The late Quaternary palaeoenvironmental history of the southern Windmill Islands, East Antarctica, has been reconstructed using diatom assemblages from two long, well-dated sediment cores taken in two marine bays. The diatom assemblage of the lowest sediment layers suggests a warm climate with mostly open water conditions during the late Pleistocene. During the following glacial, the Windmill Islands were covered by grounded ice preventing any in situ bioproductivity. Following deglaciation, a sapropel with a well-preserved diatom assemblage was deposited from ~10 500 cal yr BP. Between ~10 500 and ~4000 cal yr BP, total organic carbon (Corg) and total diatom valve concentrations as well as the diatom species composition suggest relatively cool summer temperatures. Hydrological conditions in coastal bays were characterised by combined winter sea-ice and open water conditions. This extensive period of glacial retreat was followed by the Holocene optimum (~4000 to ~1000 cal yr BP), which occurred later in the southern Windmill Islands than in most other Antarctic coastal regions. Diatom assemblages in this period suggest ice-free conditions and meltwater-stratified waters in the marine bays during summer, which is also reflected in high proportions of freshwater diatoms in the sediments. The diatom assemblage in the upper sediments of both cores indicates Neoglacial cooling from ~1000 cal yr BP, which again led to seasonally persistent sea-ice on the bays. The Holocene optimum and cooling trends in the Windmill Islands did not occur contemporaneously with other Antarctic coastal regions, showing that the here presented record reflects partly local environmental conditions rather than global climatic trends.