9 of the Coldest Places in the World to Live

Treehugger / Ellen Lindner

From cities that lie north of the Arctic Circle to the harsh Poles of Cold, some of the most frigid places in the world are where millions of exceedingly hardy people call home. In certain inhabited parts of Russia, Scandinavia, and North America, temperatures regularly dip below zero degrees Fahrenheit; some have even seen minus 80, 90, or 100.

Living in these places may mean traveling by snowmobile, having little access to resources, and enduring full 24-hour periods of darkness. But cold-weather communities thrive despite the hardships—even at Antarctica's Vostok Station, where the lowest temperature at ground level (minus 128.6) was recorded.

It's difficult to pin down the "coldest" places on Earth because climate is dynamic. Those that have recorded some of the lowest temperatures may not be consistently cold, and this has created some conflict amid top contenders. That said, according to Weather.com, Oymyakon, Russia has winter temperatures that average minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 50 degrees Celsius) and is "considered the coldest inhabited area on Earth."

Here are nine of the coldest places in the world to live.

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Vostok Station, Antarctica

Vostok Station, Antarctica, covered in snow

Josh Landis/National Science Foundation/Antarctic Photo Library / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Located almost 800 miles from the South Pole in the dead center of the East Antarctic Plateau, Vostok Station is home to around 25 to 30 people during the continent's summer months. Only a brave dozen or so are willing to endure the winter months.

While the lowest recorded temperature at Vostok Station, minus 128.6, seems downright unbearable, it can actually get colder. According to a 2018 study, temperatures on the ice sheet can reach minus 144. How? Very dry conditions wring out the water vapor in the atmosphere, allowing whatever heat is released from the ice sheet to escape all the way to space.

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Verkhoyansk, Russia

Mayor of Verkhoyansk on a snow-covered street

Corbis / Getty Images

According to the 2010 census, 1,311 people live in Verkhoyansk, Russia, deep in the Siberian wilderness. Founded as a fort in 1638, this town became a regional hub for cattle breeding and tin and gold mining. Located 1,500 miles south of the North Pole, Verkhoyansk was used to house political exiles between the 1860s and early 20th century.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average temperature during Verkhoyansk's coldest month, January, is minus 44. Mean monthly temperatures stay below freezing from October through April. While the town's official all-time low is minus 90, recorded in February 1892, residents reported even colder temperatures—down to minus 93.6—that same month.

Verkhoyansk's extremely cold winters are balanced by scorching summers. The NOAA reported that in June 2020, Verkhoyansk experienced the hottest temperature ever recorded north of the Arctic Circle: 100.4 degrees.

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Oymyakon, Russia

Aerial view of Oymyakon Town, Siberia, Russia

Corbis / Getty Images

Located 390 miles away in northeast Russia, Oymyakon is neck and neck with Verkhoyansk for the coldest climate. Oymyakon recorded its lowest ever temperature of minus 90 degrees on February 6, 1933.  The two towns are officially tied for the Guinness World Record for the lowest temperature in an inhabited place in the Northern Hemisphere. (However, Verkhoyansk still claims it’s the real winner.) 

According to 2010 census data, 462 people call Oymyakon home. The village is named after a local hot spring, which some residents enjoy during the winter, but only after breaking through the thick crust of snow and ice rimming the warm water. Oymyakon's tourism board uses its frigid temperatures as leverage. It installed a digital thermometer to woo tourists in 2017, but only a year later, the thermometer itself broke in minus 80-degree temperatures.

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Yakutsk, Russia

Snowy village of Yakutsk, Russia

Pavel Kirillov / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Yakutsk is a Russian port city with average lows that drop below freezing by October and don't climb back up until May. In January, the average high is minus 28.4; the lowest temperature ever recorded in Yakutsk was minus 83.9 on February 5, 1891.

More than 300,000 people are estimated to inhabit Yakutsk. Many carve out a living in the region's mining industry, but the extremely cold city is also home to numerous theaters, museums, and even a zoo. In 2008, the area made headlines when a series of pipes burst in two nearby villages, forcing residents to huddle together for warmth around makeshift wood stoves.

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Snag, Canada

Dog sled team travelling through winter landscape, Yukon, Canada
Russell Charters / Getty Images

The title of coldest city in Canada belongs to Snag, a village in the Yukon Territory. On February 3, 1947, Snag recorded a temperature of minus 81—the lowest temperature ever recorded in continental North America. The city's mean January temperature is minus 13.9 and the mean July temperature is 57.4 degrees.

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Utqiagvik, Alaska

Benches in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, town square

Zanzabar Photography / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Utqiaġvik—known prior to 2016 as Barrow—is the northernmost city in the U.S., located 1,300 miles south of the North Pole and 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The city of 4,467 is built on permafrost that is up to 1,300 feet deep in places. The sun sets at the end of November and doesn't reappear until the end of January. The mean temperature doesn't break out of freezing until June and, even then, it remains chilly: The mean temperature for June is only 36 degrees.

Utqiaġvik is the economic hub of Alaska's North Slope and many of its residents work in the energy industry. The city is reachable only by aircraft or by sea.

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International Falls, Minnesota

A sunset over Rainy River, International Falls, Minnesota

Don & Melinda Crawford / UIG / Getty Images

Although International Falls, Minnesota, is only half as cold as Oymyakon or Verkhoyansk, it is one of the coldest cities in the contiguous U.S. It's located right on the border of Canada, on the banks of the Rainy River. International Falls winters are long and icy, with average January lows of minus 7.

More than 60 nights a year reach zero degrees, and the area averages about 71 inches of annual snowfall, according to U.S. Climate Data. International Falls, home to an estimated 5,811 people, has long waged an extremely cold war with Fraser, Colorado, and Big Piney, Wyoming, for the trademarked title of "Icebox of the Nation."

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Fraser, Colorado

Snow-covered cabin in Fraser, Colorado

Steve Carlton / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Fraser sits at 8,574 feet in Colorado's Rocky Mountains and is home to an estimated 1,400 people. Located near the popular ski area Winter Park, this Middle Park town tucked into a stunning alpine valley experiences one of the coldest winters in the country. The annual mean temperature is only 32.5 degrees. In June, the average low is 29.4.

Compared to International Falls, its primary "Icebox of the Nation" competitor, Fraser has a slightly warmer winter, but its year-round average is lower. The two towns came to an agreement in 1986 after International Falls paid Fraser $2,000 to relinquish its official claim. Then, a decade later, another legal tussle ensued when International Falls failed to renew its federal trademark. The battle for this coveted title ended with a ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in favor of International Falls.

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Hell, Norway

Hell, Norway, train station

Tom / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

The Norwegian village of Hell is notorious for the ironic contrast between its fiery name and its sub-arctic temperatures. During January, its chilliest month, highs average about 27.5 degrees and lows average about 19.4 degrees.

Tourists trek to this tiny village, home to about 1,580 people, to photograph themselves in front of one of its famous train station signs. Hell freezes over—literally—a third of the year, from December through March.

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