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 of them.

Nevertheless, why do at least some Icelanders have facial features that are characteristically Asian?

There are multiple reasons why some Icelandic people have facial features resembling those 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 remember that some modern people from Asian countries have moved to Iceland.

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 people associate with Asian people groups.

Keep reading to learn more.

Were there different races of people among the Vikings? See Were There Black Vikings? to learn more.

Icelandic man asian
Are there genetic links between Icelandic and Asian people? See below

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

Why Some Icelandic People Look Asian 

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 and what they look like, which naturally leads to questions to gain further insight.

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

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

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

Also, see Scandinavian Flags: Similarities and Differences to learn more.

Asian woman staying warm in Iceland
How many Asian people have moved to Iceland? See below

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 associate with Asian populations. (Also see Why Do Norwegians Hate Swedes and Danes?)

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

However, some have noted that Denisovan’s DNA was less than 0.1%, perhaps raising 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 about 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.

Scandinavia is known, in part, for its politics. See Democratic Socialism in Scandinavia to learn more.

Woman with Icelandic flag
Who are the Inuit people? See below

People from Parts of Asia Have Made Iceland Their Home

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

Over the last few centuries, some people from an Asian country have moved to Iceland, settled, and raised families there. (Also see Why Do Danes and Swedes Hate Each Other?)

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

Over 1,000 Filipinos in Iceland have 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.

Norse religion has a strong history in Iceland. See Is the Norse Religion Still Practiced? to learn more.

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 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. (Also see Do Swedes Actually Like Surstromming?)

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.

Some people in Iceland who look Asian today may be descendants of servants and slaves.

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

Also, see What Did the Vikings Look Like? to learn more.

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 share some similar physical features like those 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 in Iceland today. Though the people have lasted for generations on the island, their history is less clear. (Also see Why Do Doors Open Outwards in Sweden?)


Many different cultures make up the population of Iceland. And, just like with any group of people, they have some similarities.

Commonalities related to physical appearance, including facial features, are expected.

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

Some people in Iceland 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.

Also, see The Nordic Race: Meaning and Controversy to learn more.

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

Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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