When you hear the words famous people from Iceland, you probably think I meant to write Ireland instead. This is a common mistake. After all, Iceland is famous for many things: breathtaking waterfalls, explosive volcanoes, and the like. But Icelandic celebrities? Is that really a thing? And are they known outside of their home country?
The answer is yes! And maybe you know more famous Icelandic people than you thought. You just didn't realize they were from Iceland. Let's take a look at the most well-known natives of our beautiful Nordic island. Perhaps you'll even spot Björk at the local Bónus supermarket during your trip around the Ring Road. Stranger things have happened.
So first of all, let's get this stereotype out of the way. The expression famous Icelanders is not an oxymoron, I swear! We are actually an island filled with many creative people such as entertainers, artists, writers, and musicians. And many of these folks have found fame beyond our shores. Our roster of famous people also includes Icelandic politicians and even a professional footballer or two.
Famous Icelandic people: Actors and Entertainers
Let's find out who exactly you might bump into and recognize while shopping at any of the many stores in downtown Reykjavík. Find out how many of these famous people from Iceland you know.
LazyTown actor Stefán Karl Stefánsson
One of Iceland's most famous exports is probably actor Stefán Karl Stefánsson. You may know him better as the character Robbie Rotten from Nickelodeon's hugely successful children's series Lazytown. Stefán spent his childhood in Hafnarjordur as part of a working class family, he was called to a life in the spotlight.
After graduating from the Icelandic Academy of the Arts, he joined the National Theater in Reykjavík. He soon began his career as a well-loved comedic actor on television and was a talented performer in drama as well.
LazyTown started out as a book by writer and actor Magnús Scheving. He was also an athlete, and realized that Icelandic children needed more role models to be healthy and active. He wrote a best-selling book for children about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
It soon became a musical, and three years in, the beloved evil character Robbie Rotten was introduced. He was constantly trying to foil the plans of Sportacus and Stephanie, who wanted to teach Lazytown's residents about getting exercise and eating healthy food.
Robbie preferred to nap and stay inside and always acted as the devil on everyone's proverbial shoulder trying to get them to join him in his laziness.
Children were immediately drawn to his outrageous appearance, devious charm, and crazy antics. Nickelodeon approached Stefán and the creators about creating an American version of the show and it became a huge success. It ran from 2004 to 2014.
Sadly, Stefán Karl Stefánsson passed away in 2018 at the age of 41 after battling cancer for two years. His life was cut short too soon, but we were lucky we had him while we did. He brought joy to children around the world, all while teaching them how to be healthy and responsible.
Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson
While this typical Icelandic name may not immediately ring a bell, you are no doubt familiar with this Icelandic celebrity. If you've seen Game of Thrones, you'll be familiar with the fearsome character Gregor Clegane, also known as The Mountain. Weighing in at 193 kilos (426 pounds) and measuring 2.06 meters (6 ft 9 in), this Icelandic actor and strongman is hard to miss.
In addition to his five violent seasons on HBO's medieval fantasy smash hit, he was also crowned the World's Strongest Man in 2018 and has also won titles for Europe’s Strongest Man several times in the last few years. He has continued to work on both his careers as a strong man, as a featured actor since his terrifying turn on Game of Thrones ended. He's no doubt one of the most famous people in Iceland, whose show is a fixture of popular culture.
Icelandic celebrities: Björk and other musicians
Icelandic singer Björk Guðmundsdóttir is probably the most famous Icelander on our list. At least, she's likely to the one that most people recognize by name. The well-known singer-songwriter got her start with the band she founded called The Sugarcubes.
The group gradually rose to fame while playing at venues, bars and music festivals in Iceland. They were well known for many years in Reykjavík's underground punk scene. Björk went solo in 1993 and had much success in her career as a solo artist.
She's best known for her breakout hit Human Behavior and that infamous swan dress she wore to the 73rd Academy Awards in 2001. The dress has since been voted as one of the most iconic red carpet dresses of all time.
Of Monsters and Men
This Icelandic rock band often surprises people who discover their country of origin. International hits like Little Talks and their indie pop sound have earned the group a cult-like following. The Icelandic band got their big break at the Iceland Airwaves music festival. After forming a decade ago in 2010, they're still going strong as they release albums and tour.
Bjarni Tryggvason: Iceland’s astronaut
Did you know that Iceland had an astronaut? Not too shabby for a country approximately half the size of the UK. But it's true. Bjarni Tryggvason is an engineer who went on to become an astronaut based out of Canada. He was a member of a space shuttle mission sent to study Earth's atmosphere. He has also taught at NASA's Space Center in Houston and trained other astronauts.
Famous Icelanders: Politicians
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir served as Iceland's fourth president starting in 1980. Her ascension to leadership was significant because she was the world's first democratically directly elected female president. Not only that, but she was so popular that she was re-elected three more times until she retired in 1996.
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir’s presidency lasted an astonishing 16 years. This makes her the longest-serving elected female head of state in any country ever. She now works as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.
Much like Britain's first female prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was a trailblazer. She was the first of her kind and led the way for future generations of female politicians in Iceland. The country has since had numerous female prime ministers. But Vigdís Finnbogadóttir remains the only female president in Iceland to date.
Famous people in Iceland: Footballers and athletes
Iceland’s 2018 World Cup in Russia appearance was one of the underdog stories that captivated everyone during this international football tournament. People from all over the globe came to know and love our small yet determined team that was full of heart. The Viking thunderclap became one heard round the world and a favorite among football fans.
One of the breakout stars was Icelandic footballer and captain Aron Gunnarsson. The Al-Arabi Qatari club midfielder is not only one of the most famous people in Iceland. For a brief moment in time he also enjoyed his popularity in the global spotlight.
Gylfi Sigurðsson is another Icelandic footballer with lots of international success. He currently plays in the English Premier League, one of the best leagues in the world. While many of our best-known citizens are creatives, some famous Icelanders have talent in the world of sports.
Other Famous Icelanders
Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness
People from Iceland are quite proud of our literary heritage, and rightfully so. The Viking sagas of nearly a thousand years ago give us a glimpse into what life was like in those days. They are a strong part of our national identity and very much from the foundation of our tradition of literature. This is also a country where one in ten citizens will publish a book during their lifetimes.
So, it's no surprise that a famous Icelander was the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Halldór Laxness won the prestigious award in 1955. He was an Icelandic writer who penned novels, essays, newspaper articles, poetry, short stories, plays, and even travelogues.
Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson and the Sony PlayStation
One of the more off the radar and indirectly impactful famous Icelandic people is Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson. You may not have heard of him, but you've definitely heard of one of his most famous contributions to the world of gaming. This Icelandic businessman founded and ran Sony Computer Entertainment as its first president and CEO. During his six-year tenure, he oversaw the creation and launch of Sony's now ubiquitous PlayStation console.
And in true Icelandic fashion, he's also a published writer. He has six published books, including one that Palomar Pictures considered adapting into a film. His work Valentines (Random House, 2007) won the Icelandic Literary Prize for fiction in 2006.
Iceland: A Land of Fire, Ice, and Talent
So, our little Nordic island isn't all just waterfalls, glaciers, and hot springs. We've got some pretty talented and creative people among our ranks as well. How many of these Icelandic celebrities were you already familiar with? Were there any that were surprises or that you didn't know were Icelandic?