The two largest islands in the archipelago, West Falkland and East Falkland, are where you'll find the majority of this tiny country's 3,000 or so residents (most of them of British descent). Despite its remote location - or perhaps because of it - these cold, hilly islands attract a surprising number of tourists.
Served by direct flights from the UK and South America, as well as many cruise ships, the Falklands are perfectly situated to tap into the growing demand for tourists visiting the Antarctic. The Falklands' main attraction is undoubtedly its wildlife - it boasts numerous species of birds and marine mammals. Other popular activities include fishing, trekking, hiking, climbing, kayaking, and mountain biking.
Wildlife and nature are what most visitors to the Falkland Islands come to see. Colonies of penguins and albatrosses, sea lions, elephant seals, 15 species of whales, dolphins, and a wide variety of birds (approximately 200 species of them) can be found throughout the islands. Two species, the Cobb's Wren and the Falkland Flightless Steamer Duck, are both unique to the Falklands.
Probably the most popular, however, are the six varieties of penguins - including the King, Gentoo, Rockhopper, Macaroni, Royal, and Magellanic - which can be seen on various islands. There are also some unique insects, including the Queen of the Falklands Fritillary butterfly, along with 170 native flowering plants, 14 of which are found nowhere else in the world.
Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, is also the major population center, home to more than 2,000 people. Built on a north-facing slope to maximize exposure to the sun, many of the city's quaint wood clad homes are painted bright colors with corrugated iron roofs and overlook picturesque Stanley Harbour.
Visitors enjoy the very British flavor of Stanley, which boasts iconic red phone boxes and a handful of old inns. A pleasant day can be spent exploring the streets on foot, taking in such sights as the many marine and military monuments (Stanley was the scene of fighting between British and Argentine troops in 1982), the Victorian police station, as well as municipal buildings such as the post office and court buildings.
Other highlights include the Jubilee Villas, built in 1887 for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, the 150 year-old Colonists' Cottages on Pioneer Row, and the Tabernacle, a Victorian church built in 1892. The city is also home to some excellent shopping - the Falkland's are famous for their leather and woolen goods - and few experiences can match dining at one of the harbor side cafes or restaurants.
3 Christ Church Cathedral and the Whalebone Arch
Pretty little Christ Church Cathedral, the world's southernmost Anglican cathedral, was consecrated in 1892 and is a must-visit. Designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield, it's one of the few stone buildings in the Falkland Islands.
The cathedral grounds are where you'll find the unique Whalebone Arch, made from the jaws of two massive blue whales in 1933 to commemorate the centenary of British rule. Standing beneath these impressive bones is a humbling experience.
4 The Falkland Islands Museum and National Trust
Located in Britannia House, a building used by the Argentine Air Force during the 1982 conflict, The Falkland Islands Museum presents a great deal of fascinating information on the region's maritime history, as well as its military history.
Two equally interesting satellite museums are worth visiting: Blue Beach Museum, focusing on the 1982 war with Argentina (it's located where the British Task Force came ashore), and North Arm Museum, a small facility focusing on the history of farming and the local people.
5 Cemeteries and Monuments
Stanley's old cemetery includes a number of interesting tombstones with inscriptions providing a glimpse into the lives of the early pioneers. The Cross of Sacrifice, on the north side of the cemetery, is a memorial to the Falkland Islanders killed in WWI and WWII. Another military monument of note is Victory Green, a WWII memorial and the scene of an annual parade on the Queen's Birthday.
The mast of the SS Great Britain also stands on the Green. Also of note is the Battle Memorial on the grounds of Government House and commemorating the famous sea battle that took place here in 1914 between the German and British navies, one of the first naval conflicts of WWI. Stanley is also where you'll find the 1982 Liberation Memorial, a tribute to the soldiers and civilians who lost their lives during the Falklands War.
6 East Falkland's Small Villages
Venturing outside of Stanley and exploring East Falkland's other, even smaller communities is an adventure in itself. Port Louis, under an hours drive away on the north coast, is a good base from which to explore the surrounding area with its spectacular scenery and colonies of penguins.
Salvador is one of the less visited settlements, but is also great for wildlife viewing, particularly penguins, elephant seals, sea lions, and a variety of shore and inland birds. If horses are your thing, the tiny hamlet of Darwin - named, of course, after Charles Darwin who surveyed the island - boasts a small racecourse. Trekking adventures are also offered.
7 West Falkland Island and Port Howard
West Falkland Island covers some 4,500 square kilometers and is characterized by its steep coastal cliffs and rugged, hilly interior. Like East Falkland, this island boasts a rich biodiversity with 163 varieties of plants and 21 types of land birds, and is particularly popular for its wildlife and adventure tours.
The island's main settlement is Port Howard, a major sheep farming community that offers a number of accommodation options, including quaint farm guesthouses as well as bed and breakfasts. Port Howard is a great place to explore on foot (it has a small museum with war relics and exhibits related to sheep farming), and a convenient base from which to explore the surrounding hills. Particularly popular for hikers is Mount Maria, the island's third highest peak. It's also a popular fishing destination, especially for its trout.
8 South Georgia Island
South Georgia Island, also a UK Overseas Territory, is located 862 miles east of the Falkland Islands. A land of snow covered mountains and glaciers, the island has no permanent residents, but it does maintain two British Antarctic Research Stations, as well as a museum.
The island's main attractions are its natural beauty and bountiful wildlife, in particular the two million fur seals that lay claim to the island each summer. It's also where you'll find half the world's population of southern elephant seals, who come here to breed each year. Millions of penguins also inhabit the island, along with approximately 250,000 albatross and numerous reindeer.
9 South Georgia Museum
The South Georgia Museum was originally established as a whaling museum in 1992, but has since expanded to include the history of the island. Housed in a 1916 whaling station manager's house built by whalers from Norway, the museum includes fascinating displays describing the discovery and exploration of the island, sealing, whaling, its maritime history, and natural history.
It also now hosts exhibits relating to the 1982 Falklands War and the British military presence. Access is usually via cruises, or boat charters from the Falklands (just be sure to let them know you're coming).
10 The Outer Islands
The outer islands refer to those islands other than East and West Falklands. The main draw, as with the larger islands, is the opportunity for superb wildlife viewing, most often conducted as part of an organized tour. Of particular interest are the Jason Islands, consisting of some of the most remote areas of the Falklands.
Rich in marine wildlife and birds, the area is known for its rockhopper penguins and black-browed albatross, and is also home to the striated cara cara, one of the world's rarest birds of prey. Pebble Island is a sheep farming island (the western half of which is mountainous, while the eastern portion consists of grassy planes) and is one of the only places in the Falklands where all six varieties of penguins have been seen.
Sea Lion Island is the most southern inhabited island in the Falklands (home to around 10 hardy souls), and visitors come here primarily for the elephant seals, sea lions (naturally), four varieties of penguins, and shore and sea birds. Orcas can also often be seen offshore.