The Tennessee Aquarium takes visitors through three living forests under glass and puts them eye to eye with 10-foot sharks, giant spider crabs, river otters and alligators.
I've always loved the Tennessee Aquarium, and now it has grown even larger! Chloe, my little naturalist, just can't get enough. Despite having been to the Monterey Aquarium just a month earlier, she had to find every turtle, fish and sea horse there. She loved the touch pool. Unfortunately, we only had a fleeting glimpse of the sea otters. Both girls liked the "bubble heads", but Chloe found the other kids to be a bit pushy. Next time, the girls want to bring swimsuits to play in the "waterpark" out from of the aquarium.
I visited the Tennessee Aquarium with my two young boys recently, and we spent an entire day having fun with the animals. The aquarium is on a large piece of land at the end of Broad Street, in downtown Chattanooga. We visited the animals in the first building, then headed for an ice cream break at Ben and Jerry’s, right on the corner. We walked to the IMAX building for a showing of Great White Shark 3D, then grabbed some lunch at a restaurant only a ½ block away. We returned to the aquarium campus and toured the second building of animals, and we finished the day by exploring the grounds of the property and playing in the water out front.
The Tennessee Aquarium is one of our all-time favorite places to see animals (and Family Fun magazine agrees, putting them in the Top 10 for 2013.) Here are a few highlights of our adventure.
The layout of this attraction is one of my favorite things. While it is entirely self-guided and visitors set their own pace, the escalators, walkways, ramps, and exhibits easily guide you through three floors in one building (Ocean Journey) and four floors in the second building (River Journey). This ensures you see every exhibit, without missing anything. It also is great for smaller children because they don’t feel overwhelmed, and it helps weave a story they can easily understand. It is simple to skip a section or head out of the building entirely, if necessary, but the passive guidance through the exhibits helped this mom alone with two kiddos to stay calm and at ease while we toured.
On the top floor of Ocean Journey is a large live butterfly exhibit. With gorgeous flowers and walls of light, these small creatures live the good life. You can walk into the room and see them feasting on pieces of fruit, flying through the air, and landing on flowers (or on you!)
The penguins are on the second floor of Ocean Journey. My son loved this exhibit! A ledge along the wall allowed him to climb up and see them closer. They were so curious, coming to the window to gaze at him and dance in the water in front of him. It was almost as if they had a secret communication system.
We moved to the second building, and took the elevator to the top floor to start our tour. There are floor-to-ceiling glass walls on two sides here, making it possible to see the Tennessee River, boats, bridges and more. When my son reached the top he exclaimed, “Can you believe how much there is to do here?”
In this building, we loved the jellyfish room. The dim lights made them glow beautifully and peacefully. My son enjoyed the sea dragons and the Ranger Rick room. But our favorite part was the multi-story tank filled with sharks and other large sea giants. As you wind your way from room to room, a ramp guides you down each floor in the building. The highlight is walking alongside the multi-story tank as you transition into each new exhibit.
There were several opportunities to interact with the animals. The very first exhibit included a tank with stingrays and small sharks that kids could touch. Visitors engage with the butterflies in the large butterfly exhibit. In the second building we touched a large python snake skin and petted fish in a tank. There are also bird shows, dive shows, and penguin keeper talks regularly scheduled throughout the day.
The Outside Campus
The campus surrounding the Aquarium buildings is full of fun for kids. There is a “stream” running through the grounds that seemingly “breaks” the concrete. Kids can get their feet wet here and splash around a bit. There are large art sculptures, ramps and stairs, and other ways to explore. We spent almost 2 hours enjoying the outside features. I was lucky to have an extra set of clothes in the car since my son decided to lay his entire body in the makeshift creek. If your kids fancy themselves fish as well, you might also consider bringing a change of clothes, and encouraging the exploration of this area after you have finished touring the buildings.
A few other things to note for new visitors.
- There is a new Otter exhibit coming next spring that will be 3x larger than what they have now so put it on your calendar.
- There is a Cell Phone Audio Tour available at the aquarium that older kids will enjoy
- A backstage VIP pass is available at a reasonable rate that allows you to interact with the animals for about 45 minutes
- Homeschool Day in September each year has some great programs for homeschool families
- IMAX is extra, but it worth it. Check the shows and times when you buy tickets for the aquarium. The building is right on the campus. See our separate review about IMAX.
- River Gorge Explorer is a fun way to tour the city from the water. Tickets are extra, but it departs right from the Aquarium campus.
- If you are visiting Chattanooga and need a hotel, see the Aquarium website for their hotel partners. Many of them offer special aquarium packaging. We stayed at The Chattanoogan (a separate review is available) and enjoyed it very much.
There is a small food and drink truck outside the aquarium, which was not open while we were there. There is not a cafeteria or restaurant inside the aquarium. We did not find this an issue, though, since there are several eateries within walking distance. We enjoyed lunch at Big River Grille & Brewing Works (very kid friendly and welcoming) which is on the corner of the Aquarium campus. We also had ice cream treats at Ben and Jerry’s, which is on the other corner of the campus and en route to the IMAX building.
If you are looking for more fun, the Aquarium is a great place to start, but don’t end there. It is near several restaurants. The Children’s Museum is only two blocks away. You are only about seven miles from Rock City, Ruby Falls, and the Incline Railway. Two blocks the other direction is Hunter Museum of American Art, which has an outdoor sculpture garden. Finally, a great way to end the day is to take a walk one block south to Walnut Street Bridge, the world’s longest pedestrian bridge. You can get a great photo of the Aquarium from here!
Add this to your must-see list while visiting Chattanooga; you don’t want to miss it. I look forward to returning with my family again and again.
I received complimentary tickets from the Tennessee Aquarium in order to give you the scoop. As always, this review is honest and completely my own.
The Tennessee Aquarium is a favorite destination for our family; we live in Georgia but make the trek up to this aquarium several times a year. It is just that good. We have been to several other aquariums on the area and this is hands down our favorite.
The aquarium is located in downtown Chattanooga right on the Tennessee River. There are several fantastic restaurants and other attractions within walking distance of the aquarium. Downtown Chattanooga is especially charming and I could write so much on that, but I’ll save that for another post.
The price is $24.95 for an adult and $14.95 for children 3-12. We always purchase the family membership for $115 per year that gets our entire family unlimited admission for the year, plus special discounts. There is also a 10% military discount for active or retired members of the military with valid military ID.
The aquarium itself is amazing; it is set up in 2 buildings, one for ocean life and one for river life. Each building has several interactive exhibits that allow kids to get up close and personal with various species. My kids 2 favorites are the butterfly exhibit and the stingray tank. In the butterfly habitat, we have had several butterflies land on us and stick around for a while. It is a thrill every time.
The kids also love the animal encounters in the Ranger Rick’ Backyard Safari. They have animal encounters there at different times during the day, make sure to fit in at least one, you’ll be very glad you did.
The aquarium is able to handle large amounts of people easily so that it never seems crowded. It is easy to move through and really get to enjoy each exhibit without feeling rushed to get through it. You could easily spend the day there and still not see everything this aquarium has to offer. I could spend hours at the giant tank just watching the sharks and fish swim.
The cafeteria is nothing spectacular, since you have re-entry throughout the day with your ticket, I would suggest walking to one of the nearby restaurants like Chee-Burger, Chee-Burger or Big River Grille for lunch, or even for dinner after the aquarium closes.
If you go in the summer, make sure to allow for time for the kids to wade and play in the creek in front of the aquarium. Bring towels though, somebody always falls in :)
If you are in the area, definitely make it a priority to visit this aquarium.
This aquarium is a great place for the entire family. I mean grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even a brother or sister if you dare. They have easy access elevators and escalators with the paths sloping in and out of the exhibits making strollers and wheelchairs easy to maneuver. We have been here more times than I care to count and we never grow tired of watching the well taken car of animals. During school breaks, they have extra shows and activities like feeding shrimp to sting rays, dive shows, and bird shows. But they have great shows everyday. We love going on cloudy days or late in the evening when animals like the otters perk up. The penguins and butterflies in Ocean Journey building are a do not miss.
Doing both buildings in a day is doable, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you have plenty of time and energy. Ocean Journey building is the more exciting of the two and smaller. Great for an hour or two visit.
River Journey has the Ranger Rick shows in the bottom level with all sorts of animal encounters. This building wears me out. If you pass a bathroom, ask the kiddos if they've got to go! We've had times where we were running with a kid trying to weave in and out of galleries and trying to find elevators to a bathroom. They ARE NOT available in every gallery on every floor. Those who have potty trainers have been warned. :)
If the price scares you, look into a group year pass even if you are going just once, sometimes it is cheaper if you have a large enough group. Homeschool days and other events also allow for discounts. Great family outing and I wouldn't hesitate going with anyone. Something for everyone to love.
Compared to other aquariums- this one seems dark to me. Maybe it's cause it is older but seems not as interactive. Who knows though-- maybe they've changed things recently. However, a plus is its in Chattanooga and there is TONS to do in that city-- especially for children.
We love this place. Not only it is located on the river with a beautiful outside scenes but also inside it is a wonderful aqua park full of life and creatures you will not need a lot of time to see everything so plan something else to see in the neighborhood. We had our4 y.o. son so the aquarium was more then enough, plus after we went for Ben&Jerry's ice cream shop located just on the corner.And this was just wonderful.
This is one of the best aquarium we've visited before. I admit that it's expensive when we all go, but it worth the money to spend all day long there with my family. My kids love the big aquarium to see all kinds of big and small fish, but I have to say their favorite is watching otters playing each other. We usually go there for the morning since it gets crowded in the afternoon, and then we go for lunch and then come back for more fun together.
My oldest daughter Olivia loves this. You could look right above your head and there would be sharks and sting rays sea horses anything and everything was here and it was hands on we loved getting to touch the sting rays and taking pictures and learning things we never knew before. We will make sure we come back here with her sister this time. It is something the whole family will enjoy doing together.
This was such a fun outing! We thoroughly enjoyed the aquarium and the IMAX theater experience. The penguins were a big hit with our group. There were stations set up where you could touch animals. It was very impressive overall. We will definitely go again and take the kids!
This is am amazing aquarium. It is perfect for kids of all ages (but lots of walking - so take the stroller). It really takes an entire day to go through it - so enjoy it and take your time! Plus - it's within walking distance to lots of other destinations in downtown Chattanooga!
This aquarium has been my favorite to visit. It's so gorgeous inside and I love the way it's set up. It's a long ramp inside so the kids don't have to worry about climbing stairs. It's a ton of fun to see all the sea animals up close and in person. We were amazed at all the animals since the aquarium had many that we had never seen before. Easily spend all day here!
We stayed near the aquarium in downtown chattanooga and enjoyed being able to walk their and to the other attractions nearby. Had I not also been to the Georgia Aquarium, then I would rank this higher, but this one did not have as many exhibits, or "big ticket" animals.
The Tennessee Aquarium is located in Down Town Chattanooga, right along the Tennessee River. It is made up of two buildings and has some very interesting creatures. There are lots of huge viewing areas where you can see sharks and all kinds of other fish swimming about. They even now have penguins! They are so cute! The butterfly room is amazing and the butterflies will land right on you! My little boys favorite was the otters! You can see them from above or actually see them thru a glass wall! It is so neat! There is a tank where you can pet the sting-rays, and the staff is very informative. There are very cook water features outside the aquarium as well. It's a great place to have fun in the summer!
Great place for families and easy to spend most of your day here. With two buildings full of things to see. It is amazing. You start out on a escalator that takes you to the top of the building and then walk you way down viewing some of the most amazing fish. Loved the butterfly room, Ray petting tank, and the sharks. There is even a lot to do outside the Aquarium. There are small streams and fountains all over the front area for kids to play in...adults too.If you go to the website they have some wonderful hotel deals where you get your Aquarium tickets and IMAX tickets included.
The Tennessee Aquarium is by far the best aquarium I have EVER visited. I love the fact that it has 3 separate buildings that is FILLED with wonderful aquatic exhibits. All the exhibits are set up so wonderfully. It provides a beautiful scenery that is filled with education and fun. I have traveled hours just to go visit it. It is my favorite!
I took my 3 year old son to this aquarium and it was fun for him. Its not a place where we could go and spend all day but we stayed a couple hours. There are also very neat places to eat around it and the river is right behind it. There was some fun water spots to play in right outside the aquarium. The gift shop was also fun and cheap.
We've been to this Aquarium many times. It's a bit pricey but is really a great Aquarium. They have 2 huge buildings and not only have fish and other sea creatures, but they have a butterfly garden and some reptiles and amphibians. This aquarium takes a long time to go through so if you have to drive from very far to get here plan on only doing this or staying the night. I recommend buying your tickets online the day before, as the lines can get very long for purchasing tickets.
We live in Chattanooga and have enjoyed many visits to the Tennessee Aquarium. If you have small children, you might want to consider visiting one building in the morning, taking a lunch break and then returning for the second building. Another idea would be to check the website ahead of time to learn the times that different animals are being fed--esp. the penguins and river otters.
If you can only do one activity in Chattanooga, this is it.
If this place were to have a drawback, this would be the sheer size of it - by the end, you might be skipping some of the exhibits because you've getting tired. Fortunately the layout gives you a lot of leeway to tailor your visit.
There is a "master path" that winds through the center of building. This alone will give you at least as much of the aquarium experience as most other places, but at almost every corner on every floor there is an extra path that takes you to a special exhibit. If you stop to view all of these you can plan on spending two or three hours inside. A nice feature of the main path is that it is on a moving sidewalk, so you can visit each exhibit and then get a short rest watching one of the huge main tanks while you are carried to the next one. If some of your party are tired or need a break, and the others want to keep going, you can also sit down and enjoy the main tank while the others go through one of the extra exhibits. This makes it a good place to take grandparents, toddlers, or others who might tire more easily than the rest of the family.
You will want to stop by the gift shop afterward. It has so many great souvenirs - the hardest part might be not buying all of the absolutely adorable plushes!
If there is a line to get in (which there usually isn't) or if your kids have some energy left to burn afterward, the area outside is a great one to play. There are things to climb on , a small stream, etc.
Okay...being from the Atlanta area, I really wanted to believe that the Georgia Aquarium was going to be the best aquarium ever...but it's not. The Tennessee Aquarium is much more kid friendly, stroller accessible, and the outside wading pools for the kids are phenomenal! Chattanooga is such a family friendly location these days--and that's largely thanks to the Tennessee Aquarium!