Iceland has three national parks. The first one, Þingvellir, was established in 1930, and the largest one, Vatnajökull National Park, was established in 2008. However, the oldest part of Vatnajökull National Park, Skaftafell, was protected in 1967. The third national park, Snæfellsjökull, was established in 2001. Together, these national parks cover around 14% of Iceland’s area.

There is a proposal before Alþingi to expand Vatnajökull National Park to include a large part of the central highlands in the national park. About one-third of the country would be protected if this proposal goes ahead.

The idea of a national park, a protected area for those who want to learn about and enjoy nature, began with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in the United States in 1872. Vatnajökull National Park is Europe’s second largest national park after Yugyd Va (Komi) in the Ural Mountains of Russia. Northeast Greenland National Park is the largest national park in the world, almost ten times larger than Iceland at nearly one million square kilometres.

There are two other national parks in the world larger than Iceland. These are the Great Barrier Reef National Park in Australia and the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique. The smallest national park in the world is Moyenne Island National Park in the Seychelles archipelago, which is only 0.099 square kilometres in size.

Ásbyrgi in Öxarfjörður, Vatnajökull National Park
Hvannadalshnjúkur is Iceland’s highest peak, standing at 2110 meters. It is located in Öræfajökull, which is a part of Vatnajökull National Park.

Photographs & text: Páll Stefánsson
Iceland 13/12/2023 – A7C : FE 1.8/20mm G