The New England Aquarium on Boston's downtown waterfront immerses you in another world where you can experience a giant coral reef and its colorful tropical fish, laugh at playful penguins, and can even meet and greet seals and sea lions on behind-the-scenes tours.

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The Aquarium's interactive exhibits, such as the tidal pool touch tank, appeal to visitors of all ages. 

With thousands of fish and marine animals to observe in many different habitats and environments, you can easily spend an entire day here, especially if you take in a couple of films at the giant IMAX theater next to the Aquarium.

And to extend your adventure, you can join one of the Aquarium's whale watching excursions to Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary, just beyond Boston Harbor.

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Top photo: New England Aquarium; Copyright (c) Boston Discovery Guide

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Top Exhibits at the New England Aquarium

Colorful tropical fish on a coral reef at the New England Aquarium
Colorful tropical fish on a coral reef at the New England Aquarium

The stunning 4-story high, 40-foot wide and 23-foot deep Giant Ocean Tank steals the show. 

The tank holds 200,000 gallons of seawater and is filled with a giant coral reef reaching up almost to the top, plus more than 1,000 Caribbean fish and other marine animals.

The reef - which is actually human-built from over 3,000 coral-like pieces crafted and painted by artists - will mesmerize you with its beauty, and then fascinate you with all the activity going on at its different layers.

You'll see different types of sea turtles, stingrays, barracuda, moray eels, and brilliantly colored tropical fish.

Be sure to look for Myrtle, the giant green sea turtle who has lived at the Aquarium since 1970, delighting generations of visitors. 

Want to see the Tank's inhabitants being fed?  Stop by at 10am and 2pm to see the daily feeding dives by the Aquarium staff.

Fun fact:  Because of its size, the Giant Ocean Tank was the first part of the Aquarium to be built.  The rest of the aquarium was then constructed around it.

Giant Sea Turtle at the New England Aquarium
Giant sea turtle (we believe it's Myrtle) at the New England Aquarium

But the coral reef and its inhabitants are only the beginning. 

At any given time, the Aquarium offers at least a dozen major exhibit areas.  For example, the Amazon Rainforest exhibit give you six different views into the land and water habits making up this complex ecosystem. 

You'll see hundreds of live plants and animals such as piranhas, poisonous frogs, and electric eels, plus life-like replicas of the giant rainforest itself.

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More Exhibits to Discover at Boston's Aquarium

A spiny sea urchin dines on algae along the surface of the coral reef the sea anemone next to it gets ready to catch a nearby fish for dinner
A spiny sea urchin dines on algae along the surface of the coral reef the sea anemone next to it gets ready to catch a nearby fish for dinner

The coral reef and its inhabitants are only the beginning. 

An Amazon Rainforest takes you to the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, where you can see red-bellied piranhas, anacondas, electric eels, and poison dart frogs in a fresh-water environment.

Behind the Aquarium, you'll discover one of the most popular exhibits: frolicking California sea lions and northern fur seals from West Coast Pacific Ocean waters.  You'll see them sunning themselves, leaping through the air into the water, and playing with each other. 

But this is just the beginning - there's a Gulf of Maine exhibit with six exhibits displaying the rich diversity of marine life such as lobsters, cod, halibut, and dogfish sharks as well as New England shorebirds, a shark and ray touch tank, Pacific Northwest habitat (currently closed for repairs), and more, all with their own marine animals and plants.

How much time should you plan to spend at the Aquarium?  Probably two hours is the minimum . . . but you could easily spend an entire day there, perhaps with a break for lunch and a film or two at the IMAX theater next door.

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New England Aquarium Tickets, Discounts, & Savings

As one of the top attractions in Boston, the New England Aquarium attracts large crowds throughout most of the year.  Ticket lines can get very long, especially on weekends, holidays, school vacation breaks, and summer.  Getting your tickets in advance can save you a lot of standing-in-line time.

There are several options for getting your Aquarium tickets in advance, and all let you go straight to the head of the line.*

If the Aquarium is your only destination, get a ticket just for the Aquarium.

Plan to visit other Boston attractions in the near future?   The best deal for you may be a Boston CityPass that gives you free admission to other attractions.  Here are two choices:

  • Boston CityPASS card - 4 top attractions, including the Aquarium; valid for 9 consecutive days, with savings up to 45%
  • GoBoston Card - 40+ attractions, including the Aquarium; choose a 1, 2, 3, 5, or 7 consecutive day card and save up to 55%

* Please note: Everyone must pass through a separate security line.

The giant coral reef tank at Boston's Aquarium
The giant coral reef tank at Boston's Aquarium

Kids' Favorite Activities at the New England Aquarium

Aquarium staff members give the penguins some tasty minnows for dinner
Aquarium staff members give the penguins some tasty minnows for dinner

Although the New England Aquarium, as one of Boston's most family-friendly attractions, designs all of its exhibits to appeal to kids and adults alike, there are several in particular that you'll want to be sure to explore if you are visiting with children or teens:

  • Marine Mammal Center - This open-air exhibit features California sea lions.  Watch them play!
  • Penguin Colony - You'll watch in fascination as the Aquarium's colony of 50+ penguins play in the water and on land.  Challenge your kids to identify all the different penguin species!
  • Sea Jellies - Kids love seeing the Aquarium's collection of mysterious sea jelly fish change shapes and colors as they float around their huge tank, sharing the space with brightly-colored tropical fish

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Other Fun Things to Do in Boston

More to Do near the New England Aquarium

Whale watch boat passengers spot whales on a cruise near Boston
Whale watch boat passengers spot whales on a cruise near Boston
  • Whale Watch Cruises - Departing from the Aquarium's dock, these comfortable 3-hour cruises take you on an exciting adventure to Stellwagen Bank, home to whales, seals, fish, and marine birds - a favorite with kids and adults alike!  
    Tickets for Boston Whale Watch cruises
  • Harbor Cruises - Lots of fun cruises depart from nearby docks.  Whether you want sightseeing cruises, a fancy lunch or dinner cruise, the chance to experience a tall ship, or a thrilling dash around the Harbor on Codzilla, you'll find plenty of choices! 
  • Freedom Trail - Boston's favorite walk through history!  It's close to the Aquarium (walking over to it should take you about one minute), and you can walk toward the North End (see Paul Revere's House) and Charlestown (visit the USS Constitution) or back toward Boston Common, passing historic graveyards and museums along the way.  More about touring the Freedom Trail
  • Simon's IMAX Theatre - Located next to the Aquarium, New England's biggest screen lets you feel immersed in nature.   Films usually last about 45 minutes, and you can buy tickets at the theater or the Aquarium

Boston Harbor Sightseeing Cruises

The Northern Lights in Boston Harbor
The Northern Lights in Boston Harbor - Photo credit: Classic Harbor Line Boston

 Popular Cruises on the Northern Lights:

  • Northern Lights Sunset Cruise - Grab a refreshments from the bar and then relax as you watch the sun set on this sail around the Harbor, just in time to catch the USS Constitution fire its cannons as the sun dips down past the horizon
  • Brunch Cruise on the Northern Lights - Savor a delicious 3-course brunch on this relaxing sightseeing cruise around Boston Harbor
  • Boston Harbor Cruise on Northern Lights - Soak up Boston's unique sites and rich history on this comfortable sightseeing cruise around the Harbor - perfect friends and family experience!  Food and beverages available for purchase at the bar

Sailing on the Adirondack III:

  • Adirondack III Day Sail - Enjoy cool breezes and the afternoon sun on this relaxing sightseeing sail around Boston Harbor and the Inner Harbor Islands - Starts May 2
  • Adirondack III Sunset Sail - Relax as the setting sun turns the sky brilliant colors - Starts May 2
  • Adirondack III 90-Minute Mimosa Day Sail - Soak up the sun on this afternoon sail through the Inner Harbor and Harbor Islands with drinks available for purchase at the bar - Starts July 6

Mothers Day Cruise

Fun Book Your July 4th Cruises Now (because they sell out far in advance)!

Where to Stay near New England Aquarium

The Northern Lights in Boston Harbor
Boston Marriott Long Wharf Hotel (red brick building on the waterfront) & Yacht Haven (green and white building to the right of the Marriott)

All of these hotels are close to the New England Aquarium, with rates ranging from affordable to luxury:

Map of Hotels near New England Aquarium

Enter your travel dates to see hotels, available rooms, and cheapest rates:

More about how to save on Boston hotels

Where to Eat near Boston's Aquarium

Although you can get burgers, other casual fare, and drinks from a cafe inside the Aquarium, why not explore some of the other terrific places to eat nearby? 

The Aquarium stamps your hand when you enter which allows you to leave and return at any time on the day of your visit.  Just be sure to keep your ticket, in case your hand stamp fades or can't be read.

Here are some suggestions about where to eat near the Aquarium:

  • Faneuil Marketplace - Just on the other side of the Greenway across from the Aquarium - about a 3-minute walk.  Head to the historic Food Court in Quincy Hall for tasty takeout choices, or into any of the restaurants throughout the Marketplace
  • Boston's North End - Walk up the Greenway and turn right on Hanover Street (perhaps a 5-minute walk), where you'll find a huge array of mouth-watering Italian bakery/cafes and restaurants.  Try Neapolitan brick-oven pizza at Quattro (264 Hanover Street), cannoli at Mike's Pastry (300 Hanover Street), or any of the pastas at Bricco (241 Hanover Street)
  • Historic Taverns - Just to the north of Faneuil Marketplace are several of Boston's oldest drinking and dining establishments: the Green Dragon (11 Marshall Street), Bell in Hand Tavern (45 Union Street), and Union Oyster House (41 Union Street).  Enjoy a burger, clam chowder, or a lobster roll; who knows, you may be sitting in the same spot where the Sons of Liberty plotted their tea party
  • Boston Public Market - Stroll across the Greenway to Boston Public Market (100 Hanover Street, by Haymarket T Station) and buy gourmet treats from all the onsite vendors.  Eat at the tables there, bring your food back to the Aquarium and find a table on their plaza, or best of all, enjoy a picnic on the Greenway - sit on the grass, or at one of the many tables
  • Starbucks - The nearest Starbucks to Aquarium is on the ground floor of the Marriott Long Wharf

Boston Insider Tip:  Christopher Columbus Park near the Aquarium

Visiting the New England Aquarium with young children?  If they need a break, let them run around the grassy slopes of nearby Christopher Columbus Park, or play on the climbing structures in the enclosed kids playground. 

To find the park, walk through the Boston Marriott Long Wharf's ground floor and go out the door on the opposite side.  Immediately in front of you, you'll see Christopher Columbus Park. 

To find the park's small enclosed playground, which is sort of a Boston Insider's secret as it's not very visible, walk along the waterfront toward the North End until you reach the low circular wall of the Massachusetts Beirut Memorial on your left. 

The playground is tucked away under the trees next to the memorial.

Directions to the New England Aquarium

Address: 1 Central Wharf on Boston's Downtown Waterfront (across from the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel)
Closest subway station:   Blue Line/Aquarium
Closest parking garage:   Boston Harbor Garage

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