Polar bear on sheet of ice

Arctic vs Antarctica: Which Pole Should You Pick?


Whether you choose Antarctica, the Arctic or both, one thing’s for sure: extraordinary encounters are guaranteed when you travel to the world’s end on board Scenic Eclipse.

Polar opposites in more ways than one, Antarctica and the Arctic share few similarities save for being frozen worlds at opposing ends of the globe. These wild lands may look alike in their frozen beauty, but aside from being home to the Earth’s magnetic poles, there’s little else to connect the Arctic with Antarctica.

Of course, both of these regions offer something that other places simply can’t: remoteness, wildness, and the knowledge that very few others have ever been there. For many travellers, this sense of freedom and boundless discovery is priceless – but how do you go about choosing which of the poles to visit first?

In this guide, we’ll be exploring the Arctic and Antarctica, comparing the two to help make your decision a little easier.

Quick Links

The Poles at a Glance: How Antarctica and the Arctic Differ

Ice, snow and extraordinary wildlife may characterise these polar regions, but this is where the parallels end – as you’ll discover in our polar comparison charts below.

Geography and Climate

Penguins playing in their habitat

Cold and unforgiving they may be, but the Arctic and Antarctica are very different in terms of their climate and geography. Here, we take a closer look at how the two regions differ.

Geography

Aerial shot of the arctic landscape

Geographically speaking, the Arctic and Antarctica are polar opposites. Where the Arctic consists of sea surrounded by land, Antarctica is land surrounded by sea. This is the main point of difference between the two, and the reason why the climate and native marine species are so different.

To put this into perspective, it’s worth looking at the location of the North Pole and the South Pole. While the North Pole is located at sea, around 435 miles from the nearest landmass, the South Pole is located in the centre of the Antarctic continent, 745 miles from the coast.

Of course, for much of the year, the Arctic is frozen, with sea ice stretching for around 4 million square miles. The Antarctic, too, is extended by sea ice, though on a much smaller scale, with much of its ice lying on land – some of which is up to 3 miles thick.

Climate

Norway lake and landscape

In terms of climate, the Arctic is generally slightly warmer than Antarctica, particularly during the summer months. At this time, the sea ice recedes, and temperatures reach an average of around 13°C, though temperatures of up to 30°C have been recorded in recent years as a result of climate change.At the opposite end of the world, things are much cooler. In winter, temperatures can plummet to lows of -75°C, with the coldest temperature ever recorded being -89°C. Even in summer, things rarely get above freezing, though temperatures of around 10°C have been recorded close to the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Where the Arctic and Antarctica are similar is in their prevailing winds. Each region is influenced by streams of wind which whip around the Earth, creating storms which can last for days. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in Antarctica, whose ‘Catabian winds’ bring intense snowstorms throughout the polar winter.

Whether you choose the Arctic or Antarctica, Scenic Eclipse passengers receive expedition clothing to wear on excursions, providing protection to help you make the most of your time in these extraordinary lands.

Landmarks and Highlights

Arctic

Bear Island

Bear Island covered in sunshine

Rarely visited and steeped in natural heritage, Bear Island is one of the most remote regions of Norway, located in the Barents Sea hundreds of miles from the Norwegian mainland. This protected reserve is home to an extraordinary array of life, with seabirds, ringed seals and Arctic foxes among its permanent residents. Despite its name, Bear Island doesn’t have a permanent polar bear population, though many pass through when the Arctic sea ice builds over the long winter.

Spitsbergen

image of arctic fox resting
As the largest island of the Svalbard Archipelago, Spitsbergen is a key stopping off point for those visiting the Arctic Circle via Norway and its exquisite fjordlands. Equidistant between the North Pole and the Norwegian mainland, this dramatic land is home to a variety of life, with the Gulf Stream helping to create the ideal habitat for Arctic life. Polar bears, reindeer and Arctic fox are just some of the species you’re likely to encounter here, while its seas are teeming with marine life.

Longyearbyen

Image of lake and snowy mountains

One of the key differences between Antarctica and the Arctic is the human activity which exists in the latter. Many communities exist on the fringes of the Arctic, in some eight countries, and Longyearbyen is one of them. This frontier town is considered the gateway to the Arctic Circle, with all the amenities local residents and visitors need to survive in this hostile region. Longyearbyen is home to around 2,000 people, though thousands more pass through each year as they embark on an unforgettable journey to the top of the world.

A truly wonderful town to visit in its own right, Longyearbyen is a charming little hub of civilisation with a welcoming community that loves guests passing through. Although Longyearbyen functions as a normal little town – it’s not uncommon to see reindeer strolling around or whales bobbing in the fjord which wraps the coastline. The town is home to a host of interesting things to see and do, including pubs, shops, a gallery and one of Norway’s finest restaurants – Huset.

Monaco Glacier

Monaco glacier
Named for Prince Albert of Monaco, a pioneering 19th-century explorer, the Monaco Glacier is one of the largest glaciers of the Arctic – an immense wall of ice which is slowly making its way into the Liefdefjord, calving vast icebergs as it goes. In the last 50 years, the glacier has retreated by more than two miles, which is unprecedented for its scale and volume. Marvelling at this natural titan, you might hear the cracking and creaking of ice and rock – a sound that can be heard for miles around when the glacier calves a berg.

Antarctica

Drake Passage

Drakes passage
With its wild waters and maritime heritage, Drake Passage has become one of the iconic features of the Antarctic, and one every traveller looks forward to with anticipation as they approach the South Pole. This majestic strait is the waterway between South America and the South Shetland Isles, and it has long been heralded as a point of arrival for those visiting Antarctica. What makes the Drake Passage so special is its life-rich seas, with whales, penguins, seals and wandering albatross among those regularly spotted in its waters.

Weddell Sea

Seals relaxing on ice sheet
Named for James Weddell, the British explorer who discovered the route in 1823, the Weddell Sea stretches from the South Shetland Isles to the Antarctic Peninsula, and is one of the most famous areas of the region. The Weddell Sea is believed to be home to the largest number of penguin rookeries in the Antarctic, making it the ideal place to get up close to these beloved marine animals. The sea itself stretches for over 1 million square miles, and is revered as one of best spots for whale watching in the Antarctic.

Lemaire Channel

Lemaire Channel sunshine
Nicknamed the ‘Kodak Gap’ for its long-held status as Antarctica’s most photographed landscape, the Lemaire Channel is more than just a beautiful view. This narrow gap lies between Booth Island and the Kiev Peninsula, and due to its location in a natural harbour, is revered for its still waters, which perfectly reflect the surrounding scenery. This still water also makes the Lemaire Channel an excellent place to spot wildlife, with seals and whales popping up along the way. Keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready as you navigate this iconic Antarctic passage.

Port Lockroy

Port Lockroy and penguins
Port Lockroy is one of a small handful of research bases on Antarctica which now provide shelter for those visiting the peninsula. Built in 1944, the site operated as Base ‘A’ of a British research station, which closed in 1962. Designated a Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty, Port Lockroy is now a living museum, complete with a post office, shop and exhibition centre. Providing a warm welcome to Antarctica, Base A is now a must-visit for all who make the journey to the southern depths of the planet.

Discover Antarctica and the Arctic with Scenic Eclipse

Scenic Eclipse visits both poles during their summer months, so you can enjoy long days of milder weather – helping you witness all the awe-inspiring wildlife and scenery on show. This is truly the very best way to travel beyond the horizon and experience lands few people will ever venture across.


Antarctica or the Arctic? The choice is yours with Scenic Eclipse. Whichever pole you opt for, one thing’s for sure: it will be a journey you will never forget. For more information and to browse our collection of upcoming Arctic and Antarctica ocean cruises, visit the homepage or call us on 0161 236 2444.