There’s no doubt about it. We live in an age of unparalleled access to information. And yet, even with this wealth of knowledge literally in the palms of our hands, even the most basic of geography can seem to trip people up.
Here are 25 geography mistakes that most people make.
1. All states observe Daylight Saving Time.
Wrong! Not every state has to move those clocks back and forth. Hawaii and Arizona do not observe Daylight Saving Time, though Navajo tribal lands within Arizona do follow the time change.
2. You can’t see Russia from Alaska.
Turns out, Sarah Palin was right! Sort of.
As a purely technical matter, Palin was spot on: there are places where you can indeed see Russia from Alaska. Given the correct weather conditions in the Bering Sea, you can see the island of Big Diomede, Russia, from the smaller island of Little Diomede, Alaska.
3. Greenland is an independent country.
False. Greenland is an autonomous constituent country within the Kingdom of Denmark, and though it does enjoy a great deal of self-governing, it is not independent.
And while we’re at it, Greenland isn’t very green. In fact, it’s mostly covered in ice.
4. Maine is the easternmost state.
Would you believe that Alaska is actually the state that is farthest east? It’s true. Parts of Alaska stretch so far west that they actually reach the Eastern Hemisphere. Sorry, Maine.
5. The Matterhorn is Europe’s highest mountain.
This picturesque peak in the Swiss Alps is undeniably beautiful, but it is not even close to being the tallest in Europe. That title goes to Mt. Elbrus, which rises 18,510 feet in the Caucasus Mountains near the Russia/Georgia border.
6. Toronto is the capital of Canada.
Toronto might be Canada’s biggest and most well-known city, but that does not mean it is automatically capital of Canada. And it’s not Montreal either. The capital of Canada is actually Ottawa, picked by Queen Victoria in 1857 as a centrally located compromise between competing cities.
7. Africa is a country.
We know, it seems obvious, but you might be surprised to know that “is Africa a country” is quite a popular Google search. To clear up any confusion: Africa is a continent, home to many different countries.
8. Holland and the Netherlands are the same thing.
“Holland” and “the Netherlands” seem to get used interchangeably, but they are most definitely not the same. The Netherlands is a country in Western Europe. It has 12 provinces, including North Holland and South Holland.
Holland then, can more accurately be described as a region within the Netherlands.
9. Mt. Everest is the closest mountain to space.
Mount Everest is the highest mountain above sea level. However, thanks to a bulge in the Earth’s shape around the equator, Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador is farther from the Earth’s center than Everest. Worth noting – by the criterion of elevation above sea level, Chimborazo is not even the highest peak of the Andes.
10. The Statue of Liberty is in New York.
Okay, so technically Liberty Island (home of the Statue of Liberty) belongs to New York City, but there is no denying the fact that the island is surrounded by the waters of Jersey City, New Jersey. Liberty Island is also located much closer to New Jersey’s mainland than New York’s.
Cue the cross-state debates.
11. Great Britain and the United Kingdom are the same.
Not exactly. Great Britain is an island that consists of England, Scotland, and Wales. The United Kingdom is a sovereign country in Western Europe that includes England, Scotland, Wales, AND Northern Ireland. So Great Britain is a part of the United Kingdom.
12. Charleston is the capital of South Carolina.
Charleston is the oldest and largest city in South Carolina, but it is not the capital. That would be Columbia. Charleston is the capital of West Virginia though.
13. Florida is the closest state to Africa.
It makes sense, since Florida is the most southeastern state, and cuts out into the Atlantic, but it is not the case. A small peninsula off the coast of Maine, known as Quoddy Head, is a mere 3,154 miles from El Beddouza, Morocco. The closest point in Florida to Africa is over 1,000 miles further.
14. Egypt is entirely in Africa.
Nope! Egypt can actually be considered a transcontinental country. The Suez Canal (which runs through Egypt) is the dividing line between Asia and Africa. There is a small part of Egypt, known as the Sinai Peninsula, which lies on the side of the canal that is formally known as Asia. The majority of the country is on the other side, in Africa, with a land bridge connecting the mainland of Egypt to the Sinai Peninsula.
15. Cape Town is the sole capital of South Africa.
Cape Town is a capital of South Africa, but it is not alone. South Africa is one of the few countries in the world that does not have a single capital city. Instead, they boast three capital cities, one for each branch of government. Pretoria is the administrative capital of South Africa. Cape Town is the legislative capital. And Bloemfontein is the judicial capital.
16. Deserts are hot.
A desert is a dry and barren area of landscape where little precipitation occurs. By that definition, the two largest deserts in the world are Antarctica and the Arctic, which see very little rainfall. Neither of which would be considered warm weather areas.
17. Mexico is south of the border.
Okay, so it is a bit of a technicality, but it is true. While it may seem a little counter-intuitive, eleven US states have land farther south than the most northern point of Mexico. In parts of Texas, for example, the US/Mexico border is better described as being off to the east.
18. Iceland is covered in ice.
Don’t let the name fool you. This small country in the North Atlantic can actually be fairly mild, with parts of the country remaining ice-free even during the winter. The warm North Atlantic Current ensures generally higher annual temperatures than in most places of similar latitude in the world.
19. The Earth is a perfect sphere.
Sorry conspiracy theorists, it’s not flat either.
The Earth can more appropriately be defined as an oblate spheroid – a sphere that is squashed at its poles and swollen at the equator. And it’s not even a perfect oblate spheroid! Because mass is distributed unevenly across the globe, gravitational pull creates bumps around the Earth’s surface. Earth’s shape even changes over time.
20. Istanbul is the capital of Turkey.
Historically known as Constantinople and Byzantium, Istanbul is the most populous city in Turkey, and is the country’s economic, cultural, and historical center. It is also a transcontinental city, straddling the Bosphorus strait which separates Europe and Asia. It is not, however, the capital of Turkey. That distinction goes to the more centrally located Ankara, second most populous in Turkey, with a long, important history as well.
21. Texas is the biggest state.
They say “everything’s bigger in Texas,” but those people must have never been to Alaska. Located in the northwest extremity of North America, it can be easy to forget about Alaska if you dwell on the lower 48, but Alaska is well over twice as large as Texas.
22. Greenland is bigger than Africa.
Don’t let maps with Mercator Projections fool you. These maps expand the north and south poles to huge proportions, making Greenland look extremely big. In truth, Africa covers 11,730,000 square miles, while Greenland covers only 836,300 square miles.
23. Geneva is the capital of Switzerland.
When you think of Switzerland, the first cities that probably come to mind are Zürich and Geneva. Zürich is the largest Swiss city, and Geneva is both a global financial hub, and a worldwide center for diplomacy. However, neither are capital. Switzerland actually doesn’t have a capital per se, but rather, a “Federal City”. And this Federal City is the Bern.
24. Afghanistan is in the Middle East.
Central Asian states, like Afghanistan and Pakistan, and countries between the Black and Caspian Seas, such as Georgia and Armenia, do not typically make the list of Middle Eastern countries. These countries do have long-standing interrelationships with their Middle Eastern neighbors, but geographically don’t really fit within the Middle East.
25. Rhode Island is the least populated state.
Rhode Island might be the smallest state in terms of land area, but when it comes to population, it’s a whole other story. Wyoming is actually the least populous US state, while Rhode Island ranks at 43rd least populous.
Know of any other common geography mistakes? Let us know in the comments below.