All About Harpa Concert Hall in Iceland

Harpa concert hall in RYK

When was Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre built in Reykjavík? Why is it an important landmark? What musical acts and stage performances can you see at Harpa? Read on to learn more. 

If you’re taking a stroll around Reykjavík, you’ll likely stumble upon the award-winning Harpa Concert Hall. 

After all, it’s hard to miss.

 

 

It is one of the city’s most iconic buildings. A striking and decidedly modern structure that favours the use of glass and abstract shapes to make up its slanted walls. 

It is not only Icelanders and visitors who have taken notice. Numerous magazines have awarded Harpa prizes, including the likes of Gramophone and Business Destination. In 2013, Harpa also won the Mies van der Rohe European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture. 

Facilities at Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre / Facebook. Gamers at EVE Fanfest in 2018

The facilities themselves at Harpa are world-class, both for performers and businesses. Harpa has four main stages: 

Eldborg 


The first is its main hall, Eldborg, designed to streamline its acoustics and seat 1600 guests. Eldborg won the USITT Architecture Award in 2018. 

Silfurberg 

Waves by Harpa during extreme weather
Photo: Golli. Waves hitting Harpa.

Silfurberg conference hall can seat 840 people, making it an excellent choice for business events hosting large groups. Its technological prowess is particularly appealing. The stage is entirely moveable and the acoustics can be configured to a production’s liking. 

Norðurljós


Norðurljós recital stage is attached to Silfurberg, meaning the latter can expand or recede when required. It also boasts a movable stage and has viewing balconies that line its perimeter. The lighting set-up can also be changed quickly, allowing for stage managers and directors to create a variety of moods and aesthetics. 

Kaldalón


Kaldalón auditorium is the smallest of Harpa’s halls, and therefore better suited to quieter events and performances. In front of the stage is Norðurbryggja, an open area that allows for wonderful views of Harpa’s surrounding nature. 

When was Harpa Concert Hall built?

 


Plans to build Harpa extend far back to the early 2000s. It was thought that a fancy new building was needed to boost the capital’s cultural scene, as well as provide a makeover for its waterfront.

The actual construction came at a difficult time for Icelanders. In the midst of building, the country suffered through a financial crisis. In some circles, criticism was thrown at the project on account of Harpa’s perceived lavishness and expense. 

Harpa Concert Hall was completed in 2011, neatly coinciding with Iceland’s tourism boom. Since then, it has been one of the country’s most recognisable buildings, as well as a point of interest widely experienced by city sightseers.  

Where is Harpa Concert Hall located? 


Harpa is located on Austurbakka 2, 101 Reykjavík. Nearby areas include Old Harbour, Lækjartorg square, and Arnarhóll hill. Of course, behind the function hall lies nothing but ocean, and the omnipresent mountains that surround the Capital Region. 

Who designed Harpa Concert Hall? 


Harpa’s design can be traced back to Henning Larsen Architects, a Danish firm who worked closely with Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson. 

What can you see at Harpa Concert Hall? 

Harpa concert hall
Photo: Golli. A performance at Harpa Concert Hall.

Harpa Concert Hall has three residents, musical in-house acts, that are a permanent fixture. These do not include Múlinn Jazz club, who also happens to call Harpa home. 

Icelandic Symphony Orchestra


Having been founded in 1950, the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra is a cultural institution that has long held a significant place in local society. Today, they hold weekly concerts at Harpa Concert Hall from September – June. 

In the past, it has performed at the BBC Proms, New York’s Carnegie Hall, and Vienna’s Musikverein. 

Reykjavík Big Band

 

 

Fans of the golden oldies will want to catch a performance by the Reykjavík Big Band. Known for their musical expertise and great ability to swing, this beloved cultural institution has been entertaining Icelanders since first forming in 1992.

The band’s origins can be traced to Sæbjörn Jónsson, who worked as their main conductor until the start of the millennium. As of today, they are sponsored by both the City of Reykjavík and the Icelandic Music Fund. For the band’s 30th Anniversary, Maria Schneider stepped in as composer and conductor, having won many Grammy Awards in her own right.

The Reykjavík Big Band has won a handful of Icelandic Music Awards. In 2008, they were awarded Jazz Performers of the Year, and in 2011, won Best Jazz Album. Overall, the outfit has five well-received albums to their name. But not only that; they have also recorded music with some of the biggest names in local music, including ​​Bubbi Morthens and the Sálin band.

Icelandic Opera 

Russian invasion
Photo: Golli. Harpa in Ukrainian colours.

Founded in 1980, the Icelandic Opera was first staged at Gamla Bio – the Old Cinema – until moving to Harpa Concert Hall in 2011. After having settled in, the performers quickly made a name for themselves as one of the venue’s most sophisticated acts.

Each season, the Icelandic Opera puts on two productions, both as spectacular as each other. Aside from that, they also engage in various educational programs, as well as put on free lunchtime concerts under the name Kúnstpása.

International Acts at Harpa Concert Hall? 


Harpa Concert Hall also plays host to the many international acts who stop by Reykjavík while touring. This not only includes iconic musicians like Fatboy Slim and Patti Smith, but also comedians such as the UK’s Bill Bailey. 

What is the best way to experience Harpa Concert Hall? 


The best way to experience the Harpa is to grab yourself a seat at one of its many shows. That way, you will experience just what the facility has to offer, as well as catch a spot of entertainment in the meantime. 

If you’re not looking to see a show during your vacation, you can still visit Harpa simply to appreciate its unique aesthetics. 

What attractions are nearby Harpa Concert Hall? 

Esja
Photo: Golli. Esja mountain seen from Reykjavík

Glistening beneath the Midnight Sun, Harpa is one of the best places in Reykjavík to look upon its backdrop; Mount Esja. 

Mount Esja overlooks Faxafloi Bay, a startlingly blue stretch of water that separates the mountain from the city. In the winter, its slopes are blanketed with snow. In the summer, its brown-rock demeanour disguises the hiking paths and flora found there. 

If Esja was a standalone mountain, it might be one of the most iconic of its kind in the world. However, the neighbouring range behind it alludes to the vast open wilds Iceland is famous for.    

Sun Voyager
Photo: Golli. The Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavík

Only a short walk away is the Sun Voyager sculpture. This work, also on the coast, stands in testament to the early settlers who discovered Iceland, and decided to call it their home. 

Appreciating the Sun Voyager sculpture allows you to think about adventures of the past. In old, wooden longships, voyagers from the North braved tempestuous seas and a challenging new home to found Icelandic society. 

Given how modern Reykjavík appears today, it is strange to think about this nation’s primitive start.  

From Harpa to Downtown Reykjavík 

If you were to walk in the opposite direction from Harpa, you would find yourself in historic Old Harbour. This lovely district is easily recognisable thanks to the presence of the Odinn; the prize ship in the Coast Guard’s war-winning fleet, as well as the small fishing boats and yachts that dock around it. 

Hallgrímskirkja lutheran church in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík

Nearby to Old Harbour is Kolaportid, the city flea market. Boasting an eclectic array of goods; from military surplus to strange decoration and old books and restaurants, this market is popular among visitors seeking peculiar souvenirs. It’s also one of the most popular locations to taste-test Hakarl, or fermented shark, as well as a range of other Icelandic delicacies. 

If, from Harpa, you walk into the urban heart of the capital, you’ll arrive in downtown Reykjavík. Describing it as a concrete jungle might seem a tad overzealous, but it’s the closest to it you’ll find during your trip to Iceland. For anyone seeking shops, bars, and restaurants, Laugavegur street has you covered. From there, it’s only a quick jaunt to Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Church – Reykjavík’s most recognisable landmark. 

What events have been held at Harpa Concert Hall? 

Golli. Armed police outside Harpa during the Council of Europe Summit, May 2023

Many events have been held at Harpa Concert Hall since it first opened.

These include: the European Film Awards, the Food and Fun Festival, EVE Fanfest, and the Reykjavík Arts Festival. Many music festivals also make use of Harpa’s stages, such as Iceland Airwaves, Dark Days, Sónar Reykjavík, and Reykjavík Jazz Festival.

A variety of productions have also used Harpa as a shooting location, such as the hit US reality show, The Bachelor, and the film, Hearts of Stone.

In May 2023, Harpa welcomed world leaders as part of the Council of Europe Summit. This was one of the more globally important conferences to be held there, and required police escorts and road closures to ensure everyone’s safety. Still, Harpa was a fitting choice given the building’s importance to Icelandic culture.

After all, the venue has also hosted events as part of the National Day of Iceland and the Festival of the Sea.

Parking Fees Rise in Downtown Reykjavík

architecture downtown Reykjavík houses square

Higher parking fees took effect in central Reykjavík this month and have been criticised by some politicians and locals. The city has instituted paid parking on Sundays for the first time and extended the hours when parking is paid on other days.

In the P1 and P2 zones, parking will be paid until 9:00 PM throughout the week. It was previously free after 6:00 PM on weekdays and 4:00 PM on Saturdays. On Sundays, parking will be subject to fees between 10:00 AM and 9:00 PM.

Three-hour limit in P1 and P2

Guðbjörg Lilja Erlendsdóttir, Director of Transport at the City of Reykjavík, says this change was implemented to accommodate residents and shop owners in the city centre. “The aim of the fees is that as many people as possible can get parking when they need it. Therefore, in toll zone 1, where there are a lot of shops and services, we are also implementing a maximum time of three hours, and are extending the toll hours in zones 1 and 2. All this is done so that residents and visitors get more parking when they need it,” Guðbjörg told RÚV. It’s important to note that residents within paid parking zones can apply for residential cards, allowing them to park within applicable parking zones for free.

Fee increase to ISK 600 in P1

In the P1 zone, the cost of parking will also increase to ISK 600 [$4.31, €4.11] per hour, from the previous rate of ISK 430 [$2.95, €3.09] per hour. However, parking will now be free in zone P3 on Saturdays. A count revealed that parking spaces were better used on Sundays than Saturdays, so the change may help to better distribute weekend traffic in the city centre.

Independence Party politician Kjartan Magnússon criticised the steep price hike in the P1 zone, which amounts to some 40%. Guðbjörg says there has been relatively little response to the changes overall, however.

Don’t Feed Birds Bread in Summer, Says City of Reykjavík

Giving bread to ducklings on Reykjavík Pond could turn them into seagulls’ dinner, according to a notice from the City of Reykjavík. The pond (Tjörnin) is known for its vibrant birdlife, including ducks, swans, and geese, which both locals and tourists enjoy visiting. The city has asked visitors to stop bringing along bread for the birds, however, as it attracts seagulls to the pond, which are then more likely to feed on ducklings as well.

“With an increase in lesser black-backed gulls at Tjörnin comes an increase in the likelihood that newly hatched ducklings will become their prey,” the notice reads. “Ducks have enough food for themselves and their ducklings at Tjörnin throughout the summer and therefore it’s not necessary to feed them. A large quantity of bread can increase the organic pollution in the pond, especially because the number of birds increases dramatically when the gulls show up to the pond. The droppings from the birds, as well as the bread itself, increases organic pollution.”

While the city asks visitors to avoid feeding the ducks between May 15 and August 15, the same is not true for the rest of the year. “It’s safe to feed the birds in Tjörnin throughout the fall and winter months and such support is welcome, especially when the weather is at its coldest during midwinter, as food for ducks can be of short supply during that time of year.”

Rainbow on Skólavörðurstígur to Be Made Permanent

Skólavörðustígur Reykjavík pride LGBTQ+

The popular rainbow on Skólavörðustígur street in central Reykjavík, a symbol of the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights, will now become a permanent fixture. Reykjavík City Council approved a motion yesterday to redo the painted rainbow using wear-resistant material. A redesign of the street released in 2021 initially proposed scrapping the rainbow but was met with protest.

“It’s wonderful that the rainbow will keep its place permanently, as it is a symbol of the Human Rights City Reykjavík where everyone is welcome,” stated City Councillor Dóra Björt Guðjónsdóttir, chairman of the city’s Environment and Planning Council. “This monument is very important in the minds and hearts of all of us who fight for the human rights of queer people who have been under attack. A symbol of queerness and queer struggle truly belongs in the heart of Reykjavík.”

The proposed redesign of Skólavörðustígur, which was initially presented in 2021, will now be adapted around the rainbow. The LGBTQ+ community will be involved in consultations to ensure that the symbol of its struggle, the rainbow, continues to hold an important spot in this location.

The rainbow was first painted on Skólavörðustígur in 2015 and has since become an identifying symbol of central Reykjavík, with tourists and locals alike stopping at the site to take selfies. Álfur Birkir Bjarnason, director of the National Queer Organisation of Iceland (Samtökin ’78), welcomed the decision to make the rainbow permanent. “This is good news for all queer people in Iceland and cements one of Reykjavík’s most visited landmarks,” he stated.

Man Fires Shot in Downtown Reykjavík Bar

Dubliner Irish pub

No one was seriously injured when a shot was fired in a downtown Reykjavík bar yesterday evening. The Reykjavík Capital Area Police Department is still looking for the shooter.

Police received a report around 7:00 PM last night that a man had entered Dubliners Irish pub in downtown Reykjavík and fired a shot inside the establishment. The shot hit a wall by the bar and the man fled the scene immediately. The police dispatched a large team to the scene, including special forces and paramedics.

Though no serious injuries were sustained, two individuals received medical assistance: one for a graze on their head and another who was concerned about their hearing. Police found a weapon near the scene shortly afterwards.

Police encourage the shooter to turn himself in.

Twenty-Four People Connected to Downtown Knife Attack Released from Custody

police station Hlemmur

Police have released twenty-four people who were being held in connection with the knife attack in downtown Reykjavík last weekend, RÚV reports. Six individuals remain in custody.

A knife attack at the Bankastræti Club nightclub in Reykjavík last weekend left three young men hospitalised, following which, there was a spate of retaliatory crime against the suspects’ families. Petrol bombs were thrown into family members’ homes, windows were broken, and the suspects’ families were also subjected to harassment. Three people have now been arrested for throwing the petrol and smoke bombs.

See Also: Heightened Police Presence in Reykjavík This Weekend

DS Margeir Sveinsson noted that despite the fact that police have released two dozen people connected with the incident, these individuals are still legally considered defendants in the case. “But there’s no need or reason to keep them in custody any longer,” he said. “We’ve managed to determine what happened there and what everyone’s part was. Next step is to process all the data we have, that is, phone data etc. to get a handle on the lead-up [to the event]. But we don’t need to keep people in jail to do that.”

There was initially some fear that the wave of retaliatory crimes would continue, but there was no additional incident on Thursday night, which Margeir said he hoped was a good sign.

“Let’s hope that people will come to their senses and quit this nonsense and that things will calm down a bit.”

New Designer Shopping and Dining Centre Hafnartorg Gallery to Open Downtown

Downtown is about to get another designer facelift. Vísir reports that 11 new shops and restaurants, all of which will be housed in the newly anointed Hafnartorg Gallery, are expected to open in the next five weeks. The gallery is located between Arnarhóll and the Kolapórtið flea market and its opening signals the long-awaited conclusion to more than decade’s worth of development between the Harpa Concert Hall and Lækjartorg.

See Also: Sizeable Hotel Rises Beside Harpa

Downtown Reykjavík has been under near-constant construction since ground was first broken on Harpa in 2007. (After the Icelandic economy collapsed in 2008, construction halted on Harpa—and in Iceland in general—until the government decided to step in and fund the building’s completion, making it the only active construction project in Iceland for several years following the crash.) In recent years, this harbourside district has added high-end apartment buildings, a luxury hotel, a pedestrian mall, and a variety of shops. And the end is finally in sight: after Hafnartorg Gallery opens, Landsbankinn’s new building is the area’s last major construction project. It’s set to be completed by the end of the year. 

See Also: Iceland University of the Arts to Receive Permanent Home

Finnur Bogi Hannesson, who works for the real estate firm Reginn and acts as Hafnartorg’s development manager, says the all-indoor gallery will be easily accessible in inclement weather from the 1,100-car underground garage, and will also have entrances on several surrounding streets. He says that most of the restaurants are on pace to open slightly ahead of the stores, but the goal is for everything to open by early July.

The gallery will house the largest 66° North in Iceland, as well as the country’s first North Face location, the lifestyle store Casa, an 80-seat fine dining restaurant focused on contemporary Franco-Italian cooking, and seven smaller restaurants catering to a range of tastes. In the end, Hafartorg will be home to a total of 30 shops and restaurants.

Statues, Shows, Sand, and Street Theatre: Reykjavík Arts Festival Begins Today

taylor mac Reykjavík arts festival

An indoor, black sand beach, statues in Medieval suits of armour, drag shows, and street theatre are just a few examples of the many sights at this year’s Reykjavík Arts Festival, which kicks off today. Between June 1 and 19, visitors and residents of Reykjavík will be regaled with exhibitions, performances, concerts, and more, many of which are free.

The festival has already made itself visible in the city centre: in front of the iconic Hallgrímskirkja, a collection of six statues by Steinunn Þórarinsdóttir have been installed, three featuring reconstructions of Medieval armour from the Met collection. Musical highlights of the festival include performances by drag artist Taylor Mac and conductor and singer Barbara Hannigan, this Thursday to Saturday. On Saturday and Sunday, the Sun and Sea exhibition will take over Reykjavík Art Museum, filling the museum’s courtyard with black sand from Iceland’s beaches. The exhibition was awarded the Golden Lion at the 2019 Venice Biennale.

The Arts Festival’s opening party will take place at Iðnó this Friday evening, featuring stand-up comedy by Madame Tourette, live music from Latin American music group Los Bomboneros, and DJ Kraftgalli. All Reykjavík Arts Festival events at Iðnó are free to attend.

The full festival program is available on the festival website.

Where can I find the sculpture of a man with a big rock on his body?

Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat by Magnús Tómasson Reykjavík

The sculpture you’re looking for is the “Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat.” The sculpture, which combines the lower half of a person in a suit carrying a briefcase and a massive unhewn rock where the upper torso and head should be, was created by Icelandic sculptor Magnús Tómasson in 1994.

The sculpture used to be located in an alleyway off Lækjargata, perhaps a nod to the obscurity of the character it represents. But today it stands prominently at the northern end of Reykjavík’s central pond, Tjörnin, at the end of the long footbridge leading into city hall.

The statue is an ode to the faceless member of government, toiling away without much thanks or praise – hence the figure being reduced to a generic body of a business person, with any distinguishing features obscured by a large boulder.

Magnús has said the sculpture is his take on monuments to unknown soldiers that you can find in many countries around the world to pay tribute to people who have given their lives in defence of their countries. “There is no army in Iceland, but plenty of officials,” Magnús told Morgunblaðið newspaper about the work. “And I thought it appropriate that the infantry of the bureaucracy, the anonymous destinies of the lives of ordinary people, should have their monument.”

Magnús is also the creator of a large sculpture placed prominently outside Iceland’s international airport in Keflavík. The “Jet Nest” is a massive steel egg sitting atop a nest of basalt rock. Poking out of the cracked egg is the wing of a jet that resembles the beak of a bird.

Sirkus Reopens in Reykjavík After 15-Year Hiatus

Sirkus, the much-beloved and much-missed fixture of Reykjavík’s nightlife scene, reopened on Friday night after a 15-year hiatus, Vísir reports.

After closing the doors of its original location on Klapparstígur in Reykjavík, the club briefly opened an outpost in Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland, and also inspired a doppelgänger in the Faroe Islands.

In addition to being a music venue, as in the old days, Sirkus’ new incarnation on Lækjargata also serves North Indian food and has darts and a pool table in the basement.

Find out about upcoming DJ sets and shows on Sirkus’ Instagram page, here.