can be clearly seen in the cracks or faults which traverse the region, the largest one, Almannagjá, being a veritable canyon. This also causes numerous earthquakes that occur in this area.

Despite being early July, it was absolutely freezing. To think, a week or two before we had been baking in the deserts of Death Valley. Luckily, we had packed some warm clothing – but this did not seem enough at the time.

Even in July it can be cold - Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) National Park
One of the most interesting features in Þingvellir National Park is its rift valley
Walking through the rift valley
A hanging rock atop of the rift ridge - Þingvellir National Park
Looking across from Þingvellir National Park
A waterfall in Þingvellir National Park

Planning your visit

Icelandair is the country’s main international carrier, offering direct flights to Reykjavik‘s Keflavik International Airport from several U.S. cities. Flight time from Boston is only about five hours; from Seattle, it’s a little more than seven hours. The airline makes it easy to add an Icelandic side trip to any other European vacation; you can stopover in Iceland for up to seven days without paying an additional fare. For our trip to Iceland, we did a 3-day stopover on our trip from the US to the UK. Keflavik International is a 45-minute drive from downtown Reykjavik. Most travellers take the Flybus, a comfortable and reasonably priced shuttle that runs throughout the day and will drop you off either at the main bus station south of downtown or directly at your hotel (for an additional fee).

Iceland’s main cities and towns are served by several bus companies. Reykjavik Excursions, operator of the aforementioned Flybus, offers scheduled bus service to destinations including Vik, Myvatn, Akureyri, Hofn and the highlands. Buses are comfortable and offer free Wi-Fi. You can buy tickets online, at the main BSI bus terminal in Reykjavik or at most tourist offices.

If you want the freedom to explore at your own pace and pull over any time to snap that gotta-have picture of an Icelandic horse, you’ll want to rent a car. Iceland’s 827-mile Route 1, or Ring Road, circles the island and is paved all the way around. Many secondary roads are gravel, though, and some are not navigable with a 2WD car. If you want to venture much off the Ring Road, you will likely need to upgrade to a 4WD vehicle.

Best time to Iceland

In Iceland, the climate is cold, windy and cloudy for most of the year. Of course, it’s a cold country because of the high latitude, and it can receive cold winds from the North Pole, but it’s also tempered by the ocean, as well as by the mild Gulf Stream. The result is a perpetually unstable climate, with sudden changes in weather and temperature, but with a limited temperature range, both between day and night and between winter and summer. Calm and sunny periods are rare. The northern coastal area is colder than the southern one because it is not reached by the Gulf Stream.

In the south rain can exceed 1,300 mm (50 inches) per year, and reaches up to 2,400 mm (95 in) in the most exposed areas, while it’s much more scarce on the north coast and on the north side of the inner plateau, so much so that it descends below 500 mm (20 in) per year, although it is well distributed throughout the year.  Reykjavik, receives about 800 mm (31.5 in) of rain or snow each year. On the southern slopes of the highest mountains, precipitation, which almost always takes the form of snow, can exceed 4,000 mm (155 in) per year.,

Where to stay

1. BLACK PEARL LUXURY APARTMENTS

The Black Pearl luxury apartments in central Reykjavik are just 1,150 feet from Old Reykjavik Harbour. Each features free WiFi, contemporary furnishings, an iPad and city-view balcony.

The bright and spacious suites at Black Pearl Apartment Hotel all have large windows, blackout curtains and heated, marble floors. Each apartment’s seating area has a flat-screen TV with satellite channels.

The Black Pearl is close to many of Reykjavik’s main attractions.

2. SKUGGI HOTEL REYKJAVIK

Skuggi Hotel Reykjavík offers accommodation in Reykjavík only 450 feet from Laugavegur Shopping Street. Guests can enjoy the on-site bar or visit one of the many restaurants and bars within the area. Free underground parking is available on site.

Each modern room is equipped with a TV and a private bathroom.

You will find a 24-hour front desk at the property. The hotel also offers bike hire and car hire.

3. KEX

Housed in an old biscuit factory in the heart of Reykjavik, KEX (the Icelandic word for ‘biscuit’ is just steps from all the bars, clubs, and music venues. It’s also a short distance from late-night munchies and a mind-boggling array of coffee houses, shops, and tourist attractions. KEX has a café and bar, lounge area, heated outdoor patio, tourist information desk, laundry room and free Wi-Fi.

In addition to the dormitory rooms, there are three different double rooms. The Double Plus has one double bed, a private bathroom, linens and towels and a fantastic seaside view.

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