With all the great flight deals and special promotions we have nowadays, you can easily travel to Reykjavik from anywhere around the globe. As you already may know, Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland. But that’s not the only important thing to know. There is plenty to see and do in Reykjavik. Today we will learn all about the Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik’s main church, and Iceland most impressive cathedral. Let’s get started!
If you type “Reykjavik” into Google and check for images, I bet that around 80-90% of the pictures are related to the Hallgrímskirkja. They can either be of the church itself or the stunning views of the city from its bell tower. You can’t really avoid this monument, even if you wanted to. It stands right in the city center, and it serves as a reference point for anyone making their way around town. The Hallgrímskirkja is a really lovely cathedral and a must-see during your trip. Let’s look at why.
Hallgrímskirkja – The History and Background of its Name
While the church’s name may sound complicated, it’s actually rather simple. It’s just a compound of the words of “Hallgrímur” and “kirkja”. Kirkja translates to “church” so Hallgrímskirkja means the Church of Hallgrimur.
Hallgrimur Pétursson was a prominent Icelandic Lutheran priest and poet. One of his finest works was the “Passion Hymns”. The primary purpose of these hymns was to serve as songs or hymns for the observance of Lent. These hymns are among the most important poetry related to religion in the world. And so, the main cathedral in Reykjavik was named after him this vital figure in Icelandic theology and religious history.
This magnificent building belongs to the Lutheran church of Iceland. The Evangelical Lutheran Church also has the nickname of “the national church”. This branch of Christianity is the island’s official religions. It hasn’t always been so. Iceland was once a pagan nation, and Christianity arrived with the Danish crown in 1,000 AD.
Hallgrímskirkja – The Church’s Construction
As you get closer to the church, your eyes get wider by the minute. The building may look impressive in most pictures, but it is even more impressive when you visit it.
It’s hard not to feel curious about its architectural style as it certainly looks unlike anything you have seen before. The 73-meter (244-foot) tall building is the largest church in Iceland. It’s also one of the tallest structures in the country. Due to the lack of trees in Iceland and no real stone masonry tradition, the building is made of concrete. But just because the cathedral uses plain, grey concrete doesn’t mean that it’s unimaginative, boring or unelaborate! This cathedral is anything but ordinary.
You’ll see a lot of similarities between Hallgrímskirkja church and the hexagonal basalt columns of Reynisfjara beach or Svartifoss waterfall. Its architect, Guðjón Samuel, found his inspiration in nature and the landscapes he grew up surrounded by. Lava fields in Iceland are ubiquitous, they flow like rivers and can create magnificent columns. Such columns are the result of the pressure of the geothermal energy that clashes beneath the island. It’s these columns that inspired the design of Hallgrímskirkja.
Construction started in 1945 and finished in 1986. Workers spent 40 years building this beautiful spot in the city center for all to enjoy.
Hallgrímskirkja – The Interior of the Temple
This Icelandic place of worship is not only superb on the outside, but it is also extraordinary on the inside. The first thing you will notice is its verticality, the simplicity of its lines, the lack of decoration and its striking sobriety. Sometimes in life, the simple things are the most extraordinary.
This solemn building may be simple, but it’s not dark or gloomy at all. Light comes in through its stained glass windows, which are located along the walls of the apse. This area hosts a giant organ with 15-meters (40-foot) high tubes. Organists from around the world come to Reykjavik and take pleasure in playing it. Its powerful sound will make you shiver. It’s no wonder, as the organ has 5,275 tubes whose sound fill every corner of this holy place.
Hallgrímskirkja – Activities and Sightseeing
The Hallgrimskirkja is not only the main church of Iceland, but it is also an open window and observation deck to the capital city of the Nordic nation. Even if you’re not very interested in religious buildings, still pay it a visit. Otherwise, you’ll miss one of the most stunning panoramic views of Reykjavik from its bell tower.
From these heights, you’ll discover how colorful Reykjavik is. Enjoy the thousands of red, yellow, blue and green roofs spread all across the city. And right at the bottom, the bay and its snowy peaks.
You can visit the Hallgrimskirkja church from 9:00-17:00h and its bell tower from 9:00-16:30h. Entrance to the temple is free of charge, but if you plan to head up to the bell tower, then it will cost 900 ISK for adults and 100 ISK for kids.
In addition, many choral and organ concerts, art events and expositions take place here during the summertime. You can attend an organ concert every Wednesday at noon, on Saturdays at 12:00 and Sundays at 17:00.
Lastly, don’t forget to take a picture with Leif Erikson. His statue stands right in front of the cathedral. He was, according to the Sagas, the first European to discover the American continent in the 1000 B.C. That’s nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus set foot on American soil. This statue was a gift from the United States to Iceland to commemorate the Icelandic parliament, the first parliament in the world.
Reykjavik Sightseeing: Hallgrímskirkja Church
Now you know. There’s plenty to see, do and discover in this emblematic building. Take a stroll to the Austurvöllur plaza, where many Icelanders come to meet and chat. It is one of the busiest streets of the city, and one with the best views! Add the Hallgrímskirkja temple to your “To Do List”. You’re sure to love it!