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Grandparents' guide to the National Marine Aquarium

7th March 2024

The National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth (also known as Plymouth Aquarium) is the biggest aquarium in the UK, drawing visitors from all over the country. This sanctuary for marine life is home to a collection of fascinating aquatic creatures, fun exhibits, and family fun, providing plenty of interest for both young and old. As a result, the National Marine Aquarium makes for the perfect day out for grandparents and their grandchildren.

In this article, you will discover helpful information, such as where to get tickets, National Marine Aquarium opening times, how to get to the aquarium, and what you can look forward to seeing during a visit with the grandkids. For anyone with limited mobility, you can also learn about the accessibility at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth. So, use the contents below to find the information you need and start planning a fascinating trip to the National Marine Aquarium.


  • How to get to the National Marine Aquarium
  • Opening times
  • Tickets
  • Accessibility
  • What to see and do
  • Food and drink
  • Hotels nearby

How to get to the National Marine Aquarium

Where is the National Marine Aquarium?

The National Marine Aquarium is located in the Coxside area in the city of Plymouth, Devon.

National Marine Aquarium address: The National Marine Aquarium, Rope Walk, Coxside, Plymouth, PL4 0LF.

How to go by car to the National Marine Aquarium

If you have a satnav or use something like Google Maps when you drive, you can pop the aquarium’s postcode or name into the route finder. To help you find the aquarium once you reach Plymouth, just follow the brown and white fish signs, which can be seen on all entry roads into the city.

Take the A38 to Marsh Mills and then the A374 Embankment Road; you will then see signs for the aquarium.

National Marine Aquarium parking: Sutton Harbour Car Park is the main parking area for the aquarium, which is located on the aquarium side of the bridge. Parking for three hours (the recommended visit duration), costs £4.50.

How to go by bus to the National Marine Aquarium

There are a number of bus routes that can take you close to the aquarium. CityBus 25 stops on the Barbican and CityBus 48 stops on Sutton Road, both of which are a 5-minute walk from the National Marine Aquarium.

You can plan your journey with Plymouth CityBus here.

How to go by train to the National Marine Aquarium

Travelling to Plymouth by train is a viable option for many. The aquarium is a 30-minute walk from Plymouth Train Station, which can be quite enjoyable on a nice day, or you can catch the 48 bus or a taxi from the station if you prefer.

Kate, from the blog My Family Fever, shares the following insight and tip about arriving at the aquarium: “There are two entry points – one for fast track passes and one for standard ticket holders. Be prepared for a small queue if you have the standard tickets, as it does get busy at times, but there is a covered area to wait in. Staff do check you in quickly and efficiently so you can get on with your visit as soon as possible.”

Further travel advice can be found on the visit page of the National Marine Aquarium's website.

National Marine Aquarium opening times

The National Marine Aquarium is open every day except for Christmas Day and Boxing Day – which is great news for grandparents and grandchildren. It doesn’t matter if you want to make plans for a weekend, school holiday, or random weekday; you can experience the delights of the aquarium whenever you want.

The aquarium is open between 10 am and 5 pm (except for Christmas Eve when it’s open 10 am to 3 pm) during the standard season. The last entry time for the National Marine Aquarium is 4 pm.

During the holiday seasons (peak times), the aquarium is open from 9.30 am to 5 pm (with the same last entry time of 4 pm).

Where to get National Marine Aquarium tickets

Booking your tickets for the National Marine Aquarium is easy; head to their website and click the ‘book tickets’ button. Then head to the ‘book entrance tickets’ page, select the type of ticket you want and choose the date.

It’s also worth noting that when booking, you will need to specify what time you would like to arrive, as the aquarium operates an arrival window to provide a stress-free welcome to all visitors.

Claire, from the family blog Devon with Kids, has been to the aquarium with her children and shared with us a tip about the tickets and a recommendation for once inside: “The National Marine Aquarium is a brilliant place to visit on a wet day so check the weather and book in advance as walk-up entry is not possible. We love the aquarium as there's so much to see, and it's really easy to explore, even with young children. My kids' favourite exhibit is the demi tunnel where you can sit under the creatures as they swim above your head.”

National Marine Aquarium prices

Currently, children under three years old get in for free, as do carers. Over 60s pay between £20.50 and £23 depending on the season, students between £17.50 and £20, children aged 3-15 cost between £11.25 and £12.50, and adults between £22.50 and £25.

The aquarium also offers 12 months of free visits to anyone who buys an admission ticket, meaning you can come back to the aquarium for free during the course of the next year.

How accessible is the National Marine Aquarium?

For those with limited mobility, it’s important that an attraction is accessible so that they can enjoy what is on offer. The good news is that you will find the aquarium in Plymouth to be very accessible.

The aquarium provides ramps or lifts throughout, and all corridors are wide enough to accommodate wheelchair users.

There is a ramped entrance to the main building, which is 300 metres from the aquarium’s three parking bays for disabled drivers (these must be booked in advance). These parking bays are located on the right-hand side behind the aquarium – use the postcode PL4 0DX for directions.

There are wheelchairs available to hire free of charge and free entry for carers. There are steps from the ticketing system into the aquarium itself, but a lift is available if you prefer.

All exhibits are designed to be viewed by wheelchair users, and there are rest areas located throughout the attraction. One exhibit requires a lift to access it.

There are disabled toilets available at the aquarium, and the café is accessible by ramp or lift.

National Marine Aquarium accessibility

  • Ramps or lifts throughout
  • Wide corridors
  • Ramped entrance
  • Parking bays for disabled drivers
  • All exhibits are wheelchair accessible
  • Rest areas
  • Free wheelchair hire
  • Free entry for carers
  • Disabled toilets
  • Accessible café

You can read the aquarium’s full accessibility statement here.

What is there to see and do at the National Marine Aquarium?

Explore the different zones and exhibits

The National Marine Aquarium has numerous exhibits and zones that you can explore. In total, there are four main zones and in each one there are different animals to discover.

From the local waters of Plymouth Sound to the world’s oceans, during your visit you will journey through them all and you will end up in the stunning Great Barrier Reef.

Here are some of the amazing zones and exhibits that you can discover at the aquarium:

  • Plymouth Sound: Being located on the waterfront, there had to be an exhibit on Plymouth Sound. This exhibit showcases some of the animals that are found in the rockpools around the coast and what wildlife lives beneath the waves.
  • Seagrass Shores: This zone looks at the importance of seagrass and how it acts as a nursery for many marine animals. You will discover what animals often use it as their home as well as the great work that is going on across the world to help restore this vital habitat.
  • Eddystone Reef: Located in the centre of the aquarium, you will find the Eddystone Reef exhibit, which is the largest single viewing panel in the UK and is home to a whole host of marine wildlife that live around the British coasts.
  • Ocean Drifters: This exhibit focuses on the lives of jellyfish and how these strange but beautiful creatures are found across the world’s oceans. You can even take a colourful photograph of these mesmerising animals.
  • Atlantic Ocean: Here you can see the UK’s deepest tank, holding 2.5 million litres of water. The walk around the tank allows visitors to see all the amazing animals from three different locations.
  • Biozone: The biozone area is home to colourful fish from warmer waters, and it highlights the unique animals that call the Ocean their home. There is a new seahorse cavern in this zone which only opened in 2023.
  • Seagrass Laboratory: This area of the aquarium houses a groundbreaking Seagrass Lab where scientists are working to grow this vital Ocean habitat. The doors of the lab are open so you can come in and look at it yourself.
  • Great Barrier Reef: The last zone at the aquarium is the spectacular Great Barrier Reef. It is a 650,000-litre reef exhibit and is home to some of the colourful fish that can be found in the waters around Australia.

Creatures to see

The National Marine Aquarium is home to some spectacular marine wildlife and below is a flavour of what visitors can see.

  • Common Lobster (Plymouth Sound)
  • Common Octopus (Plymouth Sound)
  • Spider Crab (Plymouth Sound)
  • Star Fish (Plymouth Sound)
  • Starry Smoothound Shark (Eddystone Reef)
  • Small Spotted Catshark (Eddystone Reef)
  • Cuckoo Wrasse (Eddystone Reef)
  • Blonde Ray (Eddystone Reef)
  • Sea Nettle Jellyfish (Ocean Drifters)
  • Moon Jellyfish (Ocean Drifters)
  • Green Turtle (Atlantic Ocean)
  • Zebra Shark (Atlantic Ocean)
  • Eagle Ray (Atlantic Ocean)
  • Sand Tiger Shark (Atlantic Ocean)
  • Copperband Butterflyfish (Biozone)
  • Cowfish (Biozone)
  • Clownfish (Biozone)
  • Frogfish (Biozone)
  • Regal Blue Tang (Biozone)
  • Lined Seahorse (Biozone)
  • Vampire Fish (Great Barrier Reef)
  • Black-spotted Pufferfish (Great Barrier Reef)
  • Bluespot Ray (Great Barrier Reef)
  • Humphead Wrasse (Great Barrier Reef)
  • Lionfish (Great Barrier Reef)
  • Eagle Ray (Great Barrier Reef)
  • Moorish Idol (Great Barrier Reef)

Events at the National Marine Aquarium

There are lots of National Marine Aquarium events that take place throughout the year, and there are some which are more regular. This section looks at some great events taking place at the aquarium.

Ocean Todds at the Aquarium

The Ocean Todds at the Aquarium are sessions which take place every week on a Tuesday morning from 10.30 to 11.30am. These sessions give parents and grandparents the opportunity to see the ocean through the eyes of a toddler and they are aimed at children aged between two and four years old.

There are adventures around the aquarium, crafts, songs and stories to name just some of the activities which are planned. These sessions aim to immerse little ones into the magic that the ocean has to offer.

Previous sessions include:

  • Introduction to the Pacific Ocean
  • Dazzling Dinosaurs
  • Giant Pacific Octopus

Snorkel at the Aquarium

For the first-time in its history, visitors can Snorkel at the Aquarium in its Atlantic Ocean tank. Visitors will climb into the snorkel-pen and share the water with stingrays, sharks, and a Green Turtle.

As part of this experience, you will speak to a marine biologist, receive behind the scenes access at the top of the tank, and then enjoy 20-minutes of snorkelling.

Feed the Turtle at the Aquarium

The Feed the Turtle at the Aquarium experience gives visitors an introduction into how food is prepared and the process behind feeding the 5,000 animals living in the aquarium.

You will also enjoy a demonstration of the equipment used to feed the animals, listen to an introduction about turtles from one of the aquarium’s supervisors, and feed Friday the Turtle.

Sleeping with sharks at the aquarium

The Sleeping with Sharks at the Aquarium event gives visitors an opportunity to see what happens in the underwater world at night.

This experience is designed for children and their guardians and will see you explore the aquarium at night before sleeping in front of the Eddystone Reef tank that contains fantastic local species such as sharks, crabs, lobsters and eels. Experts will also provide expert commentary and insights into the different animals you are watching.

You can find out more about the latest National Marine Aquarium events here.

Visit the soft play area

If you are visiting the aquarium with younger children, then one area that may prove popular with them is the soft play zone of the aquarium.

If the excitement of exploring the aquarium gets too much, the soft play area is a great place for youngsters to let off some steam. There are ladders, stairs, and climbing frames that children will love playing in, whilst adults can watch on and enjoy a hot or cold drink.

The National Marine Aquarium soft play area is open on weekends, school holidays, and during peak times.

How big is the National Marine Aquarium?

The National Marine Aquarium is the largest in the UK, and it is home to the largest water tank in the UK as well. With all the different zones, and a soft play area, there is plenty that will keep children and adults entertained.

Nigel, from the family lifestyle blog, DIY Daddy, has visited the aquarium and shared how long it took to enjoy the attraction: “The entire National Marine Aquarium took about 3 hours to complete and it is without doubt fantastic, informative and very interesting. I personally learnt so much from our visit and there are plenty of talks on the ocean and its species by experts. The girls loved it and were constantly asking questions which I thought was brilliant that they wanted to learn as much as possible about the world around them and in particular the oceans and its inhabitants because after all the oceans cover two thirds of our planet and the girls are very aware of this.”

Food and drink at the National Marine Aquarium

The National Marine Aquarium eateries serve up some delicious foods, and this section looks at the restaurants and cafes located at this iconic attraction.

Waves Café

The Waves Café overlooks the picturesque Barbican harbour and there is a range of hot food, sandwiches, teas, coffees, hot chocolates, cakes, biscuits, and pastries that you can enjoy.

There is a selection of bottled drinks and ice cream is also served if you're looking for a sweet treat.

Sea’cret Garden Outdoor Snack Shack

The snack shack at the aquarium is located in the gardens of the attraction and during the summer, visitors can grab a snack, an ice cream or a cold drink.

An added bonus of eating at the snack shack are the stunning views of the ocean and harbour, so you can sit back and watch the boats sailing in and out of Plymouth.

Picnic areas

You can bring your own food to the aquarium and there are several different spots located across the attraction where visitors can eat a packed lunch.

There are picnic areas in the Sea’Cret Garden, and there are inside areas, but the aquarium advises that you speak to an advisor, and they will direct you to the best picnic areas.

Hotels near the National Marine Aquarium

If you are heading to Plymouth with your grandchildren for a few days and are looking for hotels near the National Marine Aquarium, you will have many options. This section looks at some of the best hotels near Plymouth Aquarium.

Station House Plymouth

Station House Plymouth is a guest house located in the heart of Plymouth and with it being located so close to the centre of the city and close-by to the train and coach station, guests can easily access the National Marine Aquarium and the other attractions in the city.

The rooms are equipped with modern amenities, including complimentary Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, tea/coffee-making facilities, fridge freezer, microwaves, and stoves.

The guest house is accessible to visitors with limited mobility as there is accessible parking, rooms and toilets available.

Leonardo Hotel Plymouth

Leonardo Hotel Plymouth, formerly known as Jurys Inn, has over 240 spacious rooms and they are outfitted with air conditioning, flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi.

Downstairs, guests can dine at the on-site contemporary restaurant or order a mid-afternoon caffeine pick-me-up from the Costa Coffee Bar.

The hotel is accessible to wheelchair-users and guests with limited mobility as the hotel is equipped with lifts, rooms and bathrooms that have been designed for people of all mobilities. There is also paid public parking close to the hotel.

The Drake Hotel

Located in the centre of Plymouth, The Drake Hotel is just two minutes from the Hoe Promenade which overlooks the historic Plymouth Sound, which is one of the largest, natural harbours in the world.

The hotel has a fascinating history as it was originally built as the private residence of a high-ranking Naval officer (circa 1820-30s), and areas of the building retain many of the original architectural features from this period.

There is free parking at the front and back of the building, and whilst most rooms are accessed by traditional stairs, there are some rooms that are available to guests with limited mobility.

Visiting the National Marine Aquarium as a grandparent

This grandparents’ guide to the National Marine Aquarium will help you plan a day out with your grandchildren to remember. It’s truly one of the UK’s great attractions with something for visitors of all ages to enjoy.

This article was brought to you by Handicare, working with Age Co, who provide a range of home mobility products such as stairliftshomelifts and bathing solutions. For more information about how they can help make your home more accessible please get in touch.

For more attraction recommendations or in-depth guides to everyday activities, visit our news page

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.