In a place as incredible as Antarctica, there’s no shortage of activities for visitors to enjoy. Whether you want to hang out with penguins or cruise around icy fjords in a kayak, here are 19 amazing things to do in Antarctica during your next trip to the White Continent.
1. Go on a Zodiac Cruise
No trip to Antarctica is complete without a Zodiac cruise. Zodiacs are a type of rigid inflatable boat (RIB) that’s rugged enough for powering through icy Antarctic waters. Each of these powerboats can accommodate between 8 and 12 guests, providing you with the perfect small-group experience for exploring secluded bays and rocky coastlines.
Most Antarctic expedition cruises set aside time for each guest to enjoy at least 1 to 2 Zodiac cruises per day (weather permitting). While you’re on the water, you’ll have the perfect vantage point for spotting penguins, seals, and—if you’re lucky—a pod of orcas. What could be better?
2. Take a Hike
For those of us who like a bit of adventure, hiking in Antarctica can’t be beat. Many of the most popular landing sites in Antarctica offer ample opportunity for long walks and other land-based adventures, giving you the perfect chance to see all that the White Continent has to offer.
Depending on your tour operator, your hikes might be small-group guided affairs or you may be able to wander around a pre-set path through penguin colonies at your own pace. Along the way, you can stop to take photos, get your binoculars out for some bird watching, or you can simply relax and enjoy the beauty of the Antarctic.
3. Paddle Among Icebergs
If paddling through glassy, ice-filled waters sounds like your idea of a good time, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better activity than an afternoon of kayaking in the Antarctic.
Kayaking in Antarctica provides you with a chance to see this ice-covered continent from a whole new angle. While paddling, you’ll also get an opportunity to get up close and personal with rocky coves and small inlets that are inaccessible to Zodiacs.
That said, kayaking in Antarctica isn’t for the faint of heart and it requires at least some prior paddling experience. Kayaking is offered by many expedition companies, but you often have to pay an additional fee for these excursions. So, check in with your tour operator to see if kayaking is a possibility before you depart for your voyage.
4. Camp in the Snow Under the Midnight Sun
There are few experiences more incredible than spending a night on the snow in Antarctica. While the thought of a warm bed might be comforting after a long day of activity in the polar regions, camping out on the snowpack of Antarctica is one experience you won’t want to miss.
When camping in Antarctica, you’ll usually depart your ship after dinner and take a quick Zodiac ride to shore. Once there, you’ll find an appropriate campsite, set up your bivvy sack and sleeping bag, and crawl into bed to stay warm. Depending on when you visit Antarctica, you might even get to see the midnight sun during your camping trip. How’s that for cool?
5. Scuba Dive With Penguins
For a truly unique activity in the Antarctic, you can go scuba diving with penguins. Scuba diving in Antarctic waters is an out-of-this-world experience that lets you see the bustling ecosystems that exist deep in the Southern Ocean.
As you might imagine, the frigid temperatures of Antarctic waters mean that scuba diving with penguins is only for experienced divers. But if you have some cold water diving experience under your belt, swimming with penguins, seals, and other amazing sea creatures while you’re in Antarctica is one activity you won’t want to miss.
6. Watch for Whales
The best time to visit Antarctica for whale lovers is during the late summer months when it becomes one of the world’s busiest whale feeding grounds giving visitors a great opportunity to see some spectacular cetaceans. Thankfully, you’ll have plenty of chances to go whale watching during your trip to Antarctica.
If you spend enough time out on deck while you’re cruising through the bays and fjords of the White Continent, you just might get lucky and see a humpback whale breaching in the distance. Or, better yet, you could see orcas as you zoom around in a Zodiac during a morning excursion from the ship.
Either way, the more time you spend outside during your voyage to Antarctica, the better your chances for seeing these magnificent marine mammals.
7. Snowshoe Through Antarctic Powder
If you’re lucky enough to visit Antarctica during November or December, you might want to strap on a pair of snowshoes at one of your landing sites.
Although November and December mark the start of summer down south, most of Antarctica is still covered in a blanket of snow by the time the first voyages make it to the White Continent at the start of each tourist season. As a result, early season visitors can enjoy a unique Antarctic experience by setting off on a short snowshoeing adventure.
Many expedition companies offer snowshoeing as an additional excursion activity that you can enjoy as part of a small group at landing sites. These snowshoeing excursions let you hike away from the crowds and up to a secluded vantage point where you can enjoy the quiet, snow-capped Antarctic landscape in all its glory.
8. Sail Into the Caldera of a Live Volcano
There are few places in this world where you can sail into the caldera of a live volcano. But luckily for Antarctic travelers, one such place is at Deception Island.
Deception Island is a small dot on the map located in the South Shetland Islands at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s shaped a bit like a donut and it has a small opening (called Neptune’s Bellows) on its southern coastline that lets ships pass through to the protected Port Foster in the center of the island.
The best part?
Port Foster is actually a caldera. As you sail through Neptune’s Bellows, you’re actually sailing into a live volcano!
Luckily, the volcano is monitored by seismologists at the Spanish Antarctic Program and it doesn’t seem to be particularly active. But sailing into a volcano is an incredible experience and one you likely won’t get anywhere else.
9. Cross the Drake Passage
For many Antarctic expeditions, crossing the Drake Passage (the waters between Antarctica and South America) is just one leg in the journey to the White Continent. But the more intrepid among us know that crossing the Drake Passage is an exciting activity in its own right.
Crossing the Drake is an excellent opportunity to go bird watching out on deck (if weather conditions and seasickness allow, of course). The Drake Passage is home to some incredible bird species, such as wandering albatrosses, that are rarely ever spotted outside the Southern Ocean.
So if you’re feeling up for it and the weather isn’t too bad, don’t be afraid to go out on deck while you’re crossing the Drake on your way to Antarctica. You’ll often find your expedition guides on deck, too, so you can learn more about the amazing bird species that soar through these stormy skies.
10. Eat & Be Merry at a Polar Barbecue
Think barbecues are just for warm and sunny summer days? Think again! When you venture south to Antarctica, you just might get to enjoy a scrumptious barbecue in a land of snow and ice.
These days, most tour operators offer at least one chance to enjoy a meal out on the ship’s deck during a meticulously crafted polar barbecue. Your expedition leader and captain will work together to plan a delicious barbecue where you can enjoy tasty food and soul-warming drinks on deck while surrounded by scenic Antarctic landscapes. What more could you wish for?
11. Sharpen Your Photography Skills
A trip to the Antarctic is the perfect time to sharpen up your photography skills. In this icy landscape, you can snap photos of everything from penguins and whales to seals, birds, and more.
Whether you’re a first-time photographer or you’re skilled with a DSLR, an Antarctic voyage provides endless opportunities for mastering your technique behind a camera. Your expedition team on the ship will often include a professional photographer, too, so you can ask questions and hone your skills while you capture images from an experience of a lifetime.
12. Drink Vodka at Vernadsky Research Base
Vernadsky Research Base is the only Ukrainian research station in Antarctica. It also happens to be the only base with its own vodka distillery!
If you get the chance to visit Vernadsky, you can sample some of this fine Ukrainian spirit first-hand. The team at the station is usually more than happy to give you a quick tour of the base that normally ends with a trip to the bar.
Once there, you can buy yourself a shot of this Antarctic vodka and enjoy a quick round at what may be the southernmost public bar in the world.
13. Enjoy the Sights & Sounds of a Penguin Colony
Of all the amazing things to do in Antarctica that won a place on our list, this one might just be our personal favorite. Spending time at a penguin colony is a wonderful experience that few people in the world ever get to have. Thankfully, most landing sites in Antarctica feature a penguin colony, which gives you a chance to see these funny little flightless birds for yourself.
Plus, penguins are naturally curious. So if you simply walk near the colony and stay quiet, there’s a good chance that a penguin might waddle its way toward you to check you out!
As is the case with any animal encounter in Antarctica, it’s important that you stay quiet, calm, and respectful of the wildlife. If you simply sit back and casually observe a colony, you’re bound to see some fun and exciting activity as these penguins waddle their way from place to place.
14. Run a Marathon
Running a marathon is no easy feat. When you combine the physical exertion of a marathon with the cold, harsh climate of Antarctica, you get a long-distance running feat like no other.
There are technically two different marathons that happen each year in Antarctica—one on Union Glacier at 80ºS and one on King George Island off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Both are truly challenging running events that require plenty of preparation and a keen sense of adventure to pull off. But if you’re feeling fit and ready, running a marathon in Antarctica just might be the polar activity you’re looking for.
15. Visit a Historic Research Station
Although many people venture to Antarctica primarily to see the wildlife and the region’s beautiful scenery, the White Continent is also a place that’s steeped in history.
Humans have visited Antarctica for at least the last 200 years (and likely longer as Māori explorers likely made it to the continent about 1,300 years ago). As a result, there are plenty of historic research stations and artifacts to check out when you make your voyage down south.
Of all the historic research stations in Antarctica, the 6 remaining original British research bases are among the best preserved. These stations include popular destinations like Port Lockroy and some less-frequented sites like Stonington Island, all of which are amazing places to visit if you want to learn more about the long history of human exploration in Antarctica.
16. Take a Helicopter to See Emperor Penguins
The emperor penguins are among Antarctica’s most famous inhabitants thanks to Happy Feet and March of the Penguins. However, few people realize that emperor penguins live in some of the most remote parts of the region, so only a small number of tourist expeditions ever get to see them.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be on an expedition vessel headed to the Weddell Sea that’s equipped with a helicopter or two. These helicopters provide one of the most reliable ways to see emperor penguins whose colonies are generally located on thick floes of sea ice, miles away from the nearest patch of open water.
Of course, taking a helicopter to see emperor penguins isn’t a possibility on every Antarctic expedition itinerary. But if you are on one of these vessels, a visit to an emperor penguin rookery is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you won’t want to miss!
17. Cross the Antarctic Circle
Toward the latter half of the Antarctic season, some expedition ships get the chance to cross into some of the most remote waters on the planet—the Southern Ocean below the Antarctic Circle.
The Antarctic Circle is officially defined as 66º30’S and the areas to the south of the circle get 24-hour sunlight throughout the summer months. Reaching the Antarctic Circle is no easy feat, especially during the early summer season when the waters near the circle are usually covered in a thick layer of sea ice.
If conditions permit during your voyage, you’ll get the opportunity to cross the circle and count yourself as part of an exclusive group of Antarctic travelers. Most expedition companies also host a small celebration with drinks, snacks, and a whole lot of fun out on deck to commemorate this special moment.
28. Send a Postcard from the Penguin Post Office
Originally built as part of Operation Tabarin during World War II, Port Lockroy is one of the most historic places in the entire Antarctic Peninsula. But these days, it’s better known as its other name: the Penguin Post Office.
Located on Goudier Island, Port Lockroy is no longer an active British Antarctic Survey base, but it is a maintained historic site and one of the continent’s most popular tourist attractions. The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust sends a small team down to the base each year to maintain it and to operate its post office, which is one of the southernmost in the world.
When conditions permit, most expedition cruises try to stop by Port Lockroy for a short landing so visitors can see the base’s penguin colony and explore its museum. While you’re there, be sure to send a penguin-themed postcard to your friends and family as a cool souvenir from the Penguin Post Office.
19. Take a Polar Plunge
Last but not least, if you’re feeling particularly brave during your trip to Antarctica, don’t forget to take a polar plunge in the White Continent’s icy waters. Going for a quick dip in the Southern Ocean is a time-honored tradition among Antarctic travelers, so it’s certainly a fun activity if you’re feeling up for the challenge.
Some tour operators let you jump right off the ship’s gangway while others offer a polar plunge at the beach of one of your last landing sites. Either way, the polar plunge is normally a highlight of expedition cruises as it’s a fun, light-hearted way to cap off an incredible adventure in the Antarctic.