Updated: Nov 11, 2022
Although Christianity is the official religion in Iceland, this unique island is not an overtly religious country. Despite this, Iceland is home to many impressive churches, from the big to the small, and the modern to the ancient.
A tour of churches in Iceland is, in fact, very much like taking a tour of the country’s architectural history. You’ll have the pleasure of visiting monumental architectural structures in Reykjavík. Furthermore, don’t forget about tiny turf-roofed churches in North Iceland!
Taking a road trip around Iceland? We recommend planning some stops to admire the beauty of Icelandic churches along the way. Luckily, you don’t need to stray far from the beaten path to discover some of Iceland’s gems. The famous Ring Road loop around the county is punctuated with churches of all shapes and sizes.
Discover Iceland’s fascinating villages through exploring their churches with this handy list of the best churches in Iceland to visit. Top tip: look out for the word Kirkjan on signposting, and that will point the way to a church. Now, let’s discover ten of the prettiest, most interesting and famous churches in Iceland!
Iceland churches: a brief history of religion in Iceland
Settlers arrived in Iceland from Scandinavia in the ninth century, bringing with them their own pagan beliefs. Before the country officially adopted Christianity in around AD 1000, Icelanders followed the pagan Norse Gods. Stories of the Norse Gods are woven into the country’s cultural heritage.
Iceland converted to Christianity due to a man named Olaf Tryggvason, who was the King of Norway from 995 to 1000. Tryggvason sent Icelanders back to their home country with a mission to convert their fellow compatriots.
Six centuries after Iceland adopted Christianity as their official religion, Lutheranism became the branch of Christianity that Icelanders formally accept as their own. Today, Iceland’s official church is known as the Lutheran church of Iceland.
10 of the best churches in Iceland to visit
1. Hallgrímskirkja Church
As the second-tallest building in Iceland at 74.5 meters, Hallgrímskirkja Church is a must-visit during your Icelandic adventure. This iconic building is surpassed only by Smáratorg Tower at 78 meters.
The largest church in Iceland, Hallgrímskirkja, can be found in central Reykjavík and is something of a landmark in the capital. It is also a key contender for the title of the most famous church in Iceland. Its distinctive architectural style resembles the basalt rock formation so famous around Iceland. This impressive design was created by Icelandic architect, Gudjón Samuelsson.
Samuelsson’s work is inspired by the unique and beautiful natural landscapes of Iceland. Glaciers, mountains and endlessly fascinating volcanic rock formations can be seen across his work.
Commissioned in 1937, Samuelsson’s bold designs for the breathtaking
Hallgrímskirkja Church are, in fact, particularly inspired by the monumental basalt columns of Svartifoss Waterfall in South Iceland.
2. Dómkirkjan í Reykjavík
Another top entry on our Iceland famous church list, Dómkirkjan í Reykjavík Cathedral, is the central parish church for the greater Reykjavík area. With a stunning interior that hosts a majestic, Berlin-built organ, Dómkirkjan is well worth a visit during your time in the Icelandic capital.
This neoclassical building is located next to the Icelandic Parliament House. The idea is to symbolize the close connection between the laws and traditions of Iceland. Services are held at Dómkirkjan before the opening of the Icelandic National Parliament. This became tradition since the parliament building was relocated to the capital in 1845.
3. Hvalsneskirkja Church
In contrast to the majority of churches in Iceland, which are made of wood, Hvalsneskirkja Church is built from stone. Although the outside is stone, the inside is completely decorated with driftwood: a traditional building material in Iceland. As there are very few trees growing on the island, Icelanders would make use of every piece of wood that the ocean delivered.
Sitting just a few minutes drive from Keflavík International Airport on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Hvalsneskirkja Church was built between 1886 and 1887. The altarpiece at Hvalsneskirkja is a remake of that at Dómkirkjan Cathedral in the capital. A must-visit on your trip to Iceland, this preserved church is surrounded by an old graveyard and a lush green landscape.
Located in a lava field, this tiny black church is probably one of the most photographed in all of Iceland. A small wooden construction, Budakirkja Church, can be found in West Iceland on the lovely Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This area is just a two-hour drive from Reykjavík. You’ll definitely want to bring your camera when you visit this beautiful, famous church in Iceland.
With the nearby coast, snow-capped mountains and lack of any neighboring buildings, the unique Budakirkja Church stands as a striking, solitary figure among its stunning surroundings. Taking a trip to visit this distinctive church will also allow you to explore the beautiful Snæfellsnes Peninsula National Park. It is home to beaches, gorges, geothermal pools, volcanoes and more awe-inspiring geological features.
5. Heimaey Stave Church
The magnificent, wooden Heimaey Stave Church was gifted to Iceland from Norway as a commemoration of the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s conversion to Christianity. Built in 2000, the beautifully designed Stave Church (Stafkirkjan) sits on the island of Heimaey, just off Iceland’s South Coast in an archipelago known as the Westman Islands.
Heimaey Stave Church is a replica of the first church in Vestmannaeyjar. The original was built just before Iceland’s conversion to Christianity in 1000. Traditionally, masses are held at Heimaey Stave Church to mark the beginning and end of eruptions from the island’s volcano: Eldfell Volcano.
As the only inhabited island in the archipelago, Heimaey is well worth a visit. If you venture there in summer, you may be lucky enough to experience the wonderful summer festival held on the island. Heimaey is also a brilliant place to spot puffins!
6. Vik i Myrdal Church
The little white church with a red roof in Vik i Myrdal sits high on a hill overlooking the picturesque village and coast. Built in 1929, Vik i Myrdal Church is located in the southernmost village in Iceland. Its hilltop location in this remote seafront village gives visitors an astonishing panorama of the valley, mountains, and sea.
Vik is a well-established stop on the Ring Road for those exploring Iceland’s South Coast. There are many nearby attractions, including the volcanic black sand beach of Reynisfjara, home to dramatic basalt column stacks.
7. Bláa Kirkjan (The Blue Church)
Heading northeast now along the Ring Road (Route One), we travel past the Vatnajökull National Park. Our next church of note lies just off Route One between the town of Hofn and the city of Akureyri. This pastel blue church lies at the end of a rainbow path, making it a truly colorful spectacle!
Previously standing at Dvergasteinn farm, until it was moved to its coastal location in Seydisfjördur in 1882, the beautiful Blue Church is now a major Eastern Iceland cultural events venue. If you’re passing nearby, we recommend checking the concert schedule to enjoy the acoustics and unique atmosphere.
8. Vídimýrarkirkja Turf Church
The next stop on our Iceland famous church list is located only a few minutes off the Ring Road. Vídimýrarkirkja Turf Church is one of the earliest examples of the traditional turf-roofed churches found in Northern Iceland. Turf-roofed buildings used to be the traditional form of dwelling in Iceland. There are plenty of surviving turf churches dotted around the villages and countryside of North Iceland for you to see examples of this building technique.
There has been a church recorded on the site of Vídimýrarkirkja Turf Church since the 12th century. Although the present-day incarnation of the church was built in 1834, the clock tower dates back to the 15th century. Take a step back in time as you witness the unique beauty of Vídimýrarkirkja for yourself.
9. Grafarkirkja Turf Church
Want to visit the oldest church in Iceland? Interested to see more turf churches? Of all the churches in Iceland, Grafarkirkja is the place to be. This site is home to a magical turf-roofed church dating back to the 17th century.
When the church at Grafarkirkja was in a dilapidated state in the 1960s, the National Museum acquired it as a restoration project. The church was lovingly and carefully restored as a prime example of turf-roof construction. It retains many of its original features and is fascinating to visit.
10. Thingvallakirkja (Thingvellir Church)
Sitting in the natural oasis of Thingvellir National Park, the historic Thingvellir Church is a small and delightful church in a remote setting. Although the church is usually closed to the public, you may be able to visit at around 10am, when free guided tours of the park with the park ranger commence.
Located on Iceland’s Golden Circle route, this church is easy to drive to. Thingvellir Church was built in 1859 and has a cozy wooden interior, which resembles a cabin when the surroundings are snowy.
Ready to explore Iceland’s most famous churches?
From old turf-roofed buildings in remote villages to magnificent city center structures, the architecture of Iceland’s churches is beautifully varied! Enjoy visits to some of these magnificent and historic churches on your Iceland adventure by reserving your campervan now.
Traveling by campervan is the best way to explore the country. Stop off at magical sites along the way, including visiting your top picks on our Iceland-famous church list. Give yourself the ultimate freedom to explore by renting a campervan in Iceland and hitting the road!