National Marine Aquarium Plymouth | UK’s Biggest Aquarium

Author: Helen B

If you’ve ever been to the National Marine Aquarium, you’ll know what an impressive building this is. Situated on the edge of the bay, opposite the famous Barbican with an impressive view of the marina, it is the largest aquarium in the UK. It is an education conservation venue with daily shows and more.

National Marine Aquarium Plymouth | UK's Biggest Aquarium
The National Marine Aquarium building

National Marine Aquarium Plymouth – What there is to see and do

The large aquarium building was easy to find after we parked in a multi-storey car park just around the corner. After entering the main glass-fronted atrium of the building, steps took us up to the first area called Plymouth Sound, the first of six separate ‘zones’ of marine life within the aquarium.

National Marine Aquarium Plymouth | UK's Biggest Aquarium
Plymouth Sound Zone

Plymouth Sound, named after the bay between Plymouth Hoe and the breakwater showcases many species of fish which live in and around the coast of Plymouth in the English Channel. We were surprised at the number of different fish living in local waters, and thanks to the tanks being low, we could get a good look at them too. We especially liked the starfish, the blue lobster and the gorgeous little cuttlefish!

We entered Zone 2, British Coast which led us into a large hall with replicas of whales and dolphins suspended from the ceiling.

The British Coast Zone
The British Coast Zone

Education Conservation Venue

Wall displays educate about the UK fishing industry as you walk down into the hall. Our son learned too from the interactive displays and activities at the tables. It was very dark in here but the floor to ceiling tank was the highlight with a huge conger eel swimming around in it!

Interactive Displays
Interactive Displays
The Eddystone Reef tank
The Eddystone Reef tank

 

Colin the Congor Eel
Colin the Congor Eel

We sat in the seats facing the tank while a knowledgeable staff member gave a talk about the fish in the large tank named Eddystone Reef. Educational talks take place throughout the day in the different zones and they are well worth taking the time to go to. A timetable is shown in the aquarium and also on the website homepage so you don’t miss them. Afterwards, he was happy to answer questions and show us some interesting artefacts including a real turtle shell.

The Atlantic Ocean Zone is where things really get exciting! First, we walked through a walkway overlooking jellyfish and coral breeding laboratories, then through to the walk-through tank tunnel with glass panels above and below.

Ocean Labs
Ocean Labs
Tank walk through tunnel
Tank walk through tunnel

This is the largest tank in the UK with 2 and a half million litres of water and a life-size sunken replica plane inside it. Several species of sharks and rays live in this huge tank and we watched in amazement as they swum over our heads and below our feet! A walkway with more displays led us around and upstairs to the top of the tank which curved above us. Our favourites were the Southern Stingrays which appeared to soar rather than swim through the water over our heads. They were so graceful and we could have stayed there for hours watching them. We were even lucky enough to see Friday the turtle!

Southern Stingray
Southern Stingray

The Biozone contains some familiar friends also known as Nemo and Dory and we learned all about these fascinating fish and their amazing habitat.

Finding Nemo
Finding Nemo

National Marine Aquarium Plymouth | UK's Biggest Aquarium

 

As well as the live talks, there are several places around the aquarium where you can watch educational videos about marine life and their conservation.

View a film about the NMA
 Great Barrier Reef tank
Great Barrier Reef tank

Aquarium opening times, events and prices

Open every day 10 – 5pm with a programme of events and activities throughout the year including exciting aquarium sleepovers and exclusive VIP Behind the Scenes tours (over 8 years of age only).

There’s an online discount for booking tickets in advance so it’s easy to pick the best time to plan your visit. The price online in advance for an adult is currently £16.95 for an adult, £12.95 for a child aged 3-15 and under 3’s are free. A family ticket is £53.50. All prices are subject to change.

You don’t have to be in a rush to visit the National Marine Aquarium. In each zone there are seats where you can sit and watch the fish for as long as you like. Indeed there is something very therapeutic about watching them swimming around. If you want a change of scene, the Waves Cafe in the main glass atrium is where you can enjoy the stunning view of the bay. If the little ones need to let off steam, there is also Loola Land soft play but has a small charge for entry (free for NMA members).

View from Waves Cafe
View from Waves Cafe

There are so many fascinating species of marine life to see in the National Marine Aquarium. The only downside was in the Great Barrier Reef Zone. In this final zone was a huge coral reef tank with parrotfish and rays but with so many other unusual and beautiful fish in this large tank there wasn’t much information displayed about them. Given the number of display boards in the other zones, we were disappointed there weren’t more at the end of the tour through the aquarium.

But despite this, we enjoyed a thoroughly educational and awe-inspiring day finished off with a quick visit to the Barbican and an ice-cream!

 


Disclaimer: Helen and her family were provided with complimentary tickets for their visit. All photos, words and opinions are entirely their own and must not be reproduced.

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National Marine Aquarium Plymouth | UK's Biggest Aquarium

 

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