Boston is a city of water – from the harbor to the Charles River to the brooks and ponds of the Fenway, you won’t venture far without encountering something aquatic. So it stands to reason that the New England Aquarium (which is situated right on a wharf in the heart of the Boston Harbor waterfront) would be an excellent one and well worth a visit.
Please click on the photos to see a gallery of full-sized versions.
The main area of the aquarium is taken up with the Giant Ocean Tank, at the bottom of which sits the penguin exhibit. We loved watching these funny birds swim and play and preen, and were also lucky to happen by as they were being fed.
Wandering up the circular walkway that surrounds the huge tank, we marveled at the vast amount of marine life swimming past us. The tank is set up like a Caribbean coral reef and is so big that it was actually constructed before the rest of the aquarium, which was built around it. Teddy was especially enthralled by Myrtle, the giant sea turtle, who was given her breakfast while we watched and then swam up to the edge of the tank as if saying hello.
At the top of the Giant Ocean Tank we visited the Edge of the Sea Touch Tank, where visitors are encouraged to get up close and personal with animals you might find in a tidal pool at the beach.
On the way back down, we visited the sea anemones in the Northern Waters gallery,
spent some time trying out the interactive exhibits about topics like tides and sound waves in the Thinking Gallery,
and then marveled at the lion fish in the Tropical Gallery.
Without question, the highlight of our visit (and the exhibit where we spent the most time) was the Shark & Ray Touch Tank.
The velvety rays here will swim right under your hands, although the sharks are more elusive. Apparently they don’t like loud noise and since the children, to say nothing of the grownups, were utterly unable to keep their voices at a reasonable pitch in the excitement of trying to touch sharks, the room is full of a perpetual din. But patience paid off, and both Matt and Tommy had one of the Bonnethead sharks swim under their hands.
Throughout the aquarium, panels explain the importance of the animals to the Earth’s ecosystem, and I was grateful for (if also sobered by) this information. The kids would occasionally stop to read, but the incredible closeness of all the animals meant that their aquarium experience was more visceral than studied – they just wanted to see and feel. And I think this was just fine. I mean, if you’ve touched a shark, you understand that it means you no harm and also that it actually exists out there swimming quietly in the clear water. What better educational tool can there be than to look straight into the face of nature and to touch it with your own hands?
- I’ve been to this aquarium twice, both times in the middle of the summer. On both occasions, we arrived midday to find that it was very crowded and also quite loud as a consequence (everything echoes inside the main aquarium space). If you are planning to visit during school vacations or weekends with young children, I recommend arriving as soon as they open (which is 9 a.m. on most days) so that you have a chance to see everything in relative peace. You might also buy your tickets in advance online to avoid the lines. Another option would be to purchase a Go Select Pass or Go Boston Card from Smart Destinations, which will also save you money off the full-price admission.
- The Aquarium offers a number of presentations throughout the day, including penguin feedings and seal training. Check the website before your visit for the daily schedule so that you can make sure to arrive early and get a good spot for viewing. It’s also a good idea to check to see if any exhibits will be closed, as they periodically are for maintenance.
- There is a café where you can purchase lunch, but the Aquarium is also located steps from all of the restaurants and shops available at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which also offers some open public areas where kids can get their wiggles out. It’s also an easy walk across the street to the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway, where in warmer months you’ll find food trucks, a carousel, and fountains for children to play in.
- We spent half a day at the aquarium, which was plenty of time, although had we wanted to see an IMAX movie we would have stayed longer.
Interested in more posts about Boston? Be sure to check out:
- Marriott’s Custom House: A family-friendly Boston hotel
- Giacomo’s: A great Boston restaurant for families
- Museum of Science in Boston: Fun enough for a day and then some
- Family fun at Fenway
- Breakfast and books in Beantown
- Walking the Freedom Trail with kids
- A lesson in history at the Old South Meeting House
- Fountain fun in Boston