Sometimes the Tennessee Aquarium is called the Chattanooga Aquarium because if its location in downtown Chattanooga TN. The website recommends two hours to visit, but you could easily stay most of the day – in fact, we did. Here are 45+ essential things you should know before you go and reasons why you’ll want to block out a day to visit one of our favorite Chattanooga, Tennessee attractions.
The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga TN is located along the banks of the Tennessee River, within walking distance of several Chattanooga attractions. It’s a wonderful place to start a tour of Chattanooga, TN, but here are more than a few reasons why you might want to reserve a full day just for the TN Aquarium, Chattanooga. It’s definitely one of the coolest aquariums within the United States.
CHATTANOOGA AQUARIUM LOGISTICS
The aquarium continues to maintain capacity limits each hour to help maintain proper physical distancing within our galleries. In addition, the audience size at IMAX will be limited to 65% of theater capacity. Therefore, timed-entry tickets will still be required. Masks are strongly encouraged. We strongly recommend reading their Welcome Back information before visiting.
Tennessee Aquarium Hours. The Chattanooga Aquarium hours are 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturdays it’s 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Sundays are from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturdays are the busiest day at the Aquarium and mornings are more hectic on any day. Come after 4 pm if you want to avoid crowds, but know that two hours may not be enough to see and do everything you would like to experience.
Tennessee Aquarium Timed Entry. Discover why the Tennessee Aquarium is consistently rated one of the nation’s top aquariums. They have two buildings to explore. River Journey features freshwater habitats from our backyard and around the world. Ocean Journey brings you face-to-face with sea creatures from the Gulf of Mexico all the way to the South Pole. Your ticket includes admission to both Aquarium buildings. So plan accordingly.
Children Under 2 are FREE. Children under 2 years of age don’t need a Chattanooga Aquarium ticket for the exhibits and the IMAX theater.
Tennessee Aquarium Prices. Aquarium pricing is very reasonable considering it is really a full day of fun. If you’ll visit more than once, consider a family TN Aquarium membership. Although I didn’t find any Chattanooga Aquarium coupons here, I did find lots of coupons for other Chattanooga TN attractions on the Chattanooga Visitors Bureau web page. Maybe check here, as they might add aquarium coupons from time-to-time.
Chattanooga Aquarium Parking. The Tennessee Aquarium location is off I-24 in Chattanooga, TN. There are several paid parking lots around the area if you are only planning to see the Aquarium. If you are staying at one of the Chattanooga Hotels, consider walking. Chattanooga is a great walking city, and when you get tired, take the free eco-friendly shuttle that throughout downtown.
CHATTANOOGA TN AQUARIUM CAMPUS
The Tennessee Aquarium is two buildings housed on more of a campus than a single destination. Purchase tickets at the ticket center building, then choose one of the following to start your adventure.
THE RIVER JOURNEY BUILDING AT THE CHATTANOOGA AQUARIUM
River Journey Building. There are two main buildings at the aquarium in Chattanooga, TN that are included in the general aquarium ticket price. The first is River Journeys. River Journey is focused on freshwater habitats from the mountains of Tennessee to the Gulf of Mexico. Below are three of our favorite exhibits in River Journeys.
Rivers of the World Gallery. This exhibit within the River Journey’s building is where you’ll encounter other creatures from around the globe including an impressive diversity of turtles – who knew the world had so many different kinds of turtles!
Tennessee River. Tennessee River gallery in River Journey examines the river, comparing wild Tennessee with these new, man-made environments. Explore habitats representing the Tennessee River, Reelfoot Lake, and more.
River Giants Exhibit. One of the main attractions in River Journey’s is the National Geographic-inspired River Giants exhibit.
Turtles of the World. These shelled reptiles predate and outlasted the dinosaurs and have, in typically indomitable fashion, spread to fill almost every ecological niche on Earth. Turtles serve vital roles in seed dispersal and environmental alteration, and cultures around the world revere them as symbols of patience, longevity, wisdom, and perseverance.
THE OCEAN JOURNEY BUILDING AT THE CHATTANOOGA AQUARIUM
Ocean Journey Building. Ocean Journey is a separate structure from the River Journey building. You’ve probably guessed this one focuses on ocean habitats. Below are three of our favorite exhibits in this building.
Penguins’ Rock. The Chattanooga Aquarium has a wonderful penguin display that includes a chilly example of the water they swim in. See how long you can hold your hand in the arctic water. It was hard to get my son away from watching the penguins, so he was a natural during our backstage tour of the penguin habitat where we helped observe the Macaroni and Gentoo penguins for research. More on spring break farther down in this post.
Secret Reef. Visitors feel as if they are floating in a bubble deep in the ocean while surrounded by thousands of curious saltwater creatures, like colorful fish and enormous sharks, in a fantastic, brightly-colored coral setting. As they make their way though the cavern, they can view bottom feeders and observe the behaviors of mysterious saltwater life as if they were actually deep-sea divers. Visitors are amazed when 10-foot sharks swim slowly above their heads and schools of darting fish move to and fro in every direction around them.
Boneless Beauties. Despite their drastically different appearances, the animals in this dimly lit gallery share one common trait – the lack of a backbone.The Aquarium showcases some of the most fascinating and bizarre animals on earth, including the wondrous, Giant Pacific Octopus, the hovering, squid-like Cuttlefish and those spineless, brainless wonders: the electrifying jellyfish.
Butterfly Garden. For those that need to catch their breath a bit above the sea, the Butterfly Garden is a nice escape. If you stay still, you may even have one of the butterflies land on you. Want to see how still your child can be? Tell them if they don’t move a butterfly might land on them.
Tropical Cove. The Tennessee Aquarium is opening a new exhibit just in time for Spring Break 2017. The Tropical Cove section of the Aquarium has been renovated into a Madagascar rainforest, complete with lemurs and radiated tortoises. I wonder if you can find King Julian from the movie Madagascar? I love that movie, and King Julian.
IMAX AT THE AQUARIUM IN CHATANOOGA
TN Aquarium IMAX Theatre. A short walk from the River and Ocean Journey buildings is an IMAX theatre, which is one of only a handful in the U.S. with the new IMAX with Laser projection system. This is a separate ticket and can be purchased at a discount with your aquarium tickets or individually. All my boys loved the IMAX movie, which was something I’m usually tempted to skip. I’m glad we didn’t.
IMAX Tickets are Flexible. When purchased with the aquarium it’s a flexible ticket, meaning you can go to any show you’d like, instead of being confined to a specific time, which makes for a more leisurely afternoon in the aquarium galleries or sites in Chattanooga. Movies change often, so consult the website for the latest.
MORE TO EXPLORE AT THE AQUARIUM
Splash Fountains. Although not part of the aquarium in Chattanooga, there are three places for kids to splash around, so you may want to bring a bathing suit or extra set of clothes and a towel on your Chattanooga TN Aquarium adventure. The first is a stream that flows in front of, and between the River Journey and Ocean Journey buildings. The second is an area called The Passage where water cascades down steps into a reflecting pool. Be sure to read up on the interesting history behind “The Passage”. The third is actually across the river at the fountains in front of Coolidge Park.
Chattanooga Market. Starting in mid-March every Saturday the Tennessee Aquarium Plaza is home to a Chattanooga Farmers Market called the River Market, one of six public markets in the area. Frommers named the Chattanooga Market one of the Top Ten Best Public Markets in America. Have one person wait in line for Tennessee Aquarium tickets, while the others do a little local shopping.
NEW AT THE CHATTANOOGA AQUARIUM
Deeper Dives: A New Behind the Scenes Experience. Have you ever wondered how the day begins at the aquarium? Immerse yourself in the beauty and wonder of the Aquarium before the doors even open and greet the day alongside our animals and animal care staff.
An aquarium educator will lead you and your party through River Journey and Ocean Journey for an exclusive 1.5-hour tour before opening. Experience the Tennessee Aquarium like never before. You peek behind the scenes to see how the animals are cared for each morning and visit exhibits alongside a knowledgeable tour guide.
Secret Reef. Thanks to support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, you can take a virtual dive into the Tennessee Aquarium’s Secret Reef exhibit. This saltwater exhibit, home to thousands of colorful reef fish, big, toothy sharks and a rescued green sea turtle, is designed to model the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Aquarium visitors enjoy more than two dozen viewing windows, each with a different perspective of this habitat.
The Lemur Forest. “Lemur Forest” features real, not cartoon, Ring-tailed and Red-ruffed lemurs in the newly renovated Tropical Cove. These charismatic animals will be able to take advantage of the towering heights beneath the glass peaks of the Ocean Journey building.
Red-Ruffed Lemurs. Red-ruffed Lemurs tend to be arboreal creatures, native to the rainforests of Madagascar. So look for them climbing and swinging in the canopy above the sculpted cliffs of the habitat. They tend to live solitary lives, but are sometimes very vocal.
Ring-tailed Lemurs. Ring-tailed Lemurs (King Julian is a ring-tailed lemur) are more social, and frequently energetic. They will leap from location to location, often scampering throughout the space which covers two areas. At times, they may seem to skip over the heads of guests as they traverse an elevated walkway from one part of Lemur Forest to the other.
Stingray Bay Touch Tank. The popular Stingray Bay touch tank has been also been remodeled to make it easier for everyone to gently touch the stingrays and other sea creatures that glide through the warm waters.
SPECIAL PROGRAMS AT THE CHATTANOOGA AQUARIUM
Spring Break Safari. Each spring break, Chattanooga, TN rolls out the red carpet for kids and their parents for a spring break extravaganza. The Chattanooga Aquarium, IMAX, and River Gorge Explorer are just three of the Chattanooga attractions that take part in the Spring Break Safari, and offer special events just for kids.
Summer Camp: Dive in for a summer of fun at the Tennessee Aquarium! They explore the world around us through hands-on exploration, animal encounters, tours, activities, and so much more. Camps are geared towards children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old with a variety of themes.
Extraordinary Experiences. You don’t have to come during spring break to participate in the free Extraordinary Experience Programs. These experiences range from talks, to animal encounters to up-close experiences. See what will be happening during your visit on the website, or through the TN Aquarium App. [NOTE: Experiences closed temporarily but check back with the website for details]
Tennessee Aquarium App. Make the most of your visit by downloading the free Tennessee Aquarium app, which has a complete list of the programs, parking information and IMAX showtimes.
Paddle by Moonlight. The Aquarium has special programs within the exhibition space, but they also offer events with the Chattanooga TN neighborhood. This guided paddle showcases nocturnal wildlife, as well as a chance to explore the glittering nighttime sky.
HOTELS NEAR THE CHATTANOOGA AQUARIUM
The Chattanoogan. We stayed at the Chattanoogan during our visit and loved it. There is an indoor pool, and an amazing buffet breakfast. This hotel is about a mile from the Chattanooga Tennessee Aquarium and there are certainly closer hotels, but it’s easy to catch the free shuttle bus line if you don’t want to walk.
Chattanooga Choo-Choo. What kid wouldn’t like to stay in a train? This fun family-friendly hotel is the farthest from the Chattanooga Aquarium at 1.4 miles.
Courtyard Chattanooga Downtown. This is the closest hotel to the TN Aquarium. There are several chain hotels within a half mile of the TN Aquarium including the Hampton Inn & Suites Chattanooga, The DoubleTree (because their awesome cookies are always a welcome sight on check in.), Hilton Garden Inn, Spring Hill Suites, Holiday Inn and Suites.
LOCALLY OWNED HOTELS NEAR CHATTANOOGA AQUARIUM
The Dwell Hotel. Less than a mile from the aquarium in Chattanooga TN is the Dwell Hotel. This is a great choice if you are coming sans kids, as they only welcome kids 12 and above.
The Bluff View Inn. This is a great choice if you want to get a little of the historic flair of Chattanooga. This bed and breakfast is actually a collection of historic homes downtown.
WHERE TO EAT NEAR THE AQUARIUM
One of the great things about the Tenessee Aquarium ticket packages is the flexibility to come and go. If you get hungry, take a break and hit one of these nearby restaurants.
Lupis Pizza – Whenever we visit a new city, I like to find local establishments instead of the same chains. In Chattanooga there are lots of options. For pizza, Lupi’s is the local favorite, close to Downtown attractions.
The Ice Cream Show – The locally owned Ice Cream Show is on the Downtown side of Walnut Street Bridge. This is a must-stop for tasty ice cream with mixed-in treats.
Big River Grille. On pretty Chattanooga days, plan to sit outside at the Big River Grille.
Blue Plate. The Blue Plate is a fun choice for families.
OTHER GREAT CHATTANOOGA TN ATTRACTIONS
In addition to the Aquarium, Chattanooga has several awesome attractions. There are too many to list them all here, but I did want to give you a couple of our favorites.
Walnut Street Bridge – Take a walk across the half-mile pedestrian only bridge. It’s one of the longest in the world.
Coolidge Park – A walk across Walnut Street Bridge from Downtown Chattanooga to the North Shore brings you to Coolidge Park. Bring a few dollars for the old fashioned carousel, which originally resided in Atlanta’s Grant Park.
Coolidge Park Fountains. Pack a bathing suit and towel during warm weather to splash in the fountains outside or a Frisbee for the wide lawn.
Ruby Falls. This attraction is located in the Lookout Mountain, TN just outside Chattanooga. It’s part of several attractions often grouped together – Ruby Falls, the Incline Railway and Rock City TN. Ruby Falls is a bit kitchsy, but the underground falls truly are breathtaking.
LOOKING FOR OTHER AQUARIUMS IN TENNESSEE
If you love aquariums, here are several other aquariums to visit in Tennessee. And don’t forget the Georgia Aquarium too. It may not be in Tennessee, but it’s not too far from Chattanooga.
Nashville Aquarium. How far is Nashville from Chattanooga? About two hours, but you cross the time zone, so you’ll gain an hour heading from Chattanooga to Nashville. More time for the Aquarium! Nashville Aquarium is located in Opry Mills Mall, across from the Grand Old Opry and the Opryland Hotel. There are several behind the scenes tours available, or you can opt to dine under the sea at the Aquarium Restaurant, billed as an underwater dining adventure.
Memphis Aquarium. The Memphis TN Aquarium is actually located within the Memphis Zoo. See Pocupine pufferfish, electric eels, Red bellied Piranhas and more.
Knoxville Aquarium. Aquarium Knoxville is actually an aquarium store extraordinaire, not a true aquarium, but you can still stop in and see their collection of colorful fish and invertebrates, as well as different types of habitats.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies: The only other true Tennessee aquarium is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, TN. This aquarium has two floors of exhibits, plus a multitude of special experiences (like an indoor glass bottom boat adventure), and live shows.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT AQUARIUMS
- U.S. AQUARIUMS: 29 Best Aquariums In The U.S. You Have To Visit
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STAY NEAR THE AQUARIUM
*All photos are courtesy of the Tennessee Aquarium.
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