Tennessee Aquarium: Ideal Time to Go + 1,200 Amazing Animals to See

Written by Debra Pamplin
Published: December 31, 2023
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Trips to Chattanooga aren’t complete without visiting the Tennessee Aquarium. With the Tennessee River as a background, this marine life museum presents 1,100,000 US gallons of water throughout all the tanks. Further, the aquarium houses more than 1,200 animals that represent 700 varying species.

With its size and high number count, it’s no wonder it’s considered one of the world’s largest freshwater aquariums.

Captured from above, the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga stands out with its modern design, surrounded by lush gardens and the flowing Tennessee River.

Home to more than just sea creatures, lush gardens are also planted on the property.

©Matthew G Eddy/Shutterstock.com

Best Time to Go

When is the best time to go to the aquarium? This depends on what extras you might like to see. For instance, a visit during the summer means extended hours, new adventures at IMAX, and updated exhibits.

Holidays are celebrated, making the fall and winter good options for a visit, too. Be sure to check their calendar for special events such as SCUBA Claus during December and October’s underwater pumpkin carvings.

No matter the season of your visit, for fewer crowds and easier parking experiences, consider going on a weekday.

The aquarium is scheduled to be open daily, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Occasionally, special events might close the building for a day, and hours are seasonal, so be sure to check the company website for hours.


When visiting the Tennessee Aquarium, purchasing tickets ahead of time is well advised, as there’s timed entry into the aquarium.

Tickets are $39.95 for adults and $29.95 for guests between the ages of 5 and 17. Guests under the age of four are free.

Additionally, a combo ticket for the Tennessee Aquarium with IMAX is $47.96 for adults and $37.96 for kids and teens. Additional IMAX tickets are $9.95 for guests five years and older. Each IMAX movie is 45 minutes in length and titles change throughout the year.

Arriving at the Tennessee Aquarium

To avoid the crowds, arriving when the doors open, or late afternoon is advised. While there are no parking lots at the aquarium, guests can take advantage of the city’s free shuttle, or opt for paid street parking nearby.

The River Journey

This building houses fish and water mammals that thrive in freshwater environments. Animals are divided into large exhibits within this building. The Appalachian Cove Forest exhibit includes the North American river otter, rainbow trout, and brook trout. The River Otter Falls exhibit lets the playful mammals shine while showing off their climbing abilities, underwater strength, and agility.

A stroll over to Delta Country houses the Eastern rat snake, Alligator Gar, and the Yellow-blotched Map Turtle. Other species to view from behind a glass partition include the American alligator, corn snake, and the gopher tortoise. Take a walk across the boardwalk to look down at the resting gators within the swampy waters. You will easily be transported to the Louisiana Bayou during this trek of the River Journey.

The next stop through this first building is the Ridges to Rivers exhibit. A vast number of fish can be viewed here, from the river chub to the rainbow shiner, the Alabama shiner to the lake sturgeon.

Within the River Giants exhibit, guests can view arapaima, barramundi, giant whiptail ray, and the giant gourami. A bit further into this building, guests can view animals found within the Rivers of the World. This exhibit houses the blue poison dart frog, red piranha, and the giant freshwater puffer. The electric eel, the West African dwarf crocodile, and the bubu catfish are also included in this section.

Amphibian lovers will enjoy this next highlighted exhibit: Turtles of the World. Take a gander at the spiny turtle, the keeled box turtle, the four-eyed turtle, and the Chinese big-headed turtle.

Last but not least, guests can view fish within the Tennessee River Gallery. The Paddlefish, northern snakehead, longear sunfish, and blue catfish are a few species guests can spot here.

Ocean Journey

This building is broken into a few exhibits, such as Tropical Cove, Butterfly Garden, Penguins’ Rock, Secret Reef, Boneless Beauties, and Island Life.

The Tropical Cove is home to species such as the collared lemur, epaulette shark, coral catshark, and the ring-tail lemur. The Secret Reef display houses the yellowtail snapper, southern stingray and sergeant major fish. Additionally, the sandbar shark and the sand tiger shark can be viewed here, along with queen triggerfish, cownose rays, and the green sea turtle.

The Boneless Beauties exhibit houses a variety of sea stars, coral, and moon jelly, along with the giant Pacific octopus, cuttlefish, and the giant Japanese spider crab.

Over on the Penguins’ Rock display, guests can watch the playful antics of the macaroni penguin and the Gentoo penguin clans. These two species of penguin spend their time diving into the artic waters and then quickly rocketing out. Did you know the Gentoos are the third-largest penguin species in the world?

Stay awhile at the Tennessee Aquarium

While it is considered to take less than three hours to view everything, many visitors shared they take their time and stay at least half a day. Take a picnic lunch on the banks of the Tennessee River.  Spend some time at the gardens before heading back to see your favorite animals once more before leaving.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ron Cogswell / flickr – License / Original

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About the Author

Debra Pamplin is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife sanctuaries and travel. Debra has been a writer and researcher for over a decade and is currently earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism. A resident of coastal Georgia, Debra enjoys time at the beach, and taking care of her three cats, dog and rabbit.

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