At over 70m high, you can see the majestic Hallgrímskirkja from almost anywhere in Reykjavik, and a little beyond. Dedicated to our most influential poet and pastor, Hallgrímur Pétursson, this church is a national monument that is a definite must-see on any visit to Reykjavik.
Hallgrímskirkja is Iceland from every angle
Visitors may look at Hallgrímskirkja’s architecture and think “modernism” or “brutalism” or “that doesn’t look like a church”. We think “Iceland”! Designed by Iceland’s state architect Guðjón Samuelsson in 1937, Hallgrímskirkja’s rising columns forming the exterior and main tower were inspired by Iceland’s landscape, from our jagged glaciers to basalt mountain formations to thunderous waterfalls. And the white? Why snow of course, and rushing waters.
From the outside, you can see how the church represents Iceland’s landscape. Then, inside, you can travel up to the bell tower for incredible views of the actual landscape. At over 20 stories high, you can see 360° panoramas all across Reykjavik, to the mountains and around to the ocean. And for a full range of sensations, it gets pretty windy up there on most days!
Truly a people’s church
Although designed in 1937, the construction began in 1945 and did not finish until 1986. Still, it was a labor of love for the community. And as it rose to its heights, we were able to use the church section by section, starting in 1948 when services were held in the crypt. Finally, it was completed in 1986, in time for Reykjavik’s 200th birthday!
While the government did fund some of the construction, around 60% came from the parish and private gifts, including furniture and artworks. This included raising money from the 25-tonne organ built by Johannes Klais in Bonn. Parishioners and benefactors could “buy” one of the 2,275 pipes to help support the construction (that is a whole other level of “organ donation”!).
Local artist Leifur Breiðfjörð created many of the stained glass creations, including in the doors, pulpit, and baptismal font. The pulpit itself was a gift from Hallgrímskirkja’s first priest, Sigurbjörn Einarsson, which has writings from Hallgrimur’s Passion Hymns.
Dedicated to Hallgrímur the poet
Who is this Hallgrímur, you may ask? Hallgrímur Pétursson was a minister and poet who lived in the 1600s. Although known for saving his soon-to-be wife and other Icelanders ransomed by pirates, his main impact is his poetry. His collection of 50 Passion Hymns are sung every day before Easter during Lent all across the country.
It is said that Hallgrímskirkja’s shape looks like the mountain formations around Hallgrimur’s home of Skagafjörður in northern Iceland. His poetry appears on the pulpit as well as on the font, with one of his prayers engraved in the stone base.And in the tower, the three main bells carry the Pétursson family names — Hallgrímur, Guðríður (his wife), and Steinunn (his daughter).
A figurative connection to America
That figure is Leifur Eiríksson (or Leif Erikson). We also call him Leif the Lucky because he saved some castaways during one of his voyages. Or it could be because he convinced so many people to leave Iceland for Greenland, which really wasn’t that green! He also very likely sailed all the way to Newfoundland in North America (he called it Vineland).
But that’s not why the United States commissioned Alexander Sterling Calder to create a bronze statue of our very famous Viking.It was a gift from the US government to Iceland in 1930 to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the Icelandic Parliament or Alþing. And even though it arrived before Hallgrímskirkja, it is perfectly positioned in front of the church, with Leif looking ever west.
Some practical info about Hallgrímskirkja
You can visit Hallgrímskirkja every day of the week. Mondays to Saturdays from 11 am to 4 pm, and Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm. There is an admission fee for the tower of ISK 1000 (around USD 8) for adults and ISK 100 (about USD 1) for kids.
Please remember that Hallgrímskirkja is an active church, so visitors are asked to be respectful during masses and ceremonies. During Sunday mass there is no access to the tower, and other times access is limited or closed due to other church events.
Your Friend in Reykjavík shares Hallgrímskirkja with you!
There is so much more to share about this iconic Hallgrímskirkja with you! More stories about pirates and kidnappings! Stories about battles and burials! And more about vikings of course! But whatever your interest in our wonderful architectural delights, let Your Friend in Reykjavik show you around and share our favorite tales and tips so you can enjoy your Iceland visit the best!
And if you can’t wait until your Reykjavik visit, you can always join our virtual Hallgrímskirkja tour any time, day or night!