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Antarctic vs. Arctic: where should you go?

Both the Antarctic and the Arctic offer incredible adventures & once in a lifetime experiences that you won't find any where else in the world. Despite often being categorised alongside each other, the Arctic and Antarctica are very different places to visit - so which is right for you?

The polar regions of the world have drawn the most daring among us for years and today they are more accessible than ever. Bentours runs Expedition Cruises to both of these destinations offering many incredible and varied excursions so guests can truly discover these sparsely populated lands. But what are the key differences?

Culture and History

Antarctica was entirely uninhabited by humans until the establishment of research stations in recent years.

SamiThe Arctic on the other hand has been inhabited for many years and interesting history has played its way across Arctic lands. The Sami indigenous people of the Arctic region, still occupy the area and in spite of hardships faced at the hands of various governments, continue to live in a semi-traditional way. Sami culture is rich with nuances and individuality thanks to the Arctic environment, such as the long practice of reindeer husbandry and the construction of lavvos, Sami huts. Hurtigruten offer shore excursions to learn about this unique culture.

The Arctic region is also famous as the land of the first polar exploration. The Vikings of Scandinavia colonised Iceland and Greenland in the Middle Ages while Russian monks set out an outpost monastery on the Kola Peninsula in the same period. Then of course the Golden Age of exploration in the 19th century saw many pioneering expeditions through the area. You can take a  guided walk in Tromsø to the Polar Museum to discover more about this history of exploration.

In contrast, Antarctica was not explored in ernest until the early 20th century, with many of the expeditions leading to death and injuries. Norway's own Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole, ending a dramatic race with the British Robert Falcon Scott. His ship, the Fram, was inspiration for Hurtigruten's modern expedition ship, MS Fram.

Landscape and Wildlife

Another key difference between the two polar regions of the world is the landscape. The Arctic is made up of many islands, including land of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States (Alaska), Canada, Denmark (Greenland) and Iceland.

Technically the Arctic is a large frozen sea surrounded by continents, while the Antarctic is a massive ice covered continent surrounded by oceans. Not as cold as Antarctica, there is a great variety in the environment of the Arctic, with fjords, mountains, glaciers and green areas in the tundra replete with trees and plant life. Due to the more temperate climate, there are many land animals that can be seen including reindeers, arctic foxes, elks and, the Kings of the Arctic, polar bears.

Penguins AntarcticIn comparison, the Antarctic land mass appears quite barren but there is something undeniably beautiful in this barrenness. The continent is the most remote in the world and is covered in ice, punctuated by towering ice mountains and rock. The wildlife here is all water based, with penguins, whales, seals and many other marine animals to see. Given the isolation of Antarctica, the excursions available tend to be more limited but no less exhilarating - just imagine yourself kayaking surrounded by incredibly shaped ice formations!


Where ever you decide is right for you, you are guaranteed to create life-long memories on an incredible trip in one of the polar regions of the world. And who knows... you might like the Arctic so much that you feel you have to visit the Antarctic to compare (or vice versa)!