Hallgrimskirkja Church: Icon of Reykjavik’s Skyline

  • by Irena
  • Reykjavik
  • 3 Mar 2024

In this guide you will learn about Hallgrimskirkja church - the tallest church in Iceland, famous for its architecture inspired by the Icelandic natural wonders.

Hallgrimskirkja Church: Icon of Reykjavik’s Skyline

Hallgrimskirkja’s history and name

Hallgrimskirkja church draws its name from Iceland’s renowned poet Hallgrímur Pétursson. Famous for composing the “Hymns of the Passion,” he made significant contributions in shaping Icelandic Lutheran heritage the church represents. As part of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Iceland, Hallgrimskirkja serves not merely as a place of worship but also plays an important cultural role.

Construction of the church began in 1945, and already three years later part of it could be used. The construction continued for almost 4 decades until the full consecration of Hallgrimskirkja on 26 October 1986.

Aerial view on central Reykjavik and Hallgrimskirkja church

Architecture and Design

Striking architecture that resonates with the Icelandic landscape was envisioned by state architect Guðjón Samúelsson. The resemblance of the church’s facade to basalt columns demonstrates his intent to reflect the natural environment.

One’s attention is immediately drawn to the tower, a defining feature of Hallgrimskirkja and central Reykjavik. Guðjón Samúelsson was heavily influenced by Modernism, which is evident in the church’s clean lines and soaring structure that offer a panoramic view of the surrounding city and mountains.

Hallgrimskirkja church and basalt columns at the black sand beach

Hallgrimskirkja’s interior is in modernist style as well. Unlike many traditional churches, the use of stained glass is minimal, yet each piece contributes to the serene environment. The choice of materials inside emphasizes simplicity and functionality, core tenets of modernist design.

The crowning jewel of Hallgrímskirkja’s musical instrumentation is its pipe organ, constructed by the famous organ builder Johannes Klais of Bonn, Germany. This magnificent instrument, the largest in Iceland, stands at an imposing 15 meters tall and weighs approximately 25 tons. It possesses 5275 pipes, the longest of which measures an incredible 16 feet, allowing for a rich diversity of tones ranging from the delicately soft to the overwhelmingly resonant.

In front of the church you’ll find the sculpture of Leif Eiríksson—the Icelandic explorer credited with being the first European to reach North America. The statue, a gift from the United States marking the Millennial anniversary of Iceland’s parliament in 1930, was sculpted by Alexander Stirling Calder.

Statue of Leifur Eiriksson in front of Hallgrimskirkja church

Hallgrimskirkja’s role in religion and culture

The Hallgrimskirkja church is a striking landmark in Reykjavik and the heart of cultural and religious activities reflecting rich heritage of Iceland. Here, you can experience a blend of devout worship practices and a bustling hub of cultural events that are open to both the local community and international visitors.

Worship and Services

Hallgrimskirkja is part of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Iceland and holds regular services according to the Lutheran worship calendar.

  • Sunday Services: The main worship service, reflecting the character of the Lutheran faith.
  • Special Ceremonies: Including baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals.
  • Prayer Meetings: Occasional gatherings for communal prayer and reflection.

Cultural Events and Concerts

In addition to its religious role, Hallgrimskirkja is a dynamic venue for cultural events and concerts. The church’s impressive acoustics make it an exceptional location for music performances, with an emphasis on:

  • Organ Concerts: Featuring the church’s renowned pipe organ.
  • Choir Performances: Highlighting both local talent and visiting ensembles.
  • Cultural Festivals: Celebrating Iceland’s rich heritage through curated cultural events.

Each Lenten season, the church honors Hallgrímur Pétursson’s legacy through recitations and musical renditions of his famous Passion Hymns.

It’s worth noting that Hallgrimskirkja church is also a wonderful spot to experience Reykjavik’s Winter Lights Festival.

Hallgrimskirkja Church during Winter Lights Festival

Opening hours and admission fee

Hallgrimskirkja is usually open 10:00 – 17:00, and the tower 10:00 – 16:30.

But keep in mind that the church is open only for attendees during masses and special events like weddings. You can see opening hours for the next few days on the official website.

Entering the church is free of charge, but access to the elevator in the tower is for a fee.

Tower tickets can be obtained at the church shop on the left side upon entering the building.

These tickets grant one-time access to the tower on the day of purchase:

  • Adults: 1400 ISK
  • Children (7-16 years old): 200 ISK
  • Seniors (67+), disabled individuals (with a disability card), and students (with a valid student card) pay at discounted rate of 1000 ISK.
Hallgrimskirka’s interior

Nearby attractions

Near Hallgrimskirkja, visitors can explore a treasure trove of attractions that capture the essence of Reykjavik’s charm.

Just a short stroll away lies the mesmerizing Solfar sculpture, reminiscent of a Viking ship sailing into the horizon. Venture further to discover Harpa, Reykjavik’s iconic concert hall, with its stunning modern architecture and vibrant cultural events.

Nearby, the tranquil Tjörnin lake offers serene walks amidst picturesque surroundings, perfect for a leisurely afternoon. For a deeper dive into Icelandic history and culture, the National Museum of Iceland beckons with its rich exhibitions and fascinating artifacts, providing insight into the nation’s heritage.

The Sun Voyager sculpture in reykjavik
About the author
In 2010, Irena moved to Iceland, instantly enchanted by its breathtaking beauty. Her deep love for Icelandic culture and the natural surroundings fills her with excitement as she endeavors to convey these wonders to others through her photography and writing.