From the western end of Laugavegur, the tongue-twisting Skólavörðustígur streaks steeply upwards to the largest church in the country, the magnificent Hallgrímskirkja. This is a modern concrete structure, whose neatly composed space-shuttle-like form dominates the Reykjavík skyline. Work began on the church – named after the renowned seventeenth-century religious poet Hallgrímur Pétursson – immediately after World War II, but was only finally completed a few years ago, the slow progress due to the task being carried out by a family firm comprising one man and his son. The work of state architect Guðjón Samúelsson, the church’s unusual design – not least its 73m phallic steeple – has divided the city over the years, although locals have grown to accept rather than love it since its consecration in 1986. Most people rave about the organ inside, the only decoration in an otherwise completely bare Gothic-style shell; measuring a whopping 15m in height and possessing over five thousand pipes, it really has to be heard to be believed. The cost of installing it called for a major fundraising effort, with people across the country sponsoring a pipe – if you fancy putting money towards one yourself, for which you’ll receive a certificate, ask the staff in their office on the right as you enter the church. The tower has a viewing platform, accessed by a lift from just within the main door, giving stunning panoramic views across Reykjavík; it’s open to the elements, so bring a warm hat and scarf if you come up here in winter. Incidentally, don’t expect the clock at the top of the tower to tell the correct time – the wind up there is so strong that it frequently blows the hands off course. In fact, it’s rare for any two public clocks in Reykjavík to tell the same time due to the differing wind conditions throughout the city.

Top image: Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral and the city of Reykjavik in Iceland © Ververidis Vasilis/Shutterstock

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 26.04.2021

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