This paper aims to introduce the main types and sources of remotely sensed data that are freely available and have cryospheric applications. We describe aerial and satellite photography, satellite-borne visible, near-infrared and thermal infrared sensors, synthetic aperture radar, passive microwave imagers and active microwave scatterometers. We consider the availability and practical utility of archival data, dating back in some cases to the 1920s for aerial photography and the 1960s for satellite imagery, the data that are being collected today and the prospects for future data collection; in all cases, with a focus on data that are openly accessible. Derived data products are increasingly available, and we give examples of such products of particular value in polar and cryospheric research. We also discuss the availability and applicability of free and, where possible, open-source software tools for reading and processing remotely sensed data. The paper concludes with a discussion of open data access within polar and cryospheric sciences, considering trends in data discoverability, access, sharing and use.