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7 Wonderful Aquariums in North Carolina and How to Visit them All!

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on March 25, 2024.

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One of our favorite places to go in NC is any of our fantastic aquariums. Whether in the mountains, at the beach, or anywhere in between, we can celebrate the Tar Heel State’s biodiversity at these aquariums in North Carolina.

Of these educational aquariums, four are part of the NC Aquarium system, dotting the state’s eastern coast, while the others are in Greensboro and Charlotte in Central NC and Hendersonville near Asheville.

All but one (Team ECCO) are Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), but each NC aquarium is dedicated to animal care and conservation.

Every time we take a trip to one of the aquariums, we find a new marine friend and discover a new fact we hadn’t noticed before!

In this article, we’ll discuss all you need to know about our state’s incredible aquariums, including hours, admission, and our favorite exhibits.

Here are the seven aquariums in North Carolina we’ll go over, including how we’ve organized this guide:

  • Map of Aquariums in North Carolina
  • NC Aquarium System
    • NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher
    • NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores
    • NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island
    • Jennette’s Pier
  • More Aquariums in NC
    • Greensboro Science Center
    • Sea Life Charlotte-Concord
    • Team ECCO Aquarium and Shark Lab (Hendersonville)

Whether you’re a local or a first-time visitor, we know this guide to North Carolina aquariums will help you! 

Read More: Amazing Children’s Museums in North Carolina for All

Map of Aquariums in North Carolina

Map of Aquariums in North Carolina

If you want to travel to any aquarium visually, you can do so by opening this NC Aquarium Map we created with Google Maps.

We’ve also featured these aquariums in our North Carolina Travel Map.

The NC Aquarium System

The NC Aquarium system is comprised of four aquariums that include:

Together, they welcome over 1.3 million visitors annually.

  • The Fort Fisher location opened as a Marine Science Center in 1976 and was later reclassified as an aquarium.
  • The NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and Roanoke Island also opened around the same time and were renamed to an aquarium in 1986.
  • Jennette’s Pier has been a staple attraction of the Outer Banks attraction since 1939. In 2011, after adding an aquarium to the pier’s offering, it became the fourth system member.

If you plan to visit any of these aquariums frequently, we highly recommend opting for a membership instead of single-use tickets.

Purchasing and re-purchasing one-day visits adds up, while a membership costs about 4 visits for an individual adult ($59) and 2 visits for a family of 4 ($89).

NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher

Address: 900 Loggerhead Rd, Kure Beach, NC
Website

inside the North Carolina Aqaurium at Fort Fisher Wilmington

The NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher is always on our itinerary when visiting Wilmington! It’s a massive institution focused on highlighting the marine life found just off North Carolina’s coast.

If you need something else to do, the Fort Fisher Historic Site and the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area are nearby!

Admission

Fort Fisher requires visitors to purchase advance tickets and does not sell at the door. Entry times are staggered to allow for the safety of visitors, employees, and animals.

Tickets can be purchased here, and prices are as follows:

  • Adults (Ages 13-61): $12.95
  • Children (Ages 3-12): $10.95
  • Seniors (Ages 62 and older): $11.95
  • Military: $11.95
  • Ages 2 and younger and NC Aquarium Society Members: FREE

This NC aquarium and the next three have reciprocity agreements with AZA member institutions. If you’re a member of any of them (ex. The WNC Nature Center in Asheville), you can get ticket discounts.

Exhibits

fresh water exhibits North Carolina Aqaurium at Fort Fisher Wilmington

When entering Fort Fisher, patrons will be greeted with the aquarium’s impressive freshwater exhibit. The bright greenhouse-like chamber is home to species such as playful otters, snakes, and alligators, including the aquarium’s famed albino alligator!

The main aquarium building is found after passing through the freshwater exhibit. Kids and adults alike will enjoy the “touch tank,” teeming with peaceful stingrays, horseshoe crabs, and starfish.

The touch tank is consistently one of the most exciting and engaging parts of the aquarium.

One of the most striking exhibits in the aquarium is the floor-to-ceiling saltwater tank, filled with colorful fish, turtles, and even sharks. There are usually daily programs and displays in the saltwater tank, so be sure to check the schedule when visiting.

outside play space North Carolina Aqaurium at Fort Fisher Wilmington

Finally, once you’ve explored everything inside, venture outside to experience natural habitats. There is an outdoor playground for kids, as well as a lush forest-like environment with birds, turtles, and other flora and fauna.

The NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher is always one of our favorite things to do in Wilmington; each time we go, we have an even better experience than before!

Read More: Great Things to Do in Carolina Beach (and Nearby!)

NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

Address: 1 Roosevelt Blvd, Pine Knoll Shores, NC
Website

NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

The NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is the largest aquarium in North Carolina, at 35,000 square feet and 298 acres of maritime forest. It’s located on the Bogue Banks barrier islands, which include the towns of Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach.

The aquarium is accessible via the Atlantic Beach Bridge from Morehead City and the B. Cameron Langston Bridge from Swansboro.

Read More: Great Things to Do in Jacksonville (+ Our Top 5)

Admission

The NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores encourages purchasing advanced online tickets for the day and time you wish to visit. Based on our experiences, we agree.

Unlike Fort Fisher, the aquarium does have a limited number of tickets available for purchase at the door, but we still recommend buying in advance to ensure your entry.

Tickets can purchased here, and prices are the same as Fort Fisher and the other NC Aquarium system institutions.

Exhibits

NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores Crystal Coast Photo by NC Tripping

Once arriving at Pine Knoll Shores aquarium, we recommend beginning with the indoor exhibits and working your way outside. Some of our favorite indoor exhibits are:

  • Living Shipwreck: At 306,000 gallons of saltwater the “Living Shipwreck” is the largest manmade ocean habitat in NC. The habitat contains a replica of the U-352, the German submarine that sunk off the East Coast in 1942. The U-352 was the first U-boat ever to be sunk by the U.S Coast Guard and now rests 115 feet below sea level, only accessible by professional sports divers and fish longing for cover.
  • Loggerhead Odyssey Exhibit: This exhibit offers a close look at the life of the loggerhead sea turtle. Here, you can even meet loggerheads that have been rehabilitated at the aquarium and learn about their journey.
  • Spadefish Art Gallery: The aquarium showcases not only marine life but also art. The Spadefish Art Gallery features whimsical ocean-inspired art that lines the hallways between exhibits.

Outside the museum, there is a large outdoor area for children to play, as well as a nature trail and a boardwalk overlooking the water.

NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

Address: 374 Airport Rd, Manteo, NC
Website

NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island Manteo OBX Seven Rivers

Roanoke Island is home to the Outer Banks towns of Manteo and Wanchese, and, most notably, the mysterious lost colony of Roanoke.

Beyond the legend and lore that lives here, the island is also home to one of our favorite aquariums, the NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island.

The 61,000-square-foot aquarium sprawls over 16 acres overlooking the Croatan Sound. The aquarium features an impressive diversity of sea creatures, with over 2,200 animals calling it home.

Admission

Tickets to the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island must be purchased beforehand, similar to the other NC Aquarium institutions. Prices are standard across all the aquariums in the system.

Purchase NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island tickets here.

Exhibits

NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island Manteo OBX Sea Treasures Corridor

The ticketing kiosk is separate from the main building, with gorgeous grounds, a pond, and a large shark sculpture between the two. Directly to the right past the ticketing station is the entrance to a short nature trail that winds through the forest and along the water.

The Aquarium at Roanoke Island has some of the most noteworthy exhibits of all the aquariums in the system. The first exhibit we recommend visiting is Seven Rivers, as it’s a great introduction to the wonders that await you inside.

The winding walkway exhibit illustrates the biodiversity of the Albemarle Sound, featuring habitats containing amphibians, fish, snakes, and young alligators.

Some of the other popular exhibits at Roanoke Island include:

  • Wild Wetlands: This exhibit takes up nearly an entire wing and houses alligators, turtles, and river otters.
  • Iron Sanctuary: This cool exhibit commemorates the USS Monitor, the Navy’s first ironclad warship commissioned during the Civil War. The Monitor eventually sank off the coast of the Outer Banks; the wreckage was then declared the nation’s first marine sanctuary. Aptly named, Iron Sanctuary provides extensive detail on the history of the ship and its sinking.
  • Graveyard of the Atlantic: One of Roanoke’s biggest selling points is the Graveyard of the Atlantic, a large habitat of sharks! Many species of sharks from the Atlantic reside here, all of which visitors can see up close and personal.
  • Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center (S.T.A.R.): Perhaps the most admirable aspect of the Roanoke Island aquarium is the STAR Center, a program dedicated to sea turtle conservation and rehabilitation. The aquarium actively works to rescue numerous sea turtles, and visitors can learn about this process and tour the nursing facility to see some of the turtles.

We love the NC Aquarium at Roanoke Island for the ingenuity of its exhibits and authentic dedication to marine rehabilitation and conservation, and we think you will, too!

Read More: The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center (History + How to Visit)

Jennette’s Pier

Address: 7223 S Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head, NC
Website

OBX NC Things to Do Jennettes Pier Nags Head North Carolina

Finally, the last of the NC Aquariums is also the newest addition. Jennette’s Pier has been the most iconic pier on the barrier islands since the 1930s, but it was recently renovated to include a small aquarium. In 2011, the pier received admission to this prestigious system.

Admission

Jennette’s Pier is somewhat different from the other aquariums in that it runs on a seasonal schedule.

  • April and November: 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
  • December to March: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • May to October: 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Admission to the pier is on a walk-in basis and is relatively cheap at $2 for adults and $1 for children 12 and younger.

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Exhibits

While Jennette’s Pier aquarium may be smaller than the other three, the exhibits here are equally as educational and fascinating. The three exhibits include:

  • Life on the Ledge: This newest exhibit replicates an underwater coquina rock shelf, a sedimentary material found in large quantities along the coasts of NC and Florida. The rock shelf is home to eels and fish, which visitors can see and learn more about.
  • Life in a Drop of Water: As the name suggests, Life in a Drop of Water emphasizes tiny organisms such as phytoplankton and zooplankton. It’s an interactive exhibit with a giant touch screen to educate about these species that make up the backbone of the marine ecosystem.
  • Life Under the Pier: Finally, the aquarium provides a glimpse into the patterns of species living in the waters under the pier, including sheepshead and triggerfish.

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Greensboro Science Center

Address: 4301 Lawndale Dr, Greensboro, NC
Website

museums in Greensboro Science Center

The Greensboro Science Center is your one-stop shop for family fun in Greensboro, serving as a museum, zoological park, and aquarium all in one.

The institution, originally named the Greensboro Junior Museum, opened in 1957 as a nature center.

Over the decades, it has expanded to include a petting zoo, an animal discovery station, and more buildings. In 2013, the center opened the Wiseman Aquarium, the first inland aquarium at the time.

Within the first two weeks, over 30,000 visitors came to explore the species of fish and rays that reside here.

Read More: Things We Love About Guilford Courthouse National Military Park In Greensboro

Admission

The Greensboro Science Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. year-round.

Tickets can be purchased online or in person; we recommend online just to secure your spot! Prices vary, but there are discounts for Greensboro residents, military, college students, and City of Greensboro employees.

  • Adults: $19.50
  • Children (3-13): $17.50
  • Seniors (65+): $18.50
  • Children 2 and younger: Free

The Greensboro Science Center has reciprocity agreements with AZA member institutions, including the NC Zoo in Asheboro and the Museum of Life and Science in Durham.

Exhibits

Greensboro Science Center Wiseman Aquarium NC Image by NC Tripping

The Wiseman Aquarium’s appealing exhibits and programs have attracted over two million visitors since its opening a decade ago.

When entering the aquarium, patrons will be greeted with an extensive array of touch tanks and habitats containing jellyfish, sharks, and more.

The Shark Reef is a massive exhibit in the aquarium, a 90,000-gallon Caribbean habitat with native carnivorous and herbivorous fish. Among the animals to note here are sharks, moray eels, and a 14-foot anaconda!

One of the most interesting things to do at the Greensboro Science Center is the Inside Tracks program, a way to go behind the scenes and learn about how the aquarium is run, participate in fish feeding, and more.

There are multiple Inside Tracks options to choose from, but all require additional tickets and reservations.

Finally, our favorite thing about the aquarium at the Greensboro Science Center is its African penguin colony! The Inside Tracks program with the penguins is a 45-minute session where participants can learn about penguin conservation and management and meet two of the penguins.

Read More: Proximity Hotel In Greensboro (+ Things We Love!)

SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord

Address: 8111 Concord Mills Boulevard, Concord, NC 28027
Website

Things to Do in Concord NC SEA Life Aquarium Photo by NC Tripping

SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord is part of an aquarium system with over 50 locations across 17 countries, including 10 US locations.

Admission

SEA LIFE has a few different admission packages that guests can choose from. The basic ticket simply grants entry and starts at $18.99 for adults and $15.99 for children. Prices increase on weekends and holidays, to around $22.99 for adults.

Guests can also choose to purchase an admission and augmented reality package, which provides an elevated element to the experience. These prices start at $24.99 for adults and $21.99 for children.

The final package is admission, digital photo, and beyond the surface tour, which bundles entry, professional photos, and an exclusive guided tour for $29.99.

Read More: The Best Things to Do in Concord (Exciting Races + Great Places!)

Exhibits

SEA Life Charlotte Concord NC Picture by NC Tripping

SEA LIFE is massive, with ten engaging exhibits featuring different ecosystems and biodiversity. While each exhibit is equally amazing, we’ll discuss some big attractions here.

  • Tropical Ocean Exhibit: The tropical ocean exhibit consists of the state’s only ocean tunnel, featuring a 12-foot deep underwater tunnel surrounded by 117,000 gallons of water. Over 800 animals swim in these waters, including fish, rays, and rehabilitated sea turtles. You may also glimpse the aquarium’s largest animal, the nurse shark!
  • Sea Turtle Rescue Center: SEA LIFE collaborated with a rescue center in Surf City to open a new sea turtle rehabilitation center in Charlotte-Concord.
  • Stingray Bay: The stingray-centric exhibit mimics a sandy beach where stingrays live among schools of fish. The bay contains 20 different species, from rays to pufferfish and bamboo sharks.

Read More: Great Wolf Lodge in Concord (and All the Reasons We Love this Waterpark!)

Team ECCO Aquarium and Shark Lab

Address: 511 N. Main St, Hendersonville, NC
Website

Things to do in Hendersonville Team ECCO

Team ECCO Aquarium and Shark Lab is an educational resource and public attraction, and also, it’s one of the family-friendliest things to do in Hendersonville! It’s also the first inland aquarium in North Carolina and here’s a quick breakdown of what you’ll find inside.

Admission

Admission to Team ECCO is really affordable, especially since there are so many interactive learning experiences. 

  • Guests 5 to 65 years old: $7.50
  • Guests 66 years old and older: $6.50
  • Children 1 to 4 years old: $5.25
  • Children 0 to 1 year old: FREE
  • Active Military: FREE with Valid ID

A “Military Family discount” is also available to active military families entering with military personnel ($6.50 per person). In addition, teachers, EMTs, police, and firefighters can get in with the same discount.

Exhibits

Team ECCO Hendersonville NC Aquarium Image by NC Tripping

Check out the shark and ray as they swim in a 2,000-gallon tank while interns monitor these fascinating creatures’ life cycles and behavior. Along with that amazing centerpiece, this small aquarium showcases 300 saltwater and freshwater species.

Read More: Fun Day Trips from Asheville (Within a 2-Hour Drive)

Which NC Aquarium is Your Favorite?

Visiting an aquarium is easily one of the most family-friendly and entertaining things to do in North Carolina, especially at the beach.

With so many aquariums in North Carolina on the coast and near our biggest cities, it’s always easy to find one within a short drive. As we await our next NC aquarium visit, we’d love to hear from you.

Let us know in the comments about your favorite aquarium in North Carolina and remember to share your adventures and photos from recent visits in our Facebook Group.

Aquariums and More Things to Do (NC Travel Guides)

We’ve featured these NC aquariums and other fun things to do in our collection of travel guides. Here are a few of them.

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