75 Geography Facts Most People Get Wrong
While most of us don’t know every single national bird, flag design or capital city of every country around the globe, there are certain recurring geography facts that seem to trip people up time and time again — even certain facts that pertain to their own country. And while it’s not necessarily offensive to, say, confuse the capital city of Canada or confuse transcontinental countries, there are certain geography facts that are important to get right — especially if you consider yourself a global citizen.
That’s why we rounded up the most common geography facts that people get wrong. From technicalities that most people are unaware of to misconceptions that gained in popularity somewhere along the line, there are dozens of common geography mistakes that span across the globe. But, don’t worry, we’re here to set the record straight.
Kansas City Is Also in Missouri
While it may seem illogical to those who live outside of Kansas or Missouri, the Greater Kansas City Metropolitan Area spans both states, which means there are actually two completely separate Kansas Citys, run by two completely separate city governments.
In fact, most Kansas City claims-to-fame wind up on the Missouri side. The Kansas City Chiefs, for example, actually hail from Missouri, not Kansas.
The United Kingdom and Great Britain Are Not One and the Same
Using Great Britain and the United Kingdom interchangeably is extremely commonplace outside of Europe, but it’s not entirely accurate to do so.
In fact, Great Britain simply refers to England, Scotland, Wales and their surrounding islands, while the United Kingdom encompasses those three that make up Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Holland and the Netherlands Are Two Separate Things
Holland and the Netherlands tend to be used interchangeably when talking about the specific country in Western Europe — but they’re not at all the same. The Netherlands is a country with 12 provinces, including the regions of North Holland and South Holland.
Calling the Netherlands “Holland” would basically be like referring to the United States as Texas or New York.
The Statue of Liberty Isn’t Technically in New York
The Statue of Liberty has become a symbol of New York City since its erection in 1875.
But while the colossal sculpture sits on Liberty Island in New York Harbor and is considered part of New York territory, it's actually geographically located on the New Jersey side of the state line. In fact, it's listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places.
Egypt Isn’t Only Located in Africa
Sure, Egypt is part of the African continent, but it’s technically considered to be a transcontinental country.
While the Suez Canal divides Asia and Africa, there’s actually a small peninsula in Egypt that transcends the canal and toes the line between the two continents.
The Nile River Isn’t the Longest River on Earth
The Nile River is largely credited as the longest river on Earth.
While it is impressive in length at about 4,123 miles, expedition scientists have recently found that the Amazon River is about 65 miles longer than the Nile.
Toronto Isn’t the Capital of Canada
This shouldn’t come as a shocker for Canadian residents, but outside of Canada, it’s widely believed that Toronto is the the country’s capital.
While Toronto is the largest city in terms of population, the capital of Canada is actually Ottawa — a much smaller city a few hours east of Toronto.
Florida Isn’t the Southernmost State
While tourists may flock to Key West to snap photos in the “southernmost point in the United States,” it’s not actually the southernmost state. Technically speaking, Hawaii is farther south than any other American state.
Ka Lae, which is Hawaiian for “the point” is located on Hawaii’s Big Island and is the real southernmost point in the U.S.
Geneva Isn’t Actually the Capital of Switzerland — and Neither Is Zurich
Geneva and Zurich are popular tourist destinations for travelers visiting Switzerland, but neither is the capital of the country.
The Swiss capital is technically considered to be the city of Bern — although on paper the country actually has no official capital.
Puerto Rico Isn’t Its Own Country
Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island that feels like a world all its own.
And despite the fact that the island’s main language is Spanish, it’s actually a United States territory.
Iceland Isn’t Actually Made of Ice
Its name may be deceiving, as the small island in the Atlantic isn’t actually made of ice — or even that cold at all. On average, the temperature across Iceland is between 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
While the country does have its fair share of glaciers, it also has volcano activity, hot springs and geysers.
Sydney Isn’t the Capital of Australia
When you visualize the capital of Australia, what comes to your mind’s eye? For most people, it’s something along the lines of kangaroos, koalas and the Sydney Opera House.
However, despite its popularity among tourists, Sydney is not actually the capital of Australia. The capital is about 150 miles southwest of Sydney in Canberra!
Not All States in the U.S. Practice Daylight Savings Time
Daylight savings has caused debates over the past few years that suggest it may not be as necessary as we formerly thought — but certain states have already foregone the practice of switching over the clocks come spring and autumn.
Both Hawaii and Arizona choose not to recognize daylight savings — and that list is expected to grow in the coming years.
Canada Isn’t the World’s Largest Country
While Canada certainly has quite the landmass and abundance of natural resources, it’s actually the second largest country in the world — not the first!
Canada has a landmass of about 3,855,100 square miles, whereas Russia greatly surpasses that at 10 million square miles.
Maine Isn’t the Eastermost State
In terms of culture and climate, you can’t get much more East Coast than Maine, but geographically speaking, it’s not the easternmost state.
The Aleutian Islands in Alaska actually cross over the 180th meridian — the farthest eastern longitudes of the world.
Greenland Isn’t Technically Its Own Country
While most people don’t know a whole lot of technical details when it comes to Greenland as a nation, a large majority of people assume the island off the coast of Canada is its own country.
However, the autonomous country is technically within the Kingdom of Denmark despite being geographically part of North America.
Greenland Is Not That Big
Speaking of Greenland, the popular Mercator Map enlarges the size of countries near the poles, which means that entire generations of people have grown up thinking Greenland is comparable in size to South America or Africa.
Reality is quite different. Greenland is about one-eighth the size of South America and more than 14 times smaller than Africa.
Florida Isn’t the Closest State to Africa
You might think that Florida is the closest state to Africa, given how aggressively the southern state juts into the Atlantic Ocean compared to the rest of the East Coast.
But Quoddy Head peninsula off the coast of Maine is much closer — it’s just 3,154 miles from El Beddouza, Morocco, in Northern Africa.
You Can See Russia From Alaska
It doesn’t sound like it could possibly hold water, but Sarah Palin’s questionable theory of being able to see parts of Russia from Alaska is factually accurate.
From certain parts of Cape Prince of Wales in Alaska, you can clearly see mainland Siberia — which is actually just 50 miles from Alaska.
Texas Isn’t the Largest State
Sure, everything may be bigger in Texas, but the Lonestar State isn’t the biggest in the U.S.
As it turns out, Alaska is well over twice as large as Texas in terms of sheer landmass.
Mexico Isn’t Technically South of the U.S.
While Mexico is certainly south of the United States border, it’s not actually south of the U.S.
Due to the slight downward curve of the Mexico/United States border, there are actually about 11 states that have land farther south than the most northern points of Mexico.
Mount Everest Isn’t the Tallest Mountain in the World
There’s no denying that Mount Everest is a massive mountain, but it’s not the tallest in the world. Mount Everest sits at about 29,029 feet, while Mauna Kea in Hawaii is 33,465-feet tall.
The reason Mauna Kea is overlooked? More than half of the mountain range is underwater, and a mountain’s height is calculated by how high it reaches above sea level.
Cape Town Is Just One of Three Capitals of South Africa
You might assume that Cape Town is the capital of South Africa — and you’d be right. But South Africa actually has a total of three capital cities that represents all three branches of government.
Cape Town is considered the legislative capital, while Pretoria and Bloemfontein represent the administrative capital and the judicial capital, respectively.
The Great Wall of China Isn’t Technically Visible From Space
Somewhere along the way, there was a rumor that the Great Wall of China is easily visible from space by the naked eye — which isn’t actually the case.
While it’s becoming easier to spot man-made structures from space thanks to increasing light pollution, the Great Wall of China still requires a camera lens in order to pick out the sprawling structure from above.
The Pyramids of Giza Aren’t in the Middle of the Desert
Many people assume that a visit to the Pyramids of Giza requires a long trek into the Egyptian desert when, in fact, it’s quite an easy trip from the Cairo city center.
The distance between Cairo and the Pyramids of Giza is a mere 8 miles and is accessible by a quick 30-minute public train ride or 15 minutes by car.
Afghanistan and Pakistan Aren’t Technically in the Middle East
Many Americans falsely assume that Afghanistan and Pakistan are geographically part of the Middle East when, in fact, they’re quite far from the region (about 1,509 miles away).
While these countries do have relationships with their Middle Eastern neighbors to the west, they’re actually considered part of Central Asia.
Bali Isn’t Its Own Country
Bali is often confused as its own country, rather than an island within the country of Indonesia.
While it’s hands-down one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia, with more than 6 million wellness-focused travelers per year, it’s important to note that it is a province of Indonesia — just like Jakarta or Papua.
Singapore Isn’t in China
While North American travelers sometimes associate Singapore with China, the small region is a sovereign island city-state — not a Chinese province. In fact, Singapore is not even near Chinese borders.
It’s actually an island in Southeast Asia — about seven hours away from Shanghai or 10 hours from Beijing by plane.
The Capital of Romania Is Bucharest, Not Budapest
Sure, Budapest and Bucharest may sound similar when spoken out loud — but they’re not interchangeable cities.
Bucharest is the capital of Romania, whereas Budapest is the capital of Hungary — about 518 miles from Romania.
Taiwan Isn’t Part of the People’s Republic of China
Technically speaking, Taiwan is a province from the Republic of China but not the People’s Republic of China.
This essentially means that Taiwan is still part of China but holds status as a sovereign, independent country.
Reno, Nevada, Is Actually West of Los Angeles
Sure, on the map, it looks pretty clear-cut: California is clearly west of Nevada.
But as it turns out, certain points in Nevada are actually farther west than coastal parts of the state of California.
The Capital of Brazil Isn’t Rio de Janeiro
If you assumed that Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil, well, you might not have always been incorrect.
It had been the federal capital of the South American country from 1822 until 1960, but today, the capital of Brazil is actually Brasília in the central plateau of the country.
The Largest Pyramid in the World Isn’t in Egypt
The most famous and mysterious pyramids on Earth are without a doubt the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt, but the largest pyramid in the world is actually in Mexico.
The Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Tlachihualtepetl, is considered to be the largest pyramid by volume known to exist.
Copenhagen and Amsterdam Aren’t in the Same Country
Somewhere along the line, North American travelers started to confuse Denmark and the Netherlands — perhaps due to their geographic locations or the overall confusion that came with pushing Holland as a destination.
While the two cities are relatively close (about 386 miles in distance), Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, whereas Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark.
There Are, in Fact, Time Zones in Antarctica
Many people wrongly assume that, due to its location, Antarctica is free from time zones, when in fact, the opposite is true.
There are about nine time zones on the icy continent that various science centers and research labs follow.
America Is, Technically Speaking, Not a Country
Colloquially speaking, America is obviously a country — it’s the United States!
But the term is actually used to cover all of the countries in both North and South America — from Belize and Costa Rica to Brazil and Canada.
St. Petersburg Is in Europe, Not Asia
Gigantic Russia spreads its territory between Europe and Asia, but St. Petersburg, its imperial city, is decidedly within the European continent.
The city is farther west than parts of Ukraine, Finland and Norway.
There Are More Than 44 Countries in Europe
Although the U.N. only formally recognizes 44 countries in the European continent, there are other countries that are sometimes included in it. Kosovo, for example, declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and is recognized as a sovereign country by 98 U.N. member states.
Other countries that are sometimes included in Europe are Turkey, Cyprus, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. The World Health Organization also counts Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as Europe. The dispute comes from their position in Eurasia, which has led to debates about which continent they are actually in.
Penguins Do Not Live in the North Pole
All those Christmas cards that have penguins chilling at the North Pole with Santa are lying to you, as all species of penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere, mostly in the South Pole.
You can find penguins as far north as Peru, but definitely nowhere near Santa's home.
And There Are No Polar Bears in the South Pole
Again, any pictures of penguins and polar bears hanging out are nothing but falsehood. Polar bears exclusively inhabit the North Pole.
And since penguins only live in the South Pole, this means that the only place where the two species would be close to each other would be a zoo.
Antarctica Is the Largest Desert in the World
A desert is defined as a dry area that has very little rainfall. Given this, Antarctica is actually the largest desert in the world.
Most people think that deserts are always hot, but that's just a misconception.
Brazil Is Larger Than the Continental U.S.
Although the U.S. is the fourth largest country in the world and Brazil is the fifth, that's mostly because of U.S. territories.
If you compared Brazil to the contiguous 48 states, you'd find that the South American country is actually 11 percent larger. You can thank the Mercator Map for your thinking otherwise.
And Colombia Is Twice the Size of France
Thanks again to the Mercator Map, countries in Europe look much larger than they are, while countries in South America look smaller.
Because of this, people think France is bigger than Colombia, when the latter is actually more than twice as big as the former.
Maine Isn't As Far North As You Think
Maine may be pretty north for the U.S., but it's actually farther south than London.
Some cities in Maine are even south of Paris and Amsterdam.
Most of Africa Is in the Northern Hemisphere
Africa is usually conceived as being part of the Southern Hemisphere, but about two-thirds of the continent are actually in the Northern Hemisphere.
Istanbul Is Not the Capital of Turkey
Another capital people keep getting wrong is Istanbul.
Although it's Turkey's most famous city, the country's capital is actually Ankara.
The Mississippi River Isn't the Longest In the U.S.
Ahhh, the Mississippi River! No American, no matter where they live, does not know the beautiful Mississippi, which runs through 10 states!
But while it's the most romanticized river in the U.S., the Missouri River actually holds the title of being the longest, about 138 miles more than the Mississippi.
There Aren't Necessarily Seven Continents
In the U.S., people count seven continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and Antarctica.
However, this is not worldwide standard, as the number of continents varies from four to seven. In the strictest definition of continent, manmade divisions like the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal don't count, so Europe, Africa and Asia become Eurafrasia, and there is a single American continent. This model also uses Oceania instead of Australia as a continent.
A more common division in Latin America is to have five continents, with America being together and Antarctica being excluded. In recent years, Antarctica has begun to be included to form six continents. Both of these models use Oceania.
The seven-continent model is mostly used in Anglo-speaking and Germanic-speaking countries as well as India, Pakistan, the Philippines and China.
Central America Is Part of the North American Continent
If you follow the seven-continent model, Central America is actually part of the North American continent, not part of South America.
Because Central and South America share cultural elements and are together referred to as Latin America, most people get confused.
Not All of Latin America Speaks Spanish
Sure, most Latin American countries speak Spanish, as they were former Spanish colonies. But some countries speak other languages.
Brazil, of course, speaks Portuguese, Belize's and Guyana's official language is English, and people in Suriname speak Dutch. Although not technically a country, French Guyana speaks, well, French.
Montreal Is Not Actually the Capital of Quebec
While Montreal is certainly the largest city in Quebec in terms of population, it’s not actually the capital of the French-speaking province. That title goes to the second largest French-speaking town: Quebec City.
Quebec City is only about 150 miles from Montreal and is home to the province's Parliament and its National Assembly as well.
Transylvania Is a Real Region in Romania
You’re probably quite familiar with Transylvania from classics like “Dracula” or even “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” — and although the location sounds like it was made up to add spook and suspense to these works of fiction, it’s a real region in Romania.
The historic region is home to the Bran Castle — otherwise known as Dracula’s Castle — but its spooky, vampire-dwelling reputation only became part of local folklore after author Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”was released.
The United States Borders More Countries Than Just Canada and Mexico
Sure, if you look at a map, it looks like the United States’ only direct neighbors are Canada and Mexico.
But certain parts of the U.S., if you include ocean borders, are actually situated directly next to Russia, Cuba and The Bahamas as well.
Newfoundland Only Recently Became Part of Canada
The most easterly province of Canada has become a popular tourist destination for Canadians and international travelers alike for its unmatched seafood, drinking culture and natural splendor — but the province only recently became an official part of Canada.
The world's 16th largest island only joined Canada on March 31, 1949 — before that, it functioned as a colony of England.
You Don’t Always Need a Passport to Cross the Canada/U.S. Border
While you certainly need a passport to cross between Canada and the United States at most land and air borders, if you’re hoping to pass between the two countries without a passport (or if your passport has expired), there’s a simple way to do so.
You don't need a passport to go to Canada or the United States if you’re taking the Detroit-Windsor border tunnel, which connects Detroit, Michigan to Windsor, Ontario. All you need is a birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID.
The Atlantic Ocean Isn’t Actually the Largest Body of Water on Earth
Most people assume that the Atlantic Ocean is the largest body of water on Earth — it connects North America to Europe, after all.
But, in fact, the Pacific Ocean is actually the largest body of water — by length and by depth. It spans 63 million square miles and contains more than half of the free water on Earth.
Vatican City Is Technically Its Own Country
If you’ve ever wandered into Vatican City while exploring Rome, well, you can add another country to your running list of visited nations. The city-state surrounded by Rome, Italy, might not seem like a different nation — but it is, in fact, a country within a country.
Vatican City was established as an independent nation in 1929 in order to allow the pope to exercise full authority of the surroundings without needing to go through the Italian government first.
You Can Walk to Asia From Europe
You don’t have to fly in order to get from mainland Europe to Asia — in fact, you don’t even have to drive or take a train. The Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul connects the continents between Ortaköy (in Europe) and Beylerbeyi (in Asia).
The bridge was once opened to pedestrians year-round, but if you’re looking to cross it by foot these days, you’ll have to wait for the Istanbul Marathon when, once a year, runners have the opportunity to cross the bridge on foot.
Canada Has the Largest Coastline in the World
You might assume the United States or perhaps Australia would hold the top spot as the country with the largest coastline — but that title actually goes to Canada.
The Canadian coastline spans 151,000 miles (243,042 kilometers) and is followed by Indonesia, Russia, the United States and China.
The Canary Islands Are Technically Part of Spain
Tucked off the coast of northwestern Africa, the Canary Islands are technically a Spanish archipelago.
The southernmost autonomous Spanish community is about 62 miles (or 100 kilometers) west of the Moroccan coast.
Chicago Isn’t the Capital of Illinois
With a population of about 2.71 million people, Chicago is certainly a big city. But while Chicago is among the largest cities in the U.S and the largest in the state of Illinois, it’s not the capital of the state.
That title goes to Springfield, which has been home to government officials since 1839.
Alaska Is Both the Westernmost and Easternmost State in the U.S.
It might sound like a physically impossible feat, but Alaska is both the westernmost and easternmost state in America at the same time. How?
The reason Alaska is both the farthest west and east is due to the Aleutian Islands, which cross the 180-degree meridian of longitude.
Certain Parts of Canada Are South of the U.S.
Americans are quick to call Canada their neighbors to the north — but in certain cases, the country is actually more southern than the United States.
Due to a curve in the Detroit River, the city of Windsor, Ontario, is actually south of Detroit, Michigan.
The Seven Continents Sometimes Move at the Same Rate as Fingernail Growth
It was originally thought that the continents (then Pangea) moved just millimeters at a time, taking hundreds of millions of years to break up — but new research suggests that it wasn’t always such a slow pace.
Scientists now believe that, at certain points in history, the continents were moving at the same rate as fingernail growth, which is comparable to a pedestrian going from walking to driving in a high-speed sports car.
Africa Is Actually Situated in All 4 Hemispheres
The only continent to be crossed by both the Prime Meridian and the Equator, Africa is situated in all four hemispheres — North, South, East and West.
There’s no one country or region that is marked by all four (the exact spot falls in the ocean), but the continent is large enough to touch at least portions of every hemisphere.
California Has a Larger Population Than All of Canada
We all know that, in terms of population, Canada is smaller than the United States — but it’s actually smaller than the state of California alone!
The state of California is currently home to about 39.51 million residents, whereas the entire country of Canada has just 37.59 million residents in comparison.
Zip Codes in New York City Can Be Assigned to a Single Building
We tend to think of zip codes as a small region, street or neighborhood — but it turns out that certain zip codes run much, much smaller than that.
In fact, there are a handful of buildings in New York City (about 42 buildings in Manhattan to be exact) that are home to so many residents, the building itself gets its very own zip code.
You Can Walk to Russia From the United States
There are certain times of the year when the air is clear enough to be able to see Russia from the United States — but the narrowest distance between Russia and Alaska is actually so short that it’s walkable come wintertime.
The 55-mile stretch of water between mainland Russia and mainland Alaska isn’t exactly feasible — but the Russian-owned Big Diomede Island and American-owned Little Diomede Island are just 2.5-miles apart and become easily walkable during the winter when the waterways freeze over.
Montana’s Roe River Is the Shortest River in the World
Montana is well-known for its wide-open spaces and natural splendor — but it also happens to lay international claim on another, lesser-known title: the world’s shortest river.
The Roe River runs from Giant Springs to the Missouri River near Great Falls, Montana, and is just 201 feet in length.
There’s an Actual Piece of Africa Located Underneath the U.S.
We often assume that Pangea had a simple, clean break before forming into the seven continents we know today — but scientists now have reason to believe otherwise.
Recently, geologists have discovered a significant chunk of what should have been Africa stuck underneath the United States. Florida and parts of other southeastern states are composed of ancient rock that should only be found in Africa.
The United States Borders 3 Different Oceans
We all know that the United States is bordered by the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans — but those aren’t the only two oceans that call the U.S. a neighbor.
In fact, the country is also neighboring the Arctic Ocean, which shares a coastline with Alaska.
The 4 Largest American Cities Are All in Alaska
You might assume that the physically largest American cities would be heavily populated metropolises in California or Texas — but those assumptions are quite far off.
The four largest American cities by area are all in Alaska — Sitka (2,870.3 square miles), Juneau (2,701.9 square miles), Wrangell (2,542.5 square miles) and Anchorage (1,704.7 square miles).
Los Angeles Was Originally Known as 'El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula'
These days, everyone is familiar with L.A. — or Los Angeles — but the California city’s name didn’t always roll off the tongue quite so easily.
The city was originally known as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula but was shortened to Los Angeles in 1850 when California eventually became part of the United States.
There’s Only One U.S. State That Can Grow Its Own Coffee Beans
The U.S. may be home to some of the most well-known coffee shops in the world, but the country just doesn’t have the climate to grow good coffee beans on its own — except for in Hawaii, that is.
Typically grown on the Big Island, Maui and Kauai, Hawaiian coffee — known as Kona Coffee — is the only successful American-grown coffee to date thanks to the rich soil along the slopes of the active Mauna Loa volcano.
Alaska Has More Earthquakes Than Any Other U.S. State
We’re quick to assume that California and Hawaii are the states hit the hardest by earthquakes — but Alaska happens to be the state with the worst earthquakes to date.
Alaska has seen earthquake magnitudes of up to 6.70, while California has seen 6.02.