It’s the best time of the year to visit Antarctica and what better Christmas present for the traveler in your life than a trip to the 7th continent? The southernmost continent on Earth will surprise you. It is so much more than snow and ice. From witnessing the majestic beauty of towering icebergs and vast glaciers to encountering diverse wildlife such as penguins, seals, and whales, this guide unveils the best things to do in Antarctica, ensuring your expedition is not just a trip, but a transformative adventure. When you visit Antarctica, make sure to add these activities to your Antarctic Cruise itinerary.
Best Things to do in Antarctica
We traveled to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions, the leader in polar adventures. Since our Antarctic cruise, the white continent has opened up to travel with a cruise ship to suit every type of traveler. We sailed on an all-suites cruise ship, but there are massive luxury cruise lines, adventure cruises, and small ships that are sailing across the Drake Passage these days.
When we visited Antarctica, we followed our trip with a cruise to the Galapagos Islands. As we prepare for another trip to the Galapagos with Hurtigruten (another polar expedition leader), we wanted to inspire travelers to get out and start exploring the end of the world.
Whether you’re a nature lover, a photography enthusiast, or simply seeking the thrill of the unknown while adding the final frontier to your travel list, an Antarctic expedition offers the ultimate in bragging rights. Whenever anyone asks us what our favourite destination is and Dave answers Antarctica, people do a double take. What? You’ve been to Antarctica?
So, if you want to brag to your friends as well, start saving up your cash for an Antarctic Cruise.
When we saw that kayaking was an Antarctic activity offered on our ship, we weren’t sure if we wanted to hop in cold water kayaks. I was nervous about kayaking in such cold water and feared tipping over. So we booked a few lessons in the local pool to learn how to do a wet exit and self-rescue. Since that time, we’ve learned to whitewater kayak, but having that basic knowledge helped our confidence in the water. I am glad we did it.
The cost of adding kayaking to a cruise expedition is steep, and we wondered if the price would be worth it. We thought we might get out on the water once or twice during the cruise. However, we ended up kayaking eight times nd it was magnificent.
We floated quietly past leopard and Wedell seals sunning themselves on ice flows, circumnavigated icebergs floating in the middle of the sea, and paddled with penguins jumping through the air at the front of our boats.
It was an extraordinary way to see marine life up close while we quietly explored the Antarctic Peninsula. It was the adventure of a lifetime as we paddled through sea ice while minke whales surfaced to say hello along the wild Antarctic coast. Read more about Kayaking in Antarctica – our favorite thing to do in Antarctica
2. Polar Plunge
If you asked me what I thought of the polar plunge while I was taking part in this zany adventure where we leaped into the freezing Antarctic waters, I would have told you not to do it. It was terrified of hitting the cold water. However, now that I am home and in the comforts of a warm and cozy house, I say is one of the best things to do in Antarctica.
Why? How often do you get to tell people that you jumped into sub-zero waters in the South Pole and lived to tell the tale? It’s hard to top this adventure. If someone says “I did the polar bear plunge in the local lake? You say, oh yeah, I did it in the Antarctic Circle! It’s pretty hard to top that!
With warm robes and hot chocolate waiting for us, we took a shot of vodka and once my teeth stopped chattering, we celebrated in the hot tub on the main deck. All the fear melted away and I was ready to do it again! Wondering what an Antarctica trip is like? Check out our Antarctic Expedition Explained.
Camping on the Sub-Antarctic Islands
In the grand scheme of things, very few people have traveled to Antarctica and even fewer have actually stayed overnight on the continent. Camping on Antarctica is an incredible experience. Normally people sleep on expedition ships or fly to Antarctica to be able to step on the land. But not many people have camped in a bivy sack in the middle of the snow beside snoring leopard seals.
Camping in Antarctica is a must. Yes, it’s cold, it’s uncomfortable, and you can’t eat, drink, or pee when camping in Antarctica, but once you are back on board your ship after surviving a night as the early explorers did, you’ll be filled with pride and gratitude that you never have to do that again. Camping on the Continent is one of the best things to do in Antarctica, read more about it here.
A small group of us hopped on zodiacs to the shore where we were dropped off just before sunset. Armed with our sleeping bags and bivy sacs, we walked to our chosen spots where we settled in for the night. We had to stamp out our camping area to flatten the snow around us and then we went inside zipping everything in the tiny bag. Before going to the continent, we barely at and drank as little as possible. There was an emergency toilet should we need to go, but we were encouraged to hold it until the next morning when we got back on the ship.
We recommend bringing booties and hand and feet warmers for the night. Make sure to have a balaclava to keep your face warm as well as all your layers. It gets cold in the wee hours of the morning. Read more: 5 Winter Layering Tips to Dress for Extreme Cold Weather
4. Zodiac Cruises
Most expeditions to Antarctica will offer zodiac tours of bays and icebergs. Seeing humpback whales surface right beside a tiny zodiac will take your breath away. Whales, seals, and calving glaciers from a zodiac are moments you won’t soon forget.
We usually went out twice a day on zodiacs to go wildlife watching. There is a surprising amount of wildlife on the white continent. We saw killer whales and humpback whales, leopard and Weddell seals floating on ice formations, and plenty of penguin colonies along the coast.
Zodiac cruises weren’t just about wildlife either. There are so many interesting things to explore in the Antarctic waters. We loved scooting around icebergs and puttering through thick brash ice in search of extraordinary ice formations. We stopped to watch calving glaciers and circle massive icebergs as our expert expedition team handled the zodiacs with ease.
Getting off the ship to see things in this intimate manner is a must. We had whales surface beside our boats and then dive underneath for a closer view. We looked at these great mammals in the eye as they seemed to give us a friendly hello. See more of what it’s like on a Zodiac Tour in Antarctica
5. Penguin Post Office at Port Lockroy
There are no permanent residents in Antarctica, only a small settlement of researchers that spend a few months a year on a research base. There are many research stations in Antarctica that you can visit but one of the top Antarctica attractions is an actual post office on the British base Porto Lockroy. Yes, you heard me: stopping at Port Lockroy research station is a fun stop on an Antarctica itinerary. It’s a spot where you’ll run into other Antarctic expeditions and get the chance to talk with the staff of the English research base.
A penguin colony inhabits the shores of the research station and you’ll see plenty of them hanging out in the area, hence its nickname Penguin Post Office.
In Port Lockery, you can browse the museum, play with the penguins, and buy some souvenirs. But the top antarctic activity here is to by a postcard and mail it to someone you love from the bottom of the world to your loved ones at home. Read all about it at – A Post Office in Antarctica?
6. Visit Penguin Colonies
Speaking of penguins. A highlight of any Antarctica visit is to interact with penguins. The Antarctic Circle and Weddell Sea are full of Penguin colonies, and seeing penguins up close is at the top of all Antarctica attractions.
We couldn’t get enough of visiting penguin colonies all around the Antarctic peninsula. Penguins are truly the cutest animals on the planet and watching them go about their daily lives will bring joy to anyone’s heart.
They waddle through their penguin trails making their way to the sea in frantic fashion. It’s adorable to see the energy of penguins rushing about doing their business.
Mothers protect their chicks and penguins call out to one another. They walk in organized lines along trails to the sea from one penguin colony to another. When you visit Antarctica, you are going to see a lot of penguins. Be prepared, they smell terrible. But they are so darn cute, you forget the smell and simply enjoy
The most memorable of all penguin encounters are when you sit quietly and let the curious creatures approach so close that they walk on your legs or pick at your coat. You are not allowed to approach or go within five meters of penguins, but if you sit still, sometimes they will walk right up to you and say hello. They are so curious. It’s a memory of a lifetime.
7. Visit Deception Island
One of the most ominous things to do in Antarctica is to visit Deception Island. Deception Island is one of the safest harbors in Antarctica which just so happens to be an active volcano. In the early 20th century, it was an old whaling station and tours will take you to see the remnants of that dark time.
Visiting Deception Island is a stark reminder of the evils of human nature. At one time whales were hunted to near extinction in Antarctica and when visiting Deception Island, you will see old oil drums, boilers, and whale bones from a darker time. It’s as horrifying as it is beautiful.
The active volcano heated the waters off the beach and at one time, people dug holes in the sand to enjoy the warm sand. But thanks to the Antarctic treaty that is no longer allowed. This would be overrun with the number of people traveling to Antarctica today. For more read The Ominous Deception Island
8. Cruise the Lemar Channel
Nicknamed the Fuji Funnel, Kodak Canal, and Agfa Alley the Lemaire Channel is one of the top things to do in Antarctica for photographers.
If you took photographs pre-digital world, you will be familiar with Fuji, Kodak, and Agfa; all popular brands of film.
During our passing through the narrow channel, we spent hours standing outside on deck taking photographs of the most spectacular scenery on the planet.
Antarctica is truly the final frontier of natural beauty and the Lemaire Channel is the most beautiful of the top destination. Now that’s saying a lot.
9. Photography Tour
One of the top things to do in Antarctica is to join a photography expedition. Many professional photographers lead photo tours to Antarctica and if you want to take home amazing memories, you can book a photography tour on most ships.
On our Antarctic Cruise, there was a separate group of people on the tour focusing on photography. They had their own separate tours where the professional photographers went out together, focusing more on capturing images than the experience. Both ways of traveling are an amazing experience, you can choose whichever way you want. Speaking of photography, one of the greatest things to see on earth is actual icebergs.
Your guide will show you how to capture the textures of the ice formations, how to grab unforgettable images of wildlife and make the most of your landscape images capturing Antarctica’s snow-capped mountains and glaciers. This is the way to travel if you are a photographer.
10. Antarctica Ice
In Antarctica, the icebergs are massive. They are full of layers of colorful hues of blue creating some of the most interesting formations. At times, the icebergs dwarfed our ship and we were grateful for the expertise of our captain who kept a safe distance from the formations that were larger than apartment buildings. If that much was showing above the water, two-thirds more were above. And icebergs move and roll. You cannot travel to this area without guides and people who know the waters.
At one point, we took a cruise through an iceberg graveyard where icebergs have grounded on the bottom of the sea and this is the spot where they will spend the final days breaking apart in the water until they dissolve into nothing. It’s eerie and beautiful all at once. Check out our photographs of Icebergs in 23 Epic Photos of Antarctica Ice
11. Whale Watching
I don’t think there is a better place on earth to watch whales than in Antarctica. We mentioned whale watching from zodiacs, but some of our best whale watching happened right from the ship. There are plenty of species of whales living in the Antarctic waters from Antarctic Minke Whales, Southern Right Whales, Orcas, Humpback Whales, Sperm Whales, and Pilot Whales, you will have a lot to choose from.
In Antarctica, whales have no fear of man. They haven’t been hunted for more than a century and they are at the top of the food chain. Therefore, whales have no reason to hide. Because of that, the whales of Antarctica are very curious.
When we were kayaking, on a zodiac or on the ship, they always surfaced nearby for a closer look. Seeing a whale in the wild is a magical experience and when traveling to Antarctica, you can get so close to them, you can almost reach out and touch them.
During one of our days at sea, we had two killer whales show off for us breaching on a regular basis. It’s like they were excited to see us! Another day, we had a mother and calf follow our ship, and the calf continued to breach for 45 minutes, putting on a dazzling show for the spectators on board. This experience was one of the coolest things we have ever witnessed in our travels.
12. Cross the Drake Passage
Okay, so it’s not in Antarctica but the Drake Passage takes you to Antarctica. Plenty of people are taking other routes to Antarctica to avoid the Drak Passage, but we feel that crossing the Drake Passage is truly a badge of honor.
The Drake is one of the most treacherous bodies of water on the planet.
If the weather is calm, it’s uneventful and easy, if the seas are rough, the Drake Passage will set you on a rumble and tumble two-day journey that will turn even the most seasoned sailor into a ball of mush.
We had a smooth crossing out, but coming back to civilization was another story and our crew told us it was one of the worst of the season.
How do we know it was bad? When Dave went down for dinner one night, only 2 other passengers joined him in the dining room. Throughout a very rough day, lectures were canceled due to passengers and crew alike being stuck in bed with a bad case of seasickness. It’s a rough ride, but it makes for a great travel tale.
Other Antarctica Activities
Antarctica is a destination that is constantly evolving and new activities are being added to itineraries. From ski touring to stand-up paddle boarding, there are plenty of new things to see and do. To give you an idea of other things to do in Antarctica, keep reading.
13 Scuba Diving
We didn’t scuba dive in Antarctica, but Antarctic expeditions are adding to their adventure travel list each year. A diving expedition in Antarctica is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for avid divers.
This unique adventure lets you explore the mesmerizing underwater world of the Southern Ocean, where vividly colored marine life, dramatic ice formations, and the ethereal beauty of the polar seascape await. You’ll dive from zodiacs with experienced guides.
This is not an activity for beginners, scuba diving in Antarctic requires experience in dry suit diving and cold water diving. You’ll have the opportunity to see unique marinelife and if you have gone scuba diving around the world, this is another destination to add to the bucket list.
14. Ice Climbing
During our expedition we did some glacier trekking and we thought that was the ultimate adventure for polar travelers, but you can now add Ice Climbing to your Antarctica adventures. We didn’t do it during our trip, but we have tackled ice climbing in other parts of the world. If your expedition offers this activity, we highly recommend it. Can you imagine telling people that yo
Antarctic Itineraries to Consider
Our itinerary took us through the South Shetland Islands, which is one of the top routes to take through Antarctica, but there are other itineraries you may want to consider or add to your epic adventure.
The main areas to sail in the Antarctic include the Antarctic Peninsula which often includes the South Shetland Islands. (which we did) and the sub-Antarctic islands that are frequently included in some of these expeditions are the Falklands and South Georgia
Lesser travelled places include the Weddell Sea, and Ross Sea which is the least-visited tourism region. If you are adding these to your itinerary, plan on longer expeditions up to 30 days.
15. Falkland Islands
An exceptional add on for a trip to the South Pole is visiting the Falkland Islands. This British Colony has plenty of things to see and do. The Falkland Islanders, known as “Kelpers,” are known for their warm hospitality and interesting stories about island life.
The capital of the Falkland Islands, Port Stanley, is often a highlight. This small, colorful town has a distinctly British character, with quaint houses, English-style pubs, and a historic cathedral.
The Falklands are also rich in history, with various sites related to the Falklands War of 1982. This was such big news when we were kids. You can visit battlefields, memorials, and museums that provide insights into this significant event in the islands’ history.
You’ll also see an abundance of abundance of bird species, including King Penguins, Gentoo Penguins, and Rockhopper penguins, as well as other seabirds like albatrosses. The islands are also home to elephant seals and sea lions, offering spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities.
16. South Georgia
Many of our friends have visited South Georgia and we are green with envy. It is here that you’ll see the world’s largest king penguin colonies. Often hailed as the ‘Serengeti of the Southern Ocean you’ll also see massive elephant seals and playful fur seals.
It’s famously known as the final resting place of Sir Ernest Shackleton, the legendary Antarctic explorer. You can visit his grave in Grytviken, a former whaling station, and learn about the island’s history in its museum.
South Georgia offers some of the most dramatic scenery in the Southern Hemisphere, with rugged snowcapped mountains, vast glaciers, and fjords. These landscapes provide a stunning backdrop for photography and exploration. It is high on our list to visit.
17. Snow Hill Island
You can also see Emperor Penguins in South Georgia, but if it is your goal to really see this penguin species, the best place to see them is the Emperor Penguin Colony at Snow Hill Island. Located in the Weddell Sea, this island is off the beaten path and can be reached by helicopter. If you have the money and the means, book a helicopter flight to see the Emperor Penguin Colony of Snow Hill and make history as being one of the few people on earth to witness them. Bucket list anyone?
18. King George Island
One of the first stops as you leave from Ushuaia in South America is King George Island. Located off the coast of Antarctica in the South Shetland Islands, King George is notable for hosting several research stations operated by various countries. These stations play a crucial role in cutting edge research in the region. Some of the prominent research stations on King George Island are. Eduardo Frei Base from Chile, Great Wall Station from China, King Sejong Station from South Korea and Bellingshausen Station from Russia, just to name a few.
Nestled at the southern tip of South America in Argentina, Ushuaia is not just a departure point but a destination brimming with unique attractions.
Before setting sail to the icy continent, immerse yourself in Ushuaia’s must-do activities. Eplore Tierra del Fuego National Park, offering a mix of glaciers, forests, and wildlife. Or ride the historic End of the World Train for a journey through picturesque landscapes. We spent two days enjoying Ushuaia before setting sail and are glad that we did.
You must visit the Museo del Fin del Mundo to delve into the region’s rich history. You’ll be leaving Ushuaia through The Beagle Channel where you’ll see the rugged beauty of the area from your ship.
So there you have it. These are the top things to do in Antarctica. This is a destination that is changing each year. So even if you visit in 2024, it will have probably changed again by 2025. Let us know what’s changed in the comments below.
Planning Resources for Antarctica