We know there are questions around travel amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Read our note here.
After Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow in early February and predicted six more weeks of winter, many of us may be left dreaming of warmer places. But to some people, where you live is the warmer place. The lowest average temperature on this list of 20 cities and towns around the world drop downs to a bone-chilling -53.3 degrees Fahrenheit. (Note: All temperature averages below are in Fahrenheit and are determined from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Historical Climatology Network data, as reported by USA Today.) Bundle up and read on to discover the coldest inhabited places on the planet.
Located in central Ukraine and the capital of the Poltava Oblast province, Poltava dates back to the eighth century. However, the city was destroyed twice and then suffered widespread damage in World War II, so much of modern Poltava is recently built. There are more than 300,000 residents that call the city home, and today it’s a major agricultural center. The coldest month is January, when the temperature averages 21.4 degrees, but residents can look forward to the warmest month, August, when the temperature averages 73.8 degrees.
Voronezh, a city of more than one million residents located about 300 miles south of Moscow, was once the home of Peter the Great, who began his military career here before he went on to rule Russia. He built the country’s first warships on the Voronezh River; you can visit a replica of the largest one today. The city also has its own sea — an artificial one, made by damming up a river and permanently flooding some forests and pastures. In its coldest month, January, the temperature averages 20.5 degrees, and in its warmest month, August, the temperature averages 70.9 degrees.
Dating back to the ninth century, Smolensk is one of Russia’s oldest cities. The city’s first official mention was in 863, but at that point it was already a well-established stronghold in the region. Because of its strategic position controlling two river portages, Smolensk was continually under siege for centuries. The worst came during World War II, when most of the city’s structures were destroyed, so few of its historical churches and buildings remain today. The coldest month is January, when the temperature averages 19.4 degrees. The warmest month is August, when the temperature averages 63.1 degrees.
Gar, Tibet, China
Gar is the capital of Tibet’s Ngari Prefecture. The name roughly translates to “tents and barracks,” because the town was once a military base. Gar has three Buddhist monasteries and an impressive array of natural features, including mountains and rivers, that attract visitors. It’s difficult to reach, however, since the conditions are often harsh. There’s only one air route and just a few months that it’s safe to drive there. In the coldest month, January, the average temperature dips to 14.7 degrees. In the warmest month, July, it rises to 59 degrees.
Fortín Sargento Cabral, Antarctica
Fortín Sargento Cabral is a small settlement that surrounds the permanent Argentine base in Antarctica. It was built in 1978 and now has a school (temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic), homes, and a church. A baby was born there during the first year, becoming the first-ever Antarctic citizen, and a radio station launched there in 1979. The coldest month is June, averaging 12.6 degrees, and the warmest month is February, averaging 34.2 degrees.
A massive stone fortress towers over the Transylvanian town of Rasnov. Rasnov Fortress dates back to the 1300s, when Teutonic knights built it to protect themselves against the Tartars. The fortress is an entire community in itself, with more than 30 homes, a church, and a school. It’s been recently restored and now has a museum, preserved secret passages, and other artifacts. Temperatures here dip to 9 degrees in January, the coldest month, and rise to 47.5 degrees in August, the warmest month.
Tucked into the Asten Valley in the Dolomites, Mortschach is a prime (and often overlooked) location for skiing and other mountain-based recreation like hiking, biking, and rock climbing — all with breathtaking views of unspoiled nature. The Austrian Alpine Association runs a ski lodge there. Hiking through the area will take you past rare plant species and traditional alpine farms alike. January, the coldest month, averages 7.2 degrees, while August, the warmest, averages 40.8 degrees.
Kars sits high on a plateau in northeastern Turkey, located 5,740 feet above sea level near the border with Armenia. But it wasn’t always a Turkish city. In the 9th and 10th centuries, it belonged to Armenia. It was then part of the Ottoman Empire, and eventually taken by Russia before returning to Turkish rule in 1918. Today, the city is the capital of a province of the same name and is known for its historical buildings, including the citadel overlooking the city, as well as its cheese. The coldest month there is January, when temperatures average 6.4 degrees, and the warmest month, August, averages 70.2 degrees.
Golmud, Tibet, China
More than 270,000 people live in Golmud, located in the Haixi Prefecture of the Qinghai province. It is considered the gateway to Tibet for the many travelers who stop in the city to become acclimated to the high altitude waiting for them in the next part of their journey. Golmud is also home to an expansive salt flat known as Qarhan Playa and several nature preserves. January is the coldest month, with temperatures averaging 6.3 degrees, and July is the warmest month at 49.1 degrees.
Karasjok is the capital of the Indigenous Sami peoples in Norway. Here, you can find the Sami parliament, a Sami library, a Sami theme park, a Sami radio station, and a Sami museum. Approximately 90% of residents speak the Sami language, too. Reindeer are also extremely common — with about 60,000 of them grazing in and around the city, they greatly outnumber the 2,900 human residents of Karasjok. The coldest month is December, averaging 4.3 degrees, and the warmest month is July, averaging 56.1 degrees.
Typical of many towns in Greenland, the seaside homes in Aasiaat sport a riotous array of bold colors sticking out on an otherwise gray, rocky landscape. The town was founded in 1759 as a trading post and is a prime spot in the country for whale watching. Every year, Aasiaat hosts the Midnight Sun Marathon, a marathon where participants have to run the track multiple times because there’s not enough space to have one full marathon route. In the winter, that same track is used for cross-country skiing. The coldest month in Aasiaat is February at 1.4 degrees, and the warmest is July at 43.3 degrees.
About 40,000 people live in Naryn, the administrative center of the Naryn Province, the largest in Kyrgyzstan. Surrounded by mountains, the city is divided by the country’s longest river, the Naryn River, and is well appointed with museums, administration buildings, and other institutions. Naryn didn’t actually become a city until the 1800s; when it was first founded, it was just a small fort on a trade route to Asia. January is the coldest month at -.06 degrees, and July is the warmest at 64.9 degrees.
Klyuchi was built in the 1700s and has been inhabited ever since, either by the local Indigenous population, the military, or tourists who come to see the always-smoking Klyuchevskaya Sopka, Eurasia’s tallest active volcano. Today, the town is mostly one- or two-floor shack houses regularly covered in snow. There’s one hotel in town, and you need a special permit to visit if you aren’t a permanent resident. In January, the coldest month, the temperature averages -2.4 degrees. In the warmest month, July, the temperature averages 60.6 degrees.
Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
If you want to visit Churchill, you have to like both trains and bears. The remote Canadian city is only accessible by rail, and the residents often find themselves sharing their town with polar bears. The bears spend the summer on land when the ice in Hudson Bay melts, and when they return to the water in the winter, their path often takes them right though downtown Churchill. The 900 residents — and many tourists who come to enjoy the northern lights and polar bear sightings — all seem to have a story about a polar bear encounter. December is the coldest month, averaging -9.6 degrees, and July is the warmest month, averaging 57.9 degrees.
Salekhard was founded in 1595 and became an official city in 1938. It’s considered the Arctic capital of Russia. Even though it’s in the Arctic, Salekhard serves as an important port city and a base for the gas fields of western Siberia, and locals enjoy high pay rates — about double the mean pay in Russia. The first five-story building was built in Salekhard in the late 1990s, and since then, growth has skyrocketed. January, the coldest month, averages -9.9 degrees, and July, the warmest month, averages 62.2 degrees.
Rock Creek, Yukon Territory, Canada
Thanks to rapidly changing water levels and large temperature swings, the residents in Rock Creek are used to flooding. The nearby Klondike River overflows and floods the area every few years, leading to locals having to evacuate. The coldest month here is January, averaging -12.8 degrees, and the warmest is July, averaging 63.3 degrees.
Baie-James, Quebec, Canada
The Indigenous Cree peoples of Canada have inhabited Baie-James, or James Bay, for thousands of years. The landscape, a mix of waterways, tundra, and taiga, lent itself to the traditional lifestyles of hunting, fishing, and trapping. Today, Baie-James is also known for winter sports, with tourists coming to snowshoe, snowmobile, and hunt for the northern lights. Additionally, it’s home to North America’s largest power-generating site, a series of hydroelectric facilities that together equal about the size of New York State. The coldest month is February, at -18 degrees, and the warmest is September, at 36 degrees.
Coral Harbour, Nunavut, Canada
Though the small island town of Coral Harbour has been inhabited by local Inuit communities for thousands of years, it was officially established as a trading post in Canada’s Nunavut territory in 1924. When World War II began, the United States built an Air Force base there, which is now the town’s municipal airport. The community continues to grow, with today’s population nearing 900 people. Coral Harbour is also known for a fossil trail and for two bird sanctuaries. The coldest month is February, averaging -22.5 degrees, and the warmest is July, averaging 48.9 degrees.
Founded in 1923, Tosontsengel once had a claim to fame aside from just being frigid. From 2004 to 2020, the town held a world record for the highest recorded surface air pressure (1,089.4 millibars) at elevations above 750 meters (2,461 feet). However, another town in Mongolia, Tsetsen-Uul, located about 150 miles away, broke the record in 2020. Located at an altitude of 5,653 feet, Tosontsengel is tucked into a valley between heavily forested mountains; it’s no surprise the main industry there is timber. The coldest month is January, when the temperature averages -24.9 degrees. The warmest month, July, averages temps of 62.8 degrees.
Oymyakon is officially the coldest inhabited place on Earth. The coldest month, January, has an average temperature of -53.3 degrees, and even the warmest month, July, doesn’t get that toasty, with an average temperature of 56.3 degrees. Only about 500 people live in Oymyakon, and the name for the town defies its defining characteristic — it translates to “unfrozen water.” If you want to visit, be prepared for a long journey. The road to get there is barren, and you have to drive it for two days.