Discover 12 of the world’s best aquariums in one o-fish-al list
The best aquariums in the world share the same magical properties: wondrous tunnels of cerulean blue; immense enclosures home to mysterious and intelligent sea creatures; expert staff working to the highest animal welfare standards; and, of course, cute but questionably priced gift shop toys.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock at the bottom of the sea, you’ll know that our oceans are increasingly under threat, struggling to maintain their natural order under pressure from global warming, overfishing, and destruction of ecosystems.
The world’s best aquariums are committed to education, preservation, and scientific research, both internationally and within their local waters.
Discover some of the best aquariums in the world with a deep dive into the most encapsulating water kingdoms accredited by regional or international organizations.
🏆 Accredited by AZA
📍 Tampa, United States
Must see: Sea dragons and seahorses
The Florida Aquarium is no shallow marine menagerie. The experience is designed to take visitors on a journey, beginning with a trickle from one of Florida’s freshwater springs, journeying out to the Florida Keys, and way beyond into international waters.
Guests can walk the Wetlands Trail to see river otters, alligators, and pythons. There are the stars of the No Bone Zone, plus pufferfish and lobsters in the Bays & Beaches exhibit.
Visitors get up close to lemurs, chameleons, and, if so inclined, cockroaches, on the Journey to Madagascar. And don’t miss the opportunity to marvel at the delicate inhabitants of Dragons Down Under – seahorses, sea dragons, and more!
Like many of the best aquariums in the world, The Florida Aquarium prides itself on its conservation initiatives. It’s part of a globally recognized coral conservation program in the Florida Reef Tract (the world’s third-largest barrier reef) as well as programs aimed to protect wild sea turtles, whales and sharks.
🏆 Accredited by AZA & EAZA
📍 Valencia, Spain
Must see: Belugas and Atlantic horseshoe crabs
Valencia’s immense Oceanogràfic is the largest aquarium in Europe, spread across 1,200,000 square feet, just a stone’s skip from the Balearic Sea.
It confidently bills itself as: “a first-rate scientific, educational, and recreational center”. Its habitats, housed in nine underwater towers, represent all the world’s major ecosystems, from the frozen to the temperate and tropical.
Visitors to L’Oceanogràfic can wander between Bermuda and the Canary Islands along the longest aquarium tunnel in Europe, or peer into the crystal-clear home of an inquisitive family of Belugas – the only blood-related group in Europe.
The Mysteries of the Sea exhibit hides creatures renowned for their beauty, oddness, or unique scientific characteristics. Perhaps the most fascinating resident here is the Atlantic horseshoe crab. These blue-blooded, nine-eyed arthropods are actually more akin to spiders and scorpions than crabs, and the hemocyanin in their blood is vital in the field of medicine. It may even have a role to play in the coronavirus vaccine.
The Oceanogràfic carries out numerous marine conservation projects locally and further afield, including studies on sustainable fishing and the protection of bottlenose dolphins, as well as the work undertaken by its Recovery Centre for Marine Fauna.
Can’t make it to Spain? Check out this guided tour of Oceanogràfic which formed part of Tiqets’ Awakening Weeks.
🏆 Accredited by EAZA
📍 Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
Must see: Nurse sharks & giant manta rays
How could you not want to visit an aquarium resembling an enormous manta ray?
Nausicaá isn’t just an architectural wonder, either. With a huge diversity of sea life and a core educational mission, Nausicaá is one of the best aquariums in the world, focusing on the relationship between mankind and the sea.
Almost 60,000 charismatic creatures call Nausicaá home, from lionfish to sea lions, and from leopard sharks to tiger sharks and small-spotted catsharks. We’ll make a note to ask why so many are named after cats.
There are rare fish who illuminate the dark with torch-like organs, and majestic rays who move as if flying through the deep. And the jellyfish! Is it even possible to watch these gelatinous gems glide around without feeling a little bit awestruck?
Boasting the largest tank in Europe, 1,600 different species are on show across two huge exhibits: Journey on the High Seas, and Mankind and Shores.
The aquarium is also involved in conservation work far from its catchment area, helping to reconstruct the coral reef in the Maldives, and working to protect the African penguin in South Africa.
🏆 Accredited by WAZA & AZA
📍 Atlanta, United States
Photo by Matt Helbig on Unsplash
Must see: Whale sharks and belugas
Georgia Aquarium was the biggest aquarium in the world when it opened in 2005.
Despite now having to settle for third place behind gargantuan water worlds in Singapore and China, it’s still the largest aquarium in the US, and recognized as one of the best aquariums in the world.
A trip to Georgia Aquarium will see guests go nose-to-glass with dolphins, tropical fish, octopuses, sea lions, penguins and lots more. Zones are dedicated to freshwater ecosystems and marine environments, coral reefs and river habitats, all of which are prime for exploring.
There are thousands of delicate creatures floating, crawling, and waddling around – and that’s just the army of visiting toddlers. If you’re looking to see whale sharks up close, Georgia’s is the only aquarium outside of Asia to house this unique and endangered species. The whale shark is certified as the largest fish on Earth – this 2,300-ton bronze puffer fish in China obviously didn’t meet the selection criteria.
As a non-profit organization, educational engagement is at the forefront of the Georgia Aquarium experience. They provide at-home learning resources, on and off-site school programs, live webcams, and volunteer initiatives.
🏆 Accredited by EAZA & WAZA
📍 Lisbon, Portugal
Must see: Chimeras
Oceanário de Lisboa is the most popular cultural attraction in Portugal and respected as one of the best aquariums on Earth.
A visit to the Oceanarium is a dreamy journey through four incredible zones, which replicate the rocky coastline of the North Atlantic, the icy tundra of the Antarctic, the kelp forests of the Pacific, and the coral reefs of the Indian ocean – not bad for €19!
The aquarium is full of species you’ve never heard of: the bignose unicornfish, the fire goby, the old wife, the wide-eyed flounder, the nursehound, the splendid garden eel, and plenty more. Add to this the peculiar coral, rare sharks, limb-regenerating salamanders, deadly poisonous frogs and elegant puffins, and you can see why the aquarium is such a hit.
Some of the Oceanarium’s biggest draws are the array of temporary exhibitions it puts on each year, from climate change-focused exhibits to spectacles that would be at home in a famous art gallery.
The aquarium is involved in breeding programs in partnership with the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. It also sponsors various conservation projects outside its walls, such as the Angelshark Project, which aims to protect the critically endangered shark, and a program aimed at safeguarding threatened sea turtles in São Tome and Príncipe.
🏆 Accredited by EAZA
📍 Genoa, Italy
Must see: Manatees
In terms of an aquatic experience, the Aquarium of Genoa is one of the coolest aquariums in the world.
Visitors begin their journey with an immersive video that puts into context the vast bodies of water that cover our planet. Then, it’s on to find its huge collection of animals – 15,000 of them.
Guests can brave the darkness in search of moray eels slinking about in their caves, or go nose-to-nose with blood-hungry predators at the Shark Bay. There are bottlenose dolphins, Antarctic penguins, common seals, and sea urchins whose spines would have Goliath hopping around in agony. You can even swim with long-extinct sea monsters… in the VR experience.
The celebrities of Genoa Aquarium reside in the Lagoon of the Sirens. You don’t need to worry about scantily clad temptresses whose song will have you sleeping with the fishes. No, this area of the aquarium is home to beautiful, curvaceous manatees. Genoa’s is one of only a handful to house these herbivorous mammals – a treat, even for regular aquarium goers.
Like all of the aquariums on this list, Genoa’s foremost aim is to raise awareness in the general public of the issues facing marine environments. It’s also involved, through its conservation foundation, in various initiatives, including working to protect the vulnerable bottlenose dolphin in the Mediterranean. Now that’s an aquarium with a porpoise.
🏆 Accredited by AZA
📍 Vancouver, Canada
Must see: Otters, jellyfish, and dolphins
With over 30 exhibits, 50,000 animals, and a research and conservation center admired around the globe, Vancouver’s non-profit Aquarium is considered one of the best aquariums on Earth.
Locals and tourists alike can discover species native to the rocky Pacific coast of British Columbia in Treasures of the B.C. Coast. See if you can spot a tiny marvel, the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker, gasping for air among the weeds.
Guests can experience the diversity and humidity of the rainforest in the Graham Amazon Gallery, and walk around wide-eyed among schools of colorful fish in the Tropics. The Wondrous Jellies exhibit is one of the best jellyfish spectacles you’re likely to see.
Vancouver Aquarium is home to Ocean Wise, its research and conservation center, which focuses on protecting and restoring the world’s oceans. Together, they work on numerous initiatives, at the aquarium, in their backyard, and around the world.
Through Ocean Wise, the aquarium rescues and rehabilitates over 150 marine mammals every year. Your ticket money goes directly to needy animals!
🏆 Accredited by JAZA
📍 Osaka, Japan
Must see: Japanese spider crabs and whale sharks
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is one of Japan’s most popular aquariums, with a specific focus on the animals of the Pacific Rim.
The presentation of the exhibits at Kaiyukan is what makes it one of the coolest aquariums in the world, and the wonder begins the moment guests walk through the Aqua Gate into a tunnel of ocean blue.
The Pacific Ocean covers a third of the world’s surface, so you can imagine just how many curious critters go about their business beneath the ebb and flow.
Represented at Kaiyukan are hammerheads, whale sharks, octopuses, loggerhead turtles, and cute, wide-eyed, but extremely poisonous porcupine fish. See squadrons of squid and packs of piranhas. The Japanese spider crabs, terrifying and alluring in equal measure, can reach a whopping 12 feet in size.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is linked closely with the Osaka Aquarium Biological Research Institute of Iburi Center.
🏆 Accredited by AZA & WAZA
📍 Sentosa Island, Singapore
Must see: Silvertip sharks & manta rays
One of the largest aquariums in the world, and certainly one of the best, S.E.A. Aquarium is the shimmering jewel of Sentosa Island in Singapore.
There are over 100,000 specimens living within its spacious tanks. Imagine if someone organized them into some kind of naval force. The world wouldn’t stand a chance.
There are 10 different zones encompassing 50 habitats. Visitors embark on a voyage of discovery, travelling from the Strait of Karimata to the Red Sea, and far, far beyond.
There’s an abundance of sharks, as many as 200, ranging from man-eaters to bottom-feeders, plus graceful manta rays, monogamous seahorses, Nemo-like clownfish, and giant Pacific octopuses that could pass the Harvard entry exam.
The Open Ocean exhibit is what sets S.E.A. apart as one of the best aquariums in the world. You’ll feel like you’re standing on the ocean floor as you peer through its gigantic viewing window at the world of teeming sea life inside.
Through its conservation crew, the Guardians of the S.E.A.A., the aquarium seeks to protect the ocean by partnering with the community in a range of admirable initiatives. Its most successful projects include reducing single-use plastics in schools, as well as reef and beach clean-up drives.
🏆 Accredited by AZA
📍 San Francisco, United States
Don’t miss: River otters & bat rays
Aquarium of the Bay proves you don’t have to ship in aquatic wonders from around the world to provide a remarkable aquarium. Theirs is home to over 20,000 marine animals, focusing on the diversity of life within the waters of Northern California.
Found on the famous Pier 39, the non-profit Aquarium of the Bay is full of interesting local characters. There are California sheepheads, who decide their own gender; fearsome bat rays, who crush their food with iron jaws and fight off predators with venomous spines; and friendly sevengill sharks, known to roam the shallows of San Francisco Bay for up to 32 years.
You can immerse yourself (not literally, as tempting as it might be) in the ecosystems of San Francisco Bay by exploring its differing depths, nooks and crannies, and be enamoured by its array of residents as you flow through a range of crystal-clear tunnels.
Aquarium of the Bay works towards a mission of facilitating “the progression of climate resilience and ocean conservation”. From breeding and rescue initiatives, to science and nature programs in schools, Aquarium of the Bay is a bastion of ocean research and education in and around the Bay Area.
It also engages in in-house sustainability projects, focused on waste diversion, water and energy conservation, and pollution prevention.
11. The Deep
🏆 Accredited by WAZA
📍 Hull, United Kingdom
Must see: Green sawfish
Hull, in England’s North East, almost certainly isn’t the first place you think of when it comes to the world’s greatest aquariums. But East Yorkshire’s small, award-winning, proudly non-profit, and conservation-first aquarium is one of the best.
Across nine zones, visitors can see sharks, stingrays, gentoo penguins, tropical fish, poisonous frogs, and much more. One of the exhibits is called Slime, and, rather than being full of flailing politicians, it’s dedicated to creatures who depend on goo to survive – clownfish, eels, and the elusive scribbled pipefish.
The Deep also provides sanctuary for the UK’s only pair of green sawfish, which are critically endangered in the wild. Sawfish are just one of the species benefiting from The Deep’s conservation focus.
It contributes to European Breeding Programmes, with success stories including zebra sharks and Madagascan killifish. It also supports conservation projects around the world, and has worked to protect sawfish in Africa, penguins in the Galapagos Islands, sea turtles in the United States, coral in Belize, and, closer to home, Tansy Beetles in York.
🏆 Accredited by EAZA & WAZA
📍 Copenhagen, Denmark
Must see: Giant Pacific octopus
Denmark is a hub for architects, so it’s only right that its National Aquarium is as much an architectural masterpiece as it is a haven for aquatic animals.
Visitors to Copenhagen’s Blue Planet (Den Blå Planet) first set eyes upon its award-winning, whale-shaped facade, before heading inside for an audience with over 400 different species.
The largest aquarium in Northern Europe allows you to drift around the waters of the world without ever leaving the cool climes of Scandinavia. See warty stonefish, electric eels, snapping turtles, and birds from the Faroe Islands. The aquarium is also home to a rather intelligent giant Pacific octopus with 2,000 suction cups. It can even unscrew the lid of a jam jar – remember that next time you’re struggling!
And it’s not just the teeming tanks that fascinate. Blue Planet provides visitors with a noted digital exhibition that allows children and inquisitive adults alike to learn about the subtleties and intricacies of sea life through interactive exhibits.
On the conservation front, Den Blå Planet joins forces with researchers, fellow aquariums, NGOs, and initiatives in the Nordic region and beyond. Its collaborations have included revealing research studies on the Greenland shark, a mysterious species that scientists believe can live for as long as 250 to 500 years in the ice-cold waters around Greenland and Canada.
Where is the largest aquarium in the world?
The largest aquarium in the world is China’s Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, as confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records. It boasts enclosures filled with almost 13 million gallons of water.
Where is the oldest aquarium in the world?
The oldest aquarium in the world is Brighton Aquarium, now SEA LIFE Brighton. The UK aquarium opened its doors on Saturday August 10, 1872 and is still going strong today!
Where is the largest aquarium viewing window in the world?
If you want to feel like you’re under the sea without getting your feet wet, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in China has the world’s largest aquarium viewing window, measuring 39.6 by 8 meters. The Hengqin aquarium also boasts the largest underwater viewing dome and largest aquarium tank.
Where is the longest aquarium tunnel in the world?
Measuring 155 meters long, Shanghai Ocean Aquarium boats the world’s longest aquarium tunnel.