Keflavík – A Historical Town of Iceland


Basic Information

Keflavík, a small beautiful town is located in southwest Iceland positioned along the Reykjanes Peninsula. Keflavík (meaning ‘Driftwood Bay’) is a home to Keflavík Airport that marks the footprints of travelers coming from around the world. You can visit this colorful town on your way to or from Reykjavík. You can discover a few cafes, shops, restaurants and museums in the town to make your trip memorable. In the year 1995, Keflavík merged with Njarðvík and Hafnir towns to form the municipality of Reykjanesbær. With a collective population of 15,500, this town is referred to as both Keflavík and Reykjanesbær.

Keflavik village in Reykjanes Peninsula

History of Keflavík

Founded by Scottish entrepreneurs in the 16th century, Keflavík was initially developed as a fishing port and fish processing center. It is the fifth populated town in Iceland and still lacks in the number of travelers, even though it is located so close to the airport. During the Second World War and the Cold War, the Keflavík Iceland Naval Air Station played a vital role in many operations. There is a vast history behind this town that makes its role quite important in the survival and development of Iceland and the town itself. In 1940, United States forces stationed in Iceland built a base that later became Keflavík International Airport. During that time, the airstrip was used as an important Allied military base that denied Germany a strategic hold on Iceland. It also served as a critical stopover for refueling and logistical support.

At that time, it was known as Naval Air Station Keflavík. During the Cold War, NATO forces used this naval base as a monitoring station for water traffic in the Atlantic Ocean. This maritime operation was later expanded by the US Air Force. They added their radar capabilities, in-flight refueling as well as marine rescue. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States began to stop its operations. In 2006, the Keflavík naval air base was finally closed. The barracks that were used during the cold war are now used as accommodation for students, or have been changed into hotels and guesthouses. 

The US presence at the Keflavik town was also controversial. The discrimination started during the early days when many women fell for the Americans stationed there. A significant number of Icelanders were also against NATO membership and the militarization of the town. The presence of Americans at that time led to the investment of money into Iceland, contributing to the development and infrastructure of Iceland.

airplane in Keflavik Airport

Culture of Keflavík

Keflavík was well-known for being home to the country’s best musicians.  The Americana rock n’ roll scene by US military personnel was also introduced in Keflavík. For this reason, the town is also known by nicknames, “the Beatle town” and “the Liverpool of the North”. It is widely known as Iceland’s “Capital of Rock n’ Roll”. The Icelandic Museum of Rock ‘n’ Roll incorporates punk, pop, and folk exhibitions portraying the history of Icelandic music as a whole. It includes information boards about several native musicians including Björk and Sigur Rós.

The museum includes a cinema that is dedicated to the country’s music scene. It plays popular documentaries such as ‘Screaming Masterpiece’ by Ari Alexander. This documentary discovers why Iceland, an artistic country that was built on its literature, became known to the world for its thriving music scene. Every museum of the Keflavik discusses the “Viking World.” Five exhibitions of the museums teach visitors about the history, traditions, and customs of the Vikings in Iceland, exploring their heritage and their intrinsic connection to Iceland. You will also find a settlement zoo that displays the animal breeds Vikings would have raised and traditional Icelandic turf houses.

Way to Reach Keflavík Town

Located at a distance of 47 kilometers from Reykjavík, the Keflavík town can be accessed easily. The village resides west of Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. 

Because of its convenient location close to the International Airport of Iceland, many travelers choose to book accommodation in Keflavik for their whole stay in Iceland. We do not recommend doing that since there is not that much going on in the town, very few guided tours and activities leave from the town and if you are going to go on self driving day tours, you will always have to start your day with driving to Reykjavik and start your self driving trip from there. We always recommend that if you would like to stay in one place for your whole stay in Iceland, you should stay in Reykjavik. However, Keflavik is a great location to stay after reaching Iceland after a long flight or on your last day if you have an early flight home. 

Keflavik village in Reykjanes Peninsula

Keflavík on a map

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