Visit the Plymouth waterfront and discover the UK's largest aquarium in the wave-shaped building overlooking the marina and Plymouth Sound. Opened in 1998 and built on reclaimed land in Sutton Harbour, it is appropriately located right next to the fish market.
The National Marine Aquarium is an ideal day out for anyone mildly curious about maritime sea creatures, great for cool or showery days, and fun for kids anytime. What's more, your ticket is reusable for another free visit anytime in the following 12 months, so it's great value for money if you are staying in the Plymouth area for more than a day.
Things to do with children at the Plymouth Marine Aquarium
The Aquarium is inevitably busier in the summer holidays, but the attraction puts on some extra events which help prolong the visit and the kids get to do something creative to take home as a souvenir. Known as the Just Add Water Creative Centre, there are a host of arts and crafts activities, all on a marine theme.
The other activity kids seem to be enthralled by is the 4D cinema which literally immerses you in an undersea watershow. The seats rock and move, water splashes over you (virtually) and bubbles appear on either side of your head, yet thanks to the wonders of modern technology you don't get your hair wet and the kids stay mercifully dry too! There is a small additional fee for this (currently £2.50 in 2013), but it lasts a lot longer than an ice cream or a fairground ride and is something you will remember long after the visit is over.
Four zones at the National Marine Aquarium
The actual exhibits are in four different zones starting with Plymouth Sound, then widening out to cover the British Coasts, the Atlantic Ocean and the Blue Planet.
The aquariums show the many weird and diverse creatures that lurk beneath the boats right outside the aquarium in Plymouth Sound. It's amazing to see hermit crabs, lobsters, the well-camouflaged and incredibly ugly Tompot Blenny fish, anemones, starfish and even small sharks. You'll probably never want to swim from the Hoe again! One of the features in this section is the Rockpool Feed, so check the scheduled time when you buy your admission ticket.
The British Coasts display widens to include larger fish, crabs and even seahorses. The Plymouth Marine Aquarium has recently secured lottery funding to expand its research and breeding project Seagrass for Seahorses, so they have a pretty good collection of species of these tiny creatures.
The biggest tank in the aquarium is in fact the largest in the UK and has various shark species as well as stingrays, tarpon and barracuda. You may be surprised to see a replica seaplane in the tank and the Lost at Sea exhibition gives some interesting accounts of planes that ended their flight unexpectedly at the bottom of the sea. There are interesting shark talks and feeding times on certain days and there is a jellyfish display tank in the Ocean Lab.
The final and most colourful fish can be found in the Blue Planet section with a Great Barrier Reef exhibit of gorgeous corals, anemones and 70 species of exotic fish. Hang around long enough and the Loggerhead Turtle will swim by. She was rescued from nearby Sennan Cove in 1990 after being washed ashore in need of rehab.
Food and drink overlooking Plymouth Sound
If it's a nice day I always enjoy a picnic or coffee in the garden overlooking Plymouth Sound watching the huge Brittany ferry departing along with seagoing sail boats, navy frigates and fishing boats. In the busier school holidays the Horizons Café is also open with similar all-encompassing harbour views and the Waves restaurant is open daily for a fishy dinner guaranteed to be from sustainable sources.
Have you visited the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth recently? It's changed quite a lot since it opened. We'd love to hear which part you enjoyed the most and why?