Hallgrimskirkja Church

A trip to Reykjavik isn’t complete without a visit to the beautiful Hallgrimskirkja Church. At almost 75m tall and named after the poet Hallgrímur Pétursson, it dominates the skyline and is one of Reykjavik’s most important monuments.

While it might feel more like a town than a city, Reykjavik is packed with things to see and do. From exploring the area’s maritime history at the Old Harbour to immersing yourself in the Norse legends at the Saga Museum, Reykjavik wears its Viking ancestry with pride. There’s plenty for food lovers, too; Iceland’s culinary scene is enjoying something of a renaissance, and you’ll find some outstanding and innovative places to eat, from fast-food favourites to modern Icelandic cuisine, there’s something to titillate even the most jaded of palates. It’s an eclectic and interesting city, with the Hallgrimskirkja at its centre.

How to get there

You’ll find the church right in the heart of the city, just seconds away from the statue of Leifur Eiriksson. Because Iceland’s capital is so compact, it’s easy to get to on foot and you can see the spire from virtually anywhere in the city. If you’re travelling from further afield, you’ll find the local bus services quick and convenient. Lines 1, 3 and 5 all stop within walking distance of the church, and you can buy tickets on the buses, although you’ll need to have the exact change.

During the winter months, between October and April, the church opens at 9am and closes at 5pm, with the tower closing at 4.30pm. If you’re taking your Reykjavik holidays between May and September, the Hallgrimskirkja Church stays open until 9pm, while the tower closes at 8.30pm. It’s worth being aware that the tower remains shut on Sundays between 10.30am and 12.15pm as there’s a regular mass held at 11am.

The history

The church was commissioned in 1937 and designed by the Icelandic architect, Guðjón Samúelsson. His vision was to create a building that took its inspiration from the mountains and glaciers that act as a backdrop to the city. He was also inspired by the country’s volcanos and the sides of the building were designed to resemble columns of volcanic basalt rock.

Construction didn’t begin until 1945 and wasn’t completed until the mid-1980s. The iconic tower was the first to be fully built, although parts of it, such as the crypt and the nave were consecrated during the construction process. Opposite the church is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson. He was a renowned Viking adventurer and is widely believed to be the first European to set foot in America. The statue was presented by the United States, to celebrate the first millennium of the Icelandic government in 1930.

The church was originally designed to be much smaller. However, the heads of the Church of Iceland insisted that the spire be taller than that of Landakotskirkja Church. This was a cathedral owned by the Catholic Church and, until the completion of Hallgrimskirkja, was the tallest in Iceland.

The church was finally finished in 1986, on the day before the anniversary of Hallgrímur Pétursson’s death. Sadly, the architect who designed it, Guðjón Samúelsson, died 36 years before the final stone was laid.

What to see

When you first set eyes on the white concrete of Hallgrimskirkja, you’ll be wowed by its size and landscape-inspired features. The church is unlike any other on earth, so don’t forget your camera.

As you step inside, you’ll notice the plain yet striking interior, with its high ceilings and simple windows. Your eye will be drawn to the huge 15m-tall organ, built with an amazing 5,275 pipes and installed in 1992.

For an amazing view of the city, don’t miss a trip up the tower elevators. With just eight people fitting into the lift you may need to queue, but once you’re up there the panorama looking out across the old harbour is well worth the wait.

Choir concerts, organ recitals, and services keep the church busy all year round. Hallgrimskirkja Church also hosts the annual International Organ Summer event, and the Festival of Sacred Arts every other year. To really soak up the spectacle and serenity of the building, set some time aside to attend a Sunday mass.