It’s not everyday you see sharks and penguins in London, but on the South Bank you can. Almost literally too, were it not for the fact that Sea Life London Aquarium is closed on Christmas Day. Thousands of tourists and locals visit this former municipal building daily, which has been home to a remarkable water wonderland since 1997.
Upon entering – through a glass window that overlooks the Pacific waters display – you’ll follow a winding route through all of the building’s attractions. Dive into Shark Walk before reaching the depths of the Atlantic (watch out for sand eels and octopus here), then drift to Tidal Reach, home to creatures common to British waters. Life gets a little more exotic and vibrant as the display merges with Ray’s Lagoon and the tropical waters of Dive Discovery.
Along with displays of brightly colored anemones and green sea turtles gliding overhead as you pass through the ocean tunnel, you have the opportunity to dive deep with sharks as you peer into the Pacific Wreck Gallery and see if you can find Nemo among the clownfish in the Coral Reef area.
Visit during off-peak hours if you can, to avoid the usual hordes and get a better look at the wild inhabitants. Like piranhas, for example, poison dart frogs and Cuban crocs in the rainforest section. Also see if you can time your visit with a feeding, because that’s when everything comes out of the hiding places they might have been hiding in.
There’s also a new permanent exhibit called Ocean Invaders, where you can learn about the weird, wonderful, and wonky world of jellyfish. Visitors can discover the most dangerous species and even create their own digital jellyfish. Sea Life also carries out research and conservation work, and the Thames Walk Experience (opened summer 2015) reveals some of the glimpses of life in the waters that flow just outside the aquarium, and the work done to make it a cleaner environment in which fish can thrive. The Breed Rescue Project exhibit invites budding marine biologists of all ages to learn more.
Get off alone, with your sweetheart or in a group and get one of the special package tickets, which grant access to other London attractions, or a VIP ticket, which entitles you to a behind-the-scenes tour. The latter is a particularly good option because you can snoop around in parts of the aquarium that the public isn’t usually allowed to. And if you really want to get up close to the marine life, brave adventurers can book a ‘snorkel with the sharks’ experience and dive into the shark tank.