Species expand towards higher latitudes in response to climate warming, but the pace of this expansion is related to the physiological capacity to resist cold stress. However, few studies exist that have quantified the level of inter-population local adaptation in marine species freeze tolerance, especially in the Arctic. We investigated the importance of cold adaptation and thermal window width towards high latitudes from the temperate to the Arctic region. We measured upper and lower lethal air temperatures (i.e. LT and LT50) in temperate and Arctic populations of blue mussels (Mytilus edulis), and analysed weather data and membrane fatty acid compositions, following emersion simulations. Both populations had similar upper LT (~38 °C), but Arctic mussels survived 4°C colder air temperatures than temperate mussels (−13 vs. −9°C, respectively), corresponding to an 8% increase in their thermal window. There were strong latitudinal relationships between thermal window width and local air temperatures, indicating Arctic mussels are highly adapted to the Arctic environment where the seasonal temperature span exceeds 60°C. Local adaptation and local habitat heterogeneity thus allow leading-edge M. edulis to inhabit high Arctic intertidal zones. This intraspecific pattern provides insight into the importance of accounting for cold adaptation in climate change, conservation and biogeographic studies.