When most people think of Iceland sightseeing and activities, they tend to focus on natural attractions like volcanoes, glaciers, or hot springs. But that’s not all there is to see and do on our beautiful Nordic island. We’ve also got some pretty cool architecture, museums, and other places to visit. Iceland churches are also quite famous and there are hundreds scattered around the island. From the towering and imposing Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik to turf churches to the Seyðisfjarðarkirkja blue church, these are Iceland’s prettiest churches.
Religion in Iceland
Iceland hasn’t always been a Christian nation. Long ago, during the time of Vikings, we worshipped a pagan pantheon of gods. Our Scandinavian ancestors prayed to Norse gods like Odin, Freya, and Loki. It wasn’t until the very beginning of the 11th century that Iceland converted to Christianity. It’s a very interesting story, and Godafoss waterfall, an important natural landmark, gets its name from Iceland’s conversion story.
Religious practices in modern-day Iceland are different. When Icelandic children are born, they’re registered as Christian with the Lutheran Church of Iceland. At age 14 they go through with confirmation and are inducted as full members into the Church.
Because Iceland practices Protestantism as the state religion, less than 4% of the population is Catholic. You’ll find the Catholic Church in Iceland building in the city’s capital, but Iceland’s main Reykjavik church is Hallgrimskirkja, a Lutheran parish.
I don’t want you to give you the wrong idea about religion in Iceland, however. Icelanders, in general, are not very religious. We were actually voted one of the most atheist countries in the world. So just because we have a lot of churches, that doesn’t mean that we’re always going to them.
Iceland Reykjavik Church: Hallgrimskirkja
One of the first stops on your city tour should be the Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik, Iceland. While many think the building’s modern and original facade hints at the massive pipe organ inside, that’s not the case. The church’s distinctive architectural style is inspired by Iceland’s volcanic landscapes. Architect Guðjón Samúelsson sought to recreate the hexagonal basalt columns found in places like Svartifoss waterfall and Reynisfjara black sand volcanic beach. It’s Iceland’s most famous church as well as the country’s largest.
Hallgrimskirkja is a major sightseeing destination in Reykjavik, which naturally makes it one of the most visited churches in Iceland.
Hofskirkja: The Turf Church in Iceland
Traditional Icelandic turf houses have been a rich part of our culture and architectural heritage for hundreds of years. The natural insulation provided by the thick grass covering the roof offers protection against the harsh Icelandic climate. Close to Vatnajökull National Park in southeast Iceland, there’s actually a turf church that takes advantage of this same architectural style. Turf churches are few and far between in Iceland. They stopped building them many years ago, sometime after the 17th century.
While there are only six turf churches left in Iceland, this one is a particular favorite that I recommend everyone visit. The quirky turf church in Hof (Hofskirkja) looks like it grew out of the ground around it, which gives it a particular character. It’s something that you need to see up close and personal. It’s just a few minutes’ drive from the park, so you have no reason not to go.
Budirkirkja: The Black Iceland Church
As you drive along the southern part of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, you’ll encounter another iconic sight: the black church in Iceland. Budir church is Iceland’s black church and features an unusual shade covering the entire building. With the exception of the doorway and windows, the entire church is painted in a dark, midnight hue. It’s not only visually striking, but particularly odd considering that churchgoers usually associate the color black with death, evil or the devil. It’s also in the middle of nowhere, which gives the structure a particularly isolated feel.
Seyðisfjarðarkirkja: The Blue Church Iceland
Another picturesque Iceland church with a distinctive color is the lovely powder blue Seyðisfjarðarkirkja. This pretty Icelandic monument is another one of our country’s most recognizable architectural landmarks. If you’re driving through the Eastfjords, be sure to stop here. You can’t miss the playful rainbow walking path that leads directly to the blue church, so just follow the rainbow road.
Vik i Myrdal Church in Vik Iceland
If you’re making your way along the country’s South Coast heading toward Vatnajökull National Park, chances are you’ll stop in Vik. The small, seaside fishing village is home to an iconic Iceland church, the Vik i Myrdal church. This typical, charming Icelandic church features a red roof and sits atop a hill overlooking the town and the ocean. Be sure to include a stop at Vik church in South Iceland, even if it’s just for the scenic views.
The Futuristic Blönduós Church in Iceland
This is not only one of the prettiest churches in Iceland, it’s also one of the coolest. The architect designed it to look like a volcanic crater. The dark grey, conical-shaped church is one of the more unusual architectural styles you’ll ever encounter. It looks more like a spaceship than a religious house of worship. If there wasn’t a large cross standing right next to Blönduós church in Iceland, you might not even realize that it was a church.
Akureyri Church Iceland: Akureyrarkirkja
In the North of Iceland, there’s another gorgeous Iceland church: Akureyrarkirkja or the Church of Akureyri. This is another one of Guðjón Samúelsson’s Iceland-inspired masterworks. You’ll see similarities to the facade of Hallgrimskirkja. Akureyri church in Iceland also sits on top of a hill and has a large pipe organ and bas-reliefs.
The church’s stained glass windows have an interesting history. They disappeared from Coventry cathedral in England during World War II. Initially, church members and clergy were trying to protect them from bombing. After they went missing, years later they turned up in Akureyri.
Why Does Iceland Have So Many Churches?
How many churches are in Iceland exactly? Current estimates say that there are over 350 churches in Iceland. It might seem a little bit surprising that a country which is so small and not particularly religious has such a large number of churches. So why are there so many churches in Iceland? Well, like many things in life, it all comes down to making things as easy as possible.
Iceland’s climate is extremely harsh and winter weather conditions often make it difficult to get from one point to another. Many times, it just made more sense to build a small, humble church in a town or village rather than have local residents go to another town to worship. People were more likely to show up if their local diocese was close by. This is why you’ll find many small churches in the Icelandic countryside.
Prettiest Churches in Iceland
Whether large, cathedral-type buildings are more your speed or if you’re into the more quaint country style, there are plenty of beautiful churches in Iceland to choose from. They’re even working on an Ásatrú pagan church in Reykjanes peninsula close to Reykjavik. Iceland truly has something for everyone. Wherever you decide to go, enjoy your trip and remember to take lots of pictures.