9 of the Coldest Places in the World to Live

9 freezing cold places to live gif

Treehugger / Ellen Lindner

The weather is changing again — a good time to look at some of the insanely cold places where people actually live. The citizens of places like Verkhoyansk and Yakutsk (both in Russia) live very different lives from you or me, at least in the winter. Drivers in those cities often leave their cars idling outside in the parking lot for hours while they shop and run errands.

The coldest temperature ever recorded was minus 128.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 89.2 degrees Celsius) at the Russian research station in Vostok, Antarctica, on July 21, 1983. While none of these towns or cities get that cold, some get frighteningly close to it. Here are eight of the coldest places in the world to live.

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Verkhoyansk, Russia

Photo: Becker0804 [public domain]/Wikimedia Commons

According to the 2002 census, 1,434 people live in Verkhoyansk, Russia, carving out a living in the deep Siberian wilderness. It was founded as a fort in 1638 and serves as a regional hub in cattle breeding and tin and gold mining. Located 404 miles from Yakutsk, another member of the coldest cities club and and 1,500 miles south of the North Pole, Verkhoyansk was used to house political exiles between the 1860s and early 20th century.

It was no wonder they chose to send exiles to Verkhoyansk: In January the average temperature is minus 56 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 48.9 degrees Celsius) and mean monthly temperatures stay below freezing from October through April. In 1892, residents recorded the still all-time low of minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 67.8 degrees Celsius). The people who live here today pile on huge fur hats and coats and tend to stay indoors when it gets extremely cold.

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Oymyakon, Russia

Photo: Maarten Takens [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Flickr

Folks in Oymyakon take exception whenever Verkhoyansk lays claim to being the coldest city in the Northern Hemisphere, pointing out that they had a recorded lowest temperature of minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 67.8 degrees Celsius) on Feb. 6, 1933. Depending on whom you ask, 500 to 800 people call Oymyakon home, a three-day drive from Yakutsk. Schools stay open through minus 52 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 46.7 degrees Celsius).

The village is named after a local hot spring, which some residents tap during the winter by breaking through the thick crust of snow and ice rimming the warm water. Oymyakon's tourism board has promoted the town as a perfect destination for adventure travelers hungry for a taste of the extreme. So it's fitting that the village made headlines for another extreme: The digital thermometer installed as something for tourists to marvel at broke from the cold. It was a mere minus 79.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 62 degrees Celsius).

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International Falls, Minnesota

Photo: jck_photos [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

OK, so maybe International Falls, Minnesota, isn't half as cold as Oymyakon or Verkhoyansk, but what it lacks in sheer chill it makes up for by being one of the coldest cities in the contiguous United States. About 6,703 people live in International Falls (according to the 2000 census), which sits on the border between the U.S. and Canada.

Winters in International Falls are long and cold with average temperatures in January hovering around 2.8 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 16.2 degrees Celsius) as the low. The mercury hits zero Fahrenheit (minus 17.8 Celsius) on more than 60 nights a year, and the area gets a lot of snow and ice, averaging about 65.5 inches of annual snowfall. International Falls is waging an extremely cold war with the next entry, Fraser, Colorado, for the trademarked title of "Icebox of the Nation."

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Fraser, Colorado

Photo: Steve Carlton [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

Fraser, Colorado, sits at 8,574 feet in Colorado's Rocky Mountains and 910 people live here, according to the 2000 census. Located near the popular ski area of Winter Park, Fraser enjoys one of the coldest winters in the contiguous United States. The annual mean temperature for the year is only 32.5 degrees Fahrenheit (.3 degrees Celsius), and in June the average low dips to 29 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 1.7 degrees Celsius).

Fraser and International Falls have been engaged in a dispute over the trademarked title "Icebox of the Nation." While International Falls has a colder winter, the year-round average in Fraser is lower. The two towns came to an agreement in 1986, when International Falls paid Fraser $2,000 to relinquish its official claim. But 10 years later, International Falls failed to renew its federal trademark on the term. This kicked off a legal tussle that ended with a ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in favor of International Falls.

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Yakutsk, Russia

Photo: Pavel Kirillov [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Flickr

Yakutsk is well-known to fans of the board game Risk as that funny country between Siberia and Kamchatka. It's also known as the coldest city in the world. The world's coldest temperature outside of the South Pole was recorded not far from Yakutsk in the basin of the Yana River. During the winter, average lows drop below freezing in September and don't climb back out until May. In January, the average high is minus 32 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 35.5 degrees Celsius); the record lowest temperature for the month is a bone-blasting minus 53 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 47 degrees Celsius).

More than 200,000 people live in the area and carve out a living in the region's mining industry, and this extremely cold city is home to numerous theaters, museums and even a zoo. In 2008, the area hit the news when a series of pipes burst in two nearby villages, forcing residents to huddle together for warmth around makeshift wood stoves. When truckers in this region make resupply runs to nearby villages, they don't turn off their engines for the duration of the two-week trip.

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Hell, Norway

Photo: Tom [CC BY-ND 2.0]/Flickr

Cue "Hell freezing over" joke here. Hell, Norway, has gained notoriety for the combination of its name and sub-arctic temperatures. The average temperature in January 2016 was a balmy 25 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 3.9 degrees Celsius). Tourists have trekked to Hell in recent years, many to photograph themselves in front of one of the town’s train station signs.

Hell freezes over, on average, a third of the year, running from December through March.

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Barrow, Alaska

Photo: Zanzabar Photography [CC BY-ND 2.0]/Flickr

Barrow is the northernmost city in the United States and is just 1,300 miles south of the North Pole and 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The city of 4,581 is built on permafrost that is up to 1,300 feet deep in places and experiences super cold and windy winters. The sun sets at the end of November and doesn't reappear until the end of January. Even during the summer things stay cool. The mean temperature doesn't break out of freezing until May and even then only barely does — the mean temperature for May is only 38 degrees Fahrenheit (3.3 degrees Celsius).

Barrow is the economic hub of the 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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Snag, Yukon, Canada

Photo: RichardBH [CC BY 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons

This famous highway sign in White River, Ontario proudly promotes it as "The Coldest Spot in Canada – 72 below Zero." It's a great sign — but it turns out it's a myth. The honor for the coldest city in Canada belongs to Snag, Yukon. Located in the valley of the White River in the Yukon Territory, Snag recorded a temperature of minus 81 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 62.8 degrees Celsius) on Feb. 3, 1947. That's the recorded lowest temperature in continental North America. The average temperatures in Snag are highs of 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius) and lows of 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 12.2 degrees Celsius). Winter is definitely the only season around these parts.

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Vostok Station

Photo: Josh Landis/National Science Foundation/Antarctic Photo Library [public domain]/Wikimedia Commons

We mentioned this Antarctic research station at the beginning of the gallery, but people do in fact live at Vostok. 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; a brave 13 people face down the extremely cold winter months.

While minus 128.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 89.2 degrees Celsius) seems pretty chilly, it can actually get colder, according to a study published June 2018 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Led by Ted Scambos, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, the researchers found that the temperatures on the ice sheet can reach minus 144 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 98 degrees Celsius). How? Very dry conditions wring out the water vapor in the atmosphere, and whatever heat is released from the ice sheet just goes all the way to space. That leaves the areas just incredibly cold.

So while it's definitely not among coldest cities where people live, certain spots on the South Pole near Vostok Station are so extremely cold that no one would want to live there year-round anyway. Not even scientists.