The Arctic (North Pole) and Antarctica (South Pole) were once the preserve of extraordinary polar explorers, of whalers and trappers, and – in the case of the Arctic Circle – of nomadic indigenous people.
However, these icy wildernesses that once seemed so remote are now accessible to all.
Here, we’ll discover the benefits of visiting both polar regions, how to get there, tips for polar travel and what experiences you can find in both…
Some people find that they prefer the North Pole. Some find that it is Antarctica that they fall in love with. Either way, you cannot fail to be impressed, touched and moved by the poles. Good luck trying to decide…
It's easy enough to get to the Arctic by plane, and you can also fly to Antarctica (with a little more difficulty than the former). Yet, undoubtedly, the most exciting way to explore these wild and untamed regions is by expedition ship.
Great polar explorers like Shackleton, Amundsen and Scott embody the free-spirited adventure of expedition cruising, and travelling to the Arctic or Antarctica by ship gives you the opportunity to follow in their footsteps.
Read on to find out all you need to know about polar cruises...
Several countries fall within the Arctic Circle – parts of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, and the USA (Alaska). An estimated 650,000 indigenous people live here today, although they live in settlements and buy food at the supermarket rather than live off the land as they once had to do.
For the visitor it is the wildlife, the wilderness and the remoteness that bring them, as well as natural phenomena such as the midnight sun and the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).
However, once here the history and culture of the people can fascinate just as much. You can explore the oceans and coastlines of the area on an expedition cruise, or you can stay in any of the countries that fall within the Arctic, perhaps having a go at dog sledding or snowmobiling, or enjoying the brief, bright summers.
Antarctica is very different to the Arctic. For a start, there are no polar bears; instead this is the land of the penguin. There are no permanent populations of people either.
Stunning icebergs of myriad sizes, shapes and colours dot the water. Antarctica is everything you expect but much more, too. This is a destination that certainly lives up to the hype, and Antarctica’s haunting beauty will stick with you forever.
A growing number of visitors are making it to this terra incognita, usually on an expedition cruise. However, you should still be able to avoid other people, other than your fellow passengers, and appreciate the solitude.
A trip here isn't for those who like a fixed itinerary: Antarctica’s weather is unpredictable, as is the Arctic’s, and a salutary reminder of the power of nature.
From late May to July in the north; December to February in the south. The sun scarcely sets, delivering 24-hour daylight, so even more time for great wildlife watching.
Sparkling particles produce incredible celestial displays. Arctic hot spots include Wiseman (Alaska), Tromso (Norway) and Abisko (Sweden).
There's nothing quite like scooting across the snow behind a pack of huskies. Trips range from short jaunts, to multi-day wilderness expeditions, where you mush your own sled.
Cruise the Svalbard archipelago, looking for polar bears. By boat is by far the best way to explore the remote fjords and glaciers of this icy set of islands. Book a vessel that carries kayaks to delve even deeper.
Marvel at how indigenous people, trappers and hunters, lived in the Poles year-round and without any mod-cons. You can arrange indigenous experiences throughout the Arctic – try Greenland (pictured) or Iqaluit, Canada.
Hang out with curious and comical penguins in Antarctica and South Georgia. There are 100,000-strong rookeries in these regions. For seriously remote birds, try a helicopter trip to Snow Hill Island.
Walk Shackleton’s route on South Georgia to reach Grytviken, an old whaling station now home to an interesting museum and the great explorer's grave.
See Antarctica up close and personal on a Zodiac 'cruise'. You'll enjoy a guided shore excursion, and spend most of your time exploring on foot than on the water.
A trek along a reindeer migration route may be wet, cold and muddy, but it's also a must-do if you're in the Arctic Circle.
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