Get Away From it All: Under the Sea

Take a look at ocean life with two world-class aquariums just miles from Northern Virginia.

By Robby Osborne

Baltimore Aquarium
Photo courtesy of Jon Bilous/

The Earth is a big place, with 71 percent covered by water, and we landlubbers are lucky to experience a tiny fraction of the remaining 29 percent.

For those curious about life under the sea, aquariums offer a window into another world few ever get to see.

With the closure of the National Aquarium in D.C. last September, easy access into that world has been limited. But fear not, two world-class aquariums are just down the road, each providing a glimpse at life underwater.

The National Aquarium 

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Around 1,700 of the 3,500 animals in the D.C. aquarium were moved into Baltimore’s National Aquarium, while some have been returned to the wild.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore, which houses over 17,000 animals in its 10 different exhibits, is considered a must-see site.

The latest addition to the aquarium is the Blacktip Reef,” which replaced the “Wings in the Water” exhibit in the center of the aquarium. The $12.5 million transformation into Black Tip Reef is a self-contained habitat for almost 800 animals, which include 70 diverse species of fish, sharks, rays and is still home to the one-finned sea turtle, “Calypso,” who appeared in “Wings in the Water.”

The most direct way to get back to the ground floor is through Shark Alley. In this 225,000-gallon exhibit, there is only one path to take, which descends many levels, all surrounded by sharks. 

501 E Pratt Street, Baltimore Maryland 21202 
9 a.m.-5 p.m.; $21-$35 


Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center

The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach has over 300 species shown throughout eight exhibits. 

The Virginia Aquarium allows for “adoption” of its animals through the AquaPALS program. When “adopting” the animals, there are four tiers of AquaPALS, each providing different amenities and deals for the aquarium. AquaPALS was created as a way to secure funding to help care for the animals, advance research and improve conservation initiatives. 

The Virginia Aquarium will be the first aquarium on the East Coast to host “Washed Ashore: Ocean Awareness Through Art.” Washed Ashore’s collects plastic and trash from beaches and recycles the vast majority of it into art, such as plastic trash sculptures in an effort to engage its audience in the problem that is pollution.

There is also an Adventure Park at the aquarium, which includes an eco-friendly zip line. A typical visit takes about four hours, which includes a 45-minute immersive movie.

717 General Booth Blvd. Virginia Beach, 23451
9 a.m.-5 p.m.; $15-28