The cryosphere presents some of the most challenging conditions for life on earth. Nevertheless, (micro)biota survive in a range of niches in glacial systems, including water-filled depressions on glacial surfaces termed cryoconite holes (centimetre to metre in diameter and up to 0.5 m deep) that contain dark granular material (cryoconite). In this study, the structure of bacterial and eukaryotic cryoconite communities from ten different locations in the Arctic and Antarctica was compared using T-RFLP analysis of rRNA genes. Community structure varied with geography, with greatest differences seen between communities from the Arctic and the Antarctic. DNA sequencing of rRNA genes revealed considerable diversity, with individual cryoconite hole communities containing between six and eight bacterial phyla and five and eight eukaryotic ‘first-rank’ taxa and including both bacterial and eukaryotic photoautotrophs. Bacterial Firmicutes and Deltaproteobacteria and Epsilonproteobacteria, eukaryotic Rhizaria, Haptophyta, Choanomonada and Centroheliozoa, and archaea were identified for the first time in cryoconite ecosystems. Archaea were only found within Antarctic locations, with the majority of sequences (77%) related to members of the Thaumarchaeota. In conclusion, this research has revealed that Antarctic and Arctic cryoconite holes harbour geographically distinct highly diverse communities and has identified hitherto unknown bacterial, eukaryotic and archaeal taxa, therein.