Historically, when Europe was dominated by the Mediterranean region (i.e., the Roman Empire), everything not near this sea was termed northern Europe, including Germany, the Low Countries, and Austria. This meaning is still used today in some contexts, such as in discussions of the Northern Renaissance. In medieval times, the term (Ultima) Thule was used to mean a mythical place in the extreme northern reaches of the continent.
With the exception of the UK and Ireland, northern European countries are known for harsh winters. For example, the Winter of 2010-2011 in Europe began in November throughout Northern Europe. Temperatures can reach as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius in some parts of northern Europe.
Countries in northern Europe are known to have large, developed economies and some of the highest standards of living in the world. They score highly on surveys measuring quality of life, such as the Human Development Index.