Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga: Fun Exhibits Not to Miss

Tennessee Aquarium in chattanooga

If you’re checking out Tennessee Aquarium reviews before your upcoming visit, we’ve got you covered. As members of the Chattanooga aquarium, my family and I have spent countless afternoons exploring this downtown attraction. The aquarium is one of the most fun things to do in downtown Chattanooga; and, after you tour the exciting exhibits, it’s easy to see why!

In this post, I will walk you through both sides of the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, so you’ll have a better idea of what types of fish and animals your family will see there. I will also give you an idea of how long you should plan to spend at this super fun family attraction. So, continue reading below for our full review of the Tennessee Aquarium with touring tips for kids!

Chattanooga Aquarium

The Tennessee Aquarium is located in a prime spot in downtown Chattanooga on Broad Street. It sits right on the banks of the Tennessee River, so guests get beautiful views of the water and the bridges. Chattanooga’s Aquarium is an easy walk from many area attractions, including the Creative Discovery Museum and the Chattanooga Lookouts Stadium. The aquarium is also conveniently located to many downtown hotels and restaurants.

outside view of aquarium in Chattanooga
Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga

Parking for the Tennessee Aquarium is super easy. I’m terrible at parallel parking so finding a spot in downtown Chattanooga can easily stress me out. Luckily there are several parking lots and garages really close to the Tennessee Aquarium. You’ll find a main parking lot situated right in front of the aquarium entrance. This lot is super convenient if you can score a spot in it.

Personally, I like to use the Riverfront Parking Lot because it is a few dollars cheaper than the one directly in front of the Chattanooga Aquarium. It is also less than a five-minute walk to the ticket counter. The photo below shows the sidewalk to the Tennessee Aquarium from this parking lot. You can see just how close the lot is located to the front entrance of the aquarium.

sidewalk and grass with aquarium in background

If you have extra time before (or after) your visit to the aquarium, we suggest taking time to explore Riverfront Playground. This Chattanooga park is located just across the street from the Riverfront parking lot. It’s a really fun play area for kids of all ages with amazing views of the river and bridges.

Aquarium Tickets

Entry tickets for the Tennessee Aquarium can be purchased at the aquarium’s ticket counter or online at the aquarium’s official site. If you plan to purchase tickets on site, it’s important to note that they are sold in a separate building just across from the Tennessee Aquarium.

You will see plenty of signs directing visitors on where to buy tickets. Note that if you purchase your tickets online, you do NOT need to enter this ticket counter building. Instead, you can go straight to one of the two aquarium buildings, the Ocean Journey or the River Journey, to start your tour.

The Tennessee Aquarium sometimes offers discounts on their tickets for certain visitors. For example, children who are four years old and younger are completely free. They may also offer a military discount or college student discount during specific times of the year. Additionally, I have seen ticket discounts on Groupon, so don’t forget to check there before your trip.


A great way to receive discounts at the Tennessee Aquarium is to become a member. With a Tennessee Aquarium membership, you can visit as many times as you want for an entire year. In addition to unlimited visits for a year, members receive discounts in the following areas:

  • gift shop
  • guest’s ticket
  • events
  • IMAX Theater
  • other area attractions (zoo, museum, Dollywood, and more!)

If you’re looking to save on your visit but aren’t ready to commit to an annual membership, you may consider purchasing a ticket package. Visitors to the Tennessee Aquarium have the option of purchasing ticket packages with the aquarium and IMAX. So, if you are planning to experience both of these fun downtown attractions, this is a great way to save money.

The Ocean Journey Building

Now that we have discussed the best ways to gain access to the Tennessee Aquarium, let’s talk about the fun exhibits and activities you’ll experience inside. First, it’s important to note that the Chattanooga Aquarium is actually made up of two separate buildings. Therefore, visitors have two choices of where to start their tour: The River Journey or The Ocean Journey.

shark swimming aquarium
Shark in the Ocean Journey Building

We will begin by discussing the Ocean Journey building at the aquarium partially because it’s my kids’ favorite. When entering the ocean side, signs by the escalators instruct guests to begin the tour on the top floor. (Families with strollers or wheelchairs can use the nearby elevators.) Once on the top floor, visitors are greeted with a beautiful view of the Tennessee River.

Some of the exhibits on this floor include the stingrays, lemur forest, and butterfly gardens. The Ocean Journey building of the aquarium offers a couple interactive exhibits on the top floor. Guests can pet and interact with some of the stingrays and other aquatic animals in the Ocean Journey tank.

stingray in petting tank
Petting Tank

(You will find hand sanitizer and hand washing stations placed next to these petting areas.) You are also able to view and hold butterflies in the Butterfly Garden. Strollers must be left outside the garden area before entering.

The next level of The Ocean Journey begins with the penguins. They are usually really energetic and fun to watch! I love when the caretakers are inside the enclosure with the penguins because it is always entertaining to see how they interact. You can check the aquarium’s schedule upon your arrival to find out when animal talks and feeding times are scheduled to take place.

These are always really informative and fun for kids. After viewing the penguins, visitors can continue on their journey to see all types of other sea creatures, including the following:

  • sharks
  • giant pacific octopus
  • green sea turtles
  • jellyfish

As you tour the aquarium, you’ll notice that the walkways kind of guide you each step of the way. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about missing anything. You end the Ocean Journey on the main floor near the sliding doors that lead outside. Guests can then take the short walk over to the River Journey.

The River Journey Building

Visitors begin the journey on the river side at the top level just like with the ocean side. The river otters are some of the first animals that you’ll encounter in the River Journey. Guests continue down the river side to view different creatures in the freshwater exhibits, including giant catfish, turtles, alligators, etc.

turtles swimming in a tank
Turtles at the Tennessee Aquarium
alligators sitting on logs
Alligators Viewing

There are informative signs placed throughout your tour to give additional information on each animal you are viewing. Like The Ocean Journey, the River Journey side has an interactive area where visitors can pet animals. Here you can interact with catfish of all different sizes.

catfish pet tank

Both The River Journey and The Ocean Journey buildings have gift shops near the exits. Guests can find all sorts of merchandise related to the Tennessee Aquarium and to the Chattanooga area in these shops. Additionally, the main gift shop recently went through a massive renovation and is full of incredible products for both kids and adults.

gift shop with t-shirts, games, and stuffed animals

I also wanted to mention that the Tennessee Aquarium hosts many special events throughout the year. Some of the holidays where you can find extra special aquarium exhibits and activities include Halloween, Christmas, and Easter. The Tennessee Aquarium is a great place to spend time year-round, but the special holiday events mentioned above make your visit even more exciting.


If you are wondering what restaurants are near the Tennessee Aquarium in downtown Chattanooga, you have several options. The TN Aquarium itself has a food stand set up near the entrance. Once you walk into the courtyard to the Tennessee Aquarium, you will see this food cart with tables and chairs for visitors to sit and eat.

Food Stand in courtyard of Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga

The food stand sits close to the outdoor water play area outside the Tennessee Aquarium. During warmer months, the rocky area below has water streaming through it. Kids love to splash and play around in these spaces! If you have toddlers or smaller kids, I suggest taking a change of clothes for this activity. My little ones get soaked every time without fail!

small bridge and concrete steps of courtyard

For additional dining options near the Chattanooga Aquarium, you’ll find a food court and Puckett’s Restaurant near the ticket office. If you want to venture out further, the downtown Chattanooga area is home to all kinds of great dining options. You can check out the following post for tips on where to eat in Chattanooga: Kid-friendly Places to Eat in Chattanooga.

Helpful Information

Below are some of the most common questions about the aquarium that I receive from visitors to the Chattanooga area.

How long does it take to tour the Tennessee Aquarium?

Overall, the Tennessee Aquarium is a great way to spend time in Chattanooga with adults and kids of any age. It usually takes us about 2 hours to complete both The River Journey and The Ocean Journey. Once you finish touring, there are many restaurants and area attractions within walking distance. So, you could really spend an entire day in this area of the city.

What’s near the Tennessee Aquarium?

Since the Tennessee Aquarium is located right in the heart of downtown Chattanooga, there are many fun attractions within walking distance. The Creative Discovery Museum, High Point Climbing Gym, and IMAX 3D Theater are all family friendly attractions you will find nearby. In addition, the Chattanooga Zoo at Warner Park is just a short drive away from the Tennessee Aquarium.

If the weather is nice, we recommend taking a stroll across the Walnut Street Bridge after touring the aquarium. This pedestrian only bridge offers amazing views of the city as it connects you to the NorthShore neighborhood. Here, you can spend time at Coolidge Park or dine at nearby restaurants.

What is your favorite exhibit at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga? Let me know by commenting below!

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    1. Hi Liliana,

      Thanks so much for your kind words! I hope you enjoy the aquarium in Chattanooga!

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