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Antarctica & the Arctic - Best Tours & Trips 2019

398 trips to Antarctica & the Arctic tours from 98 tour companies. 205 reviews. 4.7/5 avg rating.
The earth's Polar Regions -- Antarctica and the Arctic -- are among the last great frontiers for adventurous travelers. While they both have cold weather and ice in common, the northern and southern extremes of the world also have big differences. Antarctica, the White Continent, is under international jurisdiction and maintains strict guidelines on the numbers of ships and passengers that can land there each year. Penguins and ma ... Read More
All Antarctica & the Arctic tours, river cruises, expedition cruises, and adventure trips. Find the best guided trips and expert planned vacation and holiday packages.
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Travel Style Travel Style Relaxed A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers.
Full on For those looking to maximize their sight seeing time. You thrive on a packed day’s schedule from 8 am to 6pm, with some (but limited) free time. Most activities and meals included.
Mixed You will have solid amounts of both free time and structured time with some activities and meals included.

Trip Type Trip Type Group Tour Groups are between 25-60 people, typically ~30-40. Usually there will be many opportunities to split off and enjoy meals and excursions in smaller groups. This is the most economical way to travel, saving up to 40% versus booking the same itinerary yourself.
Small Group Tour Small groups are usually defined as between 10 and 24 travelers, often less. If you're the kind of person who enjoys more intimate experiences and personal service this is a good choice. All else being equal you will pay a premium for this style vs a larger group tour.
River Cruise These vessels are smaller than most ocean cruisers, limiting which amenties are available. Passenger counts can vary. One of the biggest advantages of a river cruise is the ability to dock at smaller ports and local villages.
Small Ship Cruise Small ship cruises usually have a max passenger count of 500. The primary purpose of these trips is to spend time off the vessel in local ports (e.g. Mediterranean) or experiencing nature (e.g Galapagos or Antarctica). Cabins can vary from budget to luxury.
Private Guided Private tours give you the undivided attention of a guide, and often involve special access to sites and unique experiences not available to larger groups. This is a great option for families, couples, and small friend groups. Expect to pay a bit more for the extra service.
Self Guided / Independent Tour A travel company plans your itinerary and arranges all the logistics including lodging, local activities, and transportantion. You have the flexibility of a solo trip while still getting the convience and time savings of expert planning. Get 90% of the benefits of a tour, without a guide.
Vacation / Holiday Package Similar to a self guided tour, this usually involves a home base, such as a hotel or resort, with packaged activities and day tours as a part of the stay.
Large Ship Cruise This is the "floating city" experience, with multiple ways to enjoy your vacation aboard the ship as much as on land. Ships are multiple floors, provide several activities, culinary, and shopping options. They often make fewer stops and have less time available for shore excursions.

Itinerary Focus

Lodging Level Lodging Level Camping Typically involves most nights sleeping in tents (sometimes permanent tented sites) or in rustic cabins and lodges.
Basic - 2 star You'll stay in no-frills, but clean and comfortable, hotels or guesthouses. A 'Basic' trip might also involve a few nights of camping.
Value - 3 star Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels.
Premium - 4 star 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards.
Luxury - 5 star The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays.

Price From*

$ 0 $ 10,000+

Price Per Day

Trip Length

Countries

Physical Level Physical Level Very Easy Minimal walking - motor vehicles available for all major parts of trip.
Easy Normal generally flat walking in urban or suburban environments.
Moderate Walking or physical activity half to most of day - no carrying equipment.
Strenuous All or most of day hiking or biking, hills included.
Extreme Very challenging all day hiking and backpacking carrying significant equipment.

Travel Theme

Travelers Age

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Rivers & Seas

Cities & Attractions

Activities

Solo Friendly Solo Friendly Good for Singles Trips that specifically cater to travelers looking to meet other singles.
No Single Supplement Trips where single supplement is usually not required for solo travelers.

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Flights & Transport

Continents & Regions

Stride Gives Back Stride Gives Back This trip visits a destination impacted by climate change. When you opt in to the Stride Gives Back program, we will donate 10% of our net revenue to organizations that help mitigate climate change in these destinations and across the globe. Learn more

Impacted by Climate Change

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Antarctica Cruise Expedition
Group Tour
Popular
Stride climate
This trip visits a destination that is affected by climate change

Antarctica Cruise Expedition

SmarTours
Premier
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
17 days
$ 518 / day
$ 8,799
From : $ 10,823
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : You will have solid amounts of both free time and structured time with some activities and meals included. Mixed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards. Premium - 4 star
Highlights
  • Explore Buenos Aires City Tour
  • Navigate the Beagle Channel
  • Cross the Drake Passage
  • Traverse Cape Horn
  • See the spectacular South Shetland Islands
  • Explorations by Zodiac (Small Boat)
  • Antarctic Peninsula is known for its scenic beauty and large population of Humpback Whales
  • Explore Drake Passag get close to Penguins & Seals
  • Hear the Roar of the Glaciers
  • Visit Yankee Harbour, an inner harbor on Greenwich Island
Visits:
Antarctic Peninsula, Buenos Aires, South Shetland Islands, Ushuaia, Antarctica, Argentina
View Trip
Antarctica Peninsula Cruise Land of Penguins and Icebergs Main Suite Summer 2019
Group Tour
Stride climate
This trip visits a destination that is affected by climate change

Antarctica Peninsula Cruise Land of Penguins and ...

Trafalgar
Preferred
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
12 days
$ 996 / day
$ 11,946
From : $ 14,694
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : You will have solid amounts of both free time and structured time with some activities and meals included. Mixed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards. Premium - 4 star
Visits:
Shetland Islands, South Shetland Islands, Ushuaia, Argentina
View Trip
Polar Circle - Antarctic Peninsula Expedition
Small Ship Cruise
Stride climate
This trip visits a destination that is affected by climate change

Polar Circle - Antarctic Peninsula Expedition

Lost World Adventures
Premier
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
12 days
$ 804 / day
$ 9,650
From : $ 13,028
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels. Value - 3 star
Highlights
  • Explore Antarctica Experience Antarctic Peninsula watching a nice variety of Gentoo Penguins, Chinstraps and southern Giant Petrels, as well as Elephant Seals
  • Opportunity to sail across the Drake Passage
  • Enjoy Sailing north again through Neumayer Channel and Gerlache Strait
Visits:
Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica
View Trip
Antarctic Explorer
Small Group Tour
Stride climate
This trip visits a destination that is affected by climate change

Antarctic Explorer

Exodus Travels
Preferred
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
11 days
$ 681 / day
$ 7,495
From : $ 10,118
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : You will have solid amounts of both free time and structured time with some activities and meals included. Mixed
Physical Level : Regular walking or cycling over moderately long, hilly, or bumpy distances. Some public transport or utility vehicles such as safari jeeps. Moderate
Lodging Level : Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels. Value - 3 star
Highlights
  • Explore the remarkable Antarctic Peninsula
  • Incredible wildlife viewing including seabirds, penguins, seals and whales
  • Travel on a small expedition vessel
  • Accompanied by extremely qualified Expedition Staff
Visits:
Antarctic Peninsula, Argentina
View Trip
West Greenland Explorer
Small Ship Cruise
Stride climate
This trip visits a destination that is affected by climate change

West Greenland Explorer

10 days
$ 597 / day
$ 5,853
From : $ 7,337
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards. Premium - 4 star
Highlights
  • Picturesque town of Ilulissat
  • UNESCO listed Ilulissat Ice Fjord
  • Boat trip to Eqi glacier and the Disko Bay
  • Sailing voyage along the spectacular West Greenland coast on board MV Sarfaq Ittuk
  • Town of Narsaq
Visits:
Nuuk, Greenland, Iceland
View Trip

Ireland Biking

Butterfield & Robinson
Preferred
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
6 days
$ 916 / day
$ 5,495
From : $ 5,694
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : You will have solid amounts of both free time and structured time with some activities and meals included. Mixed
Physical Level : Regular walking or cycling over moderately long, hilly, or bumpy distances. Some public transport or utility vehicles such as safari jeeps. Moderate
Lodging Level : The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays. Luxury - 5 star
Highlights
  • Explore the sleepy village of Roundstone on foot
  • Fabulous cycling along the breathtaking Wild Atlantic Way to the famous Cliffs of Moher
  • Ride through the spectacular limestone landscapes of the Burren National Park
  • Enjoy cycle your way through Inagh Valley
Visits:
Connemara, Galway, Ireland, United Kingdom
View Trip
Antarctic Peninsula - 'Basecamp Plancius' tour
Small Ship Cruise
Stride climate
This trip visits a destination that is affected by climate change

Antarctic Peninsula - "Basecamp Plancius"

Lost World Adventures
Premier
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
12 days
$ 804 / day
$ 9,650
From : $ 13,028
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels. Value - 3 star
Highlights
  • Visit picturesque city Ushuaia    
  • Enjoy amazing Cuverville Island
  • Visit majestic Port Lockroy
  • View beautiful Melchior Islands
Visits:
Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetland Islands, Ushuaia, Antarctica
View Trip
Antarctic Express Air-Cruise
Small Ship Cruise
Popular
Stride climate
This trip visits a destination that is affected by climate change

Antarctic Express Air-Cruise

Lost World Adventures
Premier
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
6 days
$ 933 / day
$ 5,595
From : $ 6,378
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays. Luxury - 5 star
Highlights
  • Experience sail through the Drake Passage en route to King George Island
  • Opportunity to sail South Shetland Islands , while enjoying the company of sea birds
  • Explore King George Island
Visits:
South Shetland Islands, Antarctica
View Trip
Antarctic Peninsula Adventure tour
Group Tour
Stride climate
This trip visits a destination that is affected by climate change

Antarctic Peninsula Signature Tour

ROW Adventures
Preferred
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
12 days
$ 750 / day
$ 8,995
From : $ 30,990
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : You will have solid amounts of both free time and structured time with some activities and meals included. Mixed
Physical Level : Regular walking or cycling over moderately long, hilly, or bumpy distances. Some public transport or utility vehicles such as safari jeeps. Moderate
Lodging Level : 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards. Premium - 4 star
Highlights
  • Explore Ushuaia
  • Relax on deck as we sail through the Beagle Channel, passing colonies of Magellanic penguins, rock cormorants and sea lions.
  • Enjoy sailing across the Drake Passage
  • Visit Half Moon Island in Livingston’s eastern shore, or conditions permitting visit historic Deception Island.
Visits:
Shetland Islands, Ushuaia, Argentina
View Trip
Ross Sea With Helicopters - West
Small Ship Cruise
Stride climate
This trip visits a destination that is affected by climate change

Ross Sea With Helicopters - West

Lost World Adventures
Premier
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
32 days
$ 1,023 / day
$ 32,750
From : $ 44,213
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels. Value - 3 star
Highlights
  • Explore Antarctic Peninsula sail through spectacular Lemaire Channel
  • Experience Sailing south through the Penola Strait
  • See the awesome Bellingshausen Sea
  • Enjoy the fabulous sail through the Amundsen Sea along
  • Visit Ross Island, guarded by Mount Erebus
  • Visit Campbell Island UNESCO World Heritage Centre
Visits:
Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica
View Trip
Polar Circle Air-Cruise - Ocean Nova tour
Small Ship Cruise
Stride climate
This trip visits a destination that is affected by climate change

Polar Circle Air-Cruise - Ocean Nova

Lost World Adventures
Premier
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
10 days
$ 1,750 / day
$ 17,495
From : $ 21,519
The strike-through price reflects either the high season trip price or the average price a traveler pays for a similar itinerary when the components are booked separately.
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards. Premium - 4 star
Highlights
  • Explore the area surrounding Chile’s Frei Station and Russia’s Bellingshausen station
  • Sail along ice-filled fjords and among spectacular icebergs
  • Chances to witness penguins, seals and whales
  • Explore Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands
  • If weather permits, vist the sites such as Port Lockroy, Petermann Island, Paradise Bay, the Lemaire Channel, Prospect Point or other magnificent places
Visits:
Antarctic Peninsula, Punta Arenas, Tierra del Fuego National Park, Antarctica
View Trip
Antarctic Circle Voyage
Private Guided
Stride climate
This trip visits a destination that is affected by climate change

Antarctic Circle Voyage

14 days
$ 778 / day
$ 10,895
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays. Luxury - 5 star
Highlights
  • Cruise against the backdrop of spectacular ice formations and soaring mountains in the world’s most vast and pristine wilderness
  • Head south, really south, to the Antarctic Circle on our longest and most comprehensive Antartic Peninsula itinerary
  • Observe an incredible parade of wildlife, including seals, whales, seabirds, and thousands of penguins
  • Navigate islands, bays, and channels by kayak and Zodiac boat—or maybe opt for a night of glacier camping!
View Trip
Spitsbergen - Northeast Greenland, Aurora Borealis
Small Ship Cruise
Stride climate
This trip visits a destination that is affected by climate change

Spitsbergen - Northeast Greenland, Aurora Borealis

13 days
$ 458 / day
$ 5,950
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards. Premium - 4 star
Highlights
  • See Polar Bear, for instance near Hamilton Glacier, or more to the head of the fjord
  • See the edge of the East Greenland sea-ice
  • Enjoying the contrast between the warm autumnal colours of the vegetation on shore, backed by huge dark mountains, and the cold blue of the icebergs.
  • See the sledge dogs and the drying skins of Seal, Musk Ox and Polar Bear
  • See large whales and seabird migration and, in the night, the Aurora borealis
Visits:
Akureyri, Arctic, Greenland
View Trip

Glaciers, Geysers, Volcanoes & Elves: An Epic ...

Road Scholar
Premier
Has very high quality customer experiences and demonstrated commitment to responsible travel practices. read more
13 days
$ 461 / day
$ 5,995
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards. Premium - 4 star
Highlights
  • See Europe’s largest glacier and take a boat excursion through icebergs on a glacier lagoon.
  • Witness the aftermath of a volcanic eruption on the island of Heimaey.
  • Discover incredible natural formations like Gullfoss (“Golden Waterfall”) and Geysir and take a dip in the famous Blue Lagoon.
Visits:
Blue Lagoon, Gullfoss, Lake Myvatn, Reykjavík, Skaftafell National Park, Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Thingvellir National park, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland
View Trip
Around Spitsbergen
Small Ship Cruise
Stride climate
This trip visits a destination that is affected by climate change

Around Spitsbergen

15 days
$ 417 / day
$ 6,250
Travel Style : A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers. Relaxed
Physical Level : Some walking over short or flat distances. Some trips may include cycling options. Some are wheelchair friendly (check for individual trips). Some cruises. Easy
Lodging Level : Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels. Value - 3 star
Highlights
  • Visit the Svalbard Museum
  • Visit a large colony of Kittiwake which nest in a canyon
  • Seeing Bearded Seal and Polar Bear. 
  • Visit to Barentsburg, the only inhabited Russian settlement in Spitsbergen, or to Colesbukta, an abandoned Russian coal mining settlement.
Visits:
Spitsbergen, Antarctica
View Trip
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Top Antarctica & the Arctic Experiences and Attractions

Antarctica & the Arctic Trip Reviews

205 Antarctica & the Arctic Tour Reviews - Summary 97% Recommend

4.7 out of 5
Excellent 162
Great 32
Average 5
Disappointing 2
Terrible 4
Value
4.7
Guide
4.7
Activities
4.7
Lodging
4.7
Transportation
4.7
Meals
4.7

Tour Reviews Write a Review

Luggage Handling and follow up

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

First cruise, ever! We did a land & sea journey to Alaska through Holland America Line. This is not a review of the trip (which was great!) so much as how HAL handled our complaints of damaged luggage. My sister's luggage arrived at our Yukon hotel with the latch broken, her clothes spilling out. She filed a report. We discovered damage to a corner of my husband's luggage at the departing airport. Too late to do a report...but HAL's property claims were wonderful, in particular, Mr. Scott Gerstl, who even called me to clarify details. He was empathetic and kind. We were reimbursed for both pieces of luggage.

Read more
Operator Holland America Line

Made my stay exceptional

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

I am just back from a great trip at the Flow Edge camp near Bylot Island with Arctic Kingdom. I would like to immensely thank all the Arctic Kingdom team who made my stay exceptional. In particular David Briggs and Jason Hiller our expedition leaders, Scott the camp manager, Sheatie and Billy the Inuit elders, who shared for my camera their Inuit wisdom and knowledge, many thanks to their great team: the chefs, the guides, the camp staff.

Read more
Operator Arctic Kingdom

Excellent

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

The best in the business!

Read more
Operator AdventureSmith

Looking fwd for more camps...

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

My daughter had gone to bhandardara near nasik with the trailblazer team...she had a very nice time..and it was first time I had send her ...so looking fwd for more camps...

Read more
Operator Trailblazer tours India

A wonderful country to visit. The programme Tribes put together fitted our wishes exactly and worked perfectly.

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

The people were lovely; ziplining for the first time, when in ones' late 60s! the wildlife; the beauty and tranquility of the North Pacific coastline.

Read more
Operator Tribes

5 star hotel on water run by a 5 star team

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

5 star hotel on water run by a 5 star team

Read more
Operator G Adventures

Antarctica & the Arctic Tours and Travel Guide

Antarctica & the Arctic Attractions & Landmarks Guide

The earth's Polar Regions -- Antarctica and the Arctic -- are among the last great frontiers for adventurous travelers. While they both have cold weather and ice in common, the northern and southern extremes of the world also have big differences.

Antarctica, the White Continent, is under international jurisdiction and maintains strict guidelines on the numbers of ships and passengers that can land there each year. Penguins and marine mammals are huge draws.

The Arctic ranges across a number of countries and has no penguins, but it does have polar bears and more marine mammals. Travel is restricted only by the laws of the various countries and the relative scarcity of transportation.

An ideal way to explore both is by expedition-style cruise vessels. In Antarctica, only vessels carrying fewer than 500 passengers can actually land on the continent itself, and no more than 100 passengers can go ashore in one place at any given time.

In the Arctic region, more routes are opening up to cruising, such as the Northeast Passage from northern Norway to Siberia and Alaska via the Russian Arctic.

Antarctica

The world’s southernmost continent is also the highest, driest, coldest, and by far the least populated. 

Besides several species of penguins and various marine mammals, the only residents are scientists and support staff who conduct research at the 20 or so national stations, and most of those are there only during the summer months. Few remain beyond one or two year stints there.

With tourism to Antarctica really only opening up in the 1970s, and with just 30,000 or so visitors there per year, it’s safe to say that fewer than one and a half million people have ever set foot on this remote continent. If you get to go, savor your good fortune.  

The Antarctic tourist season runs from late October or early November to March or early April, the summer months when the waters off Antarctica are comparatively ice free. The earlier months bring penguin and elephant seal courtship rituals, while the later months see the birth of penguin chicks and seal pups.

By March the adult penguins are mostly headed out to sea, but whale and seal sightings increase. December and January bring the most daylight hours, prime time for photographers.

Where Can You Go?

While there are a number of approved landing sites for small vessels, only a relative few are commonly visited. Port Lockroy, site of the British Antarctic Survey, is the most visited site, drawing more than 10,000 visitors per year. Passengers board Zodiacs (rubberized rafts) to go ashore, with most ships making one to three landings per day on the Antarctic Peninsula or nearby islands.

One wild card factor to consider is the weather, which can be stormy and erratic and play havoc with the itineraries the cruise lines have planned. Ice is a constantly changing variable. Special icebreaker ships are required to go deep into Antarctic waters, though some “highest ice class” expedition-style cruise ships can cut through ice as much as a meter thick. A few icebreakers challenge the often frozen Weddell Sea in search of emperor penguins. 

Flexibility and the willingness to change course at a moment’s notice – on the part of both the ship’s captain and the passengers – is key to a successful Antarctic journey.

The Arctic

The Gulf Stream and generally warmer temperatures than in Antarctica help make Arctic exploration more accessible than in its southern counterpart, offering a number of choices for experiencing life above the Arctic Circle. 

Greenland is ground zero for climate change, as its glacial ice – representing about eight percent of the world’s supply – is rapidly melting, threatening to raise ocean levels and temperatures. But much of its interior remains a wonderland of white, and icebergs still fill its bays. Fascinating towns and small settlements dot both west and east coasts, which you can visit either by small cruise ship or via land and air transportation. 

Only a tiny fraction of Iceland lies above the Arctic Circle, but this volcanic land of black lava, geothermal pools, moon-like landscapes, and neat, brightly painted houses is one of the far-north’s most visited areas. Part of Europe but lying a third of the way toward the North American continent, Iceland boasts one of the world’s most literate populations and is easily accessible by air as well as sea. 

Small ships now make the journey to Spitsbergen (Svalbard), a Norwegian island archipelago hundreds of miles north of the top of continental Europe. Spitsbergen is home to some of the farthest north settlements in the world, as well as glaciers, icebergs, and an array of wildlife including polar bears, walruses, and flocks of seabirds.

In northern continental Norway and Finland, you can ride in reindeer sleds and visit the Sami, the nomadic people who drive their reindeer herds through the frozen wilderness.

Be Among the First

Transiting the Northeast Passage – from Europe to Asia via the Russian Arctic – represents a new thrill in Arctic exploration, now available by expedition-style cruise ships with high ice-class ratings. Until recently, this area was off limits due to both political and climatological reasons.

The cruises visit Murmansk, the largest city north of the Arctic Circle, and continue through the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean to Russian Siberia until reaching Nome, Alaska. Expect to see polar bears, whales and seals along the way. 

Northern Canada is a far cry from the urbanity of the cities lying near the U.S. border that harbor most of this huge country’s population. The town of Churchill in northern Manitoba is the place to see polar bears and Beluga whales, while the vast, remote province of Nunavut beckons adventurous travelers to encounter Inuit villages that include the northernmost permanent settlement in the world. 

Most visitors to Alaska confine themselves to cruises along its southeast coast or inland trips to Denali National Park, but the state’s remote Aleutian Islands and far northern tundra area stretching north to Nome offer adventurous travelers an entirely different experience in the “Last Frontier.”

You can go dog sledding in Arctic Alaska, fish for salmon in far northern waters, watch for bears and birds, and get around by small plane (or properly equipped vehicles along rough roads).

Related Guides

Countries: 

 Greenland, Antarctica, Arctic, Iceland, Norway & Scandinivia

Attractions:

 Drake Passage, Paradise Bay, Deception Island, Lysefjord and Many More

Top Activities: 

 Small-Ship Expedition Cruise, Snowmobiling, Dog sledding, Watching Aurora Borealis and Many More

 

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