The NANOGrav collaboration has recently observed first evidence of a grav- itational wave background (GWB) in pulsar timing data. Here we explore the possibility that this GWB is due to new physics, and show that the signal can be well fit also with peaked spectra like the ones expected from phase transitions (PTs) or from the dynamics of axion like particles (ALPs) in the early universe. We find that a good fit to the data is obtained for a very strong PT at temperatures around 1 MeV to 10 MeV. For the ALP explanation the best fit is obtained for a decay constant of F ≈ 5 × 10^17 GeV and an axion mass of 2 × 10^−13 eV. We also illustrate the ability of PTAs to constrain the parameter space of these models, and obtain limits which are already comparable to other cosmological bounds.