10 of the World's Most Impressive Aquariums

a group of visitors to the Georgia Aquarium watching a whale shark and a large school of jacks
Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere.

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Oceans cover most of the Earth's surface, yet the underwater world remains a mystery to many people. This is why aquariums are such interesting attractions. They provide a glimpse of what goes on under the ocean's waves and at the bottom of lakes and rivers. In these unique exhibit halls, you can come face to face with huge marine mammals, vibrantly colored or unusually shaped fish, and habitats that are completely different from anything you can see on land.

Here are 10 world-class aquariums that offer a peek into this often-hidden part of our planet.

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Monterey Bay Aquarium (California)

kelp forest surrounded by a school of small black fish near the water's surface at Monterey Bay Aquarium

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Sitting on California’s scenic Central Coast, this unique aquarium has a huge array of plants and animals—over 77,000 animals and 774 species in total. Fresh ocean water from Monterey Bay is pumped into some of the exhibits, making a more natural habitat for the aquarium’s many marine residents. A unique jellyfish exhibit, a giant octopus tank, a sea otter habitat, a seabird aviary, great white sharks, and several exhibits dedicated to local wildlife (including a kelp forest) are a few of this ocean-side aquarium's many highlights.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s research branch is dedicated to the study and conservation of the world's oceans. Its projects include deep-sea research, studies on climate change and ocean chemistry, and sustainable fisheries.

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Shedd Aquarium (Illinois)

Beluga mother and calf swimming side by side underwater at Shedd Aquarium

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Opened in 1930, Chicago's John G. Shedd Aquarium boasted the first permanent inland saltwater tank in the U.S., and for a time was the largest aquarium in the world. Its most impressive tank is a circular 90,000-gallon coral reef exhibit with sharks, rays, and sea turtles. A huge array of aquatic and terrestrial life—sea horses, beluga whales, sea lions, and some noisy penguins—provides a diverse setting that's perfect for hours of wandering.

The aquarium supports numerous fresh and saltwater scientific research and conservation projects around the world.

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Georgia Aquarium (Georgia)

Spotted whale shark with its mouth open swimming near small yellow fish at the Georgia Aquarium

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The largest aquarium in the United States, the Georgia Aquarium has more than 10 million gallons of saltwater and freshwater habitats and over 500 species on display. Its headlining inhabitants are whale sharks, and the Georgia Aquarium is home to the only non-wild members of this endangered species outside of Asia.

Georgia Aquarium hosts animal encounters with sea lions, seals, sharks, and others to provide opportunities for visitors to learn about the conservation of these animals and their habitats.

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S.E.A. (Singapore)

Underwater artificial reef filled with fish set on white sand at S.E.A. Aquarium in Singapore

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Singapore's S.E.A. (or Southeast Asia Aquarium) has over 12 million gallons of water and more than 800 species, with nearly 100,000 aquatic inhabitants in total. S.E.A. is part of Singapore's Resort World Sentosa complex. Because of its size, this is certainly a daylong attraction, but one feature not to be missed is the single-pane viewing panel on the aquarium’s “Open Ocean” exhibit. This window stands nearly 120 feet wide and 27 feet tall, and it offers views of 120 different species.

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Churaumi Aquarium (Japan)

School of blue and yellow fish near a rock and sandy bottom at Churaumi Aquarium

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Water for the ocean exhibits at the Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa, Japan, is pumped from the sea to create an authentic environment for the marine inhabitants inside this Ocean Expo Park attraction. A popular display at Churaumi is the massive, 2 million gallon Kuroshio Sea tank with manta rays, including a few that have been born in the aquarium, and whale sharks. Churaumi's Coral Sea exhibit receives direct sunlight so that the coral is able to grow just as it would in the wild.

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Chimelong Ocean Kingdom (China)

View of aquarium tank at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom with tropical fish and a beluga whale

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When it opened in 2014, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, located on Hengqin Island in Zhuhai, China, set several records. It became not only the world's largest indoor aquarium, but it is also home to the world's largest aquarium tank, underwater viewing dome, and aquarium viewing window, among others.

Part of an ocean resort, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom is divided into eight themed areas representing different parts of the ocean. The 12.9 million gallons of water host whale sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles.

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AQWA (Australia)

Colorful coral reef filled with zebra striped fish at the Aquarium of Western Australia

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AQWA, the Aquarium of Western Australia, is not one of the world's largest aquatic exhibit halls, but it does house marine animals from Australia's coastlines not seen in other aquariums. Located in the city of Perth, AQWA's most popular feature is an underwater glass tunnel passing along the bottom of several habitats.

Interactive attractions include off-site whale watching experiences, a guided snorkel or dive through AQWA's shark tank, and an underwater viewing gallery of a real coral reef—one of the largest of any aquarium in the world.

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Vancouver Aquarium (British Columbia)

young girl standing against a glass aquarium enclosure with a white beluga whale swimming past at Vancouver Aquarium

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The Vancouver Aquarium, in the city's famous Stanley Park, is more than a tourist attraction: It is a center for research and education and a base for marine conservation, not only in Pacific Northwest but also around the world.

Marine inhabitants include beluga whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins while the above-water habitats are home to sloths, birds, snakes, and frogs. The aquarium's professional naturalists interpret the behaviors and authenticate the habitats of the animals living in the aquarium’s exhibits.

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Lisbon Oceanarium (Portugal)

Stingrays and fish swimming in the blue water of the Lisbon Oceanarium

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With over 450 species of fish, marine mammals, and birds, Lisbon's Oceanarium is worth several hours of visitors' time. One unique resident in the Oceanarium is the ocean sunfish, a species rarely kept in aquariums because it is so difficult to care for. The 1.3 million gallon main tank features a plethora of aquarium standards: sharks, eels, rays, and schooling fish. It is perhaps fitting that, given Portugal's long history as a seafaring nation, the exhibits cover every major ocean on the globe, with an Arctic exhibit, an Atlantic Ocean tank, a tropical Indian Ocean habitat, and tanks housing species from the Pacific's temperate waters.

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Oceanogràfic Valencia (Spain)

A large room at L'Oceanografic with aquarium tanks on both sides filled with fish and underwater plants

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This aquarium in Spain's City of Arts and Sciences district is arguably one of the most unusual venues of its kind on the planet. Oceanogràfic's main building, with a curving roof and huge windows, is an attraction in its own right. The aquarium is made up of separate wings dedicated to different ocean ecosystems, and it provides habitats for creatures like walruses, penguins, and beluga whales.

The aquarium has a commitment to conservation, and it provides support to endangered species and recovery for injured marine animals.