Keflavík International Airport (KEF) is Iceland’s only international airport and the port of arrival for the vast majority of visitors to the country. In 2016 alone, almost seven million passengers went through its gates.
Photo above from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Simon Law. No edits made.
Keflavík International Airport is a relic from the ‘invasion of Iceland’ in World War II, when Allied troops took over the island nation following the defeat of its colonial ruler, Denmark, at the hands of the Nazis.
The British laid out a landing strip in the town of Garður, but considering Iceland’s incredibly strategic position in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, one strip was not quite enough.
After taking control of the ‘occupation’, US troops constructed and opened two airfields for military purposes in 1942 and 1943. Though they returned the property after the war, the United States reclaimed it in 1951 after a controversial defence alliance with Iceland.
This pact, and the general joining of NATO in 1949, caused decades of national protest, comparable to the ‘Women’s Day Off’ marches in 1975 and the ‘Kitchenware Revolution’ which followed the 2008 economic crash. The circumstances of it, however, also allowed decades of development at Keflavík Airport.
The airport first started to separate civilian and military use in 1987, with the opening of the Leifur Eríksson Terminal. Named after the first European to settle the Americas, it would go on to handle all the guests coming to or leaving Iceland.
The arrangement that the US would provide Iceland’s defences continues to this day, but their permanent bases at Keflavík were left at the expiration of the treaty in 2006. The airport was thus moved into full control of Icelanders and has expanded as a civilian hub ever since.
Keflavík International is located on the tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland’s south-westernmost region. The drive to the capital city of Reykjavík is only about forty-five minutes, and there is a bus service that continuously runs between the locations, day and night.
This service provides guests with the option to stop at the Blue Lagoon en route in either direction, the iconic health spa renowned for its healing azure waters. The lagoon sits between the airport and the capital, refreshing guests after a long flight, or revitalising them in preparation for one.
The airport itself has all the modern amenities one would expect from a port that experiences so much traffic. It has restaurants, bars and cafés, banks and money transfers, car rental options available, a smoking area and, of course, many options for duty-free shopping.
Considering the price of and lack of availability of alcohol in Iceland, it is the best place to stock up on any tipple desired for your trip. Otherwise, you will have to locate specialist alcohol shops, which have limited opening hours, are sparse in the remote regions of the country, and have high taxes and duty.
The main airlines that arrive at and depart from Keflavík are the two national carriers, the prestigious Icelandair and budget airline WOW. Over thirty different carriers have chartered flights to the port, however, which head to over ninety different destinations. This is only ever increasing, with new travel routes emerging as Iceland’s popularity continues to skyrocket.