Welcome sign outside the Tennessee Aquarium building in Chattanooga, TN, USA

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Tennessee Aquarium


Situated on the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga, TN, the Tennessee Aquarium is home to 10,000 animals. The aquarium, Chattanooga’s most visited attraction, has long been rated the number one aquarium in the country for visitor satisfaction. From the freshwater exhibits in the River Journey building to the underwater voyage in the Ocean Journey building, the full depth of marine biodiversity is on display. Along the way, you'll come face-to-face with bonnethead sharks, a giant Pacific octopus, alligator snapping turtles, macaroni penguins and even a hellbender, the largest species of salamander in the eastern United States.


The Chattanooga Aquarium stands on the site where the city was born in 1816, when Cherokee Chief John Ross established a trading post on the banks of the Tennessee River. Ross operated a swing ferry across the river, and travelers were attracted to the area since it had the best conditions for flatboat river crossings.  

In 1984, Chattanoogans began working together to create meaningful development along the Tennessee River, restoring their downtown’s vitality. When a group of architectural students from the University of Tennessee suggested the idea of an aquarium near the downtown waterfront, an aquarium was added to the 1985 “Tennessee Riverpark Master Plan”, a $750 million investment plan to develop, conserve and ultimately transform the riverfront. The Tennessee Aquarium, designed by Cambridge Seven Associates, which had previously designed the National Aquarium in Baltimore, opened in 1992. It  was successful from the beginning: By the end of May 1993 more than 1.5 million people had visited, and the Tennessee Aquarium is consistently recognized as one of the country's top public aquariums.

A child in silhouette looking into a huge tank in an aquarium with a shark-like shadow above
Tennessee Aquarium is one of the US' most popular aquariums © Vstock LLC / Getty Images


The Tennessee Aquarium's exhibits are housed in two structures, the original River Journey and the adjacent Ocean Journey. The aquarium’s state-of-the-art IMAX 3D theater screens documentaries related to marine life and conservation.  

River Journey 

The River Journey follows the path of a raindrop from high in the Appalachian Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico. With over 400,000 US gallons teeming with freshwater marine animals, it’s one of the largest freshwater aquariums in the world. The Appalachian Cove Forest exhibit begins with River Otter Falls, an artificial waterfall that cascades into a 30,000-US-gallon mountain sink. Free-flying North American songbirds soar above native fish species, including hog suckers and trout. The Delta Country exhibit showcases the Mississippi River Delta and includes an Alligator Bayou, where American alligators and alligator snapping turtles lurk under swampy waters. Massive freshwater fish, including the giant pangasius and giant freshwater stingray, swim the River Giants exhibit. The Tennessee River gallery exhibits species that you might find swimming in the river outside the aquarium, such as the American paddlefish and channel catfish. Don’t miss the Rivers of the World exhibit, where the aquarium's resident electric eel, Miguel Wattson, tweets the public whenever he emits electricity.

Ocean Journey

Ocean Journey follows the course of the river into the Gulf of Mexico. The largest tank, the Secret Reef, replicates the environment of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico and is home to sand tiger sharks, bonnethead sharks and green sea turtles. The Boneless Beauties and Jellies: Living Art gallery exhibits otherworldly invertebrates including jellyfish and even a giant Pacific octopus. At Penguins' Rock, macaroni penguins and gentoo penguins frolic onshore and swim their 16,000-gallon tank. 


Daily capacity is currently limited at the Tennessee Aquarium, and tickets are sold in 30-minute entry blocks. Guests must arrive within their scheduled time block to be admitted. General admission tickets to the Tennessee Aquarium allow access to both the River Journey and Ocean Journey buildings and all exhibits and experiences on the main tour path. IMAX Theater tickets are sold separately. It typically takes a total of 2 to 2 ½ hours to tour both aquarium buildings. 

Nearby Restaurants

A refreshment kiosk is located near the River Journey Gift Shop entrance, and beverages with a screw cap that are purchased here can be carried into the aquarium. Free water refill stations are scattered throughout. Snacks and beverages are also available at the IMAX 3D Theater Concession Stand.

Offsite local restaurants include…

Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria
Housed in the Bluff View Inn’s historic T.C. Thompson House, Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria, offers classic Italian cuisine in a casual atmosphere. The “Create Your Own Pasta” menu features hand-cut pastas and fresh sauces made with herbs and tomatoes from onsite gardens.

Back In Café
Located in Bluff View Inn’s Martin House, The Back Inn Café serves upscale American contemporary cuisine with an extensive wine list in a historic, Colonial Revival mansion. Choose to dine in the mansion’s library, one of two romantic sunrooms, or outside on the terrace overlooking the river.  

The Blue Plate 
Classic American diner favorites like shrimp mac 'n' cheese and buttermilk fried chicken, plus all-day breakfast and handcrafted cocktails, make the waterfront Blue Plate a popular brunch destination.  

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