The Ultimate Travel Guide to Grytviken, South Georgia

We’ve visited this fascinating and haunting station two times in the past few years to put together this guide on everything you need to know about visiting Grytviken, South Georgia.

As our ship gently cruised into King Edward Cove we were given our first sight of Grytviken, the largest settlement on South Georgia.

Nestled at the base of rising peaks carved out by the glaciers of yesteryear, Grytviken has a formidable appearance, with the rusted metal skeletons of the old whaling station dominating the town.

While the rest of South Georgia’s attractions are focused on the wildlife and landscapes, here it is the history of polar exploration, whaling and war that piques the curiosity of visitors.

With our vessel anchored and the zodiacs ready, we left the ship and made our way into Grytviken.

Don’t miss our complete and detailed guide with all the information you’ll need to travel to South Georgia.

Shack Against Mountains Grytviken South Georgia

Travel to Grytviken, South Georgia

South Georgia is one of the most remote places on the planet, located in the south Atlantic Ocean close to Antarctica, and fewer than 10’000 people travel here every year.

Almost everybody that visits South Georgia does so with a licensed tour operator, travelling by ship from Ushuaia in Argentina or Stanley in the Falkland Islands.

South Georgia is often combined with an expedition to Antarctica and the Falkland Islands, giving travellers 2-3 days to explore the island.

Every single tour that visits South Georgia includes a stopover in Grytviken, the economic and political hub of the island, to officially stamp each guest into the territory and clear customs.

This also offers a perfect opportunity to explore the town, walk around the attractions and learn more about its history.

We first travelled to Grytviken in 2018 on an in-depth South Georgia photography symposium, and again in 2022 leading our own photography tour (running again in 2024), allowing us to spend extra time in the town and around the island.

While most people are focused on the king penguins, elephant seals and sea birds that occupy South Georgia, we found our time spent visiting Grytviken to be one of the most fascinating parts of the entire tour.

Here’s our guide to the history, attractions and sights of Grytviken, South Georgia, and to let you know what to expect on your next visit.

King Penguin Grytviken South Georgia
A king penguin stands proudly while the zodiac team arrive at Grytviken.

Whaling in Grytviken – A Tragic History

Grytviken was home to the largest whaling station in South Georgia, and it’s impossible to walk around the corroded ruins of its processing plant without feeling a sense of dread at the massacres that occurred here over decades.

On the 16th of November, 1904, the Norwegian Carl Anton Larsen established the first whaling station on South Georgia, and this would change the course of history forever for both the island, and the marine life in the Southern Ocean.

Whales were hunted for their high-value oil, which was used around the world for oil lamps and to make soap, as well as for their bones and meat.

They weren’t the only animals hunted in the region though. Elephant seals were also under attack, and over the decades millions of animals were killed here.

Larsen chose Grytviken to be his base because of the large, sheltered harbour, the easy access to fresh water and the steep surrounding mountains that provided shelter from harsh weather from the west.

Whale Bones Grytviken
Whale bones left on the ground in Grytviken.

Even though whales were being captured for years beforehand, the establishment of this whaling station in Grytviken allowed for processing and production to be ramped up severely.

Over the next 60 years the hunting was so aggressive that they essentially over-fished the seas around South Georgia, and the plant was forced to close in 1966 due to a lack of whales being caught.

Now that the station wasn’t in use it started to corrode and collapse, making it quite dangerous for anyone who ventured near it.

In addition it was constructed using asbestos, and as the fibres broke down much of Grytviken became a toxic hazard.

Years later the South Georgia government decontaminated the site, finally make it safe for people to wander without hazmat suits.

Today walking around the ruins of the old whaling processing plant is an absolute must when visiting Grytviken. With such a tragic history it can be quite overwhelming to be stepping through the site of slaughter, but it’s a very interesting place.

Grytviken South Georgia
Exploring the rusted skeleton of the whaling station is a must-do when in Grytviken.

The Resting Place of Sir Ernest Shackleton

Grtyviken is also the place of burial for Sir Ernest Shackleton, arguably the greatest polar explorer in history.

His expeditions to the Antarctic are the stuff of legend, and South Georgia was a destination that was of great importance during his adventures.

It was in Grytviken in 1914 that Shackleton started his preparations of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, the perilous attempt to cross the entire Antarctic continent by land via the South Pole.

His journey was not successful due to the abundance of pack ice his ship, the Endurance, encountered in the Weddell Sea.

The ship became trapped, and for the next 18 months his men lived in camps on the ice trying to make their way back to safety.

They eventually arrived at Elephant Island in April of 1916, and Shackleton took a small group of men on his 7m long life boat, the James Caird, on a 1300km journey back to South Georgia.

James Caird Shackleton South Georgia
A life-size replica of the James Caird, the boat Shackleton and his men sailed for 16 days across the Southern Ocean from Elephant Isle.

From here he launched a remarkable rescue mission back to Elephant Island, and despite all odds he managed to save the lives of every single one of his crew who had remained behind.

While his expeditions to the Antarctic had already made him famous, it was this dangerous rescue that forever cemented him in history books.

After Sir Ernest Shackleton died in 1922 on South Georgia during another one of his adventures, his body was being taken back to the United Kingdom when his wife sent through a telegram requesting that he buried in Grytviken.

His body was soon returned, and he was laid to rest in the Grytviken cemetery.

Today his gravesite is a popular place for all visitors to Grytviken, and it is common to toast the great man with a whiskey, as well as to his right hand man, Frank Wild, whose ashes are placed beside his ‘boss’.

Sir Ernest Shackleton Grave South Georgia
The gravestone of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

The Falklands War in South Georgia

In 1982 Argentina invaded the British-controlled Falkland Islands in an attempt to gain control of the archipelago that they believed rightfully belongs to them.

The war itself was relatively short, lasting a total of 74 days when Britain successfully beat the Argentinians, forcing them to surrender.

While the Falklands War is quite well documented, few people realise that it was actually South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands where the first ‘strike’ was made.

On the 19th of March some Argentine merchants raised the flag of Argentina in South Georgia, prompting the UK Navy to dispatch a crew from Stanley on the Falkland Islands to investigate and defend their territory.

It was this act that was eventually considered to be the offensive manoeuvre by Argentina.

Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands on April 2nd, and took control of South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands on the 3rd.

22 Royal Marines were stationed in Grytviken on that day, and they managed to shoot down an Argentine helicopter and kill 3 soldiers in the battle, but they were eventually defeated by the invaders.

Those casualties stopped Argentina from taking control of any other parts of the island, and the remaining Royal Marines hid in the mountains without detection.

On the 25th of April following an assault by the Brits on one of their submarines, Argentina surrendered Grytviken without firing a shot.

Today you can learn more about the brief history of the Falkland Islands war in the fantastic museum in Grytviken, and if accompanied by a guide you can hike to the remains of the Argentine helicopter, a short walk past King Edward Point.

Grytviken Falklands War
Grytviken as seen from the harbour. This was an important site during the Falklands War.

5 Things to Do in Grytviken, South Georgia

There’s only a handful of things to do in Grytviken, South Georgia, but those things will certainly fill the hours up, and they are well worth doing.

Have a Toast to Sir Ernest Shackleton

The absolute first thing you should do once you arrive to the settlement is head over to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave, located in the cemetery just outside of town, and drink a toast to the great man.

Both times we travelled to Grytviken, the crew dropped us off right at the base of the cemetery and asked everybody to gather at the gravesite.

They had brought mugs and bottles of whiskey along, and Jonathon, our polar historian onboard, gave a great speech about Shackleton’s journey.

After the toast was made we poured a bit of whiskey on Shackleton’s grave, had a sip, then poured a bit on Frank Wild’s grave, Shackleton’s right hand man, whose ashes are buried next to him.

Whale Bone Grytviken
An old whale bone, near the resting place of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Spend Time in the Awesome South Georgia Museum

The Grytviken museum isn’t large, but it is one of the most fascinating museums we have been to in a long time.

The rooms are dedicated to various elements of South Georgia, such as whaling, wildlife, polar exploration and more, and we were disappointed that we didn’t give ourselves much more time in there.

You can honestly spend at least two hours reading all of the bits of information, looking at the pictures (some are quite gruesome from the whaling era) and watching the videos on display.

South Georgia Museum
Inside the South Georgia Museum.

Walk Around the Old Whaling Station

The most prominent feature in Grytviken is the ruins of the old whale processing plant, and the corroded structures occupy most of the space you can walk around.

If you’re into photography or just have a fascination with old engineering and construction, the station is a fantastic place to explore, even though the tragic history of animals being slaughtered here obviously brings about an emotional experience.

The entire plant has been cleared of asbestos so it is safe to walk around without respiratory protection, but be careful of any sharp bits of rusted metal, unsafe overhead hazards and of course fur seals that can be hiding behind any corner.

Pipes Whaling Station
Old pipes in the whaling station.

Send a Postcard at the Post Office

Have any friends or family at home that still love getting postcards? Well why not send them one from one of the most remote places on the planet!

The post office in Grytviken is run by the few staff that live on the island, and you can purchase cards and stamps to send them off to anywhere in the world.

When supply ships dock into town the staff will give the postcards to them to be delivered to Stanley in the Falkland Islands.

From here they’ll be shipped back to the UK, and then mailed out around the world. It might take a few weeks (or months) for them to arrive, but the joy your family gets when they receive it will be well worth the wait.

South Georgia Post Office
Don’t forget to send off a postcard at the Post Office.

Check Out the Grytviken Church

Built in 1912 in Norway and transported to South Georgia in 1913, the Grytviken Church is the oldest construction on the island still in use.

This cute timber church is very picturesque, especially when contrasting against the striking mountains behind it and the corroded processing plant in the foreground.

Even though services are very rarely held here anymore, visitors are welcome to walk around the inside, sit and pray if they’d like, and even climb into the rafters to ring the bell over Grytviken.

Church Grytviken South Georgia
The beautiful church in Grytviken.

Can You Stay in Grytviken, South Georgia?

Unless there is an emergency or prior arrangements have been made with the South Georgia Heritage Trust, it is not permitted to sleep on the island, and there is no accommodation in Grytviken available.

Almost everybody who travels to Grytviken sleeps onboard their passenger ship, with the exception of approved scientific researchers and explorers.

Artefacts Museum
Artefacts outside the South Georgia Museum.

How Many People Live in Grytviken?

The official population of Grytviken is 8 people, but this grows to around 30 people in the summer, and fluctuates depending on the need for more personnel there.

Most people living in Grytviken work for the South Georgia Heritage Trust, are members of the British military, or are customs officers.

How Do You Get to Grytviken?

The only way to travel to Grytviken is to go by ship, and unless you have your own sailboat, the most common way is to join a licensed tour operator.

The first time we travelled to South Georgia with One Ocean Expeditions, and spent an entire 8 days there.

They have since gone into administration, and we now personally visit Grytviken with Quark Expeditions as content partners, and to lead our own photography tours where we bring 20 guests with us.

Freight ships do make the journey from the Falkland Islands, but it is almost impossible to secure a berth on one of these boats due to insurance and quarantine issues.

Travel to Grytviken usually happens from one of two ports – Ushuaia in Argentina or Stanley in the Falkland Islands. There is no airport in Grytviken, or on South Georgia at all.

One Ocean Expeditions South Georgia Vavilov
Our ship, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, sits in the harbour outside of Grytviken.

Wildlife in Grytviken

While Grytviken doesn’t have the density of wildlife you find elsewhere in South Georgia, there’s still a healthy population of different species in the settlement.

You’ll of course find king penguins waddling about, and when we first landed on the shore one came right up to our zodiac to see what we were.

There’s a small number of elephant seals that can be found lounging around, although the harems aren’t nearly the size of other places like Gold Harbour.

The main animal you’ll have to watch out for when walking around Grytviken is the fur seals, who relax on the beaches and have started to move into the whaling station.

Male fur seals can be very aggressive, especially during the mating season when the females return to the island, so make sure you keep your distance.

Fur Seal Whaling Station
A fur seal lazes about inside the whaling station. They often hide behind corners, so be extra vigilant when walking around.

More Photos of Grytviken, South Georgia

From a photographer’s point of view, we really enjoyed walking around Grytviken and taking pictures of the old whaling station.

The rusted tanks, pipes and sheet metal was extremely interesting to check out, and the deeper you looked the more curious lines and features could be found.

Being on a photography symposium we had the pleasure of learning from some of the world’s best professional photographers.

On this day we were particularly inspired by Gerhard ‘Guts’ Swanepoel, co-owner of Pangolin Photo Safaris in Botswana, who spent a few hours walking around with us and showing us what he looks for in a unique photo.

Side note – check out our full Pangolin Photo Safaris review!

Here are some more of our pictures from Grytviken. 90% of these were captured by Alesha.

Old Ship Grytviken
An old ship is left abandoned by the dock.
Spinning Rotor
A spinning rotor, still shining after all these years.
Lines Whaling Station
Interesting lines can be found everywhere in the old whaling station.
Chain Links
Rusted chain links sit in a box.
Rusted Metal Snow
Rusted metal contrasts nicely against the white snow.
Down Line
Looking down the line.
Old Dock
An old hut sits out on the dock.
Grytviken Church Tanks
The Grytviken Church, as seen between two disused storage hangars.
Inside Grytviken Church
Inside the church.
Rivets Tank
Rivets stretch across a tank.
Twisted Bolts Tanks
The twisted bolts of the storage tanks.
Lines Grytviken
More interesting lines.
Tanks Busted Bricks
Tanks and busted bricks in Grytviken, South Georgia.
Ship Dock
The side of the old ship, next to the dock.
Old Tanks
More old tanks.
Old Paint
Paint peels away from the rust.
Old Boat Grytviken
Another old boat lies on its side in Grytviken.
Picture of Alesha and Jarryd

Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award-winning writers and professional photographers behind this blog. We have been travelling the world together since 2008, with a passion for adventure travel and sustainable tourism. Through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. As one of the world's leading travel journalists, our content and adventures have been featured by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Yahoo!, BuzzFeed, Channel 7, Channel 10, ABC, The Guardian, and plenty other publications. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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10 thoughts on “The Ultimate Travel Guide to Grytviken, South Georgia”

  1. What excellent photos! And what wonderful wildlife. Thanks for posting your photos and all this information about South Georgia Island. I had never heard of this island and wanted to see more about it after I read an article about the breakaway of the A23a iceberg from Antarctica, said to be the “largest iceberg in the world”. According to the article, the iceberg is headed toward South Georgia Island:

    The article cites rising world sea levels as a major concern and is the reason the A23a iceberg is continuing to travel north. The article concludes “The poles will determine the fate of humanity.”
    Are rising seas a factor for the island? Are rising seas a factor anywhere else you travel?

  2. Thank you, I enjoyed reading and seeing the photos of the island that I first came to about after the Falklands War. South Georgia Island became a special place for; being a merchant sailor the two abandoned whaling ships that were moored by the jetty interested me and the majesty of this mountainous island touched me. I made that island a place in my heart and at times of hardship, sorry or pain I would, in my mind, go there and I would feel all those feelings disappear. I am old now and doubt that I will ever see ‘my island’. But I am grateful that I can see more of because of your article and photos.

  3. I saw this island on Google Maps and looked it up. Your page was first for me! Looks like a place very few people get to see, thanks for educating me.

    • You are so right. Many few visit this place. Glad you found the article helpful. 🙂

  4. Hi Alesh and Jarryd,
    I went to the Falkland Islands in 1991, and stayed there for a week. This was when there was the first ever visit of an Argentine Airplane from Buenos Aires taking family members who had sons and fathers buried in Goose Green Cemetary to visit the tombs. I was a physician for the International Committe of the Red Cross (ICRC) and was there at the request of both the UK and Argetine governments, who asked ICRC to organize the whole trip.. I managed to see a lot of East Island. But I really would like to go to South Georgia. Is it totally impossible to stay in Grytviken for more than just a couple of days? You stayed there longer, I gather from your website, but had a specific reason for staying there. What about a plain tourist? How often to the ships you mention go to South Georgia? Is there anything left of the whaling port of Leith?
    Is there anything at Prince Olav Harbour? Current concern — is the enormous iceberg that calved off Antartica recently really in a collision course with the western shores of South Georgia? Any chance you could give me an e-mail address so I could stay in contact with you, as I really want to somehow get to South Georgia sometime in the future (when Covid is no longer a problem — not that there is any on South Georgia (or is there?) — but it’s making travel to South America a hassle.
    All the best, and congratulations on a great website!

    • Hi Hernan, thank you so much for reading. That is so wonderful you visited Falkland Island for such a long period of time in 1991. What a special (and sad) trip for those family members to see where their loved ones are buried.
      We visit Grytviken just for the afternoon. We were on a cruise tour and slept on the boat. I do not think you can stay there as a plain tourist. The only people there are staff members and scientists.
      We hope you can get to South Georgia one day. It is a special place. The wildlife is incredible. Our email is or you can sign up for our newsletter if you like where we update regularly on our movements. Take care.

  5. This place looks awesome! Has no idea it existed… What other places of Georgia you recommend to be visited around?

    • Hi Ale,
      This is the only small town that exists in South Georgia. South Georgia is an island in the southern Atlantic Ocean that is part of the British Overseas territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It was a fascinating place.

  6. Hi,

    I have never hear a story from Grytviken and thought that it is an interesting place to visit one day. I add it to my bucket-list. thanks!!

    I like to explore a remote area like this place and admiring its wonderful nature through wildlife. What about accomodations and meals?

    Best wishes,


    • Hi Nandih, There are a very small number of people that live here but guests never really stay here. You can not stay here. They are very strict on quarantine. Guests usually visit Gryviken when they are on a cruise to South Georgia Islands. You can get off the boat and explore the area for the afternoon or a few hours. It definitely is an interesting place but also very sad knowing a lot of whales were slaughtered there. I know this is history and we should learn about it. They have a magnificent museum with all the history of the area and the explorers of the past and their journeys. Definitely do not miss it.

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