Image: Helsinki Cathedral and chapel of ice Helsinki Finland
© World Pictures  /  Alamy
The coldest city is Helsinki, Finland with an average annual temperature of 41 degrees. Helsinki is the world's second most northern capitol, situated near the Baltic Sea. The metro region spans several islands and peninsulas. Winter temperatures average 27 degrees. The thermometer can hit the 80s during the summer, but never for many days. The city recorded its record low temperature of—30 degrees in 1987. Runners up: Stockholm, Sweden (43); Oslo, Norway (44); Copenhagen, Denmark (46).
updated 8/6/2007 7:31:33 PM ET 2007-08-06T23:31:33

As parts of Europe are engulfed by a brutal heat wave this summer, it makes one wonder: Who's getting it the worst?

Athens. The city faced a record 115-degree day on June 27. Then on July 19, Greece's national fire service reported over 100 fires, including one at an army base just outside Athens on a 106-degree day. Hot sure, but business as usual for the city, which has the highest average temperature in Europe.

It shouldn't be a surprise. When it comes to the most extreme weather on the continent, look north or south of the Gulf Stream, or within close proximity to Africa. That's where you'll find everything from cold temperatures from Arctic Circle currents or Mediterranean climates in southern European spots near the African continent.

Anyone living in the U.K., France, Iceland or other parts of central or southern Europe can thank this clockwise rotation of winds and ocean currents bringing heat and energy from North America for their relatively predictable weather. Actually, what's commonly known as the Gulf Stream is just part of a wider phenomenon know as Thermohaline, responsible for transporting heat to Europe through the Atlantic Ocean.

The currents are what keep Europe's weather from taking after that of Canada, its latitudinal partner across the ocean. How much energy is being transported at any one moment? About 100 times the world's total energy demand at that same moment, according to New York-based researcher Weather 2000.

"If it were ever shut off, Europe would see an average temperature drop of 15 degrees," says Jeff Schultz, the center's chief climatologist.

So where are the weather conditions in Europe the most extreme? Dan Baker, a Dallas-based enthusiast who's been tracking the coldest, hottest, windiest, etc., locations in the U.S. for nine years on his Web site, recently compiled a similar roundup for European cities. Using data from and from various national climate sites of European countries, Baker pegged the most extreme weather on the continent.

Some of the results were surprising. Given the power that Sherlock Holmes mysteries and branded trench coats have on public perceptions, a lot of people associate fog with the city of London. But the numbers show that's myth. Fog is much more prevalent in Italy, where the major metros of Milan and Rome get socked in 300 days a year thanks to pollution that coagulates with air moisture from flooded rice fields. London doesn't even make the top 10.

Fog is actually decreasing in Milan, Schultz notes, as more rice fields are replaced by parking lots and other structures, reducing the amount of moisture floating into the air. But the city is still tops on the continent for now.

London does rank as Europe's fourth-rainiest city as measured by number of days of rain, with 226. But most of those daily rainfalls are brief — the city isn't among the leaders in annual inches of precipitation.

Image: Athens, Greece
Eurokinissi  /  © AP
The hottest city is Athens, Greece with an average annual temperature of 64 degrees. Athens is surrounded by mountains, a sure way to lock in the heat. A Mediterranean climate means lots of rain in the fall and spring but little in the summer. The city experienced its highest recorded temperature ever on June 27—a scalding 115 degrees. Runners up are: Lisbon, Portugal (62); Rome, Italy (59); Madrid, Spain (57)

"New York City receives 21 more inches of rain per year than London," Baker points out.

Other results were a bit more predictable. Northerly situated Scandinavia, which gets some of its currents from the Arctic Circle, is home to a lot of snow and cold, with Helsinki, Finland, facing the moisture of the Baltic Sea in addition to low temperature, rating tops in both categories.

Oslo, Norway, Stockholm, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark, follow close behind. All are great places to visit in the summertime, when mild weather often keeps temperatures in the 60s. Maybe that's why the only Olympiad Helsinki has ever hosted were the 1952 summer games, despite its winter orientation.

Stockholm, situated just below 60 degrees latitude, also experiences extremes when it comes to hours of sunlight, with very short winter days and extra long summer ones. In June, the sun rises at 3:30 a.m. and doesn't set until 10:09 p.m., a total of 18 hours and 38 minutes of light.

Lisbon, Portugal, which is located in the path of the Gulf Stream, averages the most daily hours of sunlight year-round thanks to its dry air and stable climate (much like southern California in the U.S.). Lisbon is also the second-hottest city in Europe with a year-round average of 62 degrees, topped only by Athens, which sits in a Mediterranean climate and is encased by mountains.

© 2012

Photos: A European tour

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  1. Venice, Italy

    Gondolas line the bank near Venice's grand canal with the San Giorgio Maggiore church in the background. (Peter Deilmann Cruises via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Rome, Italy

    The Colosseum is one of the best-known attractions in all of Italy, and is the largest elliptical amphitheater built in the Roman empire. (Tiziana Fabi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. London, England

    The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben clock tower, located along the River Thames, are seen at dusk from Westminster Bridge. (George Rose / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Berlin, Germany

    Tourists take pictures of themselves at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The memorial, designed by U.S. architect Peter Eisenman and inaugurated in May 2005, is made up of more than 2,700 concrete steles that form a curved landscape in the heart of Germany's capital. (Barbara Sax / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Granada, Spain

    The Alhambra palace in Granada, although one of 21 finalists, missed out on being named one of the new seven wonders of the world. (Jose Luis Roca / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Paris, France

    This bird's-eye view of Paris at dusk, with the Eiffel Tower and L'Hotel des Invalides prominent, show why the capital's nickname is the "City of Light." (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Lindos, Greece

    The ancient town of Lindos is famous for its Acropolis, which stands on a 380-foot-high hill overlooking Lindos and the Aegean Sea and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Eyeswideopen / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Dublin, Ireland

    People walk past The Temple Bar, which should not be confused with its neighborhood, also called Temple Bar, in central Dublin. Ireland's capital has been voted one of the top 25 cities of the world to live in. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Lisbon, Portugal

    Belém Tower was built in the early 16th century as a ceremonial gateway to the city, and to serve as a defense at the mouth of the Tagus River. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Sebastiano Scattolin / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Barcelona, Spain

    Columns and arches of the Sagrada Familia rise high in this Roman Catholic church, which has been under construction since 1882 and remains incomplete. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Florence, Italy

    A woman looks over Florence from the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore. Construction on the city's cathedral church began in 1296 and finished in 1462. (Guido Cozzi / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. County Mayo, Ireland

    Ashford Castle, which dates back to the 13th century and sits on 350 acres of manicured gardens and land, now ranks among the finest hotels in Ireland. About a two-hour drive from Dublin, the castle has played host to myriad high-profile events, including actor Pierce Brosnan's wedding. (Tourism Ireland via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kaag, Netherlands

    A cyclist pedals along rows of tulips near the village of Kaag, outside of Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Dutch often use cycling to get around, and Amsterdam is considered one of the most bike-friendly large cities in the world. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Amsterdam, Netherlands

    A tourist smokes at a coffeeshop "de Dampkring," or "Atmosphere," where a part of the "Ocean's Twelve" movie was filmed, in the center of Amsterdam, Netherlands. The city is famous for its nightlife, cultural activities and red-light district. (Peter Dejong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Stockholm, Sweden

    Boats line up on the shoreline in Stockholm, the capital and largest city in Sweden. The city is built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges. (Olivier Morin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Krakow, Poland

    The Church of St. Mary of the Assumption in Krakow, Poland, is one of the most well-known tourist spots in the city and noted for its gothic, medieval architecture. However, most people come to Krakow because of its proximity to Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi's concentration camps, which is now a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. (Jon Hicks / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Nice, France

    Hundreds of people enjoy sunbathing on the beach in Nice on the French Riviera. (Valery Hache / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Brussels, Belgium

    The Grand Place in the heart of Old Town in Brussels, Belguim, is marked by many 17th-century buildings and flower markets. (Jean-Pierre Lescourret / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Greek islands

    Oia, on the island of Santorini, Greece, is on a clifftop village filled with white structures and gorgeous sunsets. Santorini offers seaside tavernas, cliffside paths, black volcanic rocks and of course, sunshine and the Aegean Sea. (Saundra Virtanen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Pamplona, Spain

    Revelers hold up their red scarves during the start of the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain. The annual festival is best known for its daily running of the bulls. (Susana Vera / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Prague, Czech Republic

    The buildings in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, are constructed in many architectural styles from Romanesque to gothic to art nouveau and modern. (Michal Cizek / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Reykjavik, Iceland

    Tourists stand in the Blue Lagoon outside Reykjavik, Iceland. The Blue Lagoon's waters come from natural hot water springs flowing through rocks of lava. Many also believe the mineral-rich waters may have health benefits. (Olivier Morin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. St. Petersburg, Russia

    The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul is seen on the bank of the Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Dmitry Lovetsky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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