Ten of the longest daily temperature series presently available in Europe and China are analysed, focusing on changes in extremes since pre-industrial times. We consider extremes in both a relative (with respect to the time of year) and an absolute sense. To distinguish changes in extremes from changes affecting the main part of the temperature distribution, a percentile smaller than 10 (and/or larger than 90) is recommended for defining an extreme. Three periods of changes in temperature extremes are identified: decreasing warm extremes before the late 19th century; decreasing cold extremes since then and increasing warm extremes since the 1960s. The early decreases and recent increases of warm extremes dominate in summer, while the decrease of cold extremes for winter persists throughout the whole period. There were more frequent combined (warm plus cold) extremes during the 18th century and the recent warming period since 1961 at most of the ten stations, especially for summer. Since 1961, the annual frequency of cold extremes has decreased by about 7% per century with warm extremes increasing by more than 10% per century but with large spatial variability. Compared with recent annual mean warming of about 2-3°C/century, the coldest winter temperatures have increased at three times this rate, causing a reduced within-season range and therefore less variable winters. Changes in the warmest summer temperatures since 1961 exhibit large spatial variability, with rates of change ranging from slightly negative to 6°C/century. More extensive station observations since 1961 indicate that the single site results are representative of larger regions, implying also that the extremes studied are the result of large-scale changes. Recent circulation changes in daily gridded pressure data, used as an indicator of wind speed changes, support the results by explaining some of the trends.