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.
Northern Europe consists roughly of the Scandinavian peninsula, the peninsula of Jutland, the Baltic plain that lies to the east and the many islands that lie offshore from mainland northern Europe, Greenland, and the main European continent.
Many countries in northern Europe have large, developed economies and some of the highest standards of living in the world. They often score highly on surveys measuring quality-of-life, such as the Human Development Index.