Sunday, March 29th 2020.


Jonathan Ramael
Visiting Iceland’s New Crown Jewel:
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre, Reykjavik


By Jonathan Ramael


Few countries took a harder hit from the 2008 bank collapse than Iceland – it’s not a secret. But ingenious as they always were, the Icelanders did more than just weather the storm. Even under overwhelming protest from neighboring Eyjafjallajökull, they took a major step on the path of recovery by finishing the first class Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre right on the capital’s shores. BBT Online attended the grand opening.

You can’t really compare Iceland with any other place in the world. That becomes very clear when you’re flying over it. Its rugged lava stone coastline stretches out for miles without the slightest trace of human activity. This mystical moss-covered lunar landscape becomes even more beautiful by car, gradually evolving into greener meadows, lakes and trees by the time you reach Reykjavik: a city of not much more than 100.000 inhabitants. It feels both like a charming, intimate small town and a thriving, pocket-sized modern capital. Containing surprisingly many quality restaurants, hotels, shops, museums, art galleries, bars and clubs, it’s an interesting place to wander through. When you combine this with all the nature trips, hot springs, spas, geysers, waterfalls and whale watching possibilities in the area, you get a ton of unique incentive opportunities on a relatively small area.

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Harpa: embodiment of a new beginning

Harpa’s name comes from both the string instrument and an Icelandic month in the old Nordic calendar marking the beginning of summer. People would gather around this time and celebrate surviving another harsh, dark winter. One needs not to look far to notice the symbolism here. The architects tried to capture the spirit of the island into the building’s design. The remarkable glass facade, reflecting the city and its surrounding landscape, is based on crystallized basalt columns, commonly found all over Iceland. The four main halls of this 28.000 m2 complex resemble the elements. The grand concert hall is glowing red, like the inside of one of the country’s multiple volcanoes. The second concert hall can change color and is called “Northern Lights”, after Iceland’s most splendid natural spectacle. The conference hall represents earth and looks like a typical Icelandic crystal that can only be found here. The last hall stands for water, after its blue springs and lagoons.

The whole building is full of natural light and while at first the asymmetrical architecture doesn’t really seem to have a purpose, it all falls together perfectly when you look at it as a whole. And we weren’t exactly the only ones appreciating the structure, because just now Harpa received one of the prestigious World Architecture Awards.

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Conference Qualities

Harpa can seat more than 1.600 people in its main auditorium, and has several smaller meeting and conference rooms. It has all the necessary means to host international conferences, conventions, trade shows and corporate meetings, including multiple spacious exhibition, reception and lounge areas. Due to its design it can host a variety of events simultaneously, but completely independent from each other. Harpa houses multiple restaurants, shops and bars and is also promoted as a social hub for locals and tourists. We had the pleasure to be one of the first lucky few to dine in its fourth floor Kolabrautin restaurant, offering majestic views over the city and the water. And to be fair, dinner was certainly as good as the view. Every plate was meticulously dressed and cooked. The restaurant can seat over 180 people. Having one of the town’s best kitchens right inside the conference venue is never a bad thing.

Several international events have already been confirmed. Its geographical location, right in the middle between the US east coast and Europe, gives it a tremendous advantage when it comes to organizing meetings involving members from both sides of the Atlantic. And to top things off: it’s just a five minute walk away from the city centre.

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What Harpa means for Iceland’s MICE Market

After the opening night in the grand hall – a musical spectacle combining a classical orchestra, opera singers and a children’s choir with performances of Icelandic rock and pop bands – we had a meeting with Höskuldor Asgeirsson, Harpa’s Managing Director. He talked about the significance of this new venue for Reykjavik.
‘Harpa vastly increases our marketing possibilities as a MICE destination. From May up to the end of 2011 alone, 130 conferences and meetings have already been booked. And that’s even without including the 230 concerts we are hosting during the same period. Finally we have the right infrastructure and first class facilities to match our country’s natural assets, because Iceland is, more than anything else, a unique natural destination. Ironically, since our currency devaluated sharply (it lost about half its value compared to the euro) two years ago, we can offer foreign organizations a much more competitive package. Traveling to and staying in Iceland is now a lot cheaper for people abroad. But Harpa is not just there for companies and associations. It’s important that the Reykjavik residents are included in the experience as well. It’s their Harpa. That’s why we’re holding an open day for everyone to discover it personally. It’s an important turning point for our economic recovery, and finishing this project and presenting it to the public is a crucial step to getting the nation’s entrepreneurial spirit back up.’


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Although somewhat unconventional and unknown, Iceland is by far one of the most pristine, unspoiled and downright beautiful patches of land on this globe. Its wild, ancient looking landscapes seem to come right out of a fairytale and are to fall in love with. And now the country possesses the facilities and the capacity to welcome large international conferences and conventions to come discover it for themselves. This reporter has certainly not set foot on Icelandic soil for the last time in his life.

For more info, surf to, send a mail to or call them on +354 569 6701


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