To simulate the impact of drifting snow on the lower atmosphere, surface characteristics and surface mass balance (SMB) of the Antarctic ice sheet regional atmospheric climate model (RACMO2.1/ANT) with horizontal resolution of 27 km is coupled to a drifting snow routine and forced by ERA-Interim fields at its lateral boundaries (1989–2009). This paper evaluates the near-surface and drifting snow climate of RACMO2.1/ANT. Modeled near-surface wind speed (squared correlation coefficient R2 = 0.64) and temperature (R2 = 0.93) agree well with observations. Wind speed is underestimated in topographically complex areas, where observed wind speeds are locally very high (>20 m s−1). Temperature is underestimated in winter in coastal areas due to an underestimation of downward longwave radiation. Near-surface temperature and wind speed are not significantly affected by the inclusion of drifting snow in the model. In contrast, relative humidity with respect to ice increases in regions with strong drifting snow and becomes more consistent with the observations. Drifting snow frequency is the only observable parameter to directly validate drifting snow results; therefore, we derived an empirical relation for fresh snow density, as a function of wind speed and temperature, which determines the threshold wind speed for drifting snow. Modeled drifting snow frequencies agree well with in situ measurements and novel estimates from remote sensing. Finally, we show that including drifting snow is essential to obtaining a realistic extent and spatial distribution of ablation (SMB < 0) areas.