Designed in 1939 by the late architect, Guðjón Samúelsson, Hallgrimskirkja is a 1,000-seat church that took more than 40 years to complete. Samúelsson’s inspiration came from the shapes of the Icelandic countryside. He created the structure to appear like cooling lava from a volcanic eruption. Visit for Sunday mass or simply for the best views of Reykjavík.
Situated on the hill at Skólavörðuholt, Hallgrimskirkja’s magnificent 240-foot (73-meter) tower is visible for 12 miles (20 kilometers) and is a good reference point to get your bearings. The dramatic concrete exterior houses a peaceful inner sanctum flooded with light. The church is home to an enormous German organ, built in 1992 and made up of 5,275 pipes. Time your visit to experience one of the many recitals, concerts and recordings held here throughout the summer. CDs are on sale at the church.
Take an elevator trip up the bell tower for a breathtaking panoramic view across the colored rooftops of Old Town to the countryside beyond. On clear days the sky seems to go on forever.
In front of the church, pause by the statue of the Viking Leif Ericson (Leifur Eiríksson), who traveled to America centuries before Christopher Columbus. Designed by Alexander Stirling Calder, it was a gift from the United States in 1930 as acknowledgment of the 1,000th anniversary of the Icelandic Parliament. The church was named after the much-loved Icelandic poet Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614 – 1674) who was an influential clergyman during Iceland’s reform to Lutheranism.
The church is open daily and entry is free. There is a charge to take the elevator up the tower. In the summer months, fares after 5 p.m. are donated to local charities. Visit in February to see the church spectacularly illuminated as part of the Winter Lights Festival.
Hallgrimskirkja is located in Skólavörðuholt, a charming inner-city area well worth exploring.