National Marine Aquarium

Up close with the sharks at the National Marine Aquarium, Devon

“I loved the sharks and showing them to my little brother as I thought he’d find them exciting, and he did.” Archie, 5

From the rather hideous-looking wolffish to the much-loved clownfish, and quirky little seahorses to menacing sharks, the tanks at the National Marine Aquarium are teeming with variety and colour. With four thousand sea creatures, this is Britain’s largest aquarium.

Snorkel, the Loggerhead Turtle (who was rescued in 1990), is the main attraction in the Blue Planet and Reef Zone, while gazing into the cinema-screen-sized Atlantic Eddystone Reef tank beats watching The Little Mermaid any day. However, it is probably the sand tiger sharks, stingrays and replica World War II RAF bi-plane in the Atlantic Ocean tank that really steal the show. To encourage visitors to take an active interest in ocean life, there are also hands-on exhibits; puppets and puzzles for very young children; displays about various aspects of ocean life; a daily dive show; a 4D Screen on the Sea film; and a programme of talks. At 11am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, you can witness the turbulent sand tiger shark feeding, as they snatch at whole fish dangled to them on (thankfully) long poles. There is also an interactive dive show at 2pm daily.

The entrance is just over three hundred yards from the three disabled parking spaces, but if this is too far to walk, it is possible to borrow a wheelchair, which you can book in advance. Once inside, even when armed with a map, the layout is a bit higgledy-piggledy and there is some walking to do between tank areas, but it is generally not too far and there is seating provided. Stairs can be completely avoided by using lifts. The tanks are predominantly low, while moveable steps are provided in the “Shallow Waters” area, so that smaller children can look over the sides of the tanks. Lighting is generally low level and there is a background soundtrack of underwater noises. The 4D show has strobe lighting and is not suitable for people with epilepsy or heart conditions.

Food & drink: The self-service café – complete with soft play area – serves reasonably priced hot and cold food. On request, staff can assist with carrying food to your table. An additional coffee bar opens in the school holidays. There is also an outside picnic area overlooking the Plymouth Sound.