There are seven continents in the world: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia/Oceania, Europe, North America, and South America. However, depending on where you live, you may have learned that there are five, six, or even four continents. This is because there is no official criteria for determining continents. While the position of landmasses on continental crust may be used to determine continents, geopolitical factors also affect their delineation. Below is an overview of the world's continent using the most popular classification system, the seven continent method.
- Land Area: 30,370,000 km2 (11,730,000 sq mi)
- Population: 1,225,080,510
- Number of Sovereign States: 54
Africa is the world's second largest continent by both land area and population. The equator runs through Africa in the middle of the continent. Around one third of Africa is located in the Southern Hemisphere. Africa makes up about 20% of the world’s total land area. The Indian Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea all surround Africa, to the east, west, and north respectively.
The climate of Africa consists of hot desert in the north and jungle and savannahs in the middle and south. Africa hosts a large amount of biological diversity, and is home to more megafauna (large animals) than anywhere else in the world. Examples of these animals include elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, and giraffes.
Africa has the youngest population of all continents, with a median age of only 19.5 years. This has mainly been a result of high population growth over the past 40 years. Africa is extremely linguistically diverse, with an estimated more than two thousand languages spoken. The largest city in Africa is Lagos.
- Land Area: 14,000,000 km2 (5,400,000 sq mi)
- Population: 1,106
- Number of Sovereign States: 0
Located at the South Pole, Antarctica has no permanent population and no countries. It is reserved for use as a scientific base. Antarctica is the fifth largest continent by land area, and the least populated continent. Antarctica is an island, and is completely surrounded by the Southern Ocean.
High winds, extremely cold temperatures, lack of vegetation, and a very dry desert makes the climate of Antarctica highly inhospitable. Despite this, a number of species have adapted to the environment. This includes seals, penguins, and a number of plants and bacteria.
The only human presence in Antarctica are scientists who live on the island on a temporary basis. It is also possible to visit Antarctica as a tourist.
- Land Area: 144,579,000 km2 (17,212,000 sq mi)
- Population: 4,462,676,731
- Number of Sovereign States: 48
Asia is the world’s largest continent both by population and by land area. Comprising of 30% of the world’s land area, Asia borders the Pacific Ocean in the east, the Arctic Ocean in the north, the Indian Ocean in the south, and Europe to the west. Around 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia.
Asia has the longest coastline of any continent. The climate of Asia is very diverse, and ranges from arctic to tropical. Throughout the interior of Asia, the climate is mostly dry. The southern and eastern part of the continent is prone to tropical storms called monsoons. Animals that are unique to Asia include the Asian elephant, the Indian Cobra, and the Japanese macaque.
Over four billion people live in Asia. China is the most populated country in Asia, though it is predicted that the population of India will overtake that of China by 2022. Asia is home to some of the world’s most important economic centers including Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Seoul.
- Land Area: 8,600,000 km2 (3,300,000 sq mi)
- Population: 35,000,000
- Number of Sovereign States: 14
Australia is the world’s smallest continent and second least populated. The term Oceania is also used to describe this region in order to differentiate it from the country of Australia. However, Oceania is not a continent but is instead a continental grouping. The term Australasia is also sometimes use to refer to this region. Countries included in the Australian continent include Australia, Papua New Guinea, and portions of Indonesia.
The climate of Australia ranges from tropical, arid, and hot in the north to milder temperatures in the south. Due to its isolation and distance from the rest of the world, Australia exhibits an amazing amount of species endemism. Some of the species unique to Australia include the koala, platypus, wombat, kangaroo, and echidna.
Australia has the smallest population of all continents aside from Antarctica. Its population of 35 million represents only around 0.50% of the world’s total population. Interestingly, New Zealand is not considered to be part of Australia/Oceania but is instead a submerged continent of its own.
- Land Area: 10,180,000 km2 (3,930,000 sq mi)
- Population: 741,447,158
- Number of Sovereign States: 50
Europe is the world’s third most populated continent, and the sixth largest continent by land area. Although physically connected to Asia, Europe has historically been considered a separate continent due to cultural and linguistic differences. The Ural and Caucasus Mountains are generally thought to be the eastern boundary of Europe. The other borders of Europe include the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Europe is home to more than 10% of the world’s population.
The climate of Europe is largely shaped by the currents of the Atlantic Ocean, which regulate a mild temperature throughout much of the continent’s coastal areas. Throughout the interior of the continent, more extreme temperatures are experienced.
Europe has the world’s second highest population density after Asia. Monaco is the continent’s most densely populated country. Many of the languages spoken in Europe today can trace their origins to the Roman Empire. Germanic and Slavic languages are also spoken. Europe is home to a few countries that are considered to be transcontinental, i.e., in both Europe and Asia. These countries include Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, and Russia.
- Land Area: 24,709,000 km2 (9,540,000 sq mi)
- Population: 579,024,000
- Number of Sovereign States: 23
North America is the third largest continent in the world by land area. By population, it is the fourth largest. Sometimes considered to be a subcontinent of the Americas, North America is found entirely in the northern hemisphere and is bordered by the Arctic Ocean in the north, the Atlantic ocean in the east, the Pacific Ocean in the west, and South America to the south. North America is home to the longest land border in the world, which is shared between Canada the the United States.
The climate of North America is warmer in the south of the continent, and colder in the north. While temperatures near the coast tend to be mild, inland temperatures can experience extremes. While the southern portion of the continent, in the southern United States and Central America, is subtropical, the northern portion of the continent consists largely of Arctic tundra.
The United States is the most populated country in North America, followed by Mexico. The people of North America are ethnically diverse. English, Spanish, and French are the most commonly spoken languages on the continent, although there are a number of minority languages as well.
- Land Area: 17,840,000 km2 (6,890,000 sq mi)
- Population: 420,458,044
- Number of Sovereign States: 12
South America is the world’s fourth largest continent by land area, and the world’s third most populous. It is mostly situated in the southern hemisphere, with the exception of a small area of the northernmost portion of the continent. It is found completely in the western hemisphere. South America is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the east, the Pacific Ocean in the west, the Southern Ocean in the south, and North America in the north.
South America’s climate ranges from the dry Andacan Desert to the lush rainforests of the Amazon. The Andean Plateau, which is found atop the Andes Mountains, is the world’s largest plateau outside of Tibet. South America is home to amazing species of flora and fauna, including unique tropical birds and monkeys.
Brazil is the most populated country in South America, followed by Colombia and Argentina. The most popular language in South America is Spanish, although there is a high number of Portuguese speakers due to its status as the official language of Brazil. English is the official language in Guyana, while Dutch is spoken in Suriname.
A subcontinent is a landmass with a distinct geographic or cultural identity. Although subcontinents are very large, they are too small to be considered a continent on their own. A landmass may also be considered a subcontinent if it sits on its own tectonic plate.
The Indian subcontinent is situated in South Asia. It is found south of the Himalayan mountain range and consists of the countries of India, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The Indian subcontinent is sometimes called South Asia or the South Asian subcontinent. It is called a subcontinent because of its unique culture and distinct landmass.
The Arabian Peninsula is a subcontinent because it lies on its own tectonic plate. It is the largest peninsula in the world. The countries making up the Arabian Peninsula are Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, as well as parts of Iraq and Jordan.
Central America can be called a subcontinent because of its shared culture and location on the southernmost isthmus of North America. The countries making up Central America are Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama.
Greenland, the largest island in the world, is called a subcontinent due to to its large size and location within North America. However, Greenland does not sit upon its own tectonic plate.
Other Continent Divisions
Four Continent Model
The four continent model promotes the idea that all continents are landmasses divided by ocean. As Europe and Asia inhabit the landmass, and Africa and Asia are connected by the Isthmus of Suez, they are considered to compose one continent called “Afro-Eurasia.” Also in this model, North America and South America are thought of as one continent connected by the Isthmus of Panama.
Five Continent Model
In the five continent model, Europe and Asia are considered to be one continent called Eurasia. Antarctica is also omitted due to its lack of permanent habitation. This model is used by the United Nations.
Six Continent Model (Version One)
This model is most commonly taught in western Europe, including France and Spain. Here, North and South America are considered to be one single continent of America.
Six Continent Model (Version Two)
- North America
- South America
This model is mostly taught in Eastern Europe and Japan. In this model, North and South America are differentiated by Europe and Asia are combined in one continent of Eurasia.
Seven Continent Model
- North America
- South America
The seven continent model is the most popularly accepted model. It is most commonly taught in English-speaking countries, as well as in China, India, and Pakistan.
The Continents of the World
|Seven Continents||Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia/Oceania, Europe, North America, South America|
|Six Continents (Version One)||Africa, Asia, America, Antarctica, Australia/Oceania|
|Six Continents (Version Two)||Africa, Eurasia, North America, South America, Antarctica, Australia/Oceania|
|Five Continents||Africa, Eurasia, America, Antarctica, Australia|
|Four Continents||Afro-Eurasia, America, Antarctica, Australia|
About the Author
Rachel is the managing editor for World Atlas as well as occasional contributor. She has degrees in creative writing and urban studies.
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