Things to do in Antarctica

Our top activities in Antarctica

Marvel at the natural history

Whales frolic in the rough seas, enormous elephant seals bark and scrap and vicious, shark-mouthed leopard seals dive into icy waters to hunt penguins. Much like the Galapagos, the wildlife here is not afraid of humans – you may find yourself stepping over penguins. On the Subantarctic Islands, otherworldly forests of megaherbs flourish across the windswept land, creating fantasy scenes of giant leaves dotted with seals and seabirds. Read more about Antarctica’s wildlife and check out our Antarctic wildlife vacations.

Get geeky

When you sign up for an outdoor adventure in a wild landscape, a lecture programme may sound rather dull. But the ships’ biologists, geographers, photographers, historians and geologists share fascinating insights about the land and creatures around you. You’ll learn to identify species, and a little knowledge means you will be even more amazed by the world passing you by on deck. Lecture programmes during the two-day crossing of the Drake Passage take your mind off the rolling ocean and prepare you for what is to come once you reach the Antarctic Peninsula. You’ll learn about iceberg formations, the hardy wildlife and the early voyages that took place at the mercy of the shifting ice, mapping the continent.
Photography lectures are popular and experts may be on hand to ensure you capture the iceberg bathed in just the right amount of light – and hold your camera steady enough to snap a sliding penguin. Some ships have facilities for processing your images in time for the daily photography competitions – pit yourself against your shipmates as you review the day’s adventures and get inspired for another day behind the lens in the Antarctic.
Read useful tips and techniques on taking photographs in Antarctica in our Antarctica photo gallery guide


Cruises tend to include one or two zodiac trips a day, allowing you to get up close to seals, penguins and weave through alleyways of icebergs. Your schedule is dictated by the weather and the ocean – simply thrilling. Optional activities include kayaking, diving with leopard seals, snowshoeing across the frozen land and, for the truly brave, camping on the tip of the continent. Read about more activities in Antarctica

Deserted islands with a difference

An Antarctic cruise is not just about the giant ice sheet; the southern islands are some of the most fascinating and isolated places in the world. The Falkland Islands are a strange slice of British life – red phone boxes and chip shops surrounded by crashing waves and penguin colonies. Sir Ernest Shackleton is buried on remote South Georgia – the island he sailed in a tiny lifeboat following his disastrous Antarctic expedition. Here, king penguins waddle in front of a backdrop of glaciers and 3,000m mountains, and a little museum reveals the secrets of this windswept isle.
On the way to the Ross Sea, the only scraps of land for thousands of miles are dry oases for elephant seals and rockhopper penguins. Astonishingly, more seabirds nest on the brutal cliffs of the tiny Snares Island than in the whole of the British Isles.
Antarctic research bases have been established on some of the islands – and here you can learn from the resident scientists about their research into the wildlife, climate, geology and flora. Working in these remote, chilly outposts for months at a time, they are usually relieved to have company, so don’t be surprised if they invite you in for a cup of tea and ask you to tell them what’s happening in the outside world!
Read more about the Antarctic islands

Fly across the Drake Passage

Sailing across the squally Drake Passage is seen by many travelers as a rite of passage, all part of the adventure of visiting Antarctica. However, while it may earn you some serious traveler street cred, spending two days navigating these choppy waters just to reach your destination – and then two days back again – is not everyone’s idea of a vacation. So anyone deterred from visiting the frozen continent by the thought of being confined to their cabin as 10 metre waves tip their ship, will be delighted to know that flying to Antarctica is a possibility. The waters once you arrive at the Antarctic shores are tranquil – so you can make the most of your time taking photos from the deck, heading out in zodiacs and even kayaking around the icebergs if you choose.
Flying is also a
convenient way to travel for
anyone who can’t add an extra
four days onto an already fairly lengthy trip – bearing in mind the round trip to the southern tip of South America tagged onto either end. The flight across the Drake Passage takes just three hours each way, departing from the city of Punta Arenas in southern Chile, and landing on King George Island – the largest of the South Shetland Islands. You’ll then have a short connection via rigid-hulled inflatable (RIB) to your expedition ship – your home for the next few days as you voyage around Antarctica.
For more flexibility – and to gain the best of both worlds – you can always fly one way and cruise the other; ask your tour operator which options are available.
Photo credits: [seals: liam Quinn] [zodiac 1: Andreas Kambanis] [penguins: Brian Gratwicke] [Flying over Drakes Passage: Xander Bennett]
Written by Vicki Brown
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