Review: Bristol Aquarium
Updated: Feb 1, 2019
It had been a number of years since I last explored Bristol Aquarium, so I was looking forward visit again with my family during the school holidays. Based on Anchor Road, in the heart of the vibrant Harbourside, the aquarium is easily accessible by public transport, or there is plenty of car parking available nearby at Millennium Square.
Upon arrival, we received a friendly greeting from the member of staff at the ticket desk, who explained that our tickets were valid all day, so we could come and go as we pleased. We were provided with a list of the talks and activities which would be taking place during our visit, and she also told us not to miss seeing Gloria, the new Giant Pacific Octopus, who has three hearts and bright blue blood!
Excited by what we were about to see, we entered through the self-scan gates (these are a great idea, as it really does mean that you can re-enter at any time without the need to queue), and we headed into the Sunken Shipwreck exhibit, which is the first of more than 40 naturally-themed displays. I was delighted to see two 'smacks' of Moon Jellyfish, which were bred at the aquarium in March 2018, and which are totally mesmerising to watch.
The aquarium is self-guided, so you can spend as long as you like at each exhibit. There is an impressive amount of child-friendly information provided next to every display, and it is worth taking the time to look at this if you can. It really enhances your visit and provides the opportunity to start conversations with your children about current issues such as the amount of plastic in the ocean and how we can help by recycling. You will also learn a number of interesting facts - for instance, did you realise that there are around 440 known species of sharks?! You'll find some of these at Bristol Aquarium.
We then headed into possibly my favourite exhibit - The Urban Jungle. This wonderful exotic botanical house is unique among UK aquariums and as it replicates Mediterranean and Amazonian environments, you will feel pleasantly warm as you wander around. There are some interesting flowers to spot as you make your way up the winding walkway, and be sure to look up to spot the exotic climbing plants which touch the roof of the bio-dome.
As we left The Urban Jungle, my son was eager to head towards the Learning Lab, where there was a fishy themed crafting session taking place. During school holidays and on key weekends such as bank holidays, the aquarium hosts different themed activities for children throughout the day. These activities are included in the admission price, and are a great way to keep little ones engaged. And they give parents the chance to rest their feet for half an hour too!
Despite our hurry to get to the craft session, we had to pause as we passed the tank housing Gloria, the Giant Pacific Octopus, although it took us a few minutes until we could spot her. Top tip: as octopuses are nocturnal creatures, they are usually more active later in the afternoon. If you can't see her on your first attempt, it's a good excuse to pop back later in the day.
Keep your eyes on the daily timetable during your visit, as we spotted that there was a talk and feed scheduled at the Amazon River exhibit, just as the craft session ended. We quickly made our way to the second botanic house (yes, there is a second one!) and we joined the small crowd of adults and children which had gathered at the bottom of the ramp. We were soon met by Marcus, one of the Aquarists, who gave a really interesting talk as he fed some of the largest freshwater fish, the rays, and the turtles. It was quite the feeding frenzy and definitely one of the highlights of our visit!
The centrepiece of the aquarium is the enormous Coral Seas display. At over 250,000 litres, it is home to over 250 marine animals (including plenty of Nemos and Dorys!) and it is a wonderful colourful spectacle full of sea anemones and corals. The fantastic underwater walk-through tunnel provides the opportunity to see some of the inhabitants up close, and the children loved it as the sharks, eels, and tropical fish swam right over their heads!
Just before you exit the aquarium, you can enjoy more of the coral reef, as you sit and watch a variety of brightly coloured tropical fish through a special floor-to-ceiling viewing window. It's a great way to end your visit, before you exit through to the cafe and shop.
Verdict: We really enjoyed our visit to Bristol Aquarium, as it is incredibly child-friendly and suitable for all ages. I highly recommend planning to see and do as many of the talks and extra activities as possible during the day. These really do enhance your visit, and it's fascinating listening to the knowledgeable Aquarists who are very passionate about their subject.
You can make the most of your ticket by visiting in the morning, taking a break by having lunch at the cafe, or at one of the many restaurants around the harbour, and then heading back into the aquarium during the afternoon. Book online in advance to save 10% off standard admission prices.
Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary family ticket in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and photos are my own.