Last Updated on October 7, 2022

Antarctica is the largest desert in the world. It may sound surprising, for people tend to only consider hot deserts filled with sand dunes and camels, but technically any territory with low precipitation classifies as a desert – including polar and cold deserts. In fact, the Antarctic and Arctic deserts are the two largest deserts on the planet.

If we only take hot deserts into consideration, then we can say that the Sahara desert is the world’s largest desert, but if we take the all deserts into consideration, including the two polar deserts, then the Sahara only ranks 3rd by size. Whether you can consider the Sahara to be the largest desert in the world then depends on your definition of “desert”. Scientifically, Antarctica is a desert and it is larger than the Sahara.

Below, an exhaustive list of the largest deserts on Earth by size:

Largest Cold and Hot Deserts: Antarctica and Sahara desert
Left: Antarctic Polar Desert. Right: Sahara desert.

Largest Deserts by Size

Antarctica Desert

1. Antarctic Polar Desert

The Antarctic Polar Desert is the largest desert in the world, which covers the entire continent of Antarctica with an area of 5,405,000 mi² (14,000,000 km²). Antarctica is a desert because it receives sparce precipitation, mostly in the form of snow, which does not melt but rather builds up forming thick layers of ice sheets.

Canada Desert: Canadian Arctic Tundra

2. Arctic Desert

The Arctic desert is located toward the earth’s north pole and covers a total area of approximately 62,300 square miles, making it the second largest desert in the world. The Arctic region consists of a number of islands, many of which are inhabited by people and animals.

Caravan in the desert. Morocco, Sahara.

3. Sahara Desert

The largest hot desert on the globe, stretching horizontally across the entire African continent from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, barely interrupted by the narrow strip irrigated by the waters of the Nile, and spanning over eleven countries. The Sahara is also the largest sand desert on Earth.

Great Victoria Desert

4. Great Victoria Desert

Located in Australia, the Great Victoria Desert is the fourth largest desert in the world with an area of 134,650 sq mi (348,750 km2). It spans over 435 miles (700km) from west to east, with the western part of it belonging to Western Australia, and the eastern part extending into South Australia. 

Red Sand Dunes near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

5. Arabian Desert

The Arabian Desert is a large sandy desert that covers most of the Arabian Peninsula, with an area of 2,330,000 square kilometers (900,000 sq mi). It crosses several countries in the Middle East from Yemen to the Persian Gulf and from Oman to Jordan and Iraq, making it the largest continuous sand expanse on Earth.

Read also: The Highest Sand Dunes in the World


Which is the largest desert, Antarctica or the Sahara?

Antarctica is larger than the Sahara, with an area of 5,405,000 mi² (14,000,000 km²) vs 3,300,000 mi² (9,000,000 km²). Both are considered deserts, but Antarctica is a cold polar desert, whereas the Sahara is a hot sandy desert.

Which is the smallest desert in the world?

The smallest true desert is the Dasht-e Lut in Iran, which also happens to be the hottest desert in the world. It has an area of 52,000 km² (20,077 mi²). The Carcross desert in Yukon, Canada is known as “the smallest desert in the world” with only 2.6 km² (1 mi²) of area, but it is in fact not a true desert.

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