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Grytviken, South Georgia Travel Guide

7 min read

While only home to few short-term human inhabitants of mostly researchers and scientists, Grytviken is the largest settlement in South Georgia.

Grytviken, South Georgia

The island's incredible wildlife, including thousands of King penguins, Elephant seals, Antarctic fur seals, Giant petrels, Brown skua, and Antarctic terns have earned it the nickname of the "Galapagos of the Southern Ocean". Pairing the biodiversity with South Georgia's fascinating history makes Grytviken a must-visit destination for Antarctic explorers and polar wildlife enthusiasts.

Keep reading for a Grytviken travel guide and find more information about South Georgia Cruises and Expeditions so you can make the most out of your trip to the Antarctic.

Why Should You Visit Grytviken, South Georgia?

Grytviken offers so much to the polar traveler: it's a starting point for Antarctic exploration, the final resting place of famous polar explorers such as Sir Ernest Shackleton, a former whaling station, home to interesting natural and exploration history and abundant wildlife.

The isolated settlement of Grytviken, South Georgia, is a place few people will visit in their lifetime, but is home to iconic wildlife populations including seals, enormous penguin colonies and seabirds by the thousands.

Polar history and exploration enthusiasts visit for their chance pay their respects to one of history's most famous explorers and South Georgia's first explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, at his grave site in the Grytviken cemetery. Guests who travel with Quark Expeditions typically gather around Shackleton's grave and raise a toast in his memory. For many, it's an incredibly moving moment on their polar voyage.

Those who do set foot in the spectacular natural beauty of South Georgia will be greeted with fascinating stories of exploration rescues, the Falklands War, controversial environmental history and stunning wildlife.

Where is Grytviken, South Georgia located?

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is a mostly uninhabited and mountainous British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 1,300 km east-southeast of the Falkland Islands.

The crescent-shaped island of South Georgia is named after King George, while Grytviken is Swedish for "Pot Bay," named after settlers found relics of big pots earlier explorers had used to boil seal fat and extract oil.

Grytviken is located in the best suited harbor on South Georgia to be the principal station and settlement because of its access to fresh water, and ice-free, flat terrain. The best time to visit South Georgia is between November and January, when the calm water conditions allow easier access to the island.

With an Antarctic climate that has cool, short summers and cold, long winters and 75% of the island covered in snow, South Georgia is home to some tundra plants but is best known for it's teeming wildlife—including more than 300,000 breeding King penguins.

Check out the South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula: Penguin Safari for your once-in-a-lifetime chance to share a beach with up to four different penguin species as far as the eye can see.

Wildlife in Grytviken, South Georgia

While home to few human inhabitants, the plentiful wildlife on South Georgia leaves many referring to the island as the "Galapagos of the Poles," where hundreds of thousands of breeding King penguins, and millions of seabirds and seals live in their natural habitats.

The penguin population in South Georgia makes it one of the best places in the world to see penguins.

Penguins - South Georgia

Thousands of Elephant and Fur seals also call the island home, as well an impressive King penguin colony at Salisbury Plain.

Fortuna Bay is a must-see destination for those visiting South Georgia to take in the beauty of surrounding icebergs and experience the massive colony of King penguins, Elephant seals, Antarctic Fur seals, Giant petrels, Antarctic terns and Brown skua.

Elephant Seal - South Georgia

Gold Harbour in South Georgia has been described as a zoo without fences, where breeding King penguins, Gentoo penguins and Elephant seals line the coast. Birders will also appreciate the chance at Gold Harbour to see the courtship dance of the light-mantled sooty albatross along the cliff side.

Those looking to spot seabirds on their adventure will be thrilled by Cooper Island, where Antarctic prions, Snow petrels, Black-browed albatross, Macaroni penguins, Chinstrap penguins and Fur seals live.

Best Way to Get to Grytviken South Georgia

An island without an airport, the only way to travel to Grytviken, South Georgia is by ship.

For those looking to see the iconic species of the Antarctic, the South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula: Penguin Safari expedition is a unique travel option to explore the stunning landscape and experience it's vast wildlife.

If you're looking to explore the Falkland Islands and South Georgia before stepping foot in the Antarctic, then the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica: Explorers and Kings expedition could be the right polar adventure for you. Get the opportunity to tour the small English town of Stanley in the Falklands and take in the breath-taking displays of wildlife before you explore the ice and snow of the Antarctic.

Or try the Epic Antarctica: Crossing the Circle via Falklands and South Georgia expedition to explore all the incredible sights, and experiences of the Antarctic. On this polar adventure, you'll experience the amazing wildlife including dolphins, penguins, seabirds and seals before crossing the Antarctic Circle (a bucket list item for many world travelers!).

The History of Grytviken, South Georgia

Whaling in Grytviken

South Georgia at one time had five whaling stations, and Grytviken was home to the first whaling station and the largest. The booming whale populations of the Southern Atlantic Ocean and unrestricted whaling prospects made Grytviken and South Georgia a profitable whaling station hub.

Abandoned Whaling Station - Grytviken, South Georgia

More than 1,000 workers were employed by South Georgia whaling stations and on whaling ships, but after 60 years of unsustainable practices, the overproduction of whale oil led to a crash in prices and overhunting in the area left too few whales to make a profit.

Whaling stopped in South Georgia in 1965, but the tragic loss of thousands of majestic whales continues to this day to haunt the ruins and ships left behind.

Sir Ernest Shackleton

Many visitors travel to Grytviken to visit the sacred burial place of Sir Ernest Shackleton, famous British Antarctic explorer and one of history's greatest polar explorers of all time. Shackleton's remains rest in Grytviken cemetery where visitors and polar enthusiasts pay their respects.

Cemetery - Grytviken, South Georgia

Sir Ernest Shackleton began the historic Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, an attempt to cross the Antarctic continent, but pack ice trapped his ship and crew in the Weddell Sea for 18 months. What followed was Shackleton's famed rescue mission from Elephant Island to South Georgia, and against all odds he saved the lives every member of his crew.

After Sir Ernest Shackleton's death, his widow requested his final resting place be in Grytviken.

Shackleton's grave is a memorial to this incredible man made of carved granite that features a nine pointed star on the front, a symbol of his family, and on the back, a quote from Robert Browning: "I hold that a man should strive to the uttermost for his life's set prize."

It is customary for travelers in Grytviken to raise a toast in respect to Shackleton and his bravery that rightfully earned him his place in history, and as well to Frank Wild, Shackleton's first mate whose ashes are buried next to Shackleton's famous grave.

The Falklands War

The Falkland War lasted 74 days when Argentina invaded the British Falkland Islands in an attempt to take back control of the archipelago.

You can learn more about the history of the war and the relics left behind in the South Georgia Museum. With a tour guide, you can hike just past King Edward Point to the remains of the helicopter.

Things to do in Grytviken, South Georgia

Tour the ruins of Grytviken's abandoned whaling station

The eerie quiet of the empty and rusting whaling station, abandoned whaling ships and whaling boats serves as a reminder of the horrific and tragic history of the whaling industry in South Georgia.

Abandoned Whaling Station - Grytviken, South Georgia

Thousands of whales were slaughtered in South Georgia for the world-wide demand of whale oil used for oil lamps and in soap production, as well as for their bones and meat. Sadly, whales were hunted in this region until the surrounding waters were overfished and the whaling stations were forced to shut-down.

Whale bones and a corroding and collapsing station were left, and made the area a toxic place until the Grytviken whaling station site was decontaminated and made safe to tour. Of the five whaling stations on the island, only the abandoned station in Grytviken is safe to explore.

Make a Toast to Sir Ernest Shackleton

Pause at his grave site and raise a glass to the bravery and heroism of Sir Ernest Shackleton in Grytviken cemetery.

Grytviken, South Georgia

Remembered for his expeditions to the Antarctic, it is the dangerous yet successful rescue mission that saved the lives of every member of his crew for which Shackleton's memory is most celebrated.

Following his death in South Georgia, Shackleton's widow wished for his remains to be laid to rest in the Grytviken cemetery where today polar enthusiasts from around the world travel to pay their respects and honor the memory of the great man.

Visit Grytviken Church

The picturesque Grytviken Church was built in Norway and brought to South Georgia more than 100 years ago, and is the oldest building in Grytviken that is still in use.

Grytviken Church - Grytviken, South Georgia

Visitors are welcome to explore inside the church and even ring the bell that can be heard throughout Grytviken.

Send a post card

Because there is no mobile phone signal in South Georgia, you can't call your family and friends back home, but you can send a post card!

Post Office - Grytviken, South Georgia

Grytviken's post office has few staff but offers stamps and cards you can send to any place in the world.

Post cards are shipped from South Georgia to the UK before arriving to the mailboxes of your loved ones so they receive send a souvenir from one of the most isolated post offices in the world.

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