The availability of high-density panels of genetic polymorphisms has led to the discovery of extended regions of apparent autozygosity in the human genome. At the genotype level, these regions present as sizeable stretches, or ‘runs’, of homozygosity (ROH). Here, we investigated both the genomic and the geographic distribution of ROHs in a large European sample of individuals originating from 23 subpopulations. The genomic ROH distribution was found to be characterized by a pattern of highly significant non-uniformity that was virtually identical in all subpopulations studied. Some 77 chromosomal regions contained ROHs at considerable frequency, thereby forming ‘ROH islands’ that were not explicable by high linkage disequilibrium alone. At the geographic level, the number and cumulative length of ROHs followed a prominent South to North gradient in agreement with expectations from European population history. The individual ROH length, in contrast, showed only minor and unsystematic geographic variation. While our findings are thus consistent with a larger effective population size in Southern than in Northern Europe, combined with a higher historic population density and mobility, they also indicate that the patterns of meiotic recombination in humans must have been very similar throughout the continent. Extending previous reports of a strong correlation between geography and identity-by-state, our data show that the genomic identity-by-descent patterns of Europeans are also clinal. As a consequence, the planning, design and interpretation of ROH-based genetic studies must take sample origin into account in order for such studies to be sensible and valid.