Permanent gallery

Essential Information

National Maritime Museum
Price Free

The polar regions have been a focus for scientific enquiry and exploration for centuries. As we confront the consequences of climate change, understanding that history is more important than ever.

The Polar Worlds gallery looks at the history of Arctic and Antarctic exploration, and examines how humans have adapted to life in the most challenging environments on Earth.

Visit the Polar Worlds gallery at the National Maritime Museum, and explore the past, present and future of polar exploration.

Inside the gallery

The polar regions have long held a fascination for those wanting to learn more about our world or test the limits of human endurance.  

Early European expeditions to the Arctic involved searching for the North-West Passage, a sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The most infamous of these was led by Sir John Franklin in HMS Erebus and Terror in the mid-1840s.

At the turn of the 20th century the challenge of reaching the South Pole gripped the public imagination. Figures like Captain Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton became national heroes.

Historic black and white photograph of an Inuit man holding a kayak
Unidientifed Inuit man with a kayak (G4267)

The polar regions are not as isolated as you might imagine however. The Arctic has been home to Indigenous communities for thousands of years, and today several thousand scientists work in Antarctica each year.

As the world’s climate changes, the polar regions are once again in the spotlight. It is here that the most dramatic shifts are being experienced, and the lessons of polar science may prove vital to the future of the planet.

Must-see objects

Tap the arrows to discover more about items on display in the Polar Worlds gallery.

Tap to begin

Captain Scott's shoes

Conservator Nora Meller explain how she cared for Captain Scott's shoes, which were found on his body in 1912 after the British explorer's tragic final expedition to the South Pole. The shoes are now on display in the Polar Worlds gallery.

Inuit tools

Around four million people call the Arctic home today. Europeans first journeyed to the Arctic and encountered its indigenous Inuit communities in the 1500s. Life in the Arctic has always relied on the environment’s natural resources; the tools on display in the gallery were made in the 1800s and were used to hunt animals like fish, seal and musk oxen. Animals were hunted for food but also utilised for making clothes and tools. Inuit women are skilled in using tools like this Ulu knife to make warm and waterproof animal-skin clothing.

An image for 'Inuit tools'

Ponko the Penguin

National Maritime Museum guide Simon shares the story of Ponko the Penguin, his personal favourite from the Polar Worlds gallery. Discover more fascinating objects at the National Maritime Museum when you order the Treasures Tour audio guide.

An image for 'Shackleton's chronometer'
Shackleton's chronometer

This marine chronometer played a crucial role in Sir Ernest Shackleton’s first attempted crossing of the Antarctic continent. The expedition set off in 1914 but met with disaster when the ship, Endurance, became trapped in the ice. The ship was abandoned in October 1915; the crew eventually escaped to the uninhabited Elephant Island.

Remaining on the island offered no hope of rescue, so Shackleton and four volunteers set off in the small boat 'James Caird' in an attempt to reach South Georgia, an island nearly 800 miles away. Navigation fell to Frank Worsley, who used this marine chronometer, a compass and a sextant to calculate the boat’s location and route. The men faced giant waves and hurricane strength winds, but managed to reach South Georgia a fortnight later. Thanks to their efforts, the entire crew of the Endurance was eventually rescued.

Join a tour

Gain a deeper insight into some of the Museum’s most prized – and lesser-known – objects on display with one of our friendly guides.

Daily tours are available when you visit, or you can choose to follow one of our dedicated audio guides and explore the Museum at your own pace.

An image for 'Join a tour'

Visiting Polar Worlds

Where is the gallery?

Polar Worlds is a permanent gallery at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, located on the second floor. Entry to the Museum is free: book tickets online in advance to guarantee entry and receive updates before you visit.

Follow the gallery guide

Tours and audio guides

Polar Worlds features as part of the range of audio guides available at the National Maritime Museum. Listen to a free introduction to the gallery here, or find out more about objects on display by ordering a special Treasures Tour.


BSL is included as part of the National Maritime Museum audio guide. Large print guides are also available inside the gallery. For more information about accessibility at the National Maritime Museum, click here.

Ideas for families

Calling all budding polar scientists! Download a free family activity sheet for the Polar Worlds gallery or pick up a copy at the entrance to the Museum when you arrive.

Keep an eye out too for the special 'Play' boxes dotted around the gallery. Try on explorers' clothing, play with Arctic animals and watch the videos with real polar scientists to see what it's like to live in the Arctic and Antarctica today.

Gallery closures

Occasionally some gallery closures may affect your visit to the National Maritime Museum. Find details of upcoming closures here.

Make the most of your visit

Find more free galleries and attractions at the National Maritime Museum.

Explore the galleries

See what's on

Tickets and Opening

10am-5pm daily

  • Greenwich Station
  • Cutty Sark DLR
  • Maze Hill Station
  • Greenwich Pier

Visit the National Maritime Museum

Discover epic stories of exploration and endeavour that have shaped our world today

This gallery is supported by:

  • UK Antarctic Heritage Trust
  • Government of the British Antarctic Territory
  • Transglobe Expedition Trust

Choose your tickets

National Maritime Museum

  • Guaranteed entry time
  • Access to all free galleries and activities
  • Special exhibitions free in 2024
Free entry
Book online

Member tickets

  • Unlimited free entry
  • Priority booking and exclusive events
  • Access using your membership card
Membership card number required

Become a Member

  • Unlimited entry all year
  • Royal Observatory
  • Cutty Sark
  • Planetarium Shows
  • Special exhibitions
Direct Debit One-off
Individual: £50 Individual: £60
Family: from £60 Family: from £70