Photo by Bogdan Pasca
Keflavík (meaning ‘Driftwood Bay’) is a town in southwest Iceland, positioned along the Reykjanes coast, 47 kilometres (29 miles from Reykjavík.
In 1995, Keflavík merged with Njarðvík and Hafnir to form the municipality of Reykjanesbær, which has a collective population of 15,500. The town is referred to as both Keflavík and Reykjanesbær.
The best way to enjoy all that this area has to offer is on a self drive tour in Iceland or check out our wide selection of Reykjanes tours to explore the peninsula Keflavik is located on.
Founded in the 16th century by Scottish entrepreneurs, Keflavík developed on account of its fishing and fish processing facilities. Today, it is the fifth most populated town in Iceland but is often unjustly skipped by visitors, who pass the town only whilst travelling from the airport to Reykjavík.
In 1940, during World War II, US forces stationed in Iceland built what would later become Keflavík International Airport. At the time, the airstrip served as an important Allied military base, denying Germany a strategic hold on Iceland and serving as a crucial stopover for refuelling and logistical support. This base would become known as Naval Air Station Keflavík.
Throughout the Cold War, the base was used by NATO forces as a monitoring station for marine and submarine traffic in the Atlantic Ocean. This operation was later expanded by the US Air Force, who added radar capabilities, in-flight refuelling and marine rescue.
Soon, Naval Air Station Keflavik was, by all accounts, a 5,000 strong settlement. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the US began to peel back its operations until finally closing the base in 2006. The former barracks are now used as student accommodation.
The US presence at Keflavik was not without its controversies. Regular protests were held in Keflavik from 1960 until 1991 against the US base called the Keflavikurganga (The Keflavik Walk). Many Icelanders were simply against NATO membership and any form of militarisation, preferring Iceland to stay neutral.
Whatever the faults of the base, the Americans did invest a wealth of money into Iceland, which contributed greatly to the country’s development and infrastructure.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Superjet International. No edits made.
In the sixties and seventies, Keflavík was renowned for being home to Iceland’s best musicians, having been introduced to the Americana rock n’ roll scene by US military radio waves that reached outside the US base and into the town. This led to the nicknames “the Beatle town” and “the Liverpool of the North”, firmly making the town Iceland’s “Capital of Rock n’ Roll”.
The Icelandic Museum of Rock ‘n’ Roll goes into the history of Icelandic music as a whole, incorporating punk, pop and folk exhibitions, as well as information boards about native musicians like Björk, Sigur Rós and Of Monsters and Men.
The museum has its own cinema dedicated to the country’s music scene and shows documentaries such as ‘Screaming Masterpiece’ by Ari Alexander, which explores why Iceland—a country whose artistic reputation was predominantly built on its literature—became known the world over for its booming music scene.
One cannot mention museums in Keflavik without also discussing “Viking World.” Five exhibitions teach visitors about the history, traditions and customs of the Vikings, delving into their exploratory heritage, the Norse religions and their intrinsic connection to Iceland. A real-life Viking ship is available to walk around and observe from every angle.
There is also a settlement zoo that displays the animal breeds Vikings would have reared, as well as a traditional Icelandic turf house.