The world’s northernmost places
While humans tend to settle in places where the climate is mild and better for satisfying their needs, there are some magnificent settlements and communities surprisingly close to the Arctic Circle. Whether they’re used for research, mining, military defence, or facilitate a lifestyle that follows ancestral traditions, these northern communities and sites are breathtaking and sometimes unexpected.
Alert, Ellesmere Island, Canada
Did you know that the northernmost permanently inhabited place on earth is in Canada? Located some 800 km (500 miles) from the North Pole on Ellesmere Island, Alert is a military base and meteorological station where around 100 people live on rotation. On the warmest days in summer, temperatures reach 4 °C (40 °F). In winter, temperatures sink to around -40 °C (-40 °F).
Located in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, Ny-Ålesund is the world’s northernmost town. Around thirty residents live there year round. Ny-Ålesund was established around 100 years ago as a mining settlement, although it now hosts several research stations visited by scientists from various countries every year.
Ny-Ålesund is also a tourist destination for visitors arriving on cruise ships. Amenities include a post office, cafe, and souvenir shop. Unsurprisingly, these are the northernmost commercial establishments on the planet.
Though a little further from the North Pole than Ny-Ålesund, Longyearbyen is the most northerly true metropolis in the world. This town, with almost 2,000 residents, is the administrative capital of the Svalbard archipelago. A popular tourist destination, Longyearbyen boasts several entertainment venues as well as a university. The cold certainly doesn’t stop this from being a lively little town!
Qaanaaq, Greenland (Denmark)
A millennia-old Inuit territory, Qaanaaq is located on the northernmost point on this huge Danish island. Qaanaaq is popular with tourists, who enjoy discovering the town’s landscapes and traditions.
Famous for stunning landscapes and natural wonders, Reykjavik is considered the northernmost capital of a sovereign state, located only 250 km (150 miles) south of the Arctic Circle.
Like many northerly towns, Pyramiden – located in the Svalbard archipelago – is a peculiar place. Now a ghost town, it once belonged to Russia, operating as a mining town up until the end of the 1990s. Many families once lived in Pyramiden, boasting a population of around 1,000 at the height of its mining activity. These days, less than a dozen people live in this Soviet relic.
Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska
Unsurprisingly, the state of Alaska is home to the northernmost community in the US, Utqiagvik, also known as Barrow. Utqiagvik is also home to the largest Inuit community in the state.
Like many other northern towns, the sun never sets in summer. From May 12 to August 2, the town experiences 24-hour sunlight.
With 70,000 residents, Tromsø claims to be the northernmost settlement in the world with a large population.
Its location makes Tromsø an ideal spot for observing the Northern Lights in winter.
North Ice, Greenland
Briefly inhabited in the 1950s when it was a research station, North Ice, Greenland, holds the record for the lowest temperature recorded in the Western Hemisphere. On January 9, 1954, temperatures dropped to -66.1 °C (-87.0 °F).
Grise Fiord, Canada
While Canada’s northernmost settlements tend to be research stations, the northernmost community is Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut. Visitors travel there for the breathtaking scenery.
North Cape, Norway
Most northern communities can only be accessed by plane, boat, or snowmobile. If you want to travel as far north as possible in Europe by road, the most northerly point accessible by car is North Cape, or Nordkapp to the locals. The surrounding ocean is simply magnificent!
Though the vast majority of these northern points are on islands close to the North Pole, Gamvik is the northernmost town in continental Europe. The town’s economy centres around fishing and farming. Various remnants of military defences from the Second World War can also be spotted around the town.
Kaffeklubben Island, Greenland
The little island of Kaffeklubben is the world’s most northerly land point, although it took a few years to work that out. The island was discovered in 1900 by American Robert E. Peary, but didn’t welcome its first visitor until 1921 when Danish explorer Lauge Koch arrived and gave the island its name. It wasn’t until 1969 that a Canadian expedition established that Kaffeklubben Island was located 750 metres (2,460 ft) further north than Cape Morris Jessup, which until then had been considered the point closest to the North Pole.
Franz Josef Land, Russia
Unsurprisingly, the most northerly territories on the Eurasian continent belong to Russia and are known as Franz Josef Land. The vast majority of this territory is located north of the 80th parallel. Human activity in this location mainly consists of scientific research and weather stations.
Barentsburg is a settlement located in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, just a few dozen kilometres from Longyearbyen. Like other settlements in this area, it is one of the closest communicates to the North Pole. Equally curious is that although located in Norway, Barentsburg belongs to Russia. Mining has been carried out there since the 1920s.
With a population of over 175,000, the city of Norilsk in Russia is the northernmost city with over 100,000 inhabitants. Located north of the Arctic Circle, it has been known since the Soviet era as a significant mining city. These days, nickel is primarily mined there, making it one of the most polluted places in the world. The city is built on permafrost and is accessible only by plane or boat during the summer months.
Resolute, Cornwallis Island, Canada
Resolute is another of Canada’s northernmost communities. This is the second most northerly community after Grise Fiord. In the Inuktitut language, its name means “place with no dawn” because of its long winter nights. Though it has a population of fewer than 250, Resolute is the headquarters for various scientific research laboratories and has an important airport that serves all of Canada’s northernmost communities.
Eureka, Ellesmere Island, Canada
Established in 1947, this research station is home to eight people who live there on rotation. It is the second most northerly point in Canada after Alert. Nevertheless, Eureka takes the prize for having the lowest temperatures in the country. On average, the weather station logs annual mean temperatures of almost -20 °C (-4 °F).
Station Nord, Greenland
No list of northern settlements would be complete without mentioning Station Nord in Greenland. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a town or village but rather a military base that bolsters Danish sovereignty over Greenland. There is also a research station that mainly studies climate change.
Geographic North Pole
You can’t get further north than the North Pole! The earth’s northernmost geographic point is located in the Arctic Circle, several hundred kilometres from the world’s northernmost inhabited places. You’d have to travel 720 km (450 miles) from Ellesmere Island in Canada to get there. Given its geographic location, the sun never sets for half of the year, while during the other half of the year, the pole is plunged into perpetual darkness.For children, the North Pole is also famous for being home to Santa Claus.
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