The Ultimate Guide to the National Aquarium In Baltimore
The National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD is one of the coolest fun things to do with kids in Maryland! Check out this ultimate guide to maximizing your fun!
I was worried she would be scared. As we descended into the depths of the Blacktip Reef, it got darker and darker in the exhibition hall. Sharks and giant Manta Ray’s swam past the ginormous aquarium windows, daring us to to tap on the glass. My daughter pressed closer and closer into her Daddy’s chest.
I could tell she was starting to panic. But then, she saw them!
Related: Check out the Kid Friendly Maryland comprehensive resource for parents: Things To Do In Maryland With Kids!
A pair of scuba divers appeared, likely feeding the animals in the exhibit. She pointed at one of them, and as we moved closer to the tank, she caught his eye. The diver then swam over to the glass and started waving at her. At one point their faces were mere inches from each other.
It was a magical moment… and after that, my daughter was absolutely thrilled to be there. The Blacktip Reef is just one of the many reasons why the National Aquarium is one of the coolest Fun Things to Do With Kids in Baltimore!
Three Story Waterfall
When you enter the National Aquarium in Baltimore, you are immediately funneled past this cool waterfall, on the ground floor. It is a great appetizer for the rest of the Aquarium. Once you get your official Aquarium photo taken (tip: you don’t have to get this photo taken, but the Aquarium workers did mention it serves as a security measure as well as a souvenir opportunity), you will have to take the escalator to the second floor.
At that point you will likely feel compelled to walk straight forward towards the bubbles and the upper part of the giant Blacktip Reef tank. Don’t do it! Break off from the rest of the visitors, turn left, and go up the second escalator. At that point you will enter ‘Australia: Wild Extremes,’ and you will immediately be treated to a bird’s eye view of that waterfall. It is very photo worthy!
Australia: Wild Extremes
The Australia exhibit is actually one of my favorite parts of the National Aquarium. Here is the thing though– if you are not careful you might miss it.
Why? Well, if you follow most visitors to the Blacktip Reef, the flow of the Aquarium is to take escalators up past multiple floors of neat exhibits and then descend down to the bowels of the Blackip Reef, where the sharks reside. At the top of the Aquarium, you are guided through the Amazon. However, nothing funnels visitors to Australia. We actually missed it the first few times we visited. There are so many neat animals on display here though.
There are a few varieties of lizards that are fun to watch.
This little turtle was determined to climb the rocky wall. I don’t think I have ever seen a turtle so active before!
The crocodile’s eyes popped out of the water.. and settled on my daughter. I bet he thought she would make a tasty snack! (joking of course)
After you leave the Australia exhibit, you can rejoin everyone else at the entrance to Blacktip Reef. If you have young kids, the bubble machines at the entrance to the reef will be a huge hit. Sweet Pea has loved flitting in and out of these bubble tubes every time we have visited the aquarium.
The Top of the Blacktip Reef
The top of the huge Blacktip Reef tank is mesmerizing in and of itself. It is also a very impressive prelude to the treasures you will find below. From the top of the tank, you can often see sharks and giant rays swimming right by you.
From this part of the aquarium, there is (literally) no place to go but up (sorry for the pun. I couldn’t resist). Follow the escalators to the upper levels of the aquarium, where there are numerous fun surprises!
Living Seashore Touch Pools
On level 3 of the Blue Wonders section of the aquarium are some AMAZING touch pools. The Living Seashore is comprised of two main touch pools. It gives visitors (and is a huge hit with kids) the opportunity to touch stingrays, crabs, and jelly fish (yes, you read that correctly… you get to touch a jelly fish!).
How would you like to pet this crabby guy?
The stingrays are actually quite playful. They might even smile at you! (ok, not really… but it kind of looks like it)
And now, the Jelly Fish. These are the jellies you can actually touch. Creepy, I know… but so cool! In case you are wondering, no– they are not able to hurt you.
Other gorgeous marine animals and wildlife!
The National Aquarium has a unique mish-mash of super cool marine animals and wildlife: Puffins? Check. Electric eels? Check. Giant Octopus? Yep.. that have all of them.
The aquarium has a few very pretty tanks full of colorful tropical fish, anemones, and other tropical wildlife. Your kids will shriek with delight as they see Dory and Nemo. Hey, wait a second? Are those Bubble Guppies in there?
Top of the Aquarium Snack Area
When you reach the top floor of the Atlantic-Pacific exhibit area, you can escape the dark and have a snack with a view. This snack area is not always open, but if it is take a load off and let your kids walk along the ledge next to the huge windows. From here, you have one of the best views of the Inner Harbor.
On a clear day, the view is spectacular! If you turn left out of the snack area you can go up one more floor to visit the Amazon Jungle. If you turn right, you can start your descent into the bowels of the Blacktip Reef… to see the sharks.
Ok, I am going to level with you for a minute. I am not a huge fan of this section of the aquarium. There is nothing wrong with it, except we have rarely seen any of the wildlife on exhibit here. If you child is starting to get cranky and you want to cut something on your tour… I would skip this section and head straight for the sharks.
Still, there are some really interesting and impressive animals in the exhibit. We actually were able to see this lovely Macaw during one of the aquarium’s animal encounters. If you are lucky you can see a sloth too!
Perhaps the most impressive exhibit in the National Aquarium is the lower levels of the Blacktip Reef. As you descend down the ramps, getting deeper and deeper into the bowels of the man-made ocean habitat, numerous species of sharks glide by, sharp teeth poised to strike. It will send shivers down your spine.
You will be thrilled! Your kids will be thrilled! You literally walk into middle of the sharks, with huge windows surrounding you. The windows have ledges that are convenient for little legs to stand on and get super close to the sharks, as well as the other animals in this exhibit like the giant Whiptail Ray, turtles, and many varieties of fish.
The moment our daughter was hooked on the aquarium. A face-to-face encounter with… a scuba diver!
The Bottom of Black Tip Reef
At the bottom on the Blacktip Reef tank, be sure to check out the floor-to-ceiling pop out viewing area. You can easily get mesmerized here and we typically stay for quite a while. If you think you can get close to the marine life on the top, you can literally get nose to nose with the fish, sharks, and more down here!
The National Aquarium is home to eight bottlenose dolphins. In the past, the aquarium put on a dolphin show. However, in an effort to be dolphin-friendly, that show was changed to the current dolphin discovery program. Visitors can watch the dolphins swim and play in the habitat, and the marine mammal specialists are on hand to answer questions about the dolphins.
The other major exhibit in the Pier Four Pavilion is Jellies Invasion. This is a relatively small exhibit, but one of my favorite parts of the aquarium. There are eight species of jellyfish on exhibit and they are all just so beautiful and mesmerizing.
4-D Immersion Theatre
Guests can opt to see a 15-minute 4-D Immersion Film, which is like a 3-D film, but with additional special effects. These are actually pretty cool!
The Immersion Tours
The National Aquarium also offers a variety of super interesting and downright cool immersion opportunities. For an extra cost, you can get up close to the sharks, play with the dolphins, or go behind the scenes in other ways.
Know Before You Go:
- The National Aquarium is located in the Inner Harbor. You will need to park in a nearby parking garage. The two most convenient parking garages are the Lockwood Place Parking Garage and the LAZ Inner Harbor Parking Garage. Both of these parking garages honor parking validation discounts from the aquarium.
- The National Aquarium is a no-stroller zone. You can wheel your stroller to the aquarium, but will have to park it once inside. It is wheelchair accessible, but strollers are not allowed inside the aquarium.
- Ticket prices are a bit steep. Ok, ticket prices are really expensive. Children under 3 years old are free. However, the price for kids 3-11 is $29.95 and the prices for adults is $39.95! Ouch! For this reason, many people wait until dollar days to visit the aquarium… but then you run into the other problem: over-crowding. So, if this is a place you really want to visit, budget accordingly.
- There are timed-entry tickets. This is good news, mostly. Theoretically, timed entry means the aquarium won’t get too crowded. It doesn’t exactly work like that. The aquarium is a major tourist attraction and will be really busy most of the time. However, if you can visit outside of the prime time (so, early or late on weekends.. or during the week), you will have a much better experience. This is one place where the crowds can feel incredibly claustrophobic.
- Food options inside the Aquarium: There are two restaurant/dining areas in the aquarium. The Harbor Market Cafe (near the dolphins and jelly fish) is decent, especially if you want something quick. However, the better option is the Harbor Market Kitchen near the entrance to the aquarium.
- Of course, there are a ton of dining options near the National Aquarium. You don’t have to eat there. Within one block of the Aquarium there is a Panera Bread, Corner Cafe, Steak and Shake, and Chipotle.
Best Pro Tip For Visiting the National Aquarium
We have used this tip numerous times and it has never not worked. The National Aquarium is a major tourist attraction. There will never be a time of the year that it won’t be busy. And clearly weekends and non-school days are going to be busier than weekdays.
But regardless of when you visit, if you arrive around 3pm, you will have a MUCH better experience. The aquarium typically closes at 5pm so 2 hours doesn’t seem like a lot. But trust me. At 3pm go through the exhibits like you normally would.. and opt to check out any shows or the Dolphin demonstration in the first hour.
Then around 4pm go through the Black Tip Reef (top and bottom). We have always found the touch pools were almost empty by 430pm, and you will also have Shark Alley to yourself. The aquarium totally empties out!
If you are planning a visit to the DC-Baltimore Area, I would highly recommend checking out the National Aquarium. If you live in this area, make plans to take your kids here soon! Trust me, you all will love it!