Discover the 5 Best Aquariums in Tennessee

Written by Jude Speegle
Updated: June 10, 2023
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Tennessee is known for its whiskey, its chicken, and for producing plenty of unique and talented musicians over the years. It is also tied for the state with the most borders and has ten state songs. The aquariums you can find throughout the state are even more brilliant than that.

There are five must-see aquariums for any under-the-sea specialists to see when visiting Tennessee. From Chattanooga to Nashville, to Memphis and Gatlinburg, there is plenty of marine life for one to see. Below, we will explore the five best aquariums in Tennessee.

Types of rare fish - Giant Sea Bass

Tennessee has five amazing aquariums to visit.

©eril Victory/

The 5 Best Aquariums in Tennesee

Welcome to Tennessee, where the chicken is spicy, the music is country, and the sites are ready to be seen! Tennessee itself is home to all sorts of animals and even a lake formed by an earthquake.

There are five must-see aquariums located in the volunteer state, and they include:

  1. Tennessee Aquarium – Chattanooga
  2. Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute – Chattanooga
  3. Aquarium Restaurant – Nashville
  4. Memphis Zoo – Memphis
  5. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies – Gatlinburg

Let’s take a look at what makes these aquariums so engaging.

1. Tennessee Aquarium- Chattanooga

Best Aquariums in Tennessee - Tennessee Aquarium

The Tennessee Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the country.

©Rob Hainer/

Tennessee Aquarium
Address 1 Broad St, Chattanooga, TN 37402
Animal to SeePenguins
Known ForHaving more than 12,000 animals and 800 species

There are two major sections to the Tennessee Aquarium: the River Journey and the Ocean Journey. The River Journey opened initially in 1992, while the expanded Ocean Journey opened thirteen years later in 2005.

There are more than 12,000 animals in this zoo and over 800 different species. River Otter Falls is an exhibit to view the North American River Otter in its natural habitat. They can go underwater for up to eight minutes and have little flaps or lids covering their noses and ears when submerging.

Portrait of Macaroni Penguin

The Tennessee Aquarium is known for having macaroni penguins to watch.

©Jerzy Strzelecki / Creative Commons – License

The biggest tank to hold fish in the aquarium is The Secret Reef, and it holds 618,000 gallons of water and has three levels to it. You can walk under it, through it, and above it.

Penguins are a popular attraction as well, so be sure to visit Penguins’ Rock. It holds gentoo penguins and macaroni penguins with a large tank for them to swim in. There is a live feed on the Tennessee Aquarium website you can use to watch the penguins and be entertained by them.

2. Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute- Chattanooga

Gopher Tortoise burrowed in it's mound.

The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute works hard on conservation efforts for the endangered gopher



©Paul Brennan/

Tennessee Aquarium Institute
Address 175 Baylor School Rd, Chattanooga, TN 37405
Animal to SeeTurtles
Known ForConservation efforts and educating the public

The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute is an offshoot of the official state aquarium, promoting more individual conservation efforts.

Their complete statement is, “The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute furthers the Aquarium’s impact by conducting scientific studies, restoring our region’s natural ecosystems, and educating members of the public to take conservation action.”

They are currently working on projects to protect and assist with the growth of these animals:

Turtle conservation is a significant aspect of what they do, as the gopher tortoise is on the endangered species list. When an animal is endangered, its natural habitat and food sources are being taken from it, so it’s harder for the animal to sustain a healthy population.

3. Aquarium Restaurant- Nashville

Coral Reef and Tropical Fish in Sunlight. Singapore aquarium

The Aquarium Restaurant has a large tropical fish tank within its restaurant for diners to appreciate.

©Volodymyr Goinyk/

Aquarium Restaurant
Address 516 Opry Mills Dr, Nashville, TN 37214
Animal to SeeMermaids
Known ForLarge tropical fish tank in restaurant

Let’s get this out of the way, mermaids still aren’t real, but you can have your imagination blown by seeing visible mermaids hired to swim around in this fantastic restaurant located in Nashville. The Mystic Mermaids have their own special times, so be sure to coincide your trip with their schedule.

The Aquarium Restaurant is different from other aquariums on this list because it is not a part of a zoo. It’s just a scenic place with many amazing fish to examine while enjoying a great meal.

Marketed as an “underwater dining adventure,” this restaurant is a must-have to visit if you enjoy aquatic life.

4. Memphis Zoo- Memphis

The Memphis Zoo has a panda cam where you can watch their giant pandas.


Memphis Zoo
Address 2000 Prentiss Pl, Memphis, TN 38112
Animal to SeePandas or Polar Bears
Known ForTyranza, oldest African elephant in North America (died in 2020)

The Memphis Zoo was once home to Tyranza, the oldest African Elephant in North America, but she sadly passed away in 2020. The main attractions tend to be that their pandas, which are only present in six zoos in the United States, and the Memphis Zoo has a Panda cam where you can view the Panda’s chilling in their natural habitat. 

The Panda is no longer considered an endangered species thanks to conservation efforts. Instead, it is classified as a vulnerable species.

There are three zones to explore at this zoo, including the East Zone, Central Zone, and West Zone. These zones are made up of 19 exhibits that showcase animals from all across the world, including hippopotamus’, elephants, tigers, and more. 

It is a little over two miles to walk all the way through the zoo, but that doesn’t account for all the fun you will have during the exercise. The Memphis Zoo has more than 3,500 animals and 500 different species for you to learn about. Aquatic exhibits include Stingray Cove, Zambezi River Hippo Camp, and their Aquarium space.

5. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies- Gatlinburg

Ripley's Aquarium in the Smokies

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has a number of unique experiences.

©Christopher Forker/

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Address 88 River Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Animal to SeeSharks
Known ForGlass bottom boat ride

This is one of three Ripley-owned Aquariums that can be found in North America. They definitely provide a unique experience for those who choose to visit. Ripley’s is known for delivering a world of wonder along their exhibits, and it is no different when you make it underwater.

Bull shark facts - a group of bull sharks

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies has a glass-bottom boat ride for you to coast along in over shark-infested waters.

©Katja Tsvetkova/

There is a glass-bottom boat ride you can take into the shark lagoon, revealing the habitat and lives of the sharks that live within it. The glass is only three inches thick, so you will feel the thrill as the sharks swim beneath you feeling close enough to touch.

Ripley’s colony of African penguins go on walks now around the aquarium so you can visit with these finely feathered friends at various points through your adventure. Ripley’s provides a memorable experience that not many other aquariums or zoos can boast.

Summary of the 5 Best Aquariums in Tenessee

RankAquariumKey Attractions
1Tennessee Aquarium- ChattanoogaThe 618,000-gallon Secret Reef tank
2Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute- ChattanoogaThe endangered gopher tortoise
3Aquarium Restaurant- NashvilleMystic Mermaids
4Memphis Zoo- MemphisAquatic exhibits such as Stingray Cove, Zambezi River Hippo Camp, and the Aquarium space
5Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies- GatlinburgGlass-bottom boat ride through the shark lagoon
Table of the 5 Best Aquariums in Tennessee

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Claire Brighten/

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About the Author

Jude is a writer both by trade and by heart. They have been writing since a very young age and have eight years of professional writing experience. Passionate about animals, Jude has three birds and three cats.

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