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Visiting the Aquarium

Aquariums main

Aquariums, like zoos, are a favorite attraction of travelers, and make a perfect addition to any trip. Whether traveling near your home or checking distant destinations, as a solo traveler, with your family, friends, or significant other, aquariums are a fun way to get more from your vacations and see the world.

In this article we’ll go over the biggest and best aquariums in both the U.S. and the world (in 3 different lists). You’ll also get some tips about planning an aquarium trip, things to do before and after your aquarium trip, and other attractions near these top attractions.


Things to Know About Aquariums


There are 436 zoos and aquariums in the U.S., and over 200 aquaria in the world. Aquaria includes aquariums, dolphinariums, oceanariums, and marine mammal parks. Zoos and aquariums are often categorized together, as many zoos do have some sort of aquarium in them and provide similar scientific value. 1 in 10 people visit a zoo or aquarium every year, making these attractions more popular than professional sports.


Plenty of cities have aquariums, even if they’re small ones. If you plan on visiting a city we don’t mention here, check “things to do” under MySittiVacations, you can see aquariums in the area and get ticket discounts while you’re at it.


10 Biggest Aquariums in the U.S. (Largest to Smallest)


This list ranks the biggest aquariums in the United States from largest to smallest. The size of these aquariums allows for bigger fish and sharks than smaller aquariums can host. That means that bigger aquariums are usually better for visiting, with more animals, more attractions, and things to do for visitors of all ages. Each of these aquariums draws in millions of visitors each year and while there is a separate list further down, these all take top spots for best aquariums to visit as well.



  1. Georgia Aquarium


Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Annual Visitors: 2.5 million

Number of Animals:1,000,000

Square footage: 550,000

Gallons of water: 11 million U.S. gallons (41 million liters)


With record breaking titles like “largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere” and “Most Aquatic Life than any Other Aquarium” (2005 Guinness Book of World Records), the Georgia Aquarium is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for viewing marine life up close over the course of eight different galleries. Their largest habitat is in their Ocean Quest exhibit: the tank holds over 6.3 million gallons of water.


Check out the top places to visit in Georgia here.


  1. The Seas with Nemo and Friends


Location: Orlando, Florida (Part of Epcot at Walt Disney World)

Annual Visitors: 4 million

Number of Animals: 6,000

Square Footage: 185,000

Gallons of water: 5.7 million U.S. gallons (26 million liters)


Located in the famous EPCOT theme park, The Seas aquarium features stunning aquatic life as well as Disney-themed magic. Finding Dory’s Friends is a fun scavenger hunt heading to the SeaBase exhibit which is great for kids or if you’re a bit more adventurous, take the EPCOT Seas Aqua Tour– two and a half hours of snorkeling, swimming, and learning about the animals.


Also check out how to plan a solo female trip to Orlando here.


  1. Shedd Aquarium


Location: Chicago, Illinois

Annual Visitors: 2 million

Number of Animals: 32,000

Square Footage: 452,600

Gallons of water: 5 million U.S. gallons (22.7 million liters)


Shedd Aquarium is one of the only aquariums to house Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, one of over thirty different species of dolphins. Visitors can also experience the beauty of marine life at this aquarium through watching a 4-D film experience, sharing a cold swim with a beluga whale, or touching the back of exotic stingrays.


You can learn more about other things to do in Chicago here.


  1. National Aquarium


Location: Baltimore, Maryland

Annual Visitors: >1 million

Number of Animals: 12,000

Square Footage: 64,500

Gallons of water: 2.2 million U.S. gallons (8.3 million liters)


Famous for species like macaws, puffins, eels, sloths, and sawfish, the National Aquarium boasts diversity in their animal exhibitions. The aquarium is also known for its love of protecting and rehabilitating wildlife like Maryland’s state reptile, the diamondback terrapin.


  1. Monterey Bay Aquarium


Location: Monterey Bay, California

Annual Visitors: >1.8 million

Number of Animals: 35,000

Square Footage: 322,000

Gallons of water: 2.3 million U.S. gallons (8.7 million liters)


Monterey Bay Aquarium is special for a myriad of reasons: each year nearly a billion gallons of seawater flows from the bay into the aquarium facility before returning to the ocean, they are the first to successfully showcase and release great white sharks, and the first and only aquarium in the world to build a living kelp forest exhibit.


  1. Mystic Aquarium


Location: Mystic, Connecticut

Annual visitors: 800,00

Number of Animals: 10,000

Square Footage: 18,000

Gallons of Water: >1 million U.S. gallons (3.7 million liters)


With free general admission to the public, programs to help underprivileged youth, and endless research opportunities for undergraduate marine wildlife students, the Mystic Aquarium offers so much more to its community than an incredible time. The aquarium also features new additions like a shark touch-pool, Touch of the Tropics Caribbean touch-pool, and Wild Arctic which immerses guests into a virtual Arctic environment.


  1. Tennessee Aquarium


Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Annual Visitors: 780,000

Number of Animals: 12,000

Square Footage: 130,000

Gallons of water: 400,000 U.S. gallons (1.5 million liters)


This massive aquarium is split into two main buildings: The River Journey building and The Ocean Journey Building. Each building offers a diverse range of animals from river otters to sharks. With over 800 species to display, an IMAX theater, and a ranking as the number one Aquarium in the country for overall guest satisfaction, the Tennessee Aquarium is not one to miss.


  1. The Florida Aquarium


Location: Tampa, Florida

Annual Visitors: 841,424

Number of Animals: 8,000

Square Footage: 200,000

Gallons of water: 500,000 U.S. gallons (1.9 million liters)


Cruise on the eco-tour boat, Bay Spirit II, for sighting sea life on their Wild Dolphin Cruises or let the kids splash around in “The Splash Pad”, the aquarium’s outdoor water play area for children. The aquarium is also known for its “Raptors! Birds of Prey” experience where participants tour the 6,000 square foot rooftop terrace that overlooks Tampa Bay—plus, it’s included in general admission!


Checking out other parts of Florida? Find other things to do in Miami here and how to plan a solo trip to Miami here.


  1. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas


Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

Annual Visitors: 800,00

Number of Animals: 3,600

Square Footage: 110,000

Gallons of water: 400,000 gallons (1.5 million liters)


Exhibits inspired by the Mississippi River, Amazon Rainforest, Gulf of Mexico and much more decorate the interior of the NOLA aquarium. A fan favorite is a 30-foot-long Caribbean Reef Tunnel that mimics a deep diving experience. The aquarium is also located in the French Quarter which makes it a perfect addition to any trip.


Check out other stuff to do in New Orleans here.


  1. New England Aquarium Plaza


Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Annual Visitors: 1.3 million

Number of Animals: 20,000

Square Footage: 75,000

Gallons of water: 200,000 U.S. gallons (757,000 liters)


The New England aquarium features rare animals like the Northern Fur Seals—they are one of only three aquariums in the United States who house these seals— the blue lobster, which are 1 in 2 million, giant Pacific octopus and even African penguins. While you’re nearby, whale watch through Boston Harbor City Cruises or at the Aquarium’s Whale Watch Booth.


Planning a trip to Boston? Check out other things to do and cheap places to stay here.



Why are Aquariums Important?


Aquariums (like zoos) allow for great entertainment, but more importantly, allow scientists to study animals, climate, habitat, and behavior in a way that allows us to better understand and protect our world.



What to Pack for the Aquarium


Even as a daytrip, it’s important to know what to bring to the Aquarium. Any sort of discomfort will quickly ruin your trip, so make sure to grab the right stuff for yourself, partner, and kids.


  • Strollers/carriers for children (even if they know how to walk–little legs tire quickly)
  • Snacks (Check the Aquarium’s snack policy beforehand-some don’t allow you to bring in food)
  • Water/water-bottles
  • Comfortable shoes. Aquariums have a lot of standing.
  • Pennies and Quarters– penny pressing machines are a cheap and fun souvenir for children and adults alike. (Usually, you will need 2 quarters for payment, and 1 shiny penny to press)
  • A camera for approved areas (a phone camera works nice).
  • Hand sanitizer and wipes


Do’s and Don’ts of Visiting an Aquarium


  • Eat beforehand. Everyone is in a better mood when fed, and you’ll be less tempted to buy overpriced Aquarium-food. Some Aquariums allow you to bring your own food in, others do not. Check beforehand.
  • Buy tickets in advance. Some Aquariums are so busy that tickets sell out quickly and won’t allow walk-ins. (To save money on tickets and get access to special deals check out the MySittiVacations. Just choose your city, select “deals”, and look for discounts on Aquarium tickets.)
  • Don’t feed the animals–ever.
  • Don’t take pictures of light-sensitive animals. These areas are always marked.
  • Don’t tap the glass or make loud noises. This upsets aquatic-life.


What to Eat Near an Aquarium?


When it comes to food, you can eat in an Aquarium’s restaurant, or at other nearby places (make sure to check out exclusive MySittiVacation dining deals here). Most Aquariums are surrounded by other awesome attractions and tours which you can check out and pair onto your trip. MySittiVacations can help you with that too, just type in the city to MySittiVacations and click “things to do” to find options and money saving promotions near you.


What to Look for When Deciding What Aquariums to Visit


While Aquariums are important, not all Aquariums are created equal. Some have better habits for their animals and fish and more space to swim. Some exhibits allow you to see fish well, while others might inadvertently hide the best attractions. Some aquariums feature large tanks with only a small portion visible to visitors. Some keep the water clear, others not so much. This is all great for science, but not so fun for tourism. You can use MySittiVacations to check out Yelp reviews and learn more about which aquariums near you are worth your time.


Number of Species vs. Number of Animals


When considering Aquariums, you’ll also want to take a special look at the number of species an Aquarium has. An Aquarium with more species–even if fewer total animals–means that the Aquarium has a lot of variety. These Aquariums, even if smaller in land-area, tend to be more interesting to visitors. If you have an Aquarium with more animals but less species, this means that the Aquarium has several of a single species which is interesting for single, sometimes large, exhibits, but has overall less variety.


Other Attractions


Several of the aquariums we have listed here are part of larger facilities (like Disney’s Epcot) and will have theme park rides and other activities for young and old alike to enjoy their trip. Aquariums with rides make for a longer daytrip, with a little less boredom. If you’re pushed for time or want to get two experiences for the price of one, theme-park aquariums are for you.


Best Time of Day to Visit an Aquarium


While every animal has different sleeping, eating, and climate preferences, the best way to get the most out of your aquarium trip is to visit in the morning. Mornings are a little less busy and give you more space to walk around. Some aquariums have non-fish exhibits too. These animals will be more active in morning hours rather than in the evening.


Some Aquariums have feeding schedules listed. If you’re okay watching animals eat (be considerate of small children), these are times when you can really see animals move.


Annual Visitors


Knowing how many people visit each Aquarium each year provides an easy way to gauge how busy it will be. 2 million annual visitors equal about 7,000 visitors a day. If the Aquarium is big enough, there’ll be enough space for everyone to walk and see animals comfortably, but in smaller Aquariums, this means you’ll have to fight crowds to see the exhibits.


Hotels near Aquariums


Most people don’t usually think of hotels when looking at Aquariums, but lodging is an important part of any trip away from home. When planning your trips, the MySittiVacations hotel deal finder can help you find cheap hotels or bed and breakfast options for your stay. It’s easy to use, just type in the city where you want to stay and let us do the work for you finding the best prices for the best comfort. Check the hotel finder here.




10 Biggest Aquariums in the World (Largest to Smallest)


This list ranks the largest aquariums not just of the United States, but of the world. 3 of the 10 are still in the United States. Because of their size, funding, care of animals, and unique species, these are arguably the best aquariums to visit in the world.


  1. Chimelong Ocean King – Zhuhai, China


Animals: 15,000

Annual Visitors: 10.8 million

Size: 4 million square feet (370,000 square meters)

Amount of Water: 12.9 million gallons


  1. Marine Life Park – Sentosa Gateway, Singapore


Animals: 100,000

Species: 800

Size: 20 acres (8 hectares)

Amount of Water: 12 million gallons


  1. Oceanografic – Valencia, Spain


Animals: 45,000

Species: 500

Size: 1.2 million square feet (110,000 square meters)

Annual Visitors: 1.5 million

Amount of Water: 11 million Gallons


  1. Georgia Aquarium – Georgia, United States


Animals: 100,000

Species: 500

Size: 13 acres (5.2 hectares)

Annual Visitors: 2.5 million

Amount of Water: 11 million gallons


Check out Atlanta and things to do here.


  1. Moscow Oceanarium – Moscow, Russia


Animals: 12,000

Species: 500

Size: 43,000 square feet (4,000 square meters)

Annual Visitors: 2 million

Amount of Water: 6.6 million gallons


  1. The Seas with Nemo and Friends – Bay Lake, Florida, U.S.


Animals: 8,500

Species: 60

Size: 185,000 square feet (17,000 square meters)

Annual Visitors: 4 million (Disney Epcot)

Amount of Water: 5.7 million gallons


  1. Shedd Aquarium – Chicago, Illinois, U.S.


Animals: 32,000

Species: 100

Size: 10 acres (4 hectares)

Annual Visitors: 2 million

Amount of Water: 5 million gallons


  1. uShaka Marine World – Point, Durban, South Africa


Animals: 10,000

Size: 40 acres (16 hectares)

Annual Visitors: 800,000

Amount of Water: 4.3 million gallons


  1. Atlantic Sea Park – Tuenesvegen, Alesund, Norway


Animals: Unknown

Species: Unknown

Size: 43,000 square feet (4,000 square meters)

Annual Visitors: 140,000

Amount of Water: 4 million gallons


  1. Ambassador Lagoon Hotel – The Palm, Dubai, India


Animals: 65,000

Species: 250

Size: 114 acres (46 hectares)

Amount of Water: 3 million gallons



9 (Other) Best Aquariums in the United States


When it comes to the best aquariums, there are a few other aquariums to consider in addition to those we’ve already mentioned. They’re close to major cities which makes them awesome to add as part of your traveling, and is perfect for solo travelers, families, couples, and groups of friends.


  1. Seattle Aquarium


Location: Seattle, Washington

Animals: 12,000

Species: 400

Size: 70,000 square feet

Annual Visitors: 1 million

Amount of Water: 400,000 gallons


Learn about other things to do in Seattle here or how to plan a trip to Seattle as a solo traveler here.


  1. Oregon Coast Aquarium


Location: Newport, Oregon

Animals: 15,000

Species: 3,500

Size: 23 acres

Annual Visitors: 500,000

Amount of Water: 875,000 gallons


Newport, Oregon is about 2.5 hours South of Portland. If you pass through Portland, find out about more things to do here.


  1. Aquarium of the Pacific


Location: Long Beach, California

Animals: 11,000

Species: 500

Size: 360,000 square feet

Annual Visitors: 1.6 million

Amount of Water: 400,000+ gallons


  1. Ripley’s Aquarium


Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Animals: 20,000

Species: 350

Size: 100,000 square feet

Annual Visitors: 1 million

Amount of Water: 1.25 million gallons


  1. Birch Aquarium


Location: San Diego, California

Animals: 3,000

Species: 380

Size: 30,000 square feet

Annual Visitors: 440,000

Amount of Water: 70,000 gallons


Find other cool tips and things to do in San Diego here.


  1. Fort Fisher Aquarium


Location: New Hanover County, North Carolina

Animals: 2,500

Species: 250

Size: 24 acres

Annual Visitors: 480,000

Amount of Water: 235,000 gallons


  1. Norwalk Aquarium


Location: Norwalk, Connecticut

Animals: 2,700

Species: 300

Size: 140,000 square feet

Annual Visitors: 500,000

Amount of Water: 160,000 gallons


  1. Coney Island Aquarium


Location: Brooklyn, New York

Species: 266

Size: 14 acres

Annual Visitors: 750,000

Amount of Water: 500,000 gallons


Learn other cool stuff about New York here.


  1. Alaska SeaLife Aquarium


Location: Seward, Alaska

Size: 115,000 square feet

Annual Visitors: 160,000


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