The north and south poles are the location of our planet’s most bitterly cold climates where life as most of us know it is made all but impossible by the freezing temperatures and icy winds during the winter months. However it’s perhaps surprising just how many people in the world do live in places where temperatures drop significantly below freezing throughout the year. In this post, we will look at some of the world’s coldest cities, towns and settlements.
Note that it’s close to impossible to compile a complete rundown for something like this, as many very cold places do not have accurate records when it comes to climate data. We are basing this article on the data here which reports average temperatures for almost 400 towns and cities around the world.
Some of the Coldest Places in the World by Average Temperature
1. Gjoa Haven, Canada
With a population of only just over 1,000, it’s a bit of a stretch to label Gjoa Haven a city, but as the only settlement on Canada’s large King William Island, it’s certainly one of the coldest places on Earth with permanent residents. Lying above the Arctic Circle in the extreme north of Canada, the ancestors of the local Inuit people honed the skills to hunt and survive the bitter winters in such an extreme environment.
From December through to March, the mercury drops to below – 30°C almost every single day and has even dropped below – 50°C in extreme cases in years gone by. July and August are the only months of the year where average night time lows are above freezing.
Average Temperature: – 14.4°C
2. Dikson, Russia
The curious Russian outpost of Dikson, is even further north than Gjoa Haven and is the northernmost settlement on the Asian continent. Unsurprisingly it ranks as Asia’s coldest city and if the freezing climate wasn’t enough to make it a depressing place to live, Dikson’s residents are also plunged into a state of constant darkness between early December and early January each year.
The daily average temperature is below – 20°C from December to March but things do at least perk up a bit during the summer months with extremely long days. Incredibly given Dikson’s location deep inside the Arctic Circle, the port settlement has a record temperature of 26.9°C and was reported as the fastest warming town in Russia in 2018, with the impact of climate change and global warming a major concern here.
Average Temperature: – 11.1°C
Read more – The hottest cities in the world
3. Iqaluit, Canada
Back to Canada next and the coastal city of Iqaluit, capital of the vast but sparsely populated northern region of Nunavut. This has been a popular fishing location for the Inuit people for thousands of years and its name literally means ‘place of many fish’.
Iqaluit has a similar climate to that of Gjoa Haven. Factoring in the wind chill, it can feel as cold as – 60°C during the winter months. Despite the extreme cold, you may be surprised to learn that Iqaluit’s population is actually growing with a 15.5% increase recorded at the last census.
Average Temperature: – 9.3°C
4. Yakutsk, Russia
While the top three are relatively small settlements, Yakutsk is a much larger place with a population of around 300,000 and therefore it is perhaps most accurate to describe it as the world’s coldest city (Norilsk, also in Russia, stakes a rival claim for this dubious honour).
Yakutsk is also different from Gjoa Haven, Dikson and Iqaluit in that it is not a coastal city. As a result, it has much more wild swings between summer and winter. January, the coldest month of the year, sees average daily temperatures of a staggering – 38.6°C. However in summer, Yakutsk is actually quite a warm city with average highs of 25.5°C in July, a reward for its residents after the long, hard winter.
Average Temperature: – 8.8°C
5. Yellowknife, Canada
It’s a relatively similar story in the Canadian city of Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories. Lying on the banks of the Great Slave Lake, Yellowknife is around 400 km south of the Arctic Circle but it experiences colder winters than many places that do lie within the Arctic.
Initially founded in the 1930’s after the discovery of gold in the area, Yellowknife became a mining town and to some extent that is still the case with diamonds also discovered north of the city for the first time in the early 1990’s. It experiences the coldest winter of any city in Canada but also the sunniest summer with over 300 hours of monthly sunshine between May and July.
Average Temperature: – 4.3°C
Other cities with sub-zero average yearly temperatures:
Fairbanks (USA): – 2.3°C
Nuuk (Greenland): – 1.4°C
Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia): – 0.4°C
Whitehorse (Canada): – 0.1°C
The Coldest Cities in Every Continent
Canada and Russia, both of which have large Arctic territories are the location for most of the world’s coldest villages, towns and cities. However in the Southern Hemisphere, there are few settlements far south enough to experience such extreme conditions. In South America, the tag of the coldest town or city goes to Stanley in the British controlled Falkland Islands although Ushuaia in Argentina, the world’s southernmost city, is only marginally warmer.
|Continent||Coldest Settlement*||Average Temperature|
|Oceania||Lake Tekapo, New Zealand||8.7°C|
|Africa||Johannesburg, South Africa||15.5°C|
|South America||Stanley, Falkland Islands||5.6°C|
|North America||Gjoa Haven, Canada||-14.4°C|
*Again, it’s worth noting that we’re focusing on urban areas or settlements where people live. There are definitely colder places and may well be other colder cities than those listed above but we don’t have a complete set of climate data for everywhere in the world!
Also note that all the figures in this post are calculated by average temperature. Many towns and cities may have more extreme winters or daily temperature swings than some of those mentioned above but over the course of twelve months, they post higher average figures.
This article was published in October 2020.