The relative importance of contemporary climate and history as controls of geographical diversity patterns is intensely debated. A key example is the controversy over the extent to which temperate tree distributions and diversity patterns reflect postglacial dispersal limitation. Here, we focus on Central and Northern Europe, and show that recent estimates of tree migration rates < 100 m year−1 imply that many species have probably not reached equilibrium with climate in this region. We then demonstrate that geographical accessibility from glacial refuges explains 78% of the geographical variation in the region's tree diversity and is a much stronger diversity predictor than climate. Finally, we show that realistic estimates of migration rates can be derived from the observed tree diversity pattern by assuming it to be purely dispersal driven. In conclusion, the tree diversity pattern in Central and Northern Europe could, to a large extent, be a result of postglacial dispersal limitation.