The genetic structure of contemporary populations can be shaped by both their history and current ecological conditions. We assessed the relative importance of postglacial colonization history and habitat type in the patterns and degree of genetic diversity and differentiation in northern European nine-spined sticklebacks (Pungitius pungitius), using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences and 12 nuclear microsatellite and insertion/deletion loci. The mtDNA analyses identified - and microsatellite analyses supported - the existence of two historically distinct lineages (eastern and western). The analyses of nuclear loci among 51 European sites revealed clear historically influenced and to minor degree habitat dependent, patterns of genetic diversity and differentiation. While the effect of habitat type on the levels of genetic variation (coastal > freshwater) and differentiation (freshwater > coastal) was clear, the levels of genetic variability and differentiation in the freshwater sites were independent of habitat type (viz. river, lake and pond). However, levels of genetic variability, together with estimates of historical effective population sizes, decreased dramatically and linearly with increasing latitude. These geographical patterns of genetic variability and differentiation suggest that the contemporary genetic structure of freshwater nine-spined sticklebacks has been strongly impacted by the founder events associated with postglacial colonization and less by current ecological conditions (cf. habitat type). In general, the results highlight the strong and persistent effects of postglacial colonization history on genetic structuring of northern European fauna and provide an unparalleled example of latitudinal trends in levels of genetic diversity.