The National Aquarium in Baltimore is the jewel in the crown of the city’s Inner Harbor and one of the best facilities of its kind in the world. More than 1.4 million people visit Baltimore’s top attraction each year to view 16,500 specimens in a variety of settings and exhibits, all of which are dedicated to environmental education and stewardship.
The aquarium was first conceived in the mid-1970s by legendary Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer and Housing and Community Development Commissioner Robert C. Embry. They envisioned an aquarium as a vital component of the overall remodel of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
In 1976, Baltimore City residents voted for the aquarium in a bond referendum, and on August 8, 1978, an innovation took place. In November 1979, the United States Congress voted it a “national” aquarium.
The grand opening was on August 8, 1981. Mayor Schaefer donned a bathing suit and jumped into the seal tank to celebrate.
The first of the two Baltimore Aquarium buildings opened in 1981 on Pier Three, just as the Inner Harbor revival began. Connected by a closed bridge, the Marine Mammal Pavilion at Pier Four, home to the Baltimore Aquarium’s dolphin show, debuted in 1990. Then in 2005, the addition of the Glass Pavilion to the main building made a grand entrance… literally . Visitors now enter through doors in a three-story glass wall. The 65,400-square-foot addition also houses the Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes exhibit.
Planning your day
First, you should know that on the weekends and particularly when school is not in session, the aquarium can be very crowded. If you know and expect this to happen, you will be mentally prepared for the crowds. If possible, try to visit the aquarium on a weekday or during the school year.
The design of the Baltimore Aquarium promotes a one-way traffic pattern, which works well if you expect to see everything from start to finish without interruptions. However, if you have lunch plans or tickets to a dolphin show, a little pre-planning can ensure you don’t miss a thing. Allow at least 2 1/2 hours to see the whole place. More tips
The Dolphin Show and 4D Immersion Theater (added late 2007) are optional experiences. The aquarium offers a tiered entrance structure that allows entry to the aquarium with or without the dolphin show or the 4D Immersion Theater. Purchase or collect tickets from the kiosk on Pier Three in front of the main building (the westernmost structure), then enter the main building doors furthest from the ticket kiosk. Members enter through the doors closest to the ticket sales.
Strollers are not allowed in the building, but the aquarium loans to carriers for free at the Stroller Check near the Members Entrance. Lockers, restrooms, and an information booth are beyond the ticket office. An escalator leads to the largest gift shop in the Baltimore Aquarium, the entrance to the exhibits in the main building, and another escalator to Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes. Depending on time constraints, it’s probably best to take a look at Land Down Under first, as you may not be coming back around here again.
This exhibit will take most visitors no more than 30 minutes.
Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes
The aquarium’s most recent permanent exhibit shows a gorge in Australia’s northern outback region. The soil on this hard earth is a deep, deep red, which includes soil, sand, and rock.
From saltwater crocodiles to birds that cannot fly, the animals of the Northern Territory are as diverse as they are abundant. The landscape changes from desert plains to waterfalls that reach the sky. Cozy, friendly and laid-back, the Northern Territory of Australia is a paradise for those who want to connect with nature.
The exhibit features more than 50 plants, all native to Australia, a 35-foot waterfall over which 1,000 gallons per minute fall, 1,800 Australian animals and 60,000 gallons of fresh water circulating in the seven Australian themed exhibits. Allow about 30 minutes for this exhibit.
The main aquarium is designed so that visitors move in one direction along a floodlit path. It is not easy to move forward or backward so it is best to plan to go through this area without interruptions. Allow a minimum of 45 minutes. But depending on the crowds and your pace, it could take a lot longer.
Main level: Wings in the water, a large pool of rays, is the first stop. Divers, performing maintenance or facilitating animal encounters, often join the stingrays in the pool.
Level Two: An escalator leads to Maryland: Mountains to the Sea, showcasing a number of local habitats with creatures ranging from the famous Maryland blue crab to the darker striped burrfish.
Level Three: A moving ramp that crosses over the ray pool and goes up to level three, where a display of frolicking puffins greet guests. Visitors follow the exhibits along the wall to a revolving door at the base of an escalator.
Level Four: Head to the sun-filled rainforest exhibit in the glass pyramid that covers the Baltimore Aquarium. Golden lion tamarins and pygmy marmosets play among the treetops, while piranhas swim in an open tank, and a tarantula lives in a glass log. Coming out of the rainforest, visitors descend an escalator and drop at the top of a spiral ramp.
Open Sea Exposure – Surrounded by an open pool of coral reef fish, the ramp curls deep into shark territory. Tiger sharks and hammerhead sharks are among the species that surround visitors as they descend to the lowest level of the Aquarium. There they can see the ray pool under the water again before going out into the lobby.
Marine Mammal Pavilion
A closed bridge links the main building to the Baltimore Aquarium’s dolphin display amphitheater. Please arrive 15 minutes before your scheduled time. To stay dry, avoid the “splash zone” seats in the front rows.