We investigated the large-scale (10–1000 m) and small-scale (mm–cm) variations in size, number and arrangement of air bubbles in the EPICA Dronning Maud Land (EDML) (Antarctica) ice core, down to the end of the bubble/hydrate transition (BHT) zone. On the large scale, the bubble number density shows a general correlation with the palaeo-temperature proxy, δ18O, and the dust concentration, which means that in Holocene ice there are fewer bubbles than in glacial ice. Small-scale variations in bubble number and size were identified and compared. Above the BHT zone there exists a strong anticorrelation between bubble number density and mean bubble size. In glacial ice, layers of high number density and small bubble size are linked with layers with high impurity content, identified as cloudy bands. Therefore, we regard impurities as a controlling factor for the formation and distribution of bubbles in glacial ice. The anticorrelation inverts in the middle of the BHT zone. In the lower part of the BHT zone, bubble-free layers exist that are also associated with cloudy bands. The high contrast in bubble number density in glacial ice, induced by the impurities, indicates a much more pronounced layering in glacial firn than in modern firn.