Antarctica is one of the last untouched frontiers of human exploration, a vast southern continent that few people have ever visited and that pulls in only the most intrepid of travelers.
This is a destination that nowhere else in the world can match for isolation and dramatic, otherworldly scenery. It’s a destination that for most of the year, is entirely cut off from the outside world by extreme weather, storm-lashed oceans and impenetrable ice sheets.
It’s a destination of unparalleled natural beauty, that somehow, while devoid of most human life, is teeming with wildlife.
There are many unique things to do in Antarctica, from seeing penguin colonies numbering in the tens of thousands, to experiencing an icy Polar Plunge.
There are many exceptional places to visit in Antarctica too, from the volcanic desolation of Deception Island to the inhospitable lands of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Here are our favorite things to do in Antarctica!
Things To Do in Antarctica
Cross the Drake Passage
The best things to do in Antarctica begin before you’ve even, technically, arrived on the continent. Almost all Antarctica journeys are undertaken by ship, which means that to arrive here, you must cross the infamous waters of the Drake Passage.
This is the sea that separates the southern tip of South America, from the South Shetland Islands, and it’s named for the English Privateer, Francis Drake, who was swept south as he attempted to round Cape Horn in the 16th century.
A crossing of the Drake Passage is legendary in travel circles, but even in the relative calm of summer, you need to be prepared for a rough voyage. This is Antarctica though, and getting here, is never easy.
Visit Port Lockroy
Everyone always talks about the amazing wildlife but there more to Antarctica than that. The history of explorers to the great white continent runs deep and this was a surprise to me. Antarctica has many great historic sites and one of the top things to do in Antarctica is to visit Port Lockroy.
Port Lockroy is the location of the first British permanent base that was established on the Antarctic Peninsula in 1944. Today it operates as a museum where you can walk through buildings that has been home to explorers, whalers, scientists and sailors over the years.
You will be transported back in time while you contemplate how early explorers battled the elements of Antarctica. While visiting Port Lockroy you must also take advantage of the opportunity to buy unique items like maps, patches and books that only can be found in the gift shop at Port Lockroy.
When you’re done inside, step outside to observe the colony of Gentoo Penguins that have taken up residency around the museum.
Send a Postcard Home
Sending a postcard is not something travelers do much anymore, however there are still a few amazing places that you must send a postcard from and Antarctica is one of them.
While visiting Port Lockroy you can buy and send a postcard.
There’s a historic red mailbox were expedition passengers can mail letters or postcards from Antarctica. It is one of the most remote post offices in the world and it handles more than 70,000 cards annually from expedition visitors, which means almost every one who visits Antarctica sends multiple postcards.
Visit King George Island
One of the best places to visit in Antarctica is King George Island. This is the largest island in the archipelago that makes up the South Shetland Islands, which are found just north of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The island is home to several scientific research stations, which belong to several different countries and where researchers are based all year round.
On some trips, you can visit research stations to meet scientists and learn about the work done here, while once a year, hardy endurance athletes arrive to compete in the Antarctic Marathon.
Stop at Penguin Island
Another of the best places to visit in Antarctica is Penguin Island, which is also found within the South Shetland Islands archipelago. Penguin Island is small, only measuring less than 2 kilometers at its largest extent, but its ice-free landscape has made it a popular breeding ground for penguins.
Popular, is perhaps an understatement because Penguin Island sees enormous colonies of chinstrap penguins along its shores, as well as countless species of birds and seals too.
We stood among 100,000 nesting penguins with Quark Expeditions on their MV Sea Adventurer ship that departed from Ushuaia, Argentina and explored the South Shetland Islands and Antarctica Peninsula.
When most people think of Antarctica and its wildlife they think of penguins. Rightfully so, penguins are one of the main wildlife attractions throughout the whole Antarctica Peninsula. But besides penguins, there’s a lot of other amazing wildlife that you’ll see on an expedition cruise to Antarctica.
One of the top Antarctica animals that all of us obsessed about while out on a zodiac cruise and or exploring onshore was the different kinds of seals.
Antarctica has seals that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, these creatures are amazing to view in their natural habitats and it’s almost a game for the expedition staff to go out on the zodiacs and search for these unique creatures hidden among the ice.
Marvel at Deception Island
One of the most famous places to visit in Antarctica is the desolate shore of Deception Island. When you’re exploring the South Sandwich Islands, then one of the best things to do in Antarctica is to call in at this dramatic, volcanic destination.
Deception Island is in fact, an active volcano, and the flooded caldera is one of the only safe harbors in Antarctica. On Deception Island, you’ll find black sand beaches and the haunting remains of former whaling stations that now lie abandoned.
All the Whale Watching
Whale watching is easily one of the best things to do in Antarctica, especially if you’ve traveled all this way for the wildlife. In summer, whales make their appearance, and if you’re sailing between January and April, you’re more than likely to have a few sightings at some point on your voyage.
Whales were hunted to the brink of extinction in Antarctica in the 19th century, but now they are making their comeback, and you’ll find many different species migrate here in summer.
Among the visitors, you might be lucky enough to encounter Blue Whales, Minke Whales, Orcas and Humpback Whales, to name just a few.
Go for a Hike
Antarctica is filled with many great things to do, but for many travelers walking on the wild 7th continent is at the top of the list. There is no other way to truly feel the land without setting your own two feet on it.
On your expedition cruise, there will be many opportunities for you to explore Antarctica while hiking. No hike will be the same and that is what makes it magical. From its terrain to it’s wildlife, you never know what your experience will be like while hiking.
The experienced expedition staff will be out exploring with you and they will mark off trails to keep you safe and a respectful distance from any wildlife. Normal hikes take around an hour and a half and is normally a down and back trail set up to lead the group to view penguins or to a lookout.
Hiking in Antarctica is one of the coolest things you will ever do in your life. There are truly no other feelings like it in the world and I would compare it to stepping on the moon for the normal person. It’s a huge accomplishment that is definitely worth celebrating.
Gawk at Massive Penguin Colonies
It’s not just whales you’ll be watching though, because, across Antarctica, the region is renowned for the incredible number of penguins that are found here.
It’s not just Penguin Island where you have the chance to see endless colonies of penguins, and you can find different species such as the Chinstrap, Emperor, King and Gentoo penguins in many different locations.
The most impressive penguin is the Emperor Penguin, which is the largest species you might run into. These hardy penguins can grow up to four feet tall, and they have the most southerly distribution, being frequently encountered across the Antarctic Peninsula, and even staying all through the cold and icy winters.
Are you into Penguins? Did you know our friends over at Quark Expeditions offers an ultimate Penguin Safari tour.
Enjoy the Bird Watching
The bird watching in Antarctica is insane and it does not matter if you’re a birder or not. There are 35 different species of birds that could be found along the Antarctic Peninsula and 19 of those species actually breed only on Antarctica.
From the start of the trip, you’ll have massive albatross soaring above your ship as you make your way across the Drake Passage. On land, you’ll have endless opportunities to take in many different kinds of birds, all with different personalities interacting together.
One of my most favorite moments is watching the penguins pick up little stones and waddle back along the penguin highway to their nesting location. Besides penguins, a definite highlight is seeing the blue eyed shag.
Do Some Kayaking
A fantastic way to experience the outdoors, and one of the best things to do in Antarctica, is to join a kayaking tour. Many of the ships will organize kayaking excursions, and while you might at first think that the water will be far too frigid and cold, you’ll be given dry suits and plenty of warm clothing to wear.
In a kayak, you have the chance to get incredibly close to the wildlife, as you’ll be able to quietly glide along the coast of small islands, or in the shadow of icebergs, where you’ll find penguins, seals and walruses.
Not all trips to Antarctica offer Kayaking if this is something you want to do you must book the right trip to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions.
Go on Zodiac Tours
If kayaking isn’t your thing, then the next best thing to do in Antarctica is to join a Zodiac Tour. These small, but fast boats are a common sight in the Antarctic during the tourist season, as it’s these boats that ferry passengers from ship to shore.
As well as providing a means to get on land, the Zodiac boats are perfect for exploring, and you’ll have the chance to ride these nifty speedboats across the waves, in search of whales and icebergs, and everything else that’s found in the Antarctic.
Explore the Antarctic Peninsula
If you can, then join a ship which cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula, because this is one of the best places to visit in Antarctica. This is Antarctica proper, and for most people, it’s the most southerly point that you can reach without going on a full-blown expedition.
On the peninsula, you can see the best of the Antarctic landscapes, enormous icebergs off the coast, and vast ice sheets, amongst much more.
We explored Antarctica with Quark Expeditions on their Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent trip and it did not disappoint!
Learn about Ice
As of now, you may think ice is ice, but that’s not the case. While visiting Antarctica you will learn about all sorts of things and one of the most important things you learn about is ice.
There will be impressive towering icebergs that are white and blue. There will be large ice, there will be small ice and bergy bit. You’ll even see clear ice and dirty ice.
Ice is everything to Antarctica and the location of the world’s largest fresh water store. Much of the ice on the 7th continent is thousands of years old, so learning about how it was formed and then seeing it with your own eyes is a special experience
Get Your Passport Stamped
Everyone loves to talk about their impressive travel resume and one of the top things to do in Antarctica is to get your passport stamped. Marking your visit to the end of the world.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many impressive stamps you can get around the world and we don’t travel just to get stamped, however, I feel it’s one of the best ones I’ve received in our travels.
Flipping to that stamped page in our passport transports us to that moment in time when it was stamped and everything that leads up to that moment. Not many stamps can do that, that’s what makes getting your passport stamped in Antarctica so magical.
Sail the Lemaire Channel
Another of the best places to visit in Antarctica is the Lemaire Channel. This is one of the most photogenic spots in Antarctica, as the narrow passage is surrounded on both sides by dramatic, snow-capped mountains.
It’s a calm and peaceful place for ships to cruise, and one of the best things to do in Antarctica.
If you’re visiting the Antarctic Peninsula, then a favorite activity amongst travelers is snowshoeing. With so much snow and ice, even during the height of summer, it makes for a great way to get out and explore the land itself, rather than just watching it pass by from the deck of the ship.
Make Snow Angels
Antarctica is filled with snow, so naturally, you have to lean on back and fall into that soft white powder to make snow angels. Let your inner child out and have some fun!
One of our most memorable moments was when we finally landed on the continent and everyone was celebrating, taking photos and we all started dropping to the ground to make snow angels.
Try Polar Camping
Camping in Antarctica is a fantastic experience, as long you can bear the chill of the night. You might be there in summer, but it’s still going to be cold, and on land, there’s snow and ice to deal with too.
It’s an intense adventure, but a great way to spend the night, as you’ll be wrapped up tight in a bivvy, under the open skies. You star gaze under the darkest skies in the world and wake up in one of the most remote places on the planet.
Not all trips to Antarctica offer camping if this is something you want to do you must book the right trip to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions.
Build a Snowman
For many people, the trip to Antarctica is the first time they’re experiencing snow so naturally, building a snowman is a top thing to do in Antarctica!
Between us and our new friends from the expedition, we built a family of snowmen, overlooking the ocean on our last continental landing. While it might seem childish, it was a memorable moment.
Not many people can say they built a snowman in a remote place like Antarctica. Just imagine that as a topic around your next dinner party. I built a snowman in Antarctica.
See Mount Vinson
Mount Vinson is the tallest mountain peak in Antarctica, and it stands at a might 4892 meters in height. The mountain is part of the Vinson Massif, a high range that takes a minimum of two weeks to trek, and then to summit.
This isn’t an activity for the average person, and this is an intense expedition that takes both time and money to complete. It’s part of the fabled seven summits challenge, whereby intrepid mountaineers aim to climb the tallest peak on every continent.
You need years of mountaineering experience and an intense training and acclimatization program before the attempt.
Go to the South Pole
Another intrepid destination is the South Pole. This is the most southerly location on earth, but there is, in fact, a scientific research base here. That means that you can fly into the research base by helicopter, and then you can explore the surrounding area on foot.
It might be a great experience, but it’s not a cheap one, and you’ll have to have a real desire to visit, to travel here.
Take the Polar Plunge
A right of passage for many visitors and one of the most adventurous things to do in Antarctica is a Polar Plunge. The Polar Plunge involves jumping into the icy waters of the Antarctic, and it’s a thrill like no other that you can have on your journey south.
You’ll hurl yourself into the frigid ocean, but before you can freeze to death, you’ll already be scrambling back onto the boat. It’s not for everyone, but if you are looking for a truly numb-inducing thrill and a story to take back home, then the Polar Plunge is for you.
Soak in the Hot Tub
One of the top things to do in Antarctica is to sit back and relax while soaking in a hot tub as you cruise by amazing landscapes. After a long day of exploring you can warm up and relax in a hot tub with 360-degree views from the back deck of your expedition ship.
The cold crisp Antarctic air, the heat from the hot tub and towering snow-covered peaks is a combination you cannot get anywhere else in the world. It’s always important to take in moments like this while you’re traveling.
Put down the camera and forget about everything back at home while you soak up being in one of the most remote locations in the world.
Meet Intrepid Travelers
On an expedition to Antarctica, there will be many well-traveled guests. These people are among an elite group of travelers. Many of these travelers have traveled to all the continents in the world and they are travelers who are truly passionate about travel.
In all of our travels, the people that we met on our expedition shop to Antarctica were the most well traveled, but also some of the most fun. We enjoyed camaraderie with like minded people in a very unique place in the world.
Many of these passengers have fascinating stories about their travels and about their lives. It was amazing sitting down with everybody and hearing what brought them to Antarctica.
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