Thingvellir National Park: The place where the world’s first democratic parliament was established in Iceland


Thingvellir National Park is a popular tourist destination in Iceland, an island nation located on the fringes of northern Europe. 

In addition to the natural beauty created by Iceland’s unique geography, the park, which is also registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is known as the birthplace of a democratic parliament in 930 AD, which was rare at the time. 

In this article, I would like to provide a detailed introduction to Thingvellir National Park.

What is Thingvellir National Park?

Iceland is a Nordic island country located in the North Atlantic, across the sea from the Scandinavian Peninsula. 

Thingvellir National Park, located about 50 km northeast of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, was designated as a national park in 1930, and in 2004 it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

The park is so popular that it is included in most sightseeing tours of Iceland. 

What makes Thingvellir National Park, located in a remote area, so remarkable? 

As explained in detail in the next chapter, Thingvellir National Park is notable for two key features: the “Gjá,” a rock face where a break in the continental plate juts out of the earth, and for being the birthplace of the “Althing,” the oldest democratic parliament in the world.

Gjá, called the rift in the earth

Iceland is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a boundary between the Eurasian Plate and the North American Plate. 

Unlike other Nordic countries, Iceland is not situated on a single continental plate but straddles two plates, resulting in unique geological activity. 

The two plates are constantly moving, with the Eurasian plate moving eastward and the North American plate moving in the opposite direction to the west. 

As a result, Iceland’s landmass, which lies directly above both plates, is expanding by several centimeters per year. 

One of the unique sights of Iceland is the “Gjá,” which means “rift in the earth” in Icelandic.

A “Gjá” is a geological feature that is often referred to as a rift in the earth. 

It is a section of a continental plate moving from east to west, forming a rock with a distinctive shape. 

Normally, Gjás are born underwater, but in Iceland, they can be seen protruding from the ground as rugged rock surfaces, making for an extremely rare sight. 

Gjás throughout Iceland are accessible enough to touch directly, and the one located in Thingvellir National Park is known as one of the largest in the country.

Where the world’s oldest democratic parliament was held

Thingvellir National Park is not only home to the unique natural landscape of the Gjá but also to the inauguration of the “Althing,” which is considered the world’s first democratic parliament. 

The Althing was founded in 930 by Vikings who migrated from Norway to Iceland. 

The Althing met for a few weeks each summer, where representatives of the various regions of Iceland gathered at the Thingvellir meeting place to discuss and pass laws. 

The place where the discussions took place is known as the “Law Rock,” and today the Icelandic flag flies over the site where the meetings were held. 

The Althing was an extremely progressive initiative considering the historical background of the time, as it introduced parliamentary democracy into the country’s decision-making process. 

This is because, from the Middle Ages to the modern era, the mainstream in Europe was a status-based parliament in which only a few privileged classes such as the nobility could participate. 

Iceland, however, had a democratic parliament similar to today’s modern parliaments, which was held for more than 800 years until 1798, when Iceland’s current parliament building was built.


In Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, visitors can experience both natural and historical landmarks, including Gyau, where they can feel the earth’s pulse, and the site of Althing, the world’s first democratic assembly. 

Thingvellir National Park is a must-visit destination in Iceland, so if you’re interested, be sure to check it out.