A location is the place where a particular point or object exists.


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Geography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Human Geography, Physical Geography

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A location is the place where a particular point or object exists. Location is an important term in geography, and is usually considered more precise than "place." A locality is a human settlement: city, town, village, or even archaeological site.

A place's absolute location is its exact place on Earth, often given in terms of latitude and longitude.

For example, the Empire State Building is located at 40.7 degrees north (latitude), 74 degrees west (longitude). It sits at the intersection of 33rd Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City, New York, United States. That is the building’s absolute location.

Location can sometimes be expressed in relative terms. Relative location is a description of how a place is related to other places. For example, the Empire State Building is 365 kilometers (227 miles) north of America's White House in Washington, D.C. It is also about 15 blocks from New York's Central Park. These are just two of the building's relative locations.

Relative location can help analyze how two places are connected, whether by distance, culture, or even technology. The city of Kiev, Ukraine, for example, is about 2,298 kilometers (1,428 miles) east of London, England. The U.S. cities of Key West, Florida, and Anchorage, Alaska, are even further apart—6,436 kilometers (3,999 miles). However, Floridians and Alaskans share the same language, national government, and geographic features. (They both have long ocean coasts subject to heavy storms, for instance.). Culturally, Ukraine and England are much further apart than the U.S. states of Florida and Alaska: They speak different languages, have different government systems, and different geographic features.

Directions like north, south, east, and west help describe where one place is in relation to another. The "Wild West" is a cultural location that vaguely refers to parts of the United States west of the Mississippi River. The Wild West, however, rarely includes the states of Alaska and Hawai'i, the westernmost states in the nation.

Coordinates of longitude and latitude help pinpoint the absolute location of a person, place, or thing. Knowing a location is 0 degrees west (longitude) and 51 degrees north (latitude) tells you it’s probably near Greenwich, England, for instance. Knowing the location is 0 degrees west and 51 degrees, 28 minutes, and 40 seconds north tells you the location is the Royal Observatory, a building in Greenwich. At the Royal Observatory, directions like left, right, upstairs, and downstairs give visitors even more precise locations.

Even absolute location is a form of relative location! Coordinates simply give a place's position relative to the Equator (latitude) and prime meridian (longitude).

Fast Fact

A Global Positioning System, or GPS, uses satellites orbiting Earth to relate absolute location.

Fast Fact

Location, Location, Location
Traditionally, those are the three most important factors in buying and selling real estate.

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Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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