Most studies of the genetic structure of Atlantic cod have focused on small geographical scales. In the present study, the genetic structure of cod sampled on spawning grounds in the North Atlantic was examined using eight microsatellite loci and the Pan I locus. A total of 954 cod was collected from nine different regions: the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Celtic Sea, the Irish Sea and Icelandic waters during spring 2002 and spring 2003, from Norwegian waters and the Faroe Islands (North and West spawning grounds) in spring 2003, and from Canadian waters in 1998. Temporal stability among spawning grounds was observed in Icelandic waters and the Celtic Sea, and no significant difference was observed between the samples from the Baltic Sea and between the samples from Faroese waters. F-statistics showed significant differences between most populations and a pattern of isolation-by-distance was described with microsatellite loci. The Pan I locus revealed the presence of two genetically distinguishable basins, the North-west Atlantic composed of the Icelandic and Canadian samples and the North-east Atlantic composed of all other samples. Permutation of allele sizes at each microsatellite locus among allelic states supported a mutational component to the genetic differentiation, indicating a historical origin of the observed variation. Estimation of the time of divergence was approximately 3000 generations, which places the origin of current genetic pattern of cod in the North Atlantic in the late Weichselian (Wisconsinian period), at last glacial maximum. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 94, 315–329.