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 developments in aviation allowed transatlantic flights on narrowbody twin jet planes with a stop in KEF. The main Icelandic airline, Icelandair (and, until March 2019, the ill-fated WOW air) have continually 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 airport is being expanded, but expect crowded gates and nowhere to sit. Especially since the double digits growth means one expansion is usually done two years after the next would have become necessary.
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. 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.
Naturally, 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.
Icelandair pioneered the "Iceland layover vacation" concept and advertises a stay at KEF on transatlantic routes as a feature rather than a bug.
- Icelandair - offers year-round and seasonal non-stop flights between North America and Europe, with an eligibility for a free layover of up to 7 nights in Iceland. Destinations served in North America include Anchorage (seasonal), Boston, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul (Seasonal), New York City (JFK and Newark), Orlando, Philadelphia (seasonal), Portland (seasonal), Seattle-Tacoma, and Washington, D.C. in the United States, in addition to Edmonton (seasonal), Montreal-Trudeau (seasonal), Toronto, and Vancouver in Canada . Flights to Europe stop at Amsterdam, Bergen, Berlin Brandenburg Airport, Billund(seasonal), Brussels, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Geneva, Glasgow, Gothenburg (seasonal), Hamburg (seasonal), Helsinki Airport, London (Gatwick and Heathrow), Madrid-Barajas (Seasonal), Manchester, Milan-Malpensa (seasonal), Munich, Oslo-Gardermoen, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Stockholm Arlanda, and Zurich. Icelandair does not offer complimentary meals, even on long international flights, unless certain premium options are booked. On-board options to purchase are expensive, so you would be well advised to bring something to eat.
- SAS - offers flights to/from Copenhagen and Oslo-Gardermoen. They also operate seasonally to Stockholm-Arlanda.
- Lufthansa and its subsidiary Eurowings - operate seasonal flights from Cologne/Bonn, Frankfurt Airport (year-round), Hamburg, and Munich Airport.
- Delta Air Lines - operates seasonal flights to/from Minneapolis/St. Paul and New York City-JFK.
- easyJet - offers flights to/from Edinburgh, London (Gatwick and Luton), and Manchester. They operate seasonally to Belfast (International) and Bristol.
- British Airways flies to London-Heathrow year round.
- American Airlines files to Philadelphia International Airport seasonally.
- United Airlines flies from Newark Liberty Airport seasonally.
- Air Canada (Rouge) flies seasonally from Montreal-Trudeau and Toronto-Pearson.
- airBaltic flies from Riga.
- British Airways flies from London-Heathrow
- Czech Airlines flies from Prague
- Air Greenland flies seasonally from Ilulissat, Kangerlussuaq, Nuuk
- Air Iceland Connect flies seasonally from Akureyri, Kangerlussuaq, Kulusuk
- Atlantic Airways flies from Vagar in the Faroe Islands.
- Austrian Airlines flies seasonally from Vienna Airport.
- Edelweiss Air flies seasonally from Zurich Airport, it is the subsidiary of Swiss International Airlines
- Finnair flies from Helsinki Vantaa
- Iberia flies from Madrid Barajas.
- Jet2.com flies seasonally from Birmingham, East Midlands, Glasgow, Leeds/Bradford, Manchester Airport, Newcastle upon Tyne.
- Neos flies seasonally from Verona.
- Norwegian Air Shuttle flies from Alicante, Barcelona El Prat, Gran Canaria, Oslo Airport, Gardermoen, Tenerife–South and seasonally from Bergen.
- S7 Airlines flies seasonally from Moscow-Domodedovo.
- Transavia flies from Amsterdam Schiphol and seasonally from Nantes and Paris-Orly, it is a subsidiary of Air France and KLM.
- TUI Airways flies seasonally from Bristol, London-Gatwick, Manchester
- Vueling flies seasonally from Barcelona El Prat
- Wizz Air flies Budapest, Dortmund, Gdańsk, Katowice, London–Luton, Milan-Malpensa, Vienna Airport, Warsaw–Chopin, Wrocław
Transport between the airport and Reykjavik, 50 kilometres (31 mi) away, is by the fast Route 41.
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.
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.
- Flybus. offers regular service to either the BSI bus terminal, just south of the city centre (45 minutes), or directly to Reykjavik 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. Due to the Covid 19 Pandemic Flybus ceased all service at the end of March 2020 until further notice. 2500 kr one-way or 4500 kr round trip.
- [formerly dead link] Gray Line Airport Express. offers regular service directly to Reykjavik 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. They cost 14,000 kr for 1–4 passengers and 19,000 kr for 5–8 passengers. Taxi drivers are generally honest and won't overcharge tourists.
There are dozens of car rental agencies operating, including Avis, Hertz, Budget and Europcar. 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.
There are no railways in Iceland.
The first railway in Iceland, 49 km long, is planned to link the airport to Reykjavik in order to relieve one of the country's busiest roads. The railway will accommodate high-speed trains of up to 250 km/h, which will enable the distance to be travelled within just 18 minutes. As of 2016, construction was to begin in 2020.
- Icelandair Saga Lounge. 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.
An ATM is available in the baggage claim area for you to take out króna.
There's free and unlimited WiFi.
Sleeping overnight in the airport is forbidden (no doubt all those late night departures and the crowded nature of the place) and there is no hotel on the grounds of the airport. However, there is a selection of hotels in nearby Keflavík.
- 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're booking a ticket through KEF, one option to consider is to book a longer stopover for a few days. Icelandair actively encourages this, allowing you to book a 1–7 day stopover for the same price as a ticket with a short layover. A stopover of a few days would allow you to travel around the island a bit and explore some of Iceland's beautiful scenery.