Antarctica may be seen by outsiders as a remote, incredibly cold, and unappealing place to visit. But such perceptions are so far from the truth. The world's southernmost continent is a bastion of gorgeous icy terrain that sparkles under the bright light of the sun.
Some of the world's most astounding natural attractions lie across the Antarctic continent, on both the mainland and floating islands or icebergs in the Southern Ocean. There's also an impressive variety of rare wildlife roaming the continent, including the rarely seen King penguins that emerge from hibernation to take over the shorelines.
Antarctica is a rite of passage for polar adventures. If you have yet to appreciate the hidden beauty that is the southern continent, this guide will help you select the best tourist attractions in Antarctica to experience on your upcoming adventure to this magical destination.
Quark Expeditions guests enjoy a Zodiac cruise in the waters of the Antarctic. Photo: Michelle Sole
Why should I visit Antarctica?
The reason why you would undertake an adventure to a remote destination is to admire the natural beauty of the landscape. Antarctica is home to a visually impressive array of glaciers, mountains, icebergs, snow-covered peaks, bays, fjords, inlets, pebble beaches, and rugged coastlines. The entire landmass is a new experience for explorers who love pushing themselves to new limits.
However, make no mistake: the conditions are very different from other places in the world. That's why we've created this Antarctica packing list that you should review so that you remember to bring the proper protective gear for your journey on the southern continent.
13 of the best tourist attractions in Antarctica
So what are some of the best tourist attractions in Antarctica that you can experience? Here are some of the attractions and adventures you can consider when planning your polar adventure across the southern continent.
For the unmatched Antarctic experience, you'll want to explore the Antarctic Peninsula, perhaps on the Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent itinerary operated by Quark Expeditions. Over the course of an 11-day adventure, you'll travel from the tip of South America into the Lemaire Channel off the coast of the Antarctic mainland. You can explore incredible natural scenery by Zodiac or on foot while getting excellent views of penguins, whales, and other amazing wildlife. Plus, our travel guides will explain the history, biology, and glaciology that's at the heart of the Antarctic.
Guests get incredible views of a variety of icebergs on Quark Expeditions' Antarctic voyages.
This tabular iceberg floats in the Drake Passage. Photo: Michelle Sole
Crossing 800-km Drake Passage, between the foot of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula, by ship is a rite of passage for many adventurers. It is one of the more difficult areas of the Southern Ocean to cross, which is why Quark Expeditions offers guests the choice of crossing by either air or sea. The Antarctic Express: Fly The Drake itinerary, for example, enables you to fly across the Drake Passage and land on King George Island. From there, you'll hop aboard your polar vessel for seven days of adventure along the coast of the Antarctic mainland.
Rockhoppers are one of the penguin species guests will see in large numbers
on voyages in the Antarctic. Photo: Acacia Johnson
Since it's largely untouched by mankind, Antarctica boasts an impressive collection of rarely seen wildlife. Among the most amazing sights to see are the Emperor Penguins, the so-called giants of the penguin species. You'll only see these majestic animals on sea ice, generally on or near Snow Hill Island in the frozen Weddell Sea.
The Southern Ocean isn't just confined to Antarctica itself; it reaches the tips of South America and the enchanting wonders of Patagonia. There, you can join Essential Patagonia: Chilean Fjords and Torres del Paine voyage for an enchanting experience in the Beagle Channel. This 240-km strait off the southern shoreline was once explored by Charles Darwin himself, which gives you an idea of the stellar wonders of nature that lie ahead.
With such a rare and impressive array of wildlife on the continent, it's no wonder that bird watchers are drawn to the southern continent. Bring a pair of binoculars on your trip so that you can undertake a feat of Antarctic bird watching of your own. Photograph the wildlife—from a safe and respectful distance— in their natural habitat.
Snow Hill Island is home to one of the world's largest rookeries of Emperor penguins. Photo: David Merron
Snow Hill Island Emperor Penguins
Snow Hill Island is an iconic destination off the east coast of Antarctica. This is one of the esteemed locations where you'll spot the rarely seen Emperor Penguins, which love to roam across Snow Hill Island as their own private piece of paradise.
South Shetland Islands
The South Shetland Islands are often one of the first stops en route to the mainland of Antarctica, and they are a photographer's southern dream destination. You'll spot many species of birds and seals on the islands, some of them among the rarest of all species. Additionally, if you're lucky, you'll spot whale pods playing and swimming in the waters not far from the shore.
Like many of the birds that call Antarctica home only remain near the southern continent, you'll sometimes be lucky enough to find rookeries for penguins and other rarely seen birds throughout the continent. Snow Hill Island is one of the best locations to see penguin rookery colonies; make sure you bring your camera.
Humpback and minke whales
Many whale species prefer to swim in the colder depths of the Southern Ocean. If you're lucky, you'll have an opportunity to witness pods of humpback and minke whales swimming near your polar vessel. Now those are the kinds of nature shots you never want to miss out on.
Seals as far as the eye can see
Seals are naturally attracted to polar climates, preferring the colder temperatures and remote locales. Some adventurers on past Antarctic Quark Expeditions' adventures have even been lucky enough to witness the rare Leopard Seal, a mesmerizing example of amazing wildlife.
Crossing the Antarctic Circle
The Antarctic Circle is the unofficial gateway to the southern continent, and you'll have a chance to cross this borderline by sea aboard the Crossing the Circle: Southern Expedition adventure. For 14 days, you'll take a voyage across the Southern Ocean with stops at key island landmarks en route to the mainland. On Day 8, you'll officially cross the Antarctic Circle and have your best opportunity to observe—and experience—sea ice, which is the foundation of the Antarctic marine ecosystem.
Icebergs and other formations
When you think of Antarctica, icebergs naturally come to mind. Once you arrive in the Southern Ocean, you'll have a chance to witness some of the most visually impressive icebergs in the world. You can review this polar explorer's guide to icebergs for more insights on how they exist and the best places to spot them while on your journey.
South Georgia Island
Finally, South Georgia Island, similar to the South Shetland Islands, is one of the stops along the way to the main Antarctic continent. One of the tourist attractions aboard the island is Sir Ernest Shackleton's grave, a tribute to the famed polar explorer whose ship ran aground on this island while attempting to explore Antarctica.
A fur seal pup at Grytviken, South Georgia. Photo: Acacia Johnson
What is the best way to get to Antarctica?
The best way to get to Antarctica is either by flight or by boat. You can fly onto one of the surrounding islands, such as on the voyage across the Drake Passage, or you can arrange for a flight to the heart of Antarctica itself. If you'd rather experience the Southern Ocean and have a more rounded view of all that Antarctica has to offer, you can book an Antarctic cruise to sail your way down to the southern continent.
Antarctic expedition cruises
For a life-changing and memorable adventure into Antarctica, we urge you to consider the Epic Antarctica: Crossing The Circle via Falklands and South Georgia voyage. This is a 23-day adventure, one of the longest voyages offered by Quark Expeditions.
On this itinerary, you'll begin in Patagonia after a departure from Ushuaia, Argentina. From there, you'll travel east to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia before pivoting southwest to the South Shetland Islands and the mainland of Antarctica itself. You'll officially cross the Antarctic Circle where very few people have traveled, and you can enjoy hiking and Zodiac outings to explore more of the peninsula in detail. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience; make the most of your time here!