Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavík

Steven at the Harpa Concert hall in Reykjavik
Steven at the Harpa Concert hall in Reykjavik

The concert hall Harpa is one of the buildings in downtown Reykjavík that are definitely worth a visit. It is a concert and conference hall that looks stunning. The architecture of this building has been rewarded with many nominations and prizes. It has attracted more than 10 million guests since its opening on May 4th, 2011.

Steven at the Harpa Concert hall in Reykjavik
Steven at the Harpa Concert hall in Reykjavik

Turbulent History of Harpa Concert Hall and the Icelandic Bank Crash

Harpa Concert Hall represents more than some architectural beauty for many Icelanders. Much more…

The construction of Harpa Concert Hall started in 2007. Many Icelanders had been waiting for a concert hall for quite some time and finally saw their dreams come true. But then, unfortunately, the main banks in Iceland crashed… Leaving Iceland in a financial crisis that would last 3 years. Many parties involved in the construction of Harpa, went bankrupt. The dream of a cultural gem in Reykjavík was starting to crumble… 

Luckily three months into the Financial crisis, the minister of culture decided to finish Harpa using government funds. The construction of this building has long been the only construction site in Iceland because of the financial crisis. By 2011 Harpa was finally finished. Iceland was also getting more and more tourists every year! Tourism brought in a major income for Iceland and it is also a big part of the reason the economy revived. 

For many Icelanders, Harpa is, in a way, the symbol of the fight against the economic crisis. When everything started to fall apart, the nation showed great determination and perseverance to turn it around. Resulting, of course, in a huge success!

Harpa’s Design

The design of Harpa has won many awards and prizes in the architectural world. The design itself was inspired by the northern lights and the typical Icelandic scenery including basalt rocks. The building is completely surrounded by glass. This glass is shaped in a certain way (twelve-sided polyhedron with rhomboidal and hexagonal faces 🤓). The shapes of the glass make the building stand out even more! This special facade creates a crystalline structure reflecting the natural light. At night, the facade is illuminated by LED lights. The intensity of the light and the color can all be adjusted! 

Harpa Concert hall in Reykjavik
Harpa Concert hall in Reykjavik

Harpa had to respond dynamically to the weather in Iceland as it is very unpredictable. Even the season of the year makes a huge difference if you have much sunlight or practically none. That’s why the building had to look gorgeous in any (weather) condition. This big assignment was of course not just in the hands of one person. There was a need for field specialists for all the different important topics.

The acoustic design, design of the theaters, and sound equipment were done by Artec Consultants Inc. An American company that specialized in this. The south facade was designed by Ólafur Elíasson. He also developed the principle of the other facades and the roof together with Henning Larsen Architects and Batteríið Architects.

A Visit to Reykjavik’s Concert Hall Harpa Today

There is no entrance fee. You can look around the building and, also important, you may use the restrooms here. Of course, if you would like to experience a musical concert, you will have to pay for the tickets. We, however, didn’t attend any concerts here, we just explored the inside of the building and admired the architecture of the building on the outside.

Harpa is the home of Iceland’s National Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera, and the Reykjavik Big Band. Many important musicians have had the honor to play in the concert halls of Harpa. For an overview of events at Harpa, check the official Harpa website.

On the square in front of Harpa, there is a shallow pool with a statue in it. The statue remembers Erling Blöndal Berngtsson. He was a masterful cellist. He even gave his first concert at the age of four! The statue’s former location was on the round-about near Háskólabíó cinema. This used to be the place where the National Symphony Orchestra played for many years. When Harpa was constructed, the widow of Erling Blöndal Berngtsson requested the move of the statue to Harpa. This was said to be Erling’s dying wish.

Outside of the Harpa Concert hall in Reykjavik
Outside of the Harpa Concert hall in Reykjavik

How Iceland chose the Name Harpa

When Iceland was constructing this giant building, there was still something important missing… a name. Icelanders sent in over 4000 proposals for the name and eventually, the name Harpa was chosen at the end of 2009. The name had to be Icelandic, but also easily articulated in most languages. And I think we can be happy for that as non-Icelandic speakers. 😉

The Icelandic word Harpa can mean different things. Some assume it’s named after the musical instrument “harp”. Others think it’s named after the first month of summer. All we know for sure is that this building is a gem, inside and out!

Visiting Harpa and Reykjavík

As already mentioned before, Harpa is one of the buildings worth visiting in Reykjavík. If you want to discover more about Reykjavík, check out our guide. In our guide to Reykjavík we’ll introduce you to the best places of the city. For example all buildings and churches you must see, museums…

Check our guide to the best places in Reykjavík

By Elke

Hi, I’m Elke 👋! I am Steven’s better half! 😉 I write articles for our travel blog. I love writing about our trips because I always relive everything and fall back in love with the places we visited 🥰. I also fell in love with the smartest guy I know. So if I’m being honest, I’m just writing articles and Steven does most of the magic with our website. I’m not great with all the tech-lingo, but hey I’m getting there! 😄 Hope I’ll have the pleasure to get to know you too!

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