Originally built by the US in preparation for the battle against the Nazis in Denmark in 1942, the airport had been originally one of the NATO bases from 1952 to 2006, during which airside infrastructure such as two long intersecting runways had been built. Commercial operation started in 1987 with the opening of the Leifur Eríksson Terminal Building, named after the first European Explorer to settle the Americas. Since the departure of US and NATO forces its military facility has been taken over by the Icelandic Coast Guard, the only "military" force Iceland maintains.
While it was a rather sleepy airport until the 2000s, this airport has become a rapidly growing hub for transatlantic flights, especially for discount travellers and smaller cities. The banking crisis in Iceland after 2008 led to exchange rates favorable to tourism and a boom in visitor numbers, and developments in aviation allowed transatlantic flights on narrowbody twin jet planes with a stop in KEF. Iceland's flag carrier Icelandair and low-cost carrier PLAY (formed by the former executives of the ill-fated WOW air) has used the central location in the Atlantic for destination networks on both sides of the pond, but European carriers now also link KEF to their bases on the continent, and even North American carriers have started mostly seasonal flights.
This rapid growth means that the terminal is stretched way beyond its capacity. The terminal building is constantly being expanded, yet is quickly outpaced by the double digit annual growth of tourists entering Iceland. Expect crowded gates and nowhere to sit, especially as multiple flights arrive and depart within a short timespan during the morning and evening hours.
While the airport is often marketed as "Reykjavík" (no doubt in part because nobody outside of Iceland knows any other town in the country) it is actually some 50 km (31 mi) from the town and Reykjavík actually has its own airport that sees domestic flights and flights to the Faroes or Greenland, although the former also has seasonal flights to Iceland's largest city outside the capital region, Akureyri at the other side of the island nation. To avoid confusion, it might help to use the IATA code KEF when referring to the airport. While this split of domestic and international airport might seem awkward and indeed is a problem for Icelanders arriving home from vacation, it gives you a good opportunity to check out the capital region before heading out on a domestic flight.
Keflavik has one terminal building that is divided into three concourses connected with two plazas in a somewhat spartan layout.
Arrivals and check-in are handled at Level 1. Afterwards, passengers take a flight of stairs or escalators between the entrance to arrivals and departures to the security check at Level 2. Gates A1 and A2 are at the east end of the north plaza, while the rest are spread along a concourse to the south plaza. Staying at the same level will lead you to C Gates, while taking a left at the other end of the concourse will take you to border control for departures and arrivals. From there, there is an escalator that takes you down to D Gates, where duty free shops and a food court await before your exit from Iceland. Gates D utilize essentially the same gates as C, but is used for boarding non-Schengen flights.
Keep in mind that the only sitting area to wait your flight are at the north plaza and the C and D Gates. There are only few seats at the A gates and the south plaza.
If you are travelling out of Schengen and wish to claim a tax refund, you can do so before checking in your luggage at the tax refund office opposite the exit.
Passengers arriving from Non-Schengen countries alight at Concourse D and are directed to immigration. From there, passengers can transfer to other Schengen flights from gates A and C.
If Iceland is your final destination, walk to the North Plaza and take the escalators on the west side surrounded by glass walls to arrivals and baggage claim. There is a duty free shop there which offers a rare opportunity to stock up on alcoholic beverages which are so significantly cheap compared to outside the airport, that even arriving Icelanders do so too!
Being one of the emerging countries in terms of tourism, Iceland is well connected by flights from many major cities in North America and Europe, both year-round and seasonal. Naturally, Iceland's flag carrier, Icelandair offers the most connections at this airport. However, there is a good selection of European and U.S. carriers that have flights to their hubs and others you might not even think of. In 2021 some of the people formerly involved with the ill fated Wow air founded a new airline called Play which plans to pick up where Wow left off and is offering a handful of destinations from KEF.
Icelandair pioneered the "Iceland layover vacation" concept and advertises a stay at KEF on transatlantic routes as a feature rather than a bug.
A ride between the airport and Reykjavík, 50 kilometres (31 mi) away, is by the fast Route 41 and will take you there in 45 minutes. For the Blue Lagoon, take the exit to Route 43 and you will be there in 10 minutes. Keflavík is 5 km away.
Plenty of parking space is available both for short term and long term. There are two short term lots, one adjacent to the Departure Entrance (P1) and one to the Arrival Entrance (P2). The first 15 minutes are free, otherwise 500 ISK for the first hour and 750 ISK for the following hours. The long term parking lot is a short walk away from the terminal building and costs 1750 ISK per day for the first week, 1350 ISK per day for the second week, and 1200 ISK per day thereafter; pre-booking at the airport website will give you a discount.
Buses to Reykjavík are operated by Airport Express, Flybus, and Strætó bs. Some buses will come 30–45 minutes after the arrival of any flight. This includes delayed flights and flights in the middle of the night. While you won't have to pre-book the Stræto bus, it comes highly recommended to pre-book if you want to go with one of the other companies. As Stræto does not run at all times, you should check schedules before deciding on an option. See also Airport Shuttle. There is also a bus to Keflavík, with its stop just outside the terminal (ask the information desk).
Strætó's bus stop is quite a distant walk through the Parking Lot P1. Other scheduled buses drop off and pick up at the scheduled bus lot adjacent to arrivals, opposite Parking Lot P2. Private coaches pick up and drop of passengers at a dedicated area, a 200-meter walk away from arrivals until behind the car rental parking lot.
The buses have a timetable adapted to the flight schedule. They go to and from the Reykjavik bus terminal, taking around 45 minutes. To get to the domestic airport a bus change is needed at the bus terminal.
- Flybus. offers regular service to either the BSI bus terminal, just south of the city centre (45 minutes), or directly to Reykjavík hotels with advance notice to the driver (3000 kr one-way or 5500 kr round-trip). Buses leave the airport as early as 03:30. Tickets can be bought either at the airport or online. 2500 kr one-way or 4500 kr round trip.
- Gray Line Airport Express. offers regular service directly to Reykjavík hotels with advance notice to the driver. The journey takes 45 min. Tickets can be bought either at the airport or online. 4000 kr one-way or 7110 kr round trip.
- Iceland Bus 55 (The bus stop is called FLE at the airport.). Strætó route 55 offers regular service between the airport and BSÍ bus terminal in central Reykjavik though the coach companies can be cheaper round-trip. Unlike the other buses this one has intermediate stops but the fare is cheaper. 1920 kr.
- Airport direct. They offer service to Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon and hotel transfers. All buses are equipped with free Wi-Fi. from ISK 3,290 one way to Reykjavik.
Taxis are available outside the terminal. A taxi to Reykjavík costs 14,000 ISK for 1–4 passengers and 19,000 ISK for 5–8 passengers. Taxi drivers are generally honest and won't overcharge tourists.
Avis, Hertz, Budget and Europcar have booths in the airport, where you can pick up your car at the parking lot a short walk away pass the arrivals hall and P2 Parking lot. However do note that your drop-off place for the rented car may be at their own parking lots, usually quite distant from the terminal building. Your rental provider will usually offer transportation. Other car rental providers, especially camper vans, also have offices within the airport grounds or at Keflavík, where the vehicle can also be picked up at the car rental parking lot for a slight premium.
A much cheaper option would be to rent from an offsite location, such as in Keflavik, through a couple rental offices at the east side of the airport, or even at downtown Reykjavik, where many also offer an option to bring the car to your hotel.
On some roads, especially in the Interior of Iceland, only 4x4 vehicles are permitted by law (and some roads require a real off-road vehicle). These include highways designated with the letter F.
A pamphlet about this and rules of the Icelandic roads, provided by the government, will usually be given out whenever you rent a specific type of car.
A walk from the security check to the furthest C gates should take around 20 minutes and at least 30 minutes if heading to the furthest D gates due to border control.
The airport can be especially busy however during the prime transit time of early morning or early evening, and the narrow stairs and escalators unfortunately do not help in swiftly passing through security check and hopping between levels.
There is a wide sitting area at the North Plaza and also at each of the C and D gates; however during the morning and late afternoon when most flights take off and land, these can easily be packed to the gills, even the restaurants too.
- 1 Icelandair Saga Lounge (Level 3 South Plaza, access from near gate A15). The only lounge within the airport, but aesthetically well designed with minimalist Nordic furniture and bright wooden floor. Even if you don't qualify for free lounge access, this is one of the more pleasant ways to spend a layover long enough to require killing time but too short - or too late at night - to take the bus to Reykjavik.
Eat and drink
The duty free shop is one of the cheapest places in Iceland to buy alcohol which is why many locals grab a beer or two before heading out. There are also all manner of Icelandic or international foods on sale. Nothing in Iceland is cheap compared to most of the rest of the world and the airport is naturally no exception. Still, fish is caught locally and thus less expensive, relatively speaking, and often excellent.
- Nord (after security control). One of the largest restaurants in the building, offering Nordic specials both for dine-in and takeaway, like soups, seafood sandwiches, tender meat and fish, and pizzas. Top it off with several beer selections or something from the wine library. Mains 2200-5000 ISK, Sandwiches up to kr 2000, beers kr 500-1000, wine kr 900-2000 per glass.
- Mathús (Main building - Level 2 (after security), South building - Level 1 (after passport control behind Gate D16)). Self-service dining with quick bites like hot dogs, fish and chips and burgers, in addition to many takeaway options like soft drinks, sandwiches, and salads. Food kr 500-1500.
- Loksins Bar (North Building Near Gates A1 & A2, South Building Level 1 near Gate D31). Savor a selection of cocktails and liquor mixed from the bartenders, or taste the beer from the local breweries of Iceland. Accompany the drinks with assorted tapas. Tapas kr 1300, beers from kr 1000, cocktails from kr 1500.
- Joe and the Juice, Departure and arrival hall - Level 1 (before security) North Plaza Level 2 (after security) South Plaza Level 1 (after passport control). Delicious juices, yummy but nourishing sandwiches, shakes and freshly ground coffee on demand. Small (12oz) kr 850 (Airside) kr 990 (Landside), large (16oz) kr 1100 (Airside) kr 1190 (landside).
- Hjá Höllu (South Plaza Level 2 (near C gates)). Oven-baked pizza and healthy snacks to satisfy your palate, end it with coffee, wine, or tap beer. Happy hour from 1 to 3 pm. Pizzas 12" kr 2500-3000, 1/4 slice kr 600-800. Drinks from kr 490.
- Kvikk Café (South Plaza Level 2 (near C - gates)). Self explanatory, a café selling grab-and-go food items. Warm menus include sandwiches, muffin, and pastry. Pastries from kr 400, Paninis from kr 1090, wine from kr 990.
While Iceland is part of the Schengen area, it is not part of the EU and thus duty free shopping is available to arriving and departing passengers from all countries. As many items can actually be cheaper than the typical Icelandic price, especially alcohol, Icelanders tend to stock up on these upon coming down to the arrival hall.
An ATM is available in the baggage claim area for you to take out Icelandic króna.
- Blue Lagoon (North Plaza Level 2 or at Duty Free Shop). Skincare products made of silica, algae, and salt minerals from the namesake hot spring.
- 66North (North Plaza Level 2, South Plaza Level 1). Range of stylish outdoor clothing that can withstand the most extreme weather conditions, not unlike what Icelanders usually experience.
- Rammagerðin - Iceland Gift Store (North Plaza Level 2, South Plaza Level 1). Bring home a piece of Iceland with you in the form of woven clothing, wooden ornaments, or the typical souvenir like postcards and fridge magnets.
- Optical Studio (North Plaza Level 2). The place to get both sunglasses and prescription glasses, the latter of which is promised to be finished in 15 minutes including the eye exam.
- Pure Food Hall, North Plaza Level 2. Small artisanal food shop featuring Icelandic gourmet selections you can take home.
- Penninn Eydmundson, North Plaza Level 2, South Plaza Level 1. A selection of books and magazines in several languages, also featuring travel equipment & suitcases.
There's free and unlimited WiFi with the hotspot name Kefairport-FreeWifi. No password is needed. Power sockets for laptops and charging can be found within the seating areas.
Even though getting through the airport involves using the stairs once or twice, depending on your departure gate, there is always an adjacent lift for the disabled. All the restrooms are also disabled-friendly.
There is only one smoking area behind the Penninn Eymundsson book store near the toilets at the North Plaza. Once you are at the D gates after border control, you unfortunately cannot return past the immigration to head there again.
Sleeping overnight in the airport is forbidden (no doubt all those late night departures and the crowded nature of the place). There is one hotel within the airport ground.
- 1 Aurora Hotel at Reykjavik-Keflavik, Blikavöllur 2 (West side of airport, next to Go Car Rental Parking Lot), ☏ . The only hotel within the airport grounds. Each room comes with continental breakfast and WiFi. From 10,000 ISK per night.
A couple accommodation options can also be found at the airport's east side in what used to be Naval Air Station Keflavik, ideal for a quick nap or your final night after a trip around the country, especially if your flight is leaving early. If you are heading to this area by bus, take number 55 and get off at Bogabraut or Keilir, otherwise take the shuttle offered by the respective hotel.
- 2 Base Hotel by Keflavik Airport, Valhallarbraut 756 (Bogabraut bus stop), ☏ . A colorful hotel converted from an old military barrack. Dorm beds with shared bathrooms also available, perfect for groups. In-house pub, table tennis, or billiard table for get-together. Airport shuttle available for 600 ISK before noon. From 7000 ISK.
- 3 Hotel Asbru, Valhallarbraut 761, ☏ . Triple, quadruple, or adjoined rooms for family also available. From 12000 ISK.
- 4 BB Hotel Keflavik Airport, Keilisbraut 762, 235 Reykjanesbær, ☏ . A modern hotel with large rooms. Free shuttle to/from the airport. From 15000 ISK.
- 5 Eldey Airport Hotel, Lindarbraut 634, 235 Reykjanesbæ, ☏ . A medium-size hotel with bright interior and wooden furniture. Breakfast available from 4AM.
- 6 Start Hostel, Lindarbraut 637, 262 Reykjanesbær, ☏ . Contains both rooms with private bathrooms or gender-separated dorm with shared bathroom and a private locker. Breakfast buffet from 3:30AM. Huge sitting area for socializing. From 7000 ISK.
There are also some accommodation options in nearby Keflavík and Njarvík.
- Keflavík is the next town.
- Blue Lagoon is 20 minutes drive away.
- Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is close enough for a visit by bus if your layover is long enough.
If you are flying through KEF, consider extending your layover from just a few hours to a few days in order to see Iceland's magnificent and unforgettable landscape. Icelandair actively encourages this, allowing you to book a stopover for up to 7 days for the same price as a ticket with a short layover.