Aim To describe the distribution of biodiversity and biogeographical patterns of intertidal organisms in southern temperate and polar waters. We hypothesized that there would be differences in community structure between the Antarctic, which is most affected by ice, and the sub-Antarctic and other neighbouring regions. We also hypothesized that rafting and West Wind Drift will be the significant drivers of biogeographical patterns. Additionally, the size, age, isolation, volcanic or glacial history of a region and the presence of large, beach dwelling, mammals and birds would all play a role in determining the level of biodiversity observed. Location South Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans and the Southern Ocean. Methods We examined all available intertidal records from the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic with additional data from neighbouring regions for comparison and context. We compiled 3902 occurrences of 1416 species of high southern latitude intertidal organisms from 229 locations and used PRIMER 6 to perform multivariate statistical analyses. Results The Antarctic and sub-Antarctic are shown to be distinct biogeographical regions, with patterns driven by a small number of widely distributed species. These wide-ranging molluscs and macroalgae dominate the biogeographical structure of the Southern Ocean intertidal, most likely as a result of rafting in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. East Antarctic intertidal habitats are potentially isolated by the Ross and Weddell Sea ice shelves but represent a great unknown in this biogeographical scheme. Main Conclusions The view that the Antarctic intertidal is a lifeless desert does not hold true, with Antarctic Peninsula intertidal communities being richer and more diverse than those in southern South America and the sub-Antarctic islands. Changing conditions in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic intertidal mean that a representative baseline is needed (acquired through standardized and quantitative sampling) to assess future changes and to detect any invasive species.