Want to get up close and personal with some of the world’s rarest marine creatures? At the biggest aquariums in Europe, you can admire tropical fish, come nose-to-nose with sharks, feed penguins, stroke stingrays, and much more.
Thanks to the amazing aquariums of Europe, there’s no need to have to jet off to the coral reefs of Australia or the Caribbean just to encounter some of our most weird and wonderful ocean-dwelling cousins. In just about every major European city, you can explore vast aquariums that provide homes to tens of thousands of colourful sea animals.
On top of tropical fish, Europe’s largest aquariums are sanctuaries for animals ranging from rescued otters to playful penguins. You’ll be able to get to know these animals through activities that include live feeding sessions, training demonstrations, workshops and even guided dives.
Here are 13 of the biggest aquariums in Europe along with what you can except to see and do at each one. No matter where you intend to go on your next European vacation, you won’t be far from an aquarium that’ll transport you into another world.
The Biggest Aquariums in Europe
From Oceanario de Lisboa in Portugal’s capital city to SEA LIFE Scheveningen in the Netherlands, here are 13 of the biggest and best aquariums in Europe.
1. Oceanario de Lisboa (Portugal)
Home to over 8,000 ocean-dwelling creatures, Oceanario de Lisboa is the largest indoor aquarium in Portugal. Besides a wide variety of our underwater cousins, Oceanario de Lisboa is also a sanctuary for an array of birds, mammals and amphibians.
While exploring this vast complex, you’ll discover four marine habitats that provide a home to colourful fish, eels, tunas, barracudas and ferocious sharks. And for around EUR 60 per person, you can actually spend the night at the aquarium to catch some z’s just metres from the sharks.
2. SEA LIFE Hannover (Germany)
If you want to get up close and personal with some of the most majestic sea creatures on the planet during your time in Germany, you should explore the SEA LIFE Hannover aquarium.
Home to over 40 separate pools that double up as habitats for over 2,500 dazzling creatures, SEA LIFE Hannover is one of the biggest aquariums in Europe. While exploring this underwater world, you’ll see creatures that hail from the Leine river in Germany to the shores of the Caribbean to the Amazon basin.
On top of spotting animals such as turtles, sharks and colourful fish, popular activities at SEA LIFE Hannover include diving, talks and workshops for the little ones. This aquarium is certainly not one to miss if you want to make the most of a family trip to Germany.
3. L’Oceanografic (Spain)
Located in the east of Valenica, L’Oceanografic is not just one of the biggest aquariums in Europe – it’s also a fascinating oceanographic museum for visitors of all ages, not to mention one of the largest dolphinariums in the world.
Over 500 marine species call L’Oceanografic home. Some of my favourite species include damselfish, longhorn cowfish, dreamfish and clownfish. While walking through the 35-metre underwater tunnel, you’ll be inches from creatures such as seals, octopuses, bull rays and sharks.
4. SEA LIFE Oberhausen (Germany)
On top of 45 pools and aquariums filled with sea creatures from the Rhine to the Caribbean, SEA LIFE Oberhausen boasts the largest shark breeding tank in Germany.
You can observe over 5,000 animals in recreated natural habitats at this huge aquarium. Stingrays, piranhas, jellyfish and seahorses are just some of the species you’ll encounter. You’ll also have the chance to stand within a few feet of majestic turtles.
For me, the highlight of SEA LIFE Oberhausen is the 148 square metre water basin that’s filled with young cat sharks, black tip reef sharks, and a plethora of sea creatures. You can also find out what baby sharks eat by attending the daily feedings.
5. Nausicaá – Centre national de la Mer (France)
Over 58,000 animals live at the Nausicaá aquarium in Boulogne-Sur-Mer, making it more than deserving of a position on our list of the biggest aquariums in Europe.
Nausicaá has four trails for visitors to follow, each one having its own distinct theme and range of fish species to go with it. On top of a wider variety of fish species than I knew existed, this incredible aquarium is home to an array of awesome sharks – leopards, hammerheads, nurse, horn and sandbar sharks, to name a few.
One of Nausicaá’s tanks features a window that measures five by 20 metres, offering a close-up view of some of the world’s rarest deep-sea creatures. You can experience these creatures swimming around and above you while walking through the 18-metre glass tunnel.
To make the most of your visit, you might want to watch a live feeding or a sea lion training session. There’s also a touching tank that gives the kids the chance to pet some of our tamer ocean-dwelling cousins.
6. SEA LIFE Timmendorfer Strand (Germany)
At SEA LIFE Timmendorfer Strand, you can admire over 2,500 adorable sea-bearing and land-based animals in 12 exhibition areas.
While exploring this aquarium, you’ll meet fish species from the neighbouring Baltic Sea all the way to the tropics. Of course, I love all animals equally, but the encounter with the small-clawed otters Bonnie and Clyde was particularly heart-melting.
For sheer awe, you can walk through an underwater tunnel to get eerily close to blacktip reef sharks. There’s also a touching basin that offers you a hands-on meeting with crabs, anemones and starfish.
If you have the guts, you come face-to-face with majestic boa constrictors in the Rainforest Adventure area. You can also stick your head into a 360-degree glass dome inside the piranha basin.
7. Aquàrium Barcelona (Spain)
Another one of the biggest aquariums in Spain is the Aquàrium Barcelona, home to around 11,000 animals across over 450 species.
The aquarium is separated into a whopping 35 sections, some of the highlights being the Ozeaneum, Theme Aquariums and Tropical Aquariums. The Mediterranean Aquariums are especially popular, where you can observe sandbar sharks and tiger sharks swimming alongside bullet tuna, leerfish and guitarfish.
One of the most impressive features of Aquàrium Barcelona is the glass tunnel that lets you walk straight through a diverse underwater world – the tunnel is 80 metres long! If you’re feeling brave, you can even dive with sharks at this famous aquarium in Europe (you’ll need to book in advance).
8. SEA LIFE Benalmadena (Spain)
Located right next to the Mediterranean, SEA LIFE Benalmadena gives you the chance to meet thousands of sea creatures from the neighbouring ocean – plus thousands more from much, much further adrift.
Just some of the animals that reside at SEA LIFE Benalmadena include clownfish, seahorses and jellyfish. There’s also a 180-degree submarine tunnel that lets you get close to green turtles and sharks.
If you want to see a myriad of floating colours, check out the diverse array of tropical fish in the Amazonia freshwater zone. For insights into underwater species from closer to home, browse the Mediterranean area.
Besides watching live feeding sessions, popular activities at SEA LIFE Benalmadena include touching creatures such as hermit crabs and starfish in the rockpool. This is definitely one of the biggest and best aquariums in Europe for family adventures.
9. National Aquarium Denmark
The National Aquarium Denmark, also known as the Den Blå Planet (Blue Planet), is regarded as the biggest aquarium in Northern Europe.
In 53 separate exhibit tanks, you’ll catch sight of over 20,000 individual fish belonging to around 450 species. Some of the most popular themed sections include the African Greak Lakes, the Warm Ocean and the Rainforest. You’ll find a wide range of Danish fish species, a seabird cliff and a touching pond in the Cold Water section.
My favourite section has to be Evolution and Adaptation, where you can spot rare species like mudskippers, archerfish and four-eyed fish in a mangrove aquarium. There are also aquaria with primitive species as well as some seriously mean-looking alligator snapping turtles.
Interestingly, the National Aquarium Denmark is also an architectural landmark of the Kastrup suburb of Copenhagen – its design resembles a whirlpool when viewed from above.
10. SEA LIFE Blankenberge (Belgium)
SEA LIFE Blankenberge has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in Blankenberge and biggest aquariums in Europe since opening its doors in 1995. On top of being an impressive aquarium, SEA LIFE Blankenberge is a marine wildlife breeding sanctuary, where you can meet over 5,000 adorable fish and animal species.
As you make your way through this long-established marine attraction, you’ll see a diverse array of creatures in huge tanks that replicate their natural habitats. In addition to ocean-dwelling animals, you can meet friendly penguins and rescued otters. There are also over 400 seals living here that have been rescued and nursed back to health.
During your visit, you can learn about the aquarium’s ongoing breeding programmes for rays, sharks, seahorses and king crabs. If you’re visiting Belgium with the kids, SEA LIFE Blankenberge is not one to miss!
11. Aquarium of Genoa (Italy)
Spread across 27,000 square metres, the Aquarium of Genoa provides an underwater sanctuary to over 12,000 animals from over 600 species. Here, you’ll meet marine creatures from all corners of the globe, from the Americas to Antarctica.
There are over 70 tanks and exhibition areas at the Aquarium of Genoa, home to fishes, birds, marine mammals, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates. Some of my favourite animals include sea cows, dolphins, seals and penguins. You can also get close to ferocious predators at Shark Bay.
One of the aquariums cool additional touches is its permanent virtual reality installation, Abyss Hall, which takes you on a journey to the depths of the ocean. It’s worth buying your tickets ahead of time – you may be turned down at the door if the place is already too packed.
12. SEA LIFE Paris (France)
If you want to admire some of the most beautiful ocean-dwelling creatures in the world while staying in the French Capital, you need to head over to SEA LIFE Paris, where you can get closer than ever before to more than 2,250 animals.
The aquarium’s tanks are home to tropical fish, sharks, seahorses and green turtles. You’ll also have the chance to encounter cute penguins. The free SEASCAN app allows you to learn about the aquarium’s inhabitants as you explore.
13. SEA LIFE Scheveningen (Netherlands)
Planning a trip to The Hague with the family? You might want to discover the wonderful world of ocean-dwelling creatures at SEA LIFE Scheveningen while you’re here.
As you make your way through this aquarium, you’ll see an abundance of marine life in 15 themed zones. Each zone recreates a different habitat, which range from Dutch rivers to the Antarctic.
You’ll have the chance to come nose-to-nose with animals such as rays, sharks, seahorses and hundreds of tropical fish species. You’ll also be able to meet a bunch of penguins and the playful otter named Max, the star of the show.
What are your favourite aquariums in Europe?
You don’t need to travel to the coral reefs of the Caribbean to meet tropical fish thanks to Europe’s biggest aquariums, where you can admire rare marine creatures, touch rays and starfish, feed penguins, watch animal demonstrations, and so much more.
Have I missed any of the biggest aquariums in Europe that my readers and I should know about? What are your favourite highlights at the aquariums detailed above? Let me know in the comments below.
Quick list of the biggest aquariums in Europe
- Oceanario de Lisboa (Portugal)
- SEA LIFE Hannover (Germany)
- L’Oceanografic (Spain)
- SEA LIFE Oberhausen (Germany)
- Nausicaá – Centre national de la Mer (France)
- SEA LIFE Timmendorfer Strand (Germany)
- Aquàrium Barcelona (Spain)
- SEA LIFE Benalmadena (Spain)
- National Aquarium Denmark
- SEA LIFE Blankenberge (Belgium)
- Aquarium of Genoa (Italy)
- SEA LIFE Paris (France)
- SEA LIFE Scheveningen (Netherlands)