Fish and water are something that has been an obsession for our five year old so when we had the chance after Christmas we were excited as a family to get a trip to Plymouth Aquarium. The Aquarium describes itself as the National Aquarium and is indeed the largest in the UK. The Aquarium is divided into four zones – Plymouth Sound, British Coasts, Atlantic Ocean and Blue Planet.
The first, Plymouth Sound concentrates on wildlife that could be found locally. It has numerous shallow tanks and shows off sea stars, rays, lobsters, seahorses and octopus. The tanks are glass sided and accessible to children from the top which lets you get very close and the rays in particular came to see us.
The second, British coast is based around creatures from the Eddystone Reef and the tank has a huge impressive two story glass wall built around a banquet hall. The tank has conger eels, bream, smooth hound sharks, flatfish and rays, lobsters and crabs. The hall has no external windows and is lit mainly through the water giving it an interesting, immersive and quiet feeling. The room has lifesize models of whales and dolphins hanging from the ceiling and seating to watch the fish. There is seating lined up to watch the tank and we found it a great place to sit and have a snack and coffee.
The third section is the Atlantic Ocean and this is split into a number of smaller tanks and exhibits. There are jellyfish, sea nettles and upside down jellyfish in their own tanks and a huge Caribbean tank spread over three levels with 2.5 million litres, nurse sharks, barracuda, stingray and tarpon. The middle layer of the tank has a wide angled section that lets you sit on the floor and have the tank angle above you. Part of our visit was timed to coincided with the twice weekly shark feed and watching the sharks glide above us and snatch food was a highlight.
Finally there is the Blue Planet area. This has a number of smaller tanks with some of the world’s weirder fish like lionfish, seahorses and a giant Pacific Octopus and finally a Great Barrier Reef tank filled with colorful Australian fish and turtles.
There are a number of daily shows or exhibits that you can add into your visit. On the day of writing this was a rockpool feed at 10:30, a shark show at 11 and 15:00, a coral show at 13:00 and 15:00, octopus show at 13:30, a predator talk at 16:00 and a coral show at 16:00. We caught the twice weekly shark feed and it was well narrated and worth the time.
The aquarium recommends that you leave about three hours to go through the whole place and I’d judge this as reasonable. If you walked through spending a couple of minutes on each tank you’d take about an hour and a half to get through. Add in a couple of half hour talks, a few minutes in the gift shop and maybe a coffee and that’s your three hours. Despite her enthusiasm for watery things out five year old declared herself done after about two and a half good hours.
In addition to the main aquarium the charity that runs contributes to and runs several conservation and educational projects. They’ve participated in over 70 research projects with the local universities and actively try and link conservation, education and the fun of visiting to influence their visitors. They are also engaged in constructing artificial reefs most notably by scuttling the destroyer Scylla off Cornwall.
Price: £14.75 adults, £11.50 Senior/Student, Children (under 4 free) £10.75, Family £43.00
As well as the headline ticked prices there are a number of special circumstances that can save. Booking online gives you a straight 10% off. Group tickets are available if booking over ten people at once for around a third discount. Carers are admitted free.
The prices give you a “Day Plus Pass” which lets you re-enter at any point for 12 months after the first visit with a couple of exception days (mainly bank holidays). In effect you’re buying an annual pass.
There are also a number of special events such as shark night time watching and children’s parties that are individually priced as well as individual fish adoption and membership that gets you more information about the charitable works the trust does.
Retailer: National Aquarium
About The National Aquarium
” The National Marine Aquarium is a charity dedicated to conservation, research and education. Our mission is to Drive Marine Conservation Through Engagement.”
They are a business rather than a charity but one that is run to reinvest money back into conservation. The ideas is that the aquarium serves the dual purposes of education and monetarty generation for their separate research and conservation efforts. They have detailed ethical, social and environmental policies available on their site.
The Ergohacks Evaluation
As a modern building the Aquarium is accessible and well designed for wheelchair or mobility impaired access throughout. It is quite a long walk to get through the whole tour but there are a number of seats at very regular interval to have breaks.
Environment & People
The Aquarium is heavily involved in conservation and education and tries to practice what they preach on a a day to day basis.
With a little caution over a year the cost of entry for the Aquarium is reasonable. Buy online and save 10% and then retain your tickets for free entry for a year. For a single three hour visit the cost is more difficult to justify.
Location:Rope Walk, Coxside, Plymouth PL4 0LF, United Kingdom
Booking: On-line (10% discount) or at the door
Opening times: 10am-5pm 7 days a week plus specific events outside these times.
Open daily except for Christmas and a small number of training days.
The Aquarium has an onsite cafe – the Waves Cafe. They are open from 10 to 16:45 and do hot food between 11:30 and 14:30. They offer deliberately local, sustainable and seasonal food even going to the extent of where they have to use disposable items such as straws making sure they are locally made and biodegradable. The prices seem reasonable and have avoided the inflation that many attractions practice. Their menu is available online here although they do say that they run regular specials that will not be listed.
The only information that they do not have listed online is for special diets such as gluten or lactose free requirements.
They also have a coffee shop called Horizons, open in school holiday time only and a picnic area in the garden in front of the building.
The aquarium building is solidly constructed and inside I had very little cell phone reception. There is a free wifi network that covers most of the building which (after logging in) will keep you online.
The National Marine Aquarium has a laudable goal. Teaching conservation and respect of the sea via education and entertainment has to be a good thing in anyone’s book. As the largest aquarium in the UK they’re a must visit on its own if you have a sea or ocean mad child (or adult). For families without a fish mad member it is still well worth a visit if you are in the area. It’s not the cheapest way to spend a morning or afternoon but the ability to revisit and the fact that the money is going to a good cause make it far more reasonable.
Finally if you live locally and haven’t gone you really should – it’s a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. Recommended.
This travel review is based on a full day visit during December 2015. This article was first published on 16 January 2016.