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.

Repairs Begin on Church of Akureyri

Akureyri Iceland

Repairs are finally underway on the Church of Akureyri following vandalism to the building facade two and a half years ago. RÚV reports that repairs are expected to cost over ISK 20 million ($163,863/€147,366).

Residents in the North Iceland town of Akureyri woke one morning in January 2017 to find that four churches had been defaced with hateful slogans and symbols. While it wasn’t difficult for the graffiti to be painted over at three of the churches, the stone cladding of the Church of Akureyri absorbed the paint, making it impossible to effectively cover the damage without major repairs. The church is a major local landmark, having been designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, the same architect who designed Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík. As such, its exterior has protected status, making it both complicated and time-consuming to locate the right materials to repair it. Church leaders are now waiting for 14.5 tons of special stone cladding to be delivered so that they can begin repairs in earnest.

“The material is coming, in part, from Norway,” says Gestur Jónsson, the treasurer of the Church of Akureyri council. The council will receive feldspar and obsidian from abroad, but still needs to source Iceland spar as well, in order to match the blend of stones that was originally used in the siding. Once the church acquires the proper mix of stone, master masons will remove the vandalised siding from the church walls and replace it with the new.

The expense of replacing the stone siding will not be funded using parishioners’ congregation taxes. So far, the Church of Akureyri has received ISK 9.5 million ($77,907/69,887) to fund repairs, which will cover repairs to half of the church, including the towers and the southern side. The council’s plan is to continue raising funds and be able to finish repairs to the northern side of the church next summer, thereby avoiding any major visible differences to the texture of the stone.