Where is the Arctic Circle, and which countries does it go through?

We’ve all heard of the Arctic Circle, but do you know what is it? Is it a real circle? And if so, where is the Arctic Circle on the map?

The Arctic Circle passes through eight countries.
GRID-Arendal (CC)

We’ve done some research and come up with some fascinating facts about the Arctic Circle, and answered some of your most pressing questions about it.

So read our ultimate guide to find out all you need to know about the Arctic Circle.

What is the Arctic Circle?

The Arctic Circle is a line of latitude that, in geographic terms, separates the Arctic Zone in the north from the Northern Temperate Zone below it.

Put simply, it’s an imaginary line above which the sun never completely sets on the summer solstice (June 21st) and never completely rises on the winter solstice (December 22nd).

So, that means anywhere north of the Arctic Circle has 24 hours of daylight in mid-summer (known as the midnight sun) and 24 hours of darkness in mid-winter (also known as the polar night). 

What is the latitude of the Arctic Circle?

The Arctic Circle’s coordinates are approximately 66°33′45.6 north of the Equator. We say approximately because its position varies depending on the tilt of the Earth on its axis.  

The Arctic Circle is also being nudged – admittedly very slowly – by the Moon’s gravitational pull, and is currently heading north at a rate of about 14.5 metres a year.

What degree is the Arctic Circle?

The most generally quoted position for the Arctic Circle is 66.6° N, but as we’ve seen above this is not an exact measurement. 

The Arctic Circle passes through Norway
Arctic Circle in Norway / Guy Lebègue (CC)

However, it’s easier to remember than the exact measurement so has been recognised by popular culture as the mark of the Arctic Circle.

So much so that the cult Icelandic clothing brand 66°North adopted the name!

Is the Arctic Circle north or south?

The Arctic Circle is the most northerly of the five major circles of latitude that run around the Earth.

The Arctic Circle and the Antarctic Circle are the most northerly and southerly circles of latitude, with the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere, the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere and the Equator in the middle running right around the centre of the Earth.

What’s the difference between the Arctic Circle and the Arctic?

So, where is the Arctic then? Well, most scientists define the Arctic as the area that lies north of the Arctic Circle.

However, some geographers consider the Arctic as a geographical region where the average temperature in the warmest month of the year is below 10ºC.

The Arctic Circle passes through Finland
The Arctic Circle in Finland / Ninaras (CC)

But what everyone agrees about is that the Arctic Circle is an imaginary line about 9,900 miles long, and the Arctic is a region that covers a whopping 5.5 million square miles.

Is the North Pole in the Arctic Circle?

Yes, the geographic North Pole is the northernmost point of the Arctic region, and lies pretty much at the centre of the Arctic Circle. And the distance from the Arctic Circle to the North Pole is around 1600 miles. 

So, if you thought that the Arctic Circle was pretty far north, the North Pole is a long way further north still! 

The difference between the Arctic Circle and the North Pole is that the Arctic Circle is an abstract line of latitude, while the North Pole is a fixed point.

Well, not really fixed because, like the Arctic Circle, the North Pole also moves slowly due to the pull of the Earth’s magnetic core.

Is the Arctic a country?

No, the Arctic a region which covers the northernmost part of the ‘Arctic Circle countries’.

The Arctic Circle in Sweden / Bride Persson (CC)

There are eight countries that have land within the Arctic Circle, and these are Canada, Greenland (an autonomous country within the realm of Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia and the USA (specifically, Alaska).

How cold is the Arctic Circle?

Since the area within the Arctic Circle is so huge, it’s not surprising that temperatures vary enormously within the region.

As we’ve already learnt, the official definition of the Arctic region is the area where the average temperature in the warmest month of the year does not exceed 10ºC.

However, the further north you head, the colder it gets and winter temperatures of −30°C are not unusual.

And the coldest ever recorded temperature in the Arctic Circle was a bone-numbing −70°C in northern Greenland!

Tromsø is the largest Norwegian city in the Arctic Circle

Tromsø is the largest Norwegian city in the Arctic Circle /  Fjellheisen (CC)

What is the largest city north of the Arctic Circle? 

Most of the large cities above the Arctic Circle are in Russia, with Murmansk being the biggest. So, here are the top ten most populated cities in the Arctic Circle, with their populations.

Arctic cityPopulation
Murmansk, Russia 290,000
Norilsk, Russia180,000
Tromsø, Norway70,000
Vorkuta, Russia 60,000
Apatity, Russia50,000
Severomorsk, Russia50,000
Bodø, Norway 42,000
Monchegorsk, Russia 40,000
Kandalaksha, Russia 35,000
Kirovsk, Russia 26,000

What country has the largest number of citizens living within the Arctic Circle?

The population of the Arctic Circle is under four million people, with the majority (more than 60 percent) living in Russia. Around ten percent of the inhabitants of the Arctic are indigenous people.

What animals live in the Arctic Circle?

Unsurprisingly, animals that thrive in cold conditions live in the Arctic Circle. 

Polar bears live in the Arctic Circle
Alan D. Wilson (CC)

These include polar bears, brown bears, walruses, Arctic foxes, Arctic hares, Arctic wolves, several species of whale and dolphin, moose, reindeer (or caribou), musk oxen, several species of seal, puffins, snowy owls and sea otters – amongst others. 

Sadly, populations of many of these animals are in decline due partly to climate change, with animals such as polar bears, walruses and musk oxen being particularly vulnerable.

FAQs about the Arctic Circle

Is Sweden in the Arctic Circle?

Only 15 percent of Sweden is north of the Arctic Circle, with the majority of the country lying to the south.

Which Asian country has land within the Arctic Circle?

The only Asian country that has land within the Arctic Circle is Russia. Of course, about a quarter of Russia is in Europe, but three quarters of this huge country is in Asia.

Is Iceland in the Arctic Circle?

Although it is considered one of the Arctic countries, the mainland of Iceland actually lies just south of the Arctic Circle. The small island of Grímsey, off Iceland’s north coast, is the only part of the country that is north of the Arctic Circle. 

In fact, the Arctic Circle crosses Grímsey, so not even all the island (which is only three miles long) lies within the Arctic!

Which island country is near the Arctic Circle?

As we’ve seen above, a very tiny part of the island of Iceland lies within the Arctic Circle, but there’s a much larger island with the majority of its landmass above the Arctic Circle – and that’s Greenland.

Around two-thirds of this huge island lie within the Arctic Circle.

What state does the Arctic Circle pass through?

The only US state that has land within the Arctic Circle is Alaska.

What continents does the Arctic Circle run through?

The Arctic Circle runs through three continents: America (the US and Canada), Europe (the Scandinavian countries) and Asia (Russia).

Does the Arctic Circle cross the Southern Ocean?

No, it’s the Antarctic Circle that crosses the Southern Ocean. The Arctic Circle more or less surrounds the Arctic Ocean, the world’s smallest and shallowest ocean.

It also crosses smaller seas, including the Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Bering Sea.

See also:
Crossing the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland
Where to see the midnight sun in Norway
Seeing the norhern lights in Scandinavia

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