Antarctic cruises

The 5 Most Popular Things To Do In Antarctica

If you’ve never visited Antarctica or experienced a Polar expedition cruise before, you may be wondering how you would spend your time there. Antarctica is totally uninhabited, excluding a few scientific bases, so the entirety of your time off the ship is spent outdoors in a vast white wonderland, with plenty of adventure activities on offer.

First things first, we are often asked how you make the journey from ship to land. You may already be familiar with the 12-seater inflatable boat known as a zodiac, but if not, meet Antarctica’s indispensable workhorse. No Polar voyage could operate without them. Not only do they carry passengers safely to and from a plethora of landing sites, but zodiac cruising is also a fabulous activity in its own right. It offers you the chance to explore the ice-clogged bays and waterways around landing sites, getting you up close and personal with some of the Southern Ocean’s most spectacular marine wildlife. We’re talking barnacled humpback whales, porpoising penguins and snoozing seals hauled out on icebergs, to name just a few common sights.

Zodiac cruises aren’t your only opportunity to take to the water, with some voyages giving you the chance to try sea kayaking in Antarctica in small groups of 10-15. This might sound daunting – some people picture the roiling waves of the Drake Passage – but it’s simply not the case. The bays and inlets where guided kayaking excursions take place boast calm mirror-like waters that are perfect for paddling. Kayaking in Antarctica is taken very seriously, so you’ll never head out in anything but optimal conditions, and you’ll always be accompanied by an instructor. You’ll feel at one with Antarctica and the nature around you, your paddle quietly pulling you through the frigid waters, and you’re likely to have some seriously special wildlife encounters to boot.

Arguably one of the most memorable things to do on the 7th continent is to spend the night on land away from your ship. You read that right, it is possible to go camping in Antarctica, and it earns you serious bragging rights! Equipped with tents, sleeping bags and plenty of cosy layers, you’ll be led by your guide to your site for the night. Once you’ve pitched your tent, you can spend the evening immersing yourself in the secluded quiet of the landscape… well, apart from the clamouring of nearby penguin rookeries! Some ships also offer bivvying if you want to feel truly immersed in your environment. Our team has camped in some pretty breathtaking spots around the world, but we’d have to admit that camping on Antarctica is uniquely special.

Your interest may be piqued by the concept of scuba diving in Antarctica, which is available on some voyages. Diving in Antarctica gives you the chance to explore a magical underworld alongside gleaming icebergs and diving penguins. If this sounds like something you’d jump at the chance of trying, be aware that there are stringent criteria for those looking to sign up. There’s no need for you to be a qualified ice diver, but you’ll have to give evidence of extensive cold-water diving experience and be competent when it comes to using a dry suit. If you can tick all of the obligatory boxes, you’ll be in for an extraordinary Antarctic adventure, which only a handful of people get the chance to encounter.

If that sounds a little too technical for you, worry not, there is still one very popular way to hurl yourself into Antarctica’s icy cold waters. You may have heard of a certain Antarctic right of passage known as the ‘Polar Plunge’. The logistics are pretty simple; get your swimming costume on, join a group of excited travellers, have your designated photographer at the ready, ditch the bathrobe and jump in! Whether you’re roped to a platform on the ship, or you’re running into the water from an Antarctic beach, there’s always support on hand should you need it, but it’s all over in a few exhilarating seconds. You’ll most likely want that shot of spirit that will be offered to you. The warm burn, combined with a rush of adrenaline, will really warm you back up. It might sound a little crazy, but the Polar Plunge has been enjoyed by countless travellers from all around the globe, and it’s certainly not something you forget easily. 

With so much on the table, you won’t be short of things to do in Antarctica. We’ve explored just five popular experiences, but there are plenty more besides – team favourites include mountaineering, snowshoeing, and citizen science. You’ll find your days in Antarctica are packed with activity, making that three-course evening meal and comfortable bed even more attractive – and there’s nothing better than laying your head down on your pillow knowing another full day of unbridled adventure awaits in the morning.

Alex Mudd

Head of Swoop Antarctica

Alex returned from his first Antarctica trip ten years ago firmly bitten by 'polar fever' and obsessed with icebergs. Since then, in between further forays to the polar regions, he's been evangelising about the joys of expeditionary cruising and doing all he can to return to The White Continent.

An inveterate traveller never happier than when beyond mobile reception. Some of his more memorable adventures have included dog sledding in Spitsbergen, hanging out with Huli Wigmen in PNG, piranha fishing in The Amazon and chasing the Northern Lights in Greenland.