The 3 Best Aquariums In Tennessee!

Tennessee is a great state to travel through. Amongst the coolest activities to do in Tennessee is to find an aquarium. Which aquariums are best?

While Tennessee is landlocked, there are still some pretty unique and fun aquariums available without taking a trip all the way to the Atlantic coast. Among the coolest are:

  • Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
  • Tennessee Aquarium
  • Memphis Zoo

We’ll discuss some details of each aquarium available in Tennessee and help you pick out the best locations to go to. Aquariums can be fun for all ages, and Tennessee’s choices help prove that.

What are the best aquariums in Tennessee?

Tennessee Aquarium

Aquariums In Tennessee

The Tennessee Aquarium opened in 1992 as a non-profit along the banks of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

The aquarium focuses on the diverse animals of the southeast United States, including an exhibit that features how water gets from the mountains all the way to the sea.

The south is known for having an alligator or two, so the aquarium includes an exhibit called Delta Country, which provides info and sights on common American alligators and their ecosystem.

The Tennesse Aquarium introduces the marshlands as a swamp with lots of life ranging from snapping turtles to tortoises and cardinals.

With Tennessee known for its rivers, you can also see an exhibit called River Giants, with a Giant Whiptail Ray and the Giant Catfish that are known to be in Tennessee waters.

Some might find the Appalachian Cove Forest exhibit relaxing, as it features rainbow trout and the classic and rather cute North American River Otter, both of which find homes in Tennessee’s waterfalls and cascades.

No aquarium would be complete without penguins – though of course, they aren’t exactly native to Tennessee.

“Penguin Rock” features both the commonly known Macaroni Penguin and the tuxedo clad Gentoo species. 

Finally, the humid south is home to some butterfly varieties – and a butterfly exhibit within the aquarium. 

These kinds of exhibits are especially fun for the kids – though helpers will have to encourage them to be careful with delicate butterflies.

Note that the Tennessee Aquarium has other entertainment in the immediate area too, including an IMAX Theatre. 

If you aren’t familiar with IMAX, imagine one of the highest-definition cameras on the planet being projected on a surround screen, complete with a moving platform and screen. 

The experience is totally immersive and mesmerizing for kids and adults.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Aquariums In Tennessee 2

You might know “Ripley” from “Ripley’s Believe it or not” publications. 

The story is a little different here compared to random facts and entertainment – but the aquarium is still certainly entertaining in its own way. The focus at Ripley’s isn’t quite as local but instead features several exhibits that will have you learning and exploring.

Take for starters, the Shark Lagoon. This section of Ripley’s features the Sand Tiger Shark, Green Moray Eels, Green Sea Turtles, and Nurse Sharks. 

The Shark Lagoon also has a glass bottom boat ride which puts you right over sharks while floating in a safe, comfortable boat with a great view of the area directly underneath. 

The aquarium also has a “Touch a Ray Bay” in which kids and adults can gently get hands on with several kinds of manta rays, some of which are found in more local Atlantic waters.

Penguins are a natural attention getter at Ripley’s Aquarium, and the  Penguin Playhouse helps with that.

The playhouse allows kids and adults to see penguins in their tank under the water and above on their islands. 

Kids who are old enough can also pet a penguin and have the opportunity to buy a penguin painting made from penguin footprints.

Ripley’s also offers unique activities and get together. 

Included are birthday parties and sleepovers in the aquarium, where kids (and an adult) can sleep in view of the shark tank after a scavenger hunt and other activities.

More adult oriented activities are available too.

Pints and penguins is inspired by a previous event at Ripley’s called Sips and Sharks – in which adults can have beer and wine along with a behind the scenes tour of the aquarium in addition to sleeping in view of the penguin colony, followed by a hot breakfast in the morning.

Memphis Zoo Aquarium

Aquariums In Tennessee 3

The Memphis Aquarium is part of the larger zoo in Memphis, and is definitely worth exploring. Memphis features a puffer fish exhibit as well as Moray and green eels.

They also have a sparkly, beautiful cariba piranhas exhibit.

While the aquarium here is fairly small compared to the first two aquariums mentioned, you’ll find plenty to discover at the zoo as well with lions, komodo dragons, and rather adorable pandas – including the red panda.

Which aquarium should I visit?

Don’t make use choose!

The Tennessee Aquarium is more educational and offers more information about local ecosystems and wildlife, though they do certainly mix in fan favorites like sharks and penguins. 

This aquarium also has more to do around the aquarium, as the creation of the aquarium was part of an ongoing revival for the Tennessee River waterfront. 

Ripley’s Aquarium offers more entertainment and fun for kids – which isn’t to say that the other two options are lackluster for youngins. 

The additional activities, entertainment, and hands-on play will be especially fun for younger ones.

If you want a complete zoo experience, definitely head to the Memphis Zoo aquarium. This is a great compromise if the kids want to see a variety of types of animals like lions, tigers, and bears, but also wouldn’t mind seeing a variety of underwater creatures too.

You might also like to know that the Memphis Zoo and Tennessee have a bit of a partnership which may include a discount on the Aquarium or Zoo with a membership to one or the other.

Aquariums In Tennessee 4

Key Takeaways

  • The three aquariums in Tennessee each have their own cool events and animals to see.
  • Ripley’s features more events and activities. Both the Tennessee Aquarium and Ripley’s have sharks and penguins
  • The Memphis Zoo does have an aquarium, though it’s not a major feature compared to the other aquariums – it’s still a great place to see a larger variety of animals and fish.