Hallgrímskirkja: The Reykjavik Church

Date 30 May 2021

Hallgrímskirkja: The Reykjavik Church

Hallgrímskirkja: The Reykjavik Church

Hallgrímskirkja is Reykjavík's main church and the symbol of the capital, a must-see when visiting. Hallgrimskirkja is famous for its unique architecture and is a major landmark and crossroads in central Reykjavík.

Very easy to get to, you can see the big church from everywhere in Reykjavík. Located in the city center, at Hallgrímstorg 1 in the heart of the downtown area, it feels like all roads lead there. But two main streets pointing you directly there are Skólavörðustígur and Frakkastígur.

The history of Hallgrímskirkja

L'église Hallgrímskirkja

In the early 20th century, Iceland decided it needed a large Lutheran church in Reykjavík, mainly because nearly 97% of the population is of the Lutheran religion. So it was a safe bet by the government.

Architect Guðjón Samúelsson began drawing the plans in 1937, drawing inspiration from the natural environments found in Iceland, in particular those characteristic columns known as basaltic organs, formed by lava when it cools under specific circumstances. Its particular architectural style is very similar to the expressionist architectural styles found in Copenhagen for example, with the Grundtvig Church.

Its construction began in 1945 on a small hill in the capital, overlooking the city like a protector. It took no less than 41 years to put it all together, construction would not be completed until 1986. Some parts, such as the spire, were finished well before 1986. The crypt under the choir was finished as early as 1948. As for the wings, they were completed in 1974, and the nave in 1986.

Hallgrímskirkja literally means “the church of Hallgrimur”, and owes its name to the Icelandic poet Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674).

A true landmark of the capital, the concrete church measures 74 meters with its spire, and was the tallest building in the country for a long time. Contrary to what most people think, it is not a cathedral, the only cathedral in Reykjavík is located nearby, next to Lake Tjornin.

A massive and impressive statue representing Leifur Erikson, son of Erik the Red, stands on the Hallgrímskirkja forecourt. Leifur Erikson was the first European to discover America in the year 1000. The statue itself is the work of American sculptor Alexander Stirling Calde and dates from 1930 to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Icelandic Parliament.

A tour of Hallgrímskirkja's interior

L'église Hallgrímskirkja intérieur

Unlike many churches, the interior is rather modest, even austere. The decoration is almost non-existent and the only element that stands out is the organ. This colossal instrument is made up of more than 5,200 tubes, installed in 1992. The true jewel of Hallgrímskirkja, it was built by the German Johannes Klais Orgelbau, is 15 meters high and weighs no less than 25 tons.

Whether you like its interior or exterior appearance or not, the church is a statement in itself and remains an architectural jewel.

The church can be visited all year round and every day:

From April to October

  • Open daily from 9:00AM to 5:00PM

From May to September

  • Open daily from 9:00AM to 9:00PM

Mass is celebrated there every Sunday at 11AM. You should also know that from mid-June to mid-August, the choir organizes concerts every Wednesday at noon, and you can attend organ concerts every Saturday at noon and on Sundays at 5PM.

The view from the Church tower

Panorama tour Hallgrímskirkja

While admission is free to visit the church interior, for a few ISK you can take a tour and take the elevator to the tower to enjoy an extraordinary 360° view of Reykjavík.

Price of Hallgrímskirkja tower tour:

  • Adults: 1000 ISK
  • Children (7-16 years): 100 ISK

The panoramic view from the church tower is without a doubt, together with the Perlan viewpoint, the best view of Reykjavík and its colorful houses of the capital, the old port, all the way to Mount Esja, Perlan...

The opening hours of the tower:

From April to October

  • Hallgrímskirkja Tour: Open daily from 9:00AM to 4:30PM

From May to September

  • Hallgrímskirkja Tour: Open daily from 9:00AM to 8:30PM