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Exploris Aquarium & Seal Sanctuary: A Great Family Day Out!

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The Exploris Aquarium was opened in 1994 by Prince Charles. It used to be called the Northern Ireland Aquarium and was built by Newtownards Borough Council around 1987 to show off the astounding marine nature and wildlife that lives in the waters around Northern Ireland’s coasts.

It’s mainly associated with the rehabilitation of seals, but you can see all kinds of marine life and fish species in their discovery pools and shore walks including Moon Jellyfish, Common Starfish and the Thornback Ray.

Some other fishes, marine species or sea creatures you may encounter are: Bass, Bib, Cod, Lobster, Spider Crab, Crawfish, Cuttlefish, Sea Urchin, Feather Star, Hermit Crab, Long Spined Sea Scorpion, Lumpsucker, Octopus, Peacock Worm, Red Mullet, Rock Goby, Sea Lemon, Sea Squirt, Shanny, Snake Pipefish, Starry Smoothhound, Sponge, Tadpole Fish, Turbot and Wolf Fish.

Wow! This marine museum on the Irish Sea has plenty going on.

Two Lionfish swimming in their tank at Exploris Aquarium, Northern Ireland

Two Lionfish Enjoying A Swim Around Their Tank

Exploris Aquarium & Seal Sanctuary is located in Portaferry overlooking Strangford Lough. It’s part of the Nature Reserve for Marine life in the Lough which is home to most of Northern Ireland’s marine species.

You will have an enjoyable and educational experience while visiting this Northern Ireland attraction and it caters for the whole family. There are exhibitions, events and activities suitable for kids of all ages.

A great day out for the whole family at Exploris…

A Bloody Henry Starfish climbing up the glass side of the aquarium

Bloody Henry Starfish

Exploris Aquarium & Seal Sanctuary is a great day out for families. You don’t need to worry about bringing ‘baby’ along either, as there are full baby changing facilities available.

There’s also disabled access to the whole site and they also have a small amount of courtesy wheelchairs available at reception should you need one.

There’s a good range of activities happening throughout the day, with one of my favourites being the discovery pool.

You get to discover first-hand what type of sea creatures are living in Strangford Lough. You can stroke Thornback Rays and hold a Sea Urchin in the palm of your hand if you like.

Every sea creature is explained to you by one of the extremely knowledgeable guides. The timings for these events are located on the wall in each area and you can also find out details at reception.

My advice is to ask on arrival about the activities and timings for that day. That means you won’t miss out on any of the excitement. You should also know that car-parking is free outside Exploris Aquarium, but is limited.

Colourful Lionfish At Exploris Aquarium, Northern Ireland

Colourful Lionfish

More information about this exciting Northern Ireland attraction including opening hours and times, prices, discounts, Seal web cams, virtual tour, events and exhibitions can be found at the Exploris website.

Our day trip to Exploris Aquarium

My family and I recently had an interesting day out at the aquarium. It took a bit of persuading to get me to go, but I’m glad I did and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The highlight for me was interacting with the different sea creatures at the discovery pool and watching a diver swimming with the fish.

Altogether, there was five of us who went for a day out. My wife Lindsay, baby son Jack, dad Sam and sister Rachel.

We all travelled down together by car and it took us about 55 minutes from Belfast City Centre. We arrived just in time for the show at the discovery pool. The guide went through each creature in the pool and told us about how they live and what they are like in the wild.

After a brief insight into each creature, we got the chance to interact with and handle each species.

Thornback Ray At The Northern Ireland Aquarium

Thornback Ray At The Northern Ireland Aquarium

The highlight of my day was stroking the Thornback Ray. It’s skin is really soft and smooth and they are totally harmless, unlike some of the other Ray family. Mainly the Sting Ray.

The demonstration lasted for around an hour and then it was time for a quick snack in the Tides cafe and a look around the gift shop. This left us plenty of time for a leisurely walk around the rest of the aquarium & seal sanctuary, before heading back towards Belfast.

Over in the Seal sanctuary you can find large and small ponds with underwater viewing galleries as well as six hospital pens. The sanctuary doesn’t always have seals to look after, but is most busiest during pupping season. If you’re lucky you might see a Grey Seal pup.

Thanks for reading my story. Definitely worth spending a morning or afternoon at this attraction.

Shark-like Dogfish in Northern Ireland

Dogfish From Strangford Lough

Location Of Exploris Aquarium – Portaferry

AddressThe Rope Walk, Castle Street, Portaferry, Co. Down, BT22 1NZ


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Directions For Getting There…

If you would like driving directions to Exploris Aquarium from anywhere in Northern Ireland, use Route Planner. You may need the postcode: BT22 1NZ.

Travel by Bus
You can get to the Aquarium by taking one of the buses on routes 10, 9a or 9. The buses depart from Laganside Station, Belfast and travel to Newtownards then onto Portaferry where they end. For more information, visit the Translink website.

Travel by Bicycle
There doesn’t appear to be a direct cycle route in this area. If you would like help to find the best way to get here on Bicycle, visit the National Cycle Network website.

Travel by Road
From Belfast take the A20 through Newtownards and on to Portaferry. Do you need a hire car?

Travel by Train
There are no train stations near this attaction. The nearest train station is Bangor, County Down, which is about 25mls from this attraction. For more information, visit the Translink website.

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