This paper analyses the spatial distribution of the inter-annual variability of vegetation activity in central Siberia and its relationship with atmospheric circulation variability. We used NOAA-AVHRR NDVI series from Pathfinder Land Data Set at 1° of spatial resolution, and we calculated the annual vegetation activity in each pixel (aNDVI) from 1982 to 2001. Principal component analysis (PCA) was used to determine the general spatial patterns of inter-annual variability of vegetation activity. We identified three main modes, which explain more than 50% of the total variance, each corresponding to a large region. By means of surface pressure grids, we analysed the main patterns of the seasonal atmospheric circulation in the study area: its variability was summarised by means of a few circulation modes and the patterns differ significantly between winter, spring and summer. However, a pattern with a North–South dipole structure represents the general spatial pattern of atmospheric circulation. We investigated the effect of seasonal atmospheric circulation patterns on the inter-annual variation of vegetation activity. In general, the strongest relationships between the atmospheric circulation variability, climate and the aNDVI variability were found in areas where the climatic characteristics are more limiting for the vegetation development, such as the northern regions. This may be explained by the fact that in these areas the variability of atmospheric circulation modes determines summer temperatures, which have a direct impact on vegetation activity. Copyright © 2006 Royal Meteorological Society.