You know how a fast food burger can never compare to a gourmet burger?
Well, the National Aquarium is kind of like that gourmet burger.
I’ve visited lots of aquariums throughout my life, and I thought, “See one fish tank, see them all.” YES — National Aquarium fans, I hear your collective gasp at my ignorance! Trust me — I understand now.
The National Aquarium on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is not only a jewel of a building, it houses the most amazing aquarium exhibits you’re likely to see.
Visiting the National Aquarium
With more than a dozen exhibits and behind the scenes tours (extra fee), a family could easily spend a full day at the National Aquarium. Some exhibits, like the Living Seashore, are geared toward kids and families. The Living Seashore exhibit’s touch pools hold more than 5,000 gallons of saltwater which is home to stingrays, horseshoe crabs and moon jellies. With so much to see and do, visitors leave with a fresh appreciation for beach habitats.
My favorite exhibit, the Atlantic Coral Reef, is a 335,000 gallon, 13 foot tall exhibit with more than 500 fish and sharks to watch. Enter the exhibit at the top, where you can peer into the water below — much like you would at the beach. As you walk down the winding ramp, you’re surrounded by walls of glass and all those fish.
You might squeal with delight as you watch fish swim by like many of the kids did during my visit. Or, like me, you might find yourself holding your breath as you “descend” into the deep. I had to remind myself to breathe! The fish have so much space to roam that you get a real sense of their underwater world.
The other exhibits are impressive as well. Beyond the regular exhibits, families might consider a behind-the-scenes tour to learn more about how the aquarium works and what the staff does.
Plan your visit
- Address: 501 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21202
- Allow anywhere from 3 hours to a full day to visit.
- Hours vary by season/day of the week. See site for specific dates.
- Purchase tickets in advance online. Tickets sell out on peak dates.
- Best value — early morning tickets — to beat the crowds allow you time to come and go all day!
- Check the website for Special Offers (including parking discounts).
- You can NOT bring food into the National Aquarium (for animal safety reasons). You can get your hand stamped for re-eintry and enjoy a picnic or get lunch at a nearby restaurant. Since the aquarium is most crowded from 11-3, this is a great way to escape the crowds.
- I recommend the National Aquarium for all ages. Though for kids under 3, consider taking a midday break to run around outside or take a nap.
- Strollers are NOT allowed in the National Aquarium.
- Plan a full day to see everything, but leave for lunch when it’s most crowded.
- Visit weekdays if possible, but expect school tours from October-May.
- If visiting on a weekend or holiday, buy tickets in advance!
The National Aquarium developed a number of downloadable resources for teachers and students, from pre-K through high school. Before visiting, your kids might enjoy learning about the animals they will see. Or, afterward, these resources could become part of a child’s science education or enrichment. Check those resources here — and share with your favorite science teacher or homeschooling family!
I mistakenly thought the National Aquarium was “just” an aquarium — like any other aquarium you might visit. It’s not. It’s the National Aquarium. I will not take the name — or the exhibits — lightly again. The National Aquarium should top your family’s list of things to do in Baltimore.