Hallgrimskirkja: The Famous Church in Reykjavik

Explore the architectural marvel of Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik's towering church that offers panoramic views of the city.


blog authorBy Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

If you are ever in Reykjavík, you will find an impressive structure towering over the city skyline. This is Hallgrimskirkja, an architectural marvel and local landmark here in Iceland. If you are someone who appreciates history, art, and panoramic views, a visit to Hallgrimskirkja is an absolute must.

This article tells you precisely what makes this Catholic Church in Reykjavík, Iceland, so special that thousands walk through its doors each year and how you can plan your own trip to this local legend. So, without further ado, let’s jump into everything Hallgrimskirkja: the heart of the capital city.

Immerse Yourself in the History of Hallgrímskirkja

As we already touched on, Hallgrimskirkja is a landmark of Icelandic architecture. Stretching roughly 74.5 meters into the sky, it’s not just a building that’s a prominent feature on the city skyline, but it’s also incredibly unique in its design. It’s hard to believe that it is the result of a government-run design competition with a brief that only asked for a church that could seat at least 1200 people and had to have a high tower. 

We didn’t see any of the other applications, but we think the winner did a stellar job. Created by one of our country’s famous architects, Gudjun Samuelsson, he drew his inspiration from elements around the island. At first glance, the church reminds one of a church organ, but if you’ve ever visited places such as Svartifoss, you’ll soon realize that it represents our basalt laval columns, the result of millions of years of volcanic activity. 

The name Hallgrimskirkja also comes from a local clergyman and famous poet, Hallgrimur Petursson, who died exactly one day after the church was consecrated on 26 October 1986. In effect, Hallgrimskirkja is a national monument that serves as a tribute to everything Iceland.   


Explore the Architectural Wonders of Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja’s aesthetics have a unique Expressionist style that many say leans more towards Neo-Classicism. Rather than join the architectural debate of trying to put the church in one of these boxes, we believe it’s the combination of Gothic and Expressionist styles that makes the church such an impressive sight. 

The towering spire also serves as an observation deck across the landscape, and the volcanic inspiration is also authentically Icelandic. That’s probably why many say this Iceland cathedral has its own unique architectural style called Icelandic Basaltic.

Venture Inside the Heart of Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja is still an active church where people gather for service, worship, religious holidays, and special events. The interior of the building is just as impressive as its outward appearance. It has stunning stained-glass windows and an enormous pipe organ that usually accompanies the choir. 

The organ was built by a famous German organ builder named Johannes Klais of Bonn and is very impressive. Standing 15 meters tall and clocking in at 25 tons, this organ has four manuals and pedals, 102 ranks, 72 stops, and a staggering 5275 pipes. It’s no surprise that such an impressive build will have organists’ fingers itching to give it a try, and the organ has already been featured on a recorded song by the organist Christoper Herrick.

hallgrímskirkja church

Elevate Your Experience with a Tower Climb at Hallgrimskirkja Church

As we mentioned, the tower also serves as an observation deck, offering incredible panoramic views across the city and the surrounding Icelandic landscape. You will need to use the elevator in the tower to reach the deck.

Although visiting this famous church in Reykjavík is, surprisingly, free of charge, you will need to pay to go up the tower to the observation deck and get an eagle’s eye view and experience the spirit of Iceland from above. This is definitely a favorite spot amongst photographers, so remember to take your camera with you.

Uncover the Hidden Gems of Hallgrímskirkja's Surroundings

You will find plenty of other interesting attractions surrounding the church in Reykjavík. These are just a few that we can recommend:

Visit the Leif Eriksson Statue: A Symbol of Iceland's Viking Heritage

The Leif Eriksson statue that can be found in front of the church was actually there well before the construction of this famous church in Iceland even began. It was a gift from the United States during the Althinghi Millennial Festival in 1930, celebrating the 10000th anniversary of Iceland’s parliament. Leif Eriksson was also called Leif the Lucky and was a Norse explorer who is believed to have been the first European to set foot in America (hence the US connection).

famous church in reykjavik

Immerse in the Vibrant Culture of Laugavegur Street

Laugavegur Street is a famous shopping street in Reykjavík. Here, you will find absolutely everything from clothes, outdoor gear, and home décor to restaurants and cafés offering Icelandic cuisine and tourist shops that allow you to take a little piece of the island with you (we’re not even being symbolic, you can literally take lava rock jewelry, local wood carvings, etc. home with you). 

Plan Your Visit to Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja’s operating hours are between 12:00 and 15:00, Mondays to Saturdays, and 10:00 to 15:00 on Sundays. Please note that as an active church, these public operating hours may change due to church activities and events, so just double-check before heading out. 

As mentioned, entrance to the church is free, but going up the tower will cost 100 ISK (about $1) for kids between 7 and 16 and 1000 ISK (almost $10) for those aged 17 and up. The easiest way to get to Hallgrimskirkja is by either using one of our hop-on-hop-off buses that are free to use with the Reykjavik Card, or by simply walking to the church. If you’re unsure which direction to go, just find a little elevated spot and look up - you’ll probably be able to spot the church.

Catholic church in Reykjavik Iceland

Hallgrimskirkja is a Taste of What to Come

If you find places like Hallgrimskirkja fascinating, you’ll be in for a treat here in Iceland. You will find all sorts of extraordinary churches in Iceland, all with their own intriguing backstories. To discover the rest of these historic landmarks, rent a car in Reykjavík and do a road trip around the island where you stop at all these churches along the way. And don’t forget to visit some of the inspirational sites for Hallgrimskirkja, such as Svartifoss Waterfall.

Reserve a rental car in Iceland instantly!

Book Now