Up the street to Hallgrímskirja
Hallgrímskirja is the landmark in much of Reykjavik. It’s huge, it’s imposing, it’s at the centre (ish) of town. This street looking up at it has lots of shops and restaurants and touristy things—naturally, since outside of the downtown core and harbour, it’s mostly here that you’ll find tourists.
The street is named Skólavörðustígur, “school cairn street”, after the cairn that schoolkids raised circa 1790, about where the church is now, to celebrate the building of their new school. The cairn fell into disrepair and was replaced in 1834 by an observation tower providing a fine view of the surrounding countryside and harbour. This tower proved extremely popular and Skólavörðustígur was set up as a scenic pedestrian street connecting it and the rest of the town.
In the early 20th century, state architect Guðjón Samúelsson had big plans to develop the area as a centre of culture, education and religion. The university ended up on other land, but he did design the grand church we know today.
To build it (and to install the statue of Leif Eiríksson, a gift from the United States) the old observation tower had to be demolished in the 1930’s. However, the church now provides a great view of the city…
… or at least it’s supposed to. When we visited, construction was happening and the observation floor was inaccessible. Boo.