Best time to visit Antarctica

The austral summer brings endless sunlight and just enough warmth to melt the pack ice.
November-March is the short expedition season. This is not only the best time to visit Antarctica – it is the only time it’s possible as the ice breaks up, allowing ships to pass. Icebergs are biggest in November, sculptural and surreal. The continent is colder but at its most untouched, with pristine ice and snow, and wildflowers blooming on the islands. The 20-hour sunshine in December-January brings welcome warmth; temperatures hover above freezing, creating perfect conditions for seal pups and penguin chicks – as well as whales. Later in the season, the rookeries are a rabble of noise and activity as chicks fledge and sea ice drifts away.

When to visit Antarctica, month by month

Antarctica in November

Antarctic cruises begin | Largest icebergs | Mating elephant seals | Nesting penguins | Great weather in Patagonia

Late October and November is spring – and therefore the beginning of the Antarctic expedition season. You’ll have the excitement of being one of the first visitors stepping foot back on the frozen continent, as well as coinciding with the best time to be in the southern tip of Patagonia, where ships leave for Antarctica.

It’s still exceedingly cold and the weather is more unpredictable than later in the year. However, November does present the best chance of getting up close to some of Antarctica’s largest icebergs and walkable (or snowshoeable) pack ice, which is great for photographers. Spring mating rituals are in full swing in Antarctica in November, including the thundering battles of breeding elephant seals. Penguins are busy building nests too.

Sarah Wightman, from our wilderness and wildlife specialists Pura-Aventura, rates the ice formations in November but adds a word of warning: “At the start of the season you get the most incredible ice formations – it’s just unbelievable. But sometimes the ship can’t get where it needs to go as the ice blocks are so big, so quite often you can stand on deck and can’t get off as much.”

Antarctica in December

Rising temperatures | Better access | 24 hours sunlight | More wildlife (and tourists)

Antarctica in December sees temperatures start to rise, improving access to beaches and peninsulas. An untouched quality promises spectacular scenes bathed in permanent sunlight. Wildlife numbers are on the up, with humpback whales arriving to feed in warmer waters and penguins packing out rookeries. Book early to plant your pick in the ice.

Antarctica in January

Penguin chicks and seal pups | Relatively warm temperatures | Humpback whales

As January dawns, it brings new life to the icy wilderness. Visiting Antarctica in January is a great idea, especially if you’re intending to see penguin chicks and seal pups in relatively warm temperatures. On the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, newborn seal pups are blinking in the near-constant sunlight, and penguin chicks can be seen huddled in together on the islands and along the Antarctic Peninsula while the adults head off to hunt for food. You’ll see the chicks chasing their parents across the ice when they come back with beaks full of food. Humpback whales are busy sifting through the ocean for krill too.

Antarctica in February

Warmer temperatures | Peak whale season | Ross Sea for Scott and Shackleton’s huts

February is one of the warmest months in Antarctica. This is your best chance of spotting whales, while penguin chicks are bigger and noisier than ever, making their first dives into the waters. There’s a small window of opportunity to cross the Antarctic Circle and explore the shrinking Ross Ice Shelf, starting point of some of the most famous South Pole expeditions.

Cassia Jackson, from our Antarctic cruise experts Heritage Expeditions, recommends January and February if you’re travelling via the New Zealand subantarctic Islands: “The Ross Sea is closed in by pack ice conditions for most of the year, so there is only a small window of opportunity to get there by ship. We only operate two voyages per season to the Ross Sea from New Zealand – in January and February.”

Antarctica in March

Antarctic cruise season ends | Fewer visitors | Cheaper prices | Whales | Hunting leopard seals | Scuba diving

March marks the end of the Antarctic expedition season, with temperatures returning to their normal below freezing levels as autumn approaches. Visitor numbers thin out and penguin chicks become braver – this is when they become interested in the visitors on their shore. It’s still a great time for whale watching too, before they head back to more tropical waters up north. As autumn falls, so do the prices; March is one of the cheapest times to visit Antarctica.

Charlotte Caffrey, director of our partner Aqua-Firma, says: “I really like Antarctica in March, as you see a lot of whales, the water is clearer for diving and you get leopard seals hunting penguins. There are also fewer boats around. It’s also a great time to go if you want to go across the Antarctic Circle. At the end of the season, it’s easier to get through the melted areas to reach the southernmost point.”

April to mid-October – the no-go months

At the end of March, treacherous winds and endless nights culminate in the no-go months of April, May, June, July, August and September. The ice is unbreakable too, putting most of the continent off-limits. Some expeditions start in late October as the first of the ice starts to give way.
“December to early February is the best time to go to Antarctica. You can get off the ship, the penguin chicks and other birdlife are still there, and you get close to 24-hour sunshine.”
– Sarah Wightman, from our partner Pura-Aventura
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Our top Antarctica Holiday

Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica cruise

Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica cruise

The Ultimate Antarctica Experience!

From €11768 21 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2022: 23 Dec
2023: 4 Jan, 14 Jan, 2 Feb, 21 Oct, 22 Oct, 24 Oct, 11 Nov, 23 Nov, 17 Dec
2024: 4 Jan, 16 Jan, 1 Feb, 2 Feb
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If you'd like to chat about Antarctica or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

When should I start planning my trip to Antarctica?

A limited number of specialist vessels sail to Antarctica each season, so they book up early. With that in mind, we recommend planning your trip to Antarctica 18-20 months in advance – i.e., as early as possible.

That might seem excessive, but this is likely a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It’s well worth booking over a year in advance to have the best choice of cabins, activities and prices. Waiting for late deals isn’t often the best approach, as Antarctica cruises are usually sold out before you get a chance to book a last minute cabin. Read more about why you should book your Antarctica trip now.
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Ondrej Prosicky] [Intro: James Eades] [Sarah Wightman quote: Christopher Michel] [Antarctica in December: Rob Oo] [Antarctica in March: Long Ma]