Ask Joan: Arctic or Antarctic? Rhine or Danube?

Choosing between an expedition to the North or South Pole, and a river cruise to the Rhine or the Danube

World’s end: You can’t just jet off to the Antarctic as a tourist, but you could join an expedition cruise.  Photograph: Guy Wenborne

World’s end: You can’t just jet off to the Antarctic as a tourist, but you could join an expedition cruise. Photograph: Guy Wenborne

Sat, May 10, 2014, 01:00

I would like to plan a trip to the Arctic or Antarctic. Could you recommend books/websites where I could begin research please? When is considered the best time to go? Which destination is considered better for tourists?
– BMC, Kildare

The first question to consider is whether you would like to see penguins or polar bears. Antarctica, where the penguins reside, is difficult to visit. Tourists cannot stay in Antarctica, but can visit on special cruises.

These are usually called expedition cruises and are worthwhile if you want to learn about the environment and fauna of the region. They operate in our winter time, accompanied by experts who will give lectures while at sea; trips by smaller boats visit Antarctica and the surrounding waters.

Next year is the anniversary of the Shackleton expedition and there will be a special trip in February to commemorate it. You can see details on theshackleton100.com. It cost s more than €10,000, as do many Antarctic trips.

The Hurtigruten Line offers cruises to both the Arctic and Antarctic. The MV Fram is an expedition ship that travels between both, see hurtigruten.com. Another ship to consider is the Silversea Explorer, which is designed to navigate the remote Polar regions, silversea.com.

Quark Expeditions offer adventure cruises to the North Pole, Arctic and Antarctic on board ice-breakers and ice strengthened vessels. Auroraexpeditions. com has trips to both poles and the European Arctic.

The Arctic Circle is more accessible than the poles, and is possible to visit as a tourist. Countries bordering the Arctic include Norway, Finland, Iceland, Alaska and Canada, all of which have good tourism infrastructure and are easy to get to. Going deeper into the Arctic Circle to remote communities, though, is expensive and can be difficult to arrange.

If it is wildlife you are interested in, Churchill in Manitoba – though outside the circle – is a good place to see polar bears and beluga whales, see frontiersnorth.com for tours. Canadianaffair.ie also has a good selection of wildlife holidays on which you can see the Big Five of Canadian wildlife. For Norway and Finland, I suggest rorymcdyertravel.ie and project-travel.ie for trips to Tromso, Spitsbergen and Rovaniemi, all in the Polar regions. See Amazon. com for a list of books.


Before booking a river cruise, I would very much appreciate your advice as to the most interesting and best section to see on either the Rhine or Danube.
– BOC, Dublin

River cruise holidays are usually seven days or so and a great way to explore at a gentle pace. Normally a cruise on the Danube will start in Budapest and end in Passau, while the Rhine cruise operates between Amsterdam and Basel.

It’s a matter of considering what you want to see. A Rhine cruise offers the option of seeing cities such as Amsterdam and Cologne, towns like Strasbourg and the romantic castles along the way.

The 64km stretch of the river from Rudesheim to Boppard is one of the most picturesque and the one you see in pictures and films.

A trip on the Danube offers the great cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – Vienna, Budapest and Prague – the Unesco heritage site of the Wachau valley and the charming towns of Durnstein and Passau. Cruises are available from uniworld.ie, Sunway.ie is the agent in Ireland for amawaterways.com. See also vikingriverscruises.com.


Send your questions to jscales@irishtimes.com

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.