Wondering Why Icelandic People Look Asian? Here’s Why

Iceland has a rich culture that is fascinating and unique. Some people say that the residents of Iceland have facial features that resemble people from Asia. While this may be true of some Icelanders, it’s important to note that it isn’t true of all them. Nevertheless, why is it that at least some Icelanders have facial features that are characteristically Asian?

There are multiple reasons why some Icelandic people have facial features that resemble people from certain Asian countries. Scientific research indicates that some Icelandic people have a small amount of DNA that genetically connects them to certain ancient Asian people groups, like the Denisovans.

It’s also important to keep in mind that some modern people from Asian countries have moved to Iceland.

Icelandic man asian
Man with Icelandic flag painted on his face

Additionally, some Inuit people, who have resided in the Arctic regions of the world for centuries, reside in Iceland and have physical features that many associate with Asian people groups.

The people of Iceland have an intriguing culture and an interesting history to go along with it.

Traveling to Iceland and wondering about safety? See Is Reykjavic Safe at Night? to learn more.

Thanks to modern travel and the widespread availability of the internet, Iceland is more connected to the rest of the world than ever before and the world is more connected to it.

Part of what is interesting about the island is the people is what they look like, which naturally leads to questions to gain further insight.

A Gentle reminder: Though asking questions about the appearance of certain people groups in the world can stem from genuine curiosity and interest, and have the best of intentions, sensitivity is in order to not generalize and perpetuate stereotypes. Iceland’s history and people are diverse. The continent of Asia is, too. When those facts are remembered, asking questions to learn more about Icelanders will likely be well-received and taken as a sign of respectful interest.

Why Some Icelandic People Look Asian 

Woman staying warm in Iceland
Woman staying warm in Iceland

It’s important to note that there is diversity in Iceland, including among the long-time residents of the island.

When discussing physical features of a certain group of people, it’s important to proceed with caution in order to not accidentally succumb to stereotypes.

It’s also important to note that not every person with Asian ancestry looks the same either. People from different countries and regions on the continent may have vastly different physical features.

Again, when discussing features that may be common to a certain group of people, it is important to process with caution.

Taking a trip to Iceland? See Can You Get to Iceland Without Flying? to learn more.

Genetic links in Icelandic people

Some researchers have suggested that some modern Icelanders share a genetic makeup with an ancient people group from Asia, called Denisovans.

It is believed that the Denisovans had certain physical characteristics, including facial features, that people commonly associated with Asian populations

Though research is ongoing, some reviews have concluded that it is a plausible theory, and would explain in part, why some people in Iceland look Asian. [1]

However, some have noted that Denisovan DNA was less than 0.1%, which perhaps raises more questions than it answers. [2]

Can a DNA heritage of 0.1% account for the physical appearance of thousands of modern-day Icelanders? Possibly. [3] 

The research into Denisovan DNA, though helpful, unfortunately doesn’t reveal a historical narrative. It only provides a snapshot in time.

How exactly did the Denisovan people group get to Iceland? Were they exploring northward in Europe? Were they traveling West across modern-day Russia? How did they learn of the island? How did they get to it?

Many hope that in time, science or history – or both working together – will shed more light on the early history of Iceland.

Iceland and Greenland are neighbors, but how close together are they? See Can You See Greenland from Iceland? to learn more.

People from Parts of Asia Have Made Iceland Their Home

Woman with Icelandic flag
Woman with an Icelandic flag

Apart from ancient history, there are more certain reasons why some people in Iceland have facial features that resemble people from Asia.

Over the last few centuries, some people from an Asian country have moved to Iceland, settled, and raised families there.

Though no population from a particular Asian country exists in large numbers in Iceland—which is home to about 320,000 people—there are people who have relocated to the island.

There are over 1,000 Filipinos in Iceland, having migrated there for various reasons. Iceland and the Philippines have strong ties related to economic interests and more.

Many of these transplanted Filipinos are Icelandic citizens, so some may refer to them as Icelanders with a physical appearance associated with some people in Asia.

As Iceland gets more connected with the world, and the world gets more connected with it, non-Icelandic populations on the island are expected to increase, especially in the capital of Reykjavik.

In addition, the University of Iceland attracts students from all over the world, including Asian countries. Some students get jobs that require them to stay in Iceland upon graduating.

Icelandic Lineage  

Some historians believe that the first inhabitants of Iceland were nomadic people groups that traveled to the island after Viking explorers discovered it.

Others speculate that perhaps small groups of Scottish travelers fled to the island, seeking to escape Viking raids in the Middle Ages. The first chapter of the history of Iceland isn’t clear.

As Europe entered the Middle Ages, and record-keeping was improved, though far from perfect, Iceland’s history is clearer.

Many historians consider the first settler to be the Norwegian, Ingolfur Arnarson, who arrived on the island with his wife in 874 A.D. Their settlement was limited in scope due to a lack of resources so development was stalled.

Some of Iceland’s earliest settlers brought slaves and servants from their Scandinavian homeland. Some of these servants and slaves were from Asian countries.

It’s possible that some people in Iceland who look Asian today are descendants of servants and slaves.

The early Scandinavians, including the Vikings, didn’t keep records, and with regard to oral history, slaves and servants weren’t considered a priority topic to preserve.

Inuit Peoples

Native, indigenous peoples of the Arctic are known as Inuit peoples. Inuit people are mostly associated with Canada, Alaska, and Greenland.

They may have been some of the first explorers and inhabitants of some of the northernmost regions in the world, including Iceland.

Though there isn’t a lot of reliable information about the early history of the Inuit people, they do share some similar physical features like those that are associated with people from Asian countries. One study traced their ancestry to Siberia in north Asia:

A genetic study published in Science in August 2014 examined a large number of remains from the Dorset culture, Birnirk culture and the Thule people.

Genetic continuity was observed between the Inuit, Thule and Birnirk, who overwhelmingly carried the maternal haplogroup A2a and were genetically very different from the Dorset.

The evidence suggested that the Inuit descend from the Birnirk of Siberia, who through the Thule culture expanded into northern Canada and Greenland, where they genetically and culturally completely replaced the indigenous Dorset people some time after 1300 AD. [4]

There is a small number of Inuit people on Iceland today. Though the people themselves have lasted for generations on the island, their history is less clear. 


Many different cultures make up the population of Iceland. And, just like with any group of people, there are some similarities among them.

Commonalities related to physical appearance, including facial features, is to be expected.

There is some evidence that Icelanders have DNA related to Asian people groups in the ancient world.

There are groups of people in Iceland that have moved from Asia in modern times and now call it home.

There are also native Inuit descendants in Iceland who share some physical features with people from Asian countries.


[1] Science Daily
[2] johnhawks,net
[3] archeology.org
[4] Wikipedia: Inuit

Christian Christensen

Christian's fascination with Scandinavia began when he traced his family history to several countries in the region. As a college professor who has taught about the history of Northern Europe, he wishes to respectfully promote, not just the region's history, but its culture and people as well.

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