Iceland's national parks and our natural wonders are something that you will hear a lot about while planning your road trip. The land was shaped by both fire and ice, and we are blessed with an abundance of natural beauty. No visit here would be complete without a visit to an Iceland national park, and there are several to choose from. Each one has its own appeal, so we’ve created an Iceland national parks list to give you a broad overview.
Iceland is a place known for its landscapes and outdoor activities, and visiting one of our country’s national parks will give you the chance to experience that firsthand. From careening waterfalls to hiking on glaciers atop volcanos to swimming between the meeting point of two continents, our parks are an outdoor lover’s dream.
There are three national parks in Iceland: Vatnajökull, Snaefellsjökull, and þingvellir. Skaftafell and Jökulsárgljúfur were once considered separate entities but in 2008 they merged with Vatnajökull. They now fall under the umbrella of Vatnajökull National Park and their management falls under that jurisdiction.
There isn’t one national park visitor center for Iceland but rather one at the entrance of each individual park. This includes Skaftafell, which now resides within Vatnajökull. If you’re looking for activities and more information, I recommend visiting their respective websites.
While there are only three national parks in Iceland, they are so varied that each one warrants a visit. You’ll discover both Iceland’s history and extreme geology at Thingvellir, some of the world’s coolest naturally occurring landforms in Vatnajökull, and plenty more.
Let’s take a look at each Iceland national park to discover all there is to see with their valuable natural assets.
This is probably the park most visitors to Iceland come to first. You’ll sometimes see it anglicized as Thingvellir National Park with a “th” replacing the Icelandic letter “thorn” (þ).
If you look at Thingvellir National Park on an Iceland map, you’ll see that this is the Iceland national park on the Golden Circle. In fact, it’s the first stop on this 300-mile (190 km) route. This park makes the perfect stop for starting your trip off right with a day trip from Reykjavik.
This is one of the more interesting parks as it has both historical and geological significance. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is home both our first government and a unique geological feature you won’t find anywhere else on earth.
The park is historically important to Iceland because it served as the meeting place for Iceland’s first parliament, the Althing. Back in 930 AD, the island’s most powerful chieftains gathered here to discuss the budding nation’s most important affairs. Many impactful decisions were made here, including the conversion of Iceland to Christianity. Eventually, the Althing moved to the official building in Reykjavik, which is now its current home. But it still remains the world’s oldest and longest-running parliament.
þingvellir National Park was also a filming location for Game of Thrones, so you’ll see many fans on tours coming here to reenact battle scenes.
Another notable highlight of þingvellir National Park in Iceland is where the North American tectonic plate meets the Eurasian one. You can see the earth’s crust literally pulling apart. This geological marvel is called the Silfra Fissure and it’s a must-do on your itinerary. It’s one of the top things to see in þingvellir National Park and Iceland, so make sure you don’t miss it.
Something you may not be aware of is that parts of the fissure are filled with water and you can dive there. Scuba diving at Iceland’s Silfra Fissure in turquoise waters is a highlight for adventure enthusiasts. Swimming between two tectonic plates and exploring levels of the earth’s crust is not something many people can say they’ve done.
This is by far my favorite Iceland national park. Not only is it the largest national park in Europe, but it’s also home to several of my favorite natural attractions and outdoor activities. From ice caves, glacier hikes, and snowmobiling to the glacier lagoon, you can easily spend several days enjoying the park and its natural attractions. Day tours are quite popular as a way to experience everything Vatnajökull has to offer.
Perhaps one of the most exciting things to do is explore the ice caves at Vatnajökull national park in Iceland. Ice caves are formed when water freezes to the inside of an already existing cave. This gives the corridor a white, ghostly appearance and you trek through it; it’s a really unforgettable adventure. Just make sure you bundle up to stay warm and dry and weather waterproof clothing!
There are a couple of other glacier-related activities in Vatnajökull if ice caves aren’t your thing. The first I recommend is going inside a glacier cave. These are different than ice caves in that they change every year and look very different. Glacier caves are formed when parts of a glacier start to melt and leave large pockets inside of and underneath the glacier. These cavernous spaces have an otherworldly turquoise blue color that will leave you in awe.
A glacier hike is also an unforgettable experience. Your tour operator will outfit you with crampons and special gear for your trek across the crevices and compounded layers of frozen ice.
Additionally, Vatnajökull glacier is home to the highest peak in Iceland: Mt. Hvannadalshnjúkur. As the tallest mountain in Iceland, it measures 2,110 meters (6,923 feet) to the top.
Another favorite place to visit is the former Skaftafell National Park in Iceland, which is now considered a section of Vatnaökull National Park. In fact, many of the glacier-related activities can be done at Skaftafell glacier, which is part of the glacier tongue of Vatnajökull glacier. ,One of the reasons I love Skaftafell so much is because it’s where you find Iceland’s black waterfall: Svartifoss. The cliff face of this only-in-Iceland waterfall is made up of dark, geometrically-shaped dried lava. Its hexagonal basalt columns resemble a pipe organ, much like the facade of Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik. You’ll find similar volcanic rock formations at Reynisfjara black sand beach in nearby Vik.
It makes the perfect detour just off the Ring Road and you can easily find parking there. The hiking trails that lead to the waterfall are clearly marked from the parking lot and it's uphill for around 1.5 km (1 mile) each way. The Svartifoss hike is about 90 minutes round trip if you don’t count the time it takes to stop to take pictures.
North of Dettifoss waterfall and close to the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river is the former Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. This is the second park that was incorporated into Vatnajökull National Park in 2008 along with Skaftafell. Now, just like Skaftafell, it’s considered a section of the larger entity.
The sprawling landscape is connected to the rest of the park by the glacial river, which cuts through and formed the Jökulsárgljúfur glacial river canyon. The 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) long canyon measures 500 meters (1,640 feet) across, and is one of Iceland’s deepest and grandest canyons.
Highlights of this area in North Iceland also include the horseshoe-shaped ísbyrgi canyon, where you’ll find the park’s visitor center. Check out the Vatnajökull website for more information about Jökulsárgljúfur.
Snæfellsjökull National Park is part of the larger Snæfellsjökull peninsula in West Iceland. This part of the country is known as Iceland in miniature, due to the large number of typical Icelandic sights concentrated in one small area.
Snæfellsjökull was the first national park in Iceland and is home to its namesake glacier, Snæfellsjökull glacier. This 700,000-year-old stratovolcano is covered with an ice cap and can sometimes be seen from Reykjavik’s Faxa Bay. The extinct volcano is probably best known as the subterranean entry point for the explorers in Jules Verne’s 1864 classic, Journey to the Center of the Earth.
The park was created as a way to protect, preserve, and showcase the island’s diverse indigenous animal life and plant life. Our flora and fauna are fragile, and we take pride in taking care of them.
One popular question from visitors is are national parks in Iceland free? While it may seem too good to be true, the answer is yes! Anyone can come to explore our parks for absolutely free. What you may have to pay for is parking on site or food, but the actual entrance to the park is free of charge. There are no Iceland national park fees.
When you come to Iceland, be sure to pack not only your swimsuit and warm clothes but also your hiking boots! There is so much to see and do, so make sure to rent a car at Keflavik Airport as soon as you arrive in Iceland. Hopefully, this list of Iceland’s national parks will provide a helpful starting point for your journey. Whether you decide to visit one or all of the parks we’ve outlined here, you’ll enjoy your time outdoors.
Come here to escape, breathe in the fresh air, sip water straight from the glacier, or scuba dive between tectonic plates. It’s all possible with Iceland’s national parks, it’s just up to you which one you choose. Have an amazing time and we hope you enjoy our parks as much as we do.