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  • Einar Páll Svavarsson

Reykjanesbær town by the airport


Main street in Reykjanesbær
Main street in Reykjanesbær

Reykjanesbær or Keflavík town is the main home town of the International Airport in Iceland and is also part of the Reykjanes Peninsula drive. Originally, Keflavik was a typical fishing farm and a fishing town from early on throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The town had a small harbor and a fish processing plant that was the livelihood of the residents. During World War II, the United States Army built a naval base for Iceland’s defense and to secure the northern Atlantic route. The Army also built an airfield, which later became Iceland’s international airport. The military base was in operation until September 2006. During that time, thousands of U.S. soldiers lived on the base, sometimes with more than 5,000 military and civilian staff and family members. At the same time, a large portion of the town's residents worked on the base. The U.S. military consequently became the biggest employer in Keflavík and Njarðvík, municipals that merged in Reykjanesbær in 1994.


Reykjanesbær town on the map of Iceland
Reykjanesbær town on the map of Iceland

A window to international culture

The Keflavík church in Reykjanesbær town
The Keflavík church in Reykjanesbær town

This development during and after World War II, gave Keflavík a very different cultural character compared to any other place in Iceland. With the close relation between Keflavík and the base, in addition to the radio and television broadcasting that begin in the sixties; Keflavík became Iceland’s window to international culture. The first major rock and roll band in Iceland, Hljómar, came from Keflavík and the town has always had a significant role in the Icelandic pop culture.


Reykjanesbær offers good service to its residents

The harbour at Reykjanesbær town
The harbour at Reykjanesbær town

Reykjanesbær provides good basic services to residents although currently the town is struggling financially. The town has preschools, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. Sports facilities, such as soccer fields and sports centers, are of high quality, and Reykjanesbær has one of the best swimming pools in Iceland. It also has an excellent music school since music has always been big in Reykjanesbær. The town has good soccer and basketball teams.


Old house in Keflavík town
Old house in Keflavík town

In the 70s, the town council in Keflavík initiated a radical change in heating services and built a geothermal heating plant at Svartsengi. In a few years, homes in Reykjanesbær switched from oil heat to renewable energy. All homes and businesses in Reykjanesbær now have geothermal heating.


A setback when the US base was shot down


Apartment buildings from the time of US naval base
Apartment buildings from the time of US naval base

Most of the houses in Reykjanesbær are single-family homes, although the town has many two- and three-family houses in addition to apartment buildings. Two major setbacks hit the town in recent decades. As a fishing town up until the 80s, the town lost many fishing vessels and fishing companies to other towns and villages. Consequently, the fishing industry declined in the last two decades of the 20th century. In 2006, the American government decided, on rather short notice, to shut down its Naval base. This was a big blow to the town’s economy, as the base had been its largest employer.

Reykjanesbær is the home of Keflavik airport
Reykjanesbær is the home of Keflavik airport

Fortunately, the role and activity level of the international airport changed after 2006, as tourism started to grow. The airport played a fundamental role in that development, and it is now the biggest employer in Reykjanesbær. In addition, many small businesses and services have developed around tourism in recent years.





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