For about 50 yr, ice cores have provided a wealth of information about past climatic and environmental changes. Ice cores from Greenland, Antarctica and other glacier-covered regions now encompass a variety of time scales. However, the longer time scales (e.g. at least back to the Last Glacial period) are covered by deep ice cores, the number of which is still very limited: seven from Greenland, with only one providing an undisturbed record of a part of the last interglacial period, and a dozen from Antarctica, with the longest record covering the last 800 000 yr. This article aims to summarize this successful adventure initiated by a few pioneers and their teams and to review key scientific results by focusing on climate (in particular water isotopes) and climate-related (e.g. greenhouse gases) reconstructions. Future research is well taken into account by the four projects defined by IPICS. However, it remains a challenge to get an intact record of the Last Interglacial in Greenland and to extend the Antarctic record through the mid-Pleistocene transition, if possible back to 1.5 Ma.