North Carolina is home to buzzing cities, awe-inspiring mountain ranges, and stunning Atlantic beaches, making it a great vacation destination for all kinds of tourists. Apart from its breathtaking vistas, there is also a wide range of indoor activities to be enjoyed – including its many incredible and eye-catching aquariums.
The state’s wide selection of sub-marine centers is ideal for families traveling together, and a visit to any one of them can make for a great day out.
Keep reading to discover our list of the best and most fun aquariums in North Carolina.
Best North Carolina Aquariums
North Carolina Aquarium (Roanoke Island)
Often considered one of the best places to visit in North Carolina if you’re fond of marine life, this aquarium has been providing a wealth of underwater treasures since 1976.
It is one of three sister Aquariums in the area and home to a wide variety of fascinating sea creatures. Visitors to Roanoke Island can see everything from river otters to freshwater alligators. There are also many saltwater exhibits that are sure to delight every kind of tourist.
The Roanoke Island Aquarium is also home to a rehabilitation center for sea turtles. Here, visitors can learn more about the center’s conservation efforts and watch as the team cares for injured turtles before releasing them back into the wild. If you’re traveling as a family, this is an excellent way to teach children about the importance of environmental care.
Another great exhibit at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”. Here, guests can see dozens of sharks up close, and even look them in the eye through the glass. If you’re a particularly adventurous guest, with an open-water diving certificate, there is also the option of jumping in the tank and swimming with these mighty creatures.
North Carolina Aquarium (Pine Knoll Shores)
The Pine Knoll Shores aquarium can be found on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. It offers an amazing experience that transports visitors into a whole new world. Upon entering, guests come face to face with a large, roaring, three-story indoor waterfall.
The aquarium at Pine Knoll offers exhibits on a wide range of habitats, from the sea to the mountains, and is home to the largest man-made oceanic habitat in the state. This vast exhibit contains a variety of aquatic animals, including fish, sharks, and a living shipwreck – designed to look like the U-352 German U-boat that sank on the North Carolina coast in the 1940s.
Pine Knoll Shores is also home to endangered species, including a rare white sea turtle. This rare turtle is considered a swimming miracle, as only one in a thousand sea turtles reaches full maturity. The chances are even lower for white reptiles, which makes this a truly unique sight that should not be missed.
If you’re traveling with children, be sure to stop by Pine Knoll’s family fun playpark. There is also a gift shop where guests can purchase snacks or souvenirs for their trip.
North Carolina Aquarium (Fort Fisher)
The Fort Fisher Aquarium can be found in Wilmington and is known for being home to an albino alligator called Luna, found at the Cape Fear River Adventure. Guests can also expect to see a rescued bald eagle and an adorable group of Asian river otters.
One of the most exhilarating parts of the aquarium is the North Carolina tidal touch pool. Guests have the opportunity to come close to marine life like starfish and bamboo sharks. This section of the aquarium also plays host to a massive set of jaws that once belonged to the now-extinct Megalodon shark. The jaws are especially popular for taking pictures.
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is also home to the Cape Fear Conservatory, where a variety of freshwater life can be found. The atrium also includes other creatures like snakes and frogs.
For those who are fonder of dry activities, there is the option to feed tropical birds or go on outdoor camps and adventures. Be sure to visit this aquarium on your next trip to North Carolina for a wealth of educational, fun, and exciting family-friendly activities.
EMA Touch Tank Aquarium
As its name suggests, the Ecological Marine Adventures Touch Tank offers a hands-on experience that is ideal for kids of a young age. The aquarium focuses on making education fun, and guests can enjoy activities like digging for real fossilized shark teeth or petting stingrays, sea stars, and crabs in the touch tanks.
If you’re fond of science or have a little blossoming marine biologist in your family, you may also enjoy visiting one of the scheduled dissections the aquarium has to offer.
Sea Life Charlotte – Concord
Sea Life Charlotte-Concord offers the only aquatic tunnel experience in the state, and it is a must-see on any trip to North Carolina. Walking through this underwater marine avenue offers a close look at shoals of brightly colored tropical fish, sharks, and Neptune – the aquarium’s resident sea turtle.
For a behind-the-scenes look at the aquarium’s inner workings, families can also sign up for a guided tour. The tour offers an in-depth exploration of what it’s like to work at the aquarium, and guests will get a chance to see staff members feeding stingrays and sharks.
If you’re traveling with younger children, be sure to stop by the interactive touch pool, where little visitors can pet seven different kinds of sea animals.
Appalacian Rivers Aquarium
If you’re looking for an aquarium that focuses on freshwater and inland aquatics, be sure to stop by the Appalachian Rivers Aquarium on your next trip to North Carolina.
While not one of the biggest in the state, this pocket-sized aquarium is filled to the brim with exotic and local freshwater animals. It offers free entry and is an excellent way to learn about American waterways.
Guests can expect to see endangered species such as an aquatic salamander (called a hellbender) that is most often found in the central and eastern U.S., or tangerine darters. The aquarium is home to a wealth of animals, fish, and other life found in North Carolina’s freshwater. It is well worth visiting and a great attraction for traveling families.
Aquarium and Shark Lab (Team ECCO)
The Team ECCO Aquarium and Shark Lab opened in 2011 and draws tens of thousands of tourists each year. It is located in Hendersonville, and well worth visiting on your next trip to the state.
Visitors to the Aquarium and Shark Lab get a fascinating insight into the marine conservation efforts of Team ECCO. The aquarium hosts projects for guests to join, such as learning about the ecology of reefs or grass beds, rescue efforts for turtles, and local reptiles.
There are also daily reptile feedings for both children and adults to enjoy, such as watching the feeding frenzy of stingrays and sharks, as well as interactive sessions with other animals that are designed to educate and inform.
North Carolina Estuarium
Home to two hundred exhibits, this one-of-a-kind Estuarium gives visitors a look into what it is like in the heart of an estuary. It makes for a great outing with the whole family and has something to offer guests of all ages.
The Estuarium is home to exhibits with information on a wide range of habitats and includes topics like hurricanes, cultural heritage, and hermit crabs. It is also home to beautiful artwork and offers riverboat tours where tourists can connect with the environment.
It is considered the most unique aquarium in North Carolina.
The Wiseman Aquarium (Greensboro Science Center)
Upon visiting the Greensboro Science Center, guests can enjoy various fascinating marine species at the Wiseman Aquarium. Here, tourists can expect to see indigenous giant pacific octopuses, lionfish, and Asian small-clawed river otters.
There is also a petting area called Hands-on-Harbor, where families can touch sharks and stingrays. The biggest draw of the aquarium, however, is its massive ninety-thousand-gallon exhibit with a live community of underwater Caribbean animals.
If you’re fond of birds, be sure to stop by the outdoor exhibits to see the flock of African penguins. If you visit during feeding time, you can see them diving for fish!
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
The Museum of Natural Sciences in North Carolina includes exhibits on everything from the saltwater of the North Carolina Coast to the freshwater of the Appalachian Mountains. There are nine freshwater exhibits and five immersive saltwater exhibits for guests to choose from, and over a hundred species of aquatic animals to be seen.
If you are fond of marine conservation or the science of various ocean regions, be sure to visit the Glofish Exhibit in the museum. Here you can see a wide array of stunning little creatures and learn all about altering DNA.
Additionally, there are hundreds of other fascinating dry land animals to explore, including amphibians, reptiles, and arthropods.
North Carolina’s Aquariums FAQs
Which ocean does North Carolina have?
North Carolina lies nestled against the Atlantic Ocean. For this reason, it is home to a wide variety of aquariums and is known for its beautiful beaches.