The church was named after the 17th-century clergyman and poet, Hallgrímur Pétursson. Commissioned in 1937, it was designed by the state architect at the time, Guðjón Samúelsson. Thanks to the Icelandic Parliament, Hallgrímskirkja was finally built after the 1929 declaration by parliament stating the new building should seat 1,200 people and have a tower high enough to transmit radio signals. While the church’s tower was finished before the rest of the church, it took 41 years to complete the entire church, which was finally completed in 1986. In front of the church is the figure of the Viking explorer Leifur Eiríksson, purportedly the first European in America. The statue was presented as a present from the United States to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of the Icelandic parliament in 1930.
The church’s design was inspired by the Icelandic landscape in its resemblance to natural features to remind city dwellers of the country’s glaciers and mountains. The columns on either side of the tower represent the volcanic basalt columns that can be found in parts of the country. Guðjón Samúelsson was greatly influenced by new developments in Scandinavian modernism and found a way to combine this inspiration with natural Icelandic forms. At the time of its construction, there were many controversies by critics who disagreed with its striking presence as a sight so prominent in the capital.
The church houses a beautiful pipe organ with 5,275 pipes and is 15 metres tall and weighs 25 tonnes. Visitors are free to explore the building from 9am–5pm every day October to April, and 9am–9pm May to September. During Christmas season, a variety of concerts from choirs and organists are scheduled as well as during Easter and on national holidays. Concerts are also scheduled throughout the year featuring prominent visiting organists and musicians.