Thinking about ticking something wild off your bucket list and visiting the White Continent? If that’s the case, I bet you’re looking for things to do in Antarctica while there.
Though it may be one of the coldest places in the world, there’s plenty of fun activities to do in the snowy sector of our glacial world. From Penguin smuggling (just kidding!), to sea kayaking through glaciers and camping out on the snow, if you’re looking for a truly epic adventure – Antarctica should be your number one destination!
While most visitors travel to Antarctica on an expedition cruise, that’s not to say you’ll be stuck on a ship the entire time. In fact, there are a variety of activities to do while visiting the Antarctic – both on and off the ship.
I’ve put together this guide to some of the most unique and unforgettable things to do while visiting the most southern continent.
You might also like:
- What to Wear in Antarctica: Your Ultimate Antarctica Packing List
- All You Need to Know About Taking The Polar Plunge in Antarctica
- Camping in Antarctica: Could This Be The Ultimate Antarctic Adventure?
- Why visit Antarctica
- How to get to Antarctica
- Things to do in Antarctica
- 1. Go for a hike
- 2. Kayak amongst glaciers
- 3. Camp on the snow
- 4. Give snowshoeing a try
- 5. Take a zodiac cruise
- 6. Get lost in the penguin highway
- 7. Learn something new
- 8. Plunge into the ocean
- 9. Indulge in the food
- 10. Go scuba diving
- 11. Spot a whale
- 12. Soak in the tub with the best views
- 13. Photograph the spectacular scenery & amazing wildlife
- 14. Spot a Leopard Seal
- 15. Climb the continent's highest peak
- 16. Post a postcard from the Penguin Post Office
- 17. Visit a research station
- 18. Survive the drake passage
- Ready for your Antarctic adventure?
Why visit Antarctica
Antarctica is not the destination many people would pick for their vacation, and that’s probably because it’s one of the most unique places on the planet. Visiting Antarctica is an experience like no other.
In Antarctica, you can explore icy slopes, take a dip in the clearest ocean in the world, or even hike to the top of a glacier for some stunning mid-winter views.
Nothing else on earth looks quite as breathtakingly beautiful as Antarctica; from the dazzling blue hues of its glaciers to the majestic landscape of its towering icebergs, there’s nowhere else quite like it. With its variety of unique activities and incredible natural beauty, Antarctica is the ultimate adventure travel destination
And if all that isn’t enough to entice you, just think about how jealous your friends will be when they see your Insta shots!
How to get to Antarctica
Visiting Antarctica is an adventure, and getting there is half the fun!
The majority of Antarctic expeditions depart from South America – either from Ushuaia, Argentina or Punta Arenas, Chile. Most cruises will take you to Antarctica for around 10 days, but longer excursions are available.
From there, you’ll sail the Drake Passage for around 2 days, before reaching the Antarctica Peninsula.
An alternative route (but not as fun) would be to fly from Punta Arenas to a Chilean research base on King George Island and take a cruise from there.
Things to do in Antarctica
1. Go for a hike
I love hiking, so every opportunity I got to hike on Antarctica, I took it. Antarctica is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth and each landing brings it’s own unique array of sights.
Trekking through ice and snow, surrounded by mighty glaciers and towering icebergs and penguins popping up all over the place is a snow lover’s paradise!
Your expedition leaders will mark out a trail before you arrive on land and you won’t be able to wander off outside of these trails, mostly because you could end up in snow crevasses which can be deadly.
If you’re not confident about hiking uphill in the snow (actually, it’s harder going downhill), your team should provide you with trekking poles to keep you upright. I took one with me for each hike, just to be sure, and I managed to stay upright (phew!).
2. Kayak amongst glaciers
Kayaking through Antarctica’s icy waters is one of the most incredible experiences you can ever have. It’s a great way to get up close and personal with the glaciers, icebergs, and wildlife that call this remarkable region home.
You’ll be given all the necessary safety gear – such as life jackets and waterproof clothing – before setting off on your journey. As you paddle through the icy waters, be sure to keep an eye on the horizon as whales can pop up at any moment.
On our expedition, there was the option to join a kayaking program or just do a day paddle. The program brought the kayakers out up to four times with different routes and plenty of opportunities to get close to glaciers and take photos. While the day paddle was just a one off kayaking session. Unfortunately, I was too late to sign up to the program so only got out once, so be sure to sign up early if you’re interested.
3. Camp on the snow
When I found out that I could spend the night camping on Antarctica’s icy landscape, I was more than a little bit excited. And terrified. Would I be too cold? Would I be able to sleep? What if it snowed all night? What if I needed the bathroom?
Camping in Antarctica is a once in a lifetime experience and well worth the effort. You’ll be provided with all the necessary camping equipment – a bivy bag or tent (we only had bivy bags), a sleeping bag, a mat. And, much to my surprise, there were two toilets provided and hidden by walls of snow!
The campsite was already set up when we arrived, and the guides provided us with a few tips on how to stay warm during the night and how to use your boots to keep your bivy bag up so you can breathe easier. We got a group photo and went to our sleeping bags to sleep (I didn’t sleep a wink but it was still the best experience).
From about 4am, I sat out on top of my sleeping bag just listening to the sounds of penguins and snow falling down the side of hills, and enjoying the incredible scene that was in front of me. It’s worth noting that there is no sunset so it’s bright pretty much all night there. If you do plan on sleeping, be sure to bring an eye mask with you.
4. Give snowshoeing a try
Most cruises offer some kind of snowshoeing experience and I recommend giving it a try as you may get to explore places you wouldn’t get to on the regular hikes.
Snowshoeing is a great way to explore Antarctica’s frozen terrain and get off the beaten track. Snowshoes make it much easier to walk on deep snow as they help you spread your weight over the surface, so you won’t sink in too much.
5. Take a zodiac cruise
One of the best ways of spotting wildlife in Antarctica is by taking a zodiac cruise. The zodiacs are inflatable boats that fit up to 10 people and offer the perfect platform for spotting whales, seals, penguins and birds from close quarters.
On our zodiac cruises, we were lucky enough to spot humpback whales, leopard seals and a whole lot of penguins. The zodiacs are also great for exploring glaciers up close and taking photos.
6. Get lost in the penguin highway
If you’re lucky enough to visit during the penguin season – October through February – then make sure you don’t miss out on the amazing experience of wandering around the penguin highways.
Penguins often create long highways between their colonies as they travel back and forth from the sea to their nesting grounds. You can get some pretty amazing close-up views of these tuxedo-clad birds as they shuffle around the ice around the penguin colonies.
Be sure not to stop on any of the penguin highways if there are penguins coming – they have right of way!
7. Learn something new
One of my favourite things about the expedition was being able to attend various lectures each day on the ship. Whether it was a scientific lecture explaining the geological history of Antarctica, a presentation on animals native to the region or learning what life is like working on Antarctica, there’s always something interesting to learn.
These lectures were presented by our knowledgeable guides and naturalists who would also be accompanying us during our shore landings. It was a great way to get to know more about the region and gain a deeper understanding of the incredible wildlife we were sure to encounter.
There was a team onboard who were in search of the Colossal Squid and we got to see their footage at the end of the cruise. While we didn’t spot the Colossal Squid, we did get to see some incredibly rare footage of some other sea creatures. It was truly an educational experience!
8. Plunge into the ocean
If you plan to travel to Antarctica and haven’t heard of the polar plunge, you’re in for a treat… or a shock!
The polar plunge is the ultimate dare – plunge into the icy waters of Antarctica off the side of your expedition ship. The cold water is said to have healing powers and fights immune issues, so I knew it was something I had to try. Everyone says once you’re in the water, try to take 30 seconds to a minute to really take it in – If you manage to do this, please let me know. I was out as quickly as I was in!
In order for it to be considered a true polar plunge, the water must be at a temperature of zero degrees Celsius or below. Though it’s definitely a chilly experience, it is also one of the most unique and exhilarating things to do in Antarctica – and you won’t regret trying it!
9. Indulge in the food
You don’t even have to leave the ship for this one. If you’re as lucky as we were, you’ll have an incredible chef on board who will whip up delicious meals for you every day.
Being gluten free, with a number of other intolerances, I often find it difficult to get food I can eat when travelling. However, the chef on our expedition ship was able to create some amazing gluten free meals that were absolutely delicious and much appreciated.
Lunch was usually a buffet, although they would bring me whatever I needed if it wasn’t available in the buffet, and dinner was á la carte.
They had ‘afternoon tea’ each day and soup or hot chocolate was served after every landing to warm us up. I’ve never eaten so much on a trip as I did on that cruise ship!
10. Go scuba diving
This activity won’t be available on every expedition (it wasn’t on ours) but it is something that is offered in the region to experienced scuba divers.
Scuba diving in Antarctica can be a truly unique experience. The exotic wildlife that you can only encounter underwater makes the experience all the more spectacular.
It’s important to note, however, that if you plan to go scuba diving in the region you will need to have the proper training and certification for cold water diving. You may also need to be accompanied by a local guide who is familiar with the conditions of the area.
11. Spot a whale
Ah whale watching. It literally never got old! We were lucky enough to spot humpback whales and orcas during our trip and it was a truly breathtaking experience. Sometimes from the zodiacs and sometimes from the ship itself.
We had two whales come right up to the ship at one point, and they just swam around us, under us, playing for what seemed like an age! One had a white fin and it was the coolest thing to see.
Interesting fact: The underside of each whale’s tail is unique, kind of like a finger print. There’s a website where you can upload a picture of a whale tail and they will tell you whether it’s been spotted before. If not, you get the chance to name it yourself!
12. Soak in the tub with the best views
If your cruise ship has a hot tub, you’ll get to soak in the tub surrounded by some of the best views in the world!
The sun going down over the ice-covered landscape, as icebergs drift by in the distance and whales breaching just metres away from you. Can you picture it?
It was always a great way to relax after a day of exploring and observing wildlife on shore landings.
13. Photograph the spectacular scenery & amazing wildlife
Photographing the spectacular Antarctic landscapes and array of wildlife in Antarctica is an absolute must. Taking photos of penguins, seals and whales, capturing ice formations or documenting your journey while visiting scientific research stations will ensure you have a visual reminder of your incredible time there.
You don’t need to be a professional photographer – just practice a few tips and tricks before you go, like making sure you have the right equipment, understanding camera settings and learning how to frame your shots.
One of the most photographic areas we sailed by was the Lemaire Channel. It’s a narrow waterway between towering mountains, usually covered in thick sea ice – and it looks absolutely spectacular.
It’s pretty hard to take a bad photo in Antarctica!
14. Spot a Leopard Seal
The Leopard Seal is an apex predator in Antarctica and it’s one of the most sought-after wildlife encounters.
This large, powerful seal can be found on ice flows or icebergs near the shoreline where they are known to catch fish, squid and even penguins.
We were lucky enough to have numerous encounters with Leopard Seals and the shot above was my favourite picture I took from the trip.
15. Climb the continent’s highest peak
One of the seven summits, Vinson Massif (4,892 meters / 16,050 feet tall) is the highest peak in Antarctica and it’s one of the most challenging things to do here.
The adventure requires a lot of preparation and patience, and is usually climbed by serious mountaineers who are looking to conquer all seven summits.
Those who summit Vinson Massif must be in peak physical and mental condition, as the harsh conditions make it one of the toughest mountains in the world to climb. It’s an incredible feat that requires dedication, and can take months of training.
16. Post a postcard from the Penguin Post Office
Want to send a postcard from the most southerly post office in the world?
The Penguin Post Office is an Antarctic-themed post office located in Port Lockroy, on Goudier Island. It’s a old British Station which is now run by a British charity and it’s the only place where you can send postcards with genuine Antarctic stamps!
There’s a gift shop and a small museum there too, so it’s worth a visit. And, you can even get your passport stamped with a vanity Antarctica stamp if you choose.
We only made it here by chance. It wasn’t in our original itinerary, but because of a storm we had to take a detour, which I was very happy about!
17. Visit a research station
There are numerous scientific research stations dotted around the Antarctic Peninsula, and most of them are open to visitors.
Probably the most famous of the research stations is that of Vernadsky Station, which is a Ukrainian Antarctic Scientific Station at Marina Point on Galindez Island.
It was originally a British station called Faraday and it’s been operational since 1947! It’s now used mainly as a research centre for scientists who are studying climate change.
Visiting one of these stations can be an interesting way to learn about the history and science of the Antarctic, as well as having the opportunity to meet people who are living and working there. They are generally very open to welcoming visitors.
18. Survive the drake passage
Oh the Drake Passage. It’s sort of like Marmite – you’ll either love it or hate it.
The Drake Passage is the body of water between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands and it has notorious waves that can reach up to 12 meters / 40 feet in height (yikes!). It’s a rite of passage for Antarctic cruises, but surviving this journey requires plenty of sea-sickness tablets and a strong stomach!
Weather conditions will determine whether you get the ‘Drake Shake’ or the ‘Drake Lake’ – it’s just the luck of the draw. But, no matter what happens, you’ll have a story to tell after the crossing, when you can wear that badge of honour with pride.
Ready for your Antarctic adventure?
While it may seem like an unlikely tourist destination, there is no shortage of things to do in Antarctica.
Whether you want to take a kayaking adventure, explore the local penguin populations, camp out on the snow or simply relax on board an Antarctic cruise ship, this remarkable continent has so much to offer.
Don’t forget that it’s important to travel responsibly when visiting Antarctica. This means being mindful of your impact, following the guidelines set out by your tour operator, and respecting any wildlife or research stations you encounter.
But, with an abundance of awe-inspiring sights and activities, Antarctica is the perfect destination for any true explorer! Are you ready to put your sense of adventure to the test?
Vourneen is a travel junkie and chronic illness warrior. Although she was late to game in terms of travelling, she has picked up numerous tips and tricks from the almost 30 countries she has visited in the past 5 years.