As sister cities, Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD have a healthy rivalry. The two towns, just 40 miles apart, argue about football teams, baseball stadiums and harbor areas. There is one aspect, though, where Baltimore undoubtedly surpasses DC and every other city in the nation: The National Aquarium.
The National Aquarium in Baltimore, located in the Inner Harbor, is considered one of the foremost aquariums in the world. It is also the perfect excuse to head north for a day. And that’s exactly what 1.5 million people did last year; making it one of the most popular attractions in the area.
It’s one of the largest aquariums worldwide, housing over 16,000 specimens from nearly 700 species. The aquarium contains animals from every continent. That means visitors can see a slice of life from every segment of the world.
When you go, be sure to save some time and purchase tickets online. Tickets to the aquarium are a bit expensive ($24.95 for adults, 19.95 for kids), but are definitely worth it.
The best time to beat the crowds is by visiting on weekdays or early in the morning on weekends. The aquarium opens at nine on Saturday and Sunday, so it’s easy to arrive before the rush. Parking is available at the Inner Harbor Garage/Landmark Parking, which is just a block and a half away. Print off this coupon for a discount at the garage.
Before entering, visitors will first notice the beautiful exterior of the National Aquarium. It’s perched right on the water’s edge, and the massive, angular glass walls reflect both the sun and the water from the Inner Harbor.
The aquarium itself is split into three separate parts. The two areas visitors must see are the Pier 3 Pavilion and the Pier 4 Pavilion. Most exhibits are in the Pier 3 Pavilion, and that’s where your journey will begin.
On the ground level sits the “Wings in Water Exhibit,” where a number of different stingrays push lazily through the water. They flap their massive “wings” to gently propel themselves around. Occasionally, you can also catch a glimpse of the aquarium’s giant sea turtle, Calypso, who shares the tank with the rays.
The second floor of Pier 3 is dedicated to the aquarium’s home state, with the exhibit “Maryland: Mountains to Sea.” The exhibit mimics the path water takes from snow melting in the Allegheny Mountains, flowing all the way down to the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way, the water encounters different fish and creatures, from turtles in the mountain forest area to Maryland Blue Crabs in the Chesapeake Bay.
After passing through the Maryland exhibit, visitors head to one of the most popular floors. The “Surviving Through Adaptation” exhibit houses a giant Pacific octopus and other mysterious creatures of the deep, including electric eels and nautiluses.
After exploring creatures from the deep blue sea, visitors can next visit the aquariums most impressive exhibit –a realistic recreation of the Amazon rainforest.
Take the escalator up to enter the hot, humid terrarium, which simulates the conditions in the world’s largest rainforest. All flora and fauna in the exhibit are identical to their counterparts in the rainforest. Surrounded by all the sights and sounds, it takes only minutes for you to forget that you are actually still in Baltimore. You are instead transported 6,000 miles south. Monkeys howl in the open, mere feet from you. High above, majestic birds squawk loudly. The effect is near deafening and a bit overwhelming. Without noticing, you could be walking inches away from a poison dart frog. But don’t worry, those are kept safely behind glass.
After the rainforest visit, your trip to Pier 3 is complete, which is more than enough for a full day. But if you just visit Pier 3, you’re missing out on the giant dolphin tank in Pier 4. Visitors can walk around the bottom of the dolphin tank and catch glimpses of the aquarium’s Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins. For an extra three dollars, visitors can head to the amphitheater above and watch a half-hour show where the marine mammals perform tricks. If you’d like to see the dolphin show, be sure to order tickets ahead of time — it’s very popular and weekend shows can sell out in advance.
It’s a worthwhile addition to a trip that lets you experience everything the world’s five oceans have to offer all under one roof.
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