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The world is a place of extremes — highest and lowest elevations, coldest and hottest average temperatures, and wettest and driest, cheapest and most expensive. Here, we reveal some of Earth’s most extreme contrasts: Which city is considered the oldest and which is the newest? What part of the world is the quietest and which place is the loudest? These are 13 pairs of places around the world that are considered opposites.
Coldest and Hottest Settlements
Whenever you think it can’t get much colder, think of the world’s coldest town. Located in Siberia, the rural municipality of Oymyakon (which translates to “unfrozen water” in Russian and refers to a nearby hot spring) is home to about 500 brave souls. With temperatures that average -58 degrees Fahrenheit, locals cannot grow crops and rely on meat and fish for sustenance. Outhouses are the norm since plumbing will freeze, and bonfires are required to warm the ground before digging graves.
Though the area’s summers are short, temperatures do reach the 60s and 70s, which is almost tropical weather compared to the area’s winter lows. Meanwhile, Kuwait City is the hottest city on the planet. Located on the Persian Gulf in Kuwait, the city’s population of 30,000 withstands temperatures climbing to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher from May through September. Days averaging 115 degrees Fahrenheit are not unusual, and evenings only cool down to about 86 degrees.
Wettest and Driest Places
Māwsynrām, a village in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya in northeastern India, is the wettest place in the world with an average annual rainfall of over 467 inches. The region is mountainous with plenty of waterfalls and the rugged terrain traps moisture and airflow of various temperatures — including monsoon winds from the Bay of Bengal. This confluence of air and water causes a mind-blowing amount of rainfall. Residents know to never leave home without an umbrella, and reeds are used to create protective canopies for those working in fields.
On the other end of the spectrum, Arica — a port city of nearly 200,000 people in Chile — is the driest place on Earth. Located just south of the Peruvian border near the Atacama Desert, Arica only gets an average of .03 inches of rainfall each year. That said, the area has high humidity and cloud cover. It’s also located on the coast with great beaches and cool ocean breezes. The combination makes extreme temperatures rare and classifies the region as a rare temperate desert.
Highest and Lowest Towns
Located in the eastern Andes of Peru is the small village of La Rinconada — the highest-altitude permanent settlement in the world. The town is about three miles above sea level and has a shifting population of about 50,000 residents who mostly work in the mining industry. Founded just over 50 years ago, the remote area is located below a huge glacier and is rich in gold. Miners are allowed to spend 30 days in the area at a time and are allowed to leave with as much gold as they can find. As gold prices began to soar over the past few decades, La Rinconada’s population exploded. While miners still don’t have running water, a sewage system, or local trash collection, the recent population influx finally brought electricity to the village. The miners are joined by researchers studying how the area’s extremely thin air affects human health.
On the other hand, the city of Jericho in Palestine is the lowest-lying city in the world, at about 780 feet below sea level. And that’s no surprise. The city of about 20,000 residents is located along the Dead Sea — a salty inland lake that boasts the lowest elevations on Earth. The surface of the Dead Sea is a remarkable 1,412 feet below sea level. Fun fact: Jericho, which is only 19 miles outside of Jerusalem, is also one of the oldest cities in the world and is home to a number of famous biblical and historical sites.
Oldest and Newest Cities
Speaking of oldest cities, there is some debate among historians and researchers, but several sources consider Damascus one of the oldest continuously occupied human settlements in the world. Located in Syria, Damascus is home to around 2 million people and has been inhabited since approximately 11,000 to 8,000 BCE. The reason has a lot to do with its location: the city borders the Mediterranean Sea and is a gateway to three continents. Over the centuries, Damascus has been inhabited by Arameans, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, and Arabs. In fact, it’s considered the world capital of Arab culture and is home to one of the oldest and largest mosques in the world — the Umayyad Mosque.
Meanwhile, one of the newest and most technologically integrated cities in the world is in South Korea. Songdo is located an hour from Seoul and is built on 1,500 acres of land reclaimed from the Yellow Sea. Currently home to around 100,000 people, the green city’s construction began in 2002 and is slated to wrap up next year. Songdo features automatically irrigated park space, a trash transporting and sorting system that eliminates traditional refuse collection, sensors that can regulate traffic and density, and individual smart controls for light and temperature across all interior spaces.
Most and Least Expensive Cities
Much like figuring out the exact age of Earth’s oldest cities, it isn’t easy to determine the cheapest or most expensive cities. But the Mercer Cost of Living Survey published in 2020 has a good estimate. The survey ranks 209 major cities on their annual cost of living based on a list of basic commodities such as housing, transportation, a beer, and a pair of jeans in order to help corporations and governments determine salaries for expatriate employees. The latest installment of the survey found the city of Ashgabat to be the most expensive.
The capital of Turkmenistan, located in central Asia, is home to about a million people. The city, and the whole country, is rich in oil, and as a result of sinking oil prices, inflation has become a huge issue. This explains Ashabat’s big jump in the rankings. The same survey determined that Kyrgyzstan's capital of Bishkek is the cheapest city in the world — coincidentally another central Asian city home to a million residents.
Quietest and Loudest Places
You can visit the quietest and loudest places in the world on the same trip — they’re both located in Washington state. To experience a surreal natural silence, the quietest place on Earth is located deep within Olympic National Park — a 900,000-acre expanse featuring 3,000 miles of rivers and streams, 60 named glaciers, the largest intact coniferous forest in the contiguous United States, and one of the most pristine and ecologically diverse environments in the country. The silent spot in question does offer a diverse natural soundscape — wind, trees, insects, and birds, but it is also famous for its prolonged quiet. It’s called the “One Square Inch of Silence” and is found in the Hoh Rainforest.
A couple of hours east is CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Sporting events are notoriously loud, and the arenas and stadiums that host such events are typically about as loud as it gets — home to screaming fans, blaring traffic, music, cheerleaders, announcers, vendors, and public transit rumbling in the distance. A Seattle Seahawks game in 2013 is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the loudest game on record — at 136.7 decibels (louder than a jet engine taking off from a hangar). The racket was enough to cause a small earthquake!
Quietest and Loudest Cities
Speaking of noise, Mimi Hearing Technologies — a German company specializing in hearing-based sound optimization and digital hearing tests — created the Worldwide Hearing Index in 2017. The publication is intended to bring attention to the issue of urban noise pollution and how such noise can affect human hearing and overall health.
The index, which plotted levels of hearing loss and noise pollution across 50 major cities, was based on the results of 200,000 hearing tests paired with noise pollution data from the World Health Organization (WHO) along with a Norwegian research organization called Sintef. Guangzhou, a sprawling port city in China located northwest of Hong Kong, ranked the loudest. While Zurich, a financial capital at the top of Lake Zurich in Switzerland, was found to be the quietest.
Most Populous City and Least Populous Town
With a population of over 37 million people, Tokyo — and the Tokyo Metropolitan Area — has the largest population of any city on Earth, outranking the second-largest city of Delhi, India, by over 7 million. Not only that, Japan’s capital — considered a megacity — is home to nearly 30% of the country’s entire population. That’s astounding considering Japan is home to over 125 million people and is the 11th most populous country in the world. People are drawn to the city for its booming economy, endless entertainment options, and world-renowned cuisine — in fact, two out of every five residents are not native to the city.
Fun fact: Tokyo is home to the busiest intersection in the world and one of the world’s largest (and most heavily traveled) rail systems on Earth. The town of Hum, Croatia, is the polar opposite. The village was declared the smallest town in the world by the Guiness Book of World Records. Depending on who you ask — and the time of year — this charming hamlet is home to 17 to 23 people along with two streets, a restaurant, and a handful of houses. Located on a mountaintop, Hum began as a sort of regional watchtower, and the surrounding settlement sprung up around it.
Most and Least Densely Populated Places
Tokyo is definitely densely populated — to the tune of over 12,000 residents per square mile. But that's nothing compared to Mumbai. India’s most populous city, home to over 14 million people, packs over 36,000 people per square mile.
Meanwhile, the least densely populated place in the world is Greenland. This territory of Denmark is actually the world’s largest island, at over 836,000 square miles. But only 60,000 residents call frosty Greenland home, with 18,000 people living in the capital city of Nuuk or along the rocky coastline (the interior is frozen tundra). This means the overall population density of Greenland is .03 people per square mile.
Largest and Smallest Country by Population
While we’re talking population, which country is the most populated overall? It will probably come as no surprise that it’s China with 1.42 billion people. China has 34 provinces and 662 cities (a stunning 162 of which have populations over 1 million). The megacity of Shanghai is the largest of them all with 22 million residents. Of course, China is also large in terms of land area; it’s the third-largest country in the world at 3.74 million square miles.
Fun fact: half the world’s population lives in just seven countries — China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, and Nigeria. At the other end of the spectrum, Vatican City is the least populated country on Earth. Surrounded on all sides by the city of Rome, Italy, the Vatican is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and home to just 825 permanent residents who are mostly priests and nuns.
Largest and Smallest Country by Land Area
Speaking of Vatican City, it’s also the smallest country by land area. It covers a mere 0.2 square miles — smaller than the island of Manhattan. That said, the Vatican boasts over $8 billion worth of assets and is a huge, cash-generating tourist destination — not too shabby for such a tiny sliver of land. Meanwhile, Russia is, by far, the largest country in the world. At nearly 6.6 million square miles, the span has roughly 2.7 million and 2.8 million square miles on the second-largest and third-largest countries — Canada and China, respectively.
Snowiest and Least Snowiest Places
Tokamachi — a small city in Japan, about 150 miles northwest of Tokyo — averages an incredible 460 inches of snow per year. For context, that’s over 38 feet and nearly four times as much snow as notoriously snowy Syracuse averages. The reason boils down to the city’s geography: during winter, cold air streaming south from Siberia meets the warm water of the Sea of Japan. This generates clouds that dump a huge amount of snow on the mountains of Honshu and Hokkaido. The high-altitude peaks only amplify the snow — burying forests, creating 50-foot-tall snow canyons along plowed highways, and forcing residents to enter their homes through second-story entrances.
More surprising is one of the places in the world that almost never sees snow — the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. This region — within the snowiest, iciest place on the globe — is about as close to Mars as you can find on Earth. A frozen desert tundra, the region lacks ice because of the steep mountains that surround it. It also lacks snow — or any precipitation, really — because the area is constantly pummeled by extreme, drying winds.
Sunniest and Most Overcast Cities
Averaging a stunning 4,015 hours of sunshine per year, Yuma — a city of about 100,000 residents in Arizona — is the world’s sunniest city. And the temperatures match the sunshine, with highs in July typically reaching 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Yuma is just under 30 miles north of the Mexican border near the Kofa Mountains. If that’s just too much sun for you, the most overcast place on Earth is Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands.
The Faroe Islands, a self-governing archipelago of 18 islands in the Kingdom of Denmark, is located between Iceland and Norway. And like its northern European neighbors, the Faroe Islands are pretty cloudy — with Tórshavn averaging just 2.4 hours of sunshine per day and 840 hours per year. It’s not all doom and gloom, though: the town’s winters are mild and temperatures rarely drop below freezing.