Situated on the banks of the Tennessee River, the Tennessee Aquarium is a highlight of the Chattanooga riverfront.

The aquarium was part of the Chattanooga city master plan for the redevelopment of the riverfront area and opened in 1992, following extensive planning.

Now home to thousands of animals that hop, swim, flutter, slide, dive and scurry, the Tennessee Aquarium offers entertaining and enjoyable experiences for the over 700,000 visitors it receives annually. The Aquarium also boasts the largest collection of freshwater animals in the country. Comprised of two main buildings, the layout guides visitors through two main exhibition paths: the River Journey and the Ocean Journey.

We recommend that you call the attractions and restaurants ahead of your visit to confirm current opening times.

1.The River Journey

The River Journey
© Courtesy of Robert Hainer -

The river journey through the aquarium aptly begins at the beginning: the Mountains. More specifically, the Appalachian Cove Forest of the Appalachian Mountains, the source of the Tennessee River.

Appalachian Cove Forest and Discovery Hall

The enveloping exhibit transports guests to the rich and diverse environment of the mountain habitat, with moist mountain air, chirping birds, tumbling waterfalls, and streams with fish, amphibians and reptiles.

The journey continues to Discovery Hall, where the habitats of the swampy environment of the Southeast region is recreated. This exhibit includes brightly colored sunfish, a swamp nursey where baby alligators can often be found, and the nation’s largest salamander, which breathes through its skin.

River Otter Falls

The beginning of the River Journey also includes the River Otter Falls exhibit. This exhibit provides guests with the opportunity to observe the otters swim, dive and play. This exhibit also features the Otter Enrichment program, available at various times throughout the day, which allows visitors to observe trainers interacting with the otters. Interactions could include new food or toys that provide variety for the otters. Guests can also attend Otter Keeper talks to learn more about these engaging animals.

Mississippi Delta

The next stop on the River Journey is the Mississippi Delta. This exhibit includes such animals as alligators, birds, turtles, ducks, and reptiles. Many special programs and experiences are available at the Mississippi Delta exhibit. Guests can observe keepers interacting with various birds in the Delta Bird Program, have an up-close experience with a turtle in Swamped with Turtles, or learn about working with alligators in the Alligator program. These programs are available throughout the day.

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River Giants, Rivers of the World, and The Tennessee River Gallery

The River Journey also includes River Giants, a collection of the largest freshwater fish from around the world. This collection was produced in collaboration with Natural Geographic and includes massive creatures such as huge freshwater stingrays and wallago catfish. This leads into the Rivers of the World exhibit, showcasing animals from Eurasian and Tropical African waters, as well as the Amazon, Volga, Fly, and Congo Rivers. Animals in these exhibits include the usual fish, frogs, lizards and turtles, as well as the unusual piranhas and anacondas. The exhibit concludes with the Tennessee River Gallery, an homage to the history and architecture of the Tennessee River, including examination of not only of the wildlife, but also the manmade dams that regulate the river. This exhibit also features “Turtles: Nature’s Living Sculptures”.

Seahorses: Beyond Imagination

For the final stop on the River Journey, visitors explore Seahorses: Beyond Imagination. The special gallery, in the lower lobby of first building, provides an up-close look at these sea creatures, including not only seahorses, but pipefish, sea stars and legendary sea dragons, as well. The habitats on display include recreations of the reef edge in the Philippines and a Tasmanian kelp bed.

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2.The Ocean Journey

The Ocean Journey
© Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto -

The Journey through the Ocean begins with Tropical Cove, where visitors explore a tropical rainforest.

Tropical Cove

The exhibit hosts a variety of plants and animals, including the hyacinth macaw, which boasts the strongest beak of any bird in the world. The exhibit offers daily opportunities learn about macaws from an aviculturist at the program Meet the Macaws. Tropical cove also provides guests the opportunity to participate in the Tropical Cove Bird Program, enjoying an up-close experience with a tropical bird and an interactive session with a tropical bird expert.

Stingray Bay

Ocean Journey continues on to the Stingray Bay exhibit. This exhibit, which provides the longest stretch of interactive shoreline in the aquarium, enables visitors to reach out and touch stingrays as they move through the enclosure. While there, aquarium staff members provide interesting facts about the animals on exhibit.

Butterfly Gardens

The next exhibit available on the Ocean Journey is the Butterfly Garden. With hundreds of butterflies in and around the enclosure, visitors view of species from all around the world, perhaps even in the palm of their hands. The aquarium also offers visitors daily opportunities to participate in a Butterfly Release, where newly emerged butterflies are introduced into the garden.

Penguins’ Rock

From there, the Ocean Journey takes visitors to Penguins’ Rock, the home of large Antarctic and sub-Antarctic penguins. This exhibit includes Gentoo Penguins, the third largest species in the world, and the Macaroni Penguin, known for climbing cliff faces. The Tenneessee Aquarium’s Penguins’ Rock is the only exhibit where these two species of penguin can be seen together. Keeper’s Talks take place twice a day where experts educate audiences about the fun and facts of the Aquarium’s penguins.

Secret Reef and Undersea Cavern

Next stop on the Ocean Journey to Secret Reef recreates the northern most reef in North America, the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico. This saltwater exhibit, home to thousands of sea creatures, features 10 foot long Tiger and Sandbar Sharks, as well as colorful tropical fish and green sea turtles. With two dozen viewing windows, the exhibition provides ample perspectives to observe the underwater interactions. For those visitors wanting even more, the Aquarium provides four daily Secret Reef Dive Shows, where SCUBA divers educate and answer questions about the maritime menagerie. The Ocean Journey winds through the invertebrate exhibit and then back around the reef to the Undersea Cavern for a panoramic view, enabling visitors to see creatures from bottom feeding fish to bright coral from an entirely different perspective.

Boneless Beauties and Jellies: Living Art

Continuing on the Ocean Journey the next stops bring visitors to the world of invertebrates. The first exhibit, Boneless Beauties, showcases sea creatures without backbones. These include octopi, jellyfish, cuttlefish, and Japanese spider crabs. Building on the invertebrate theme, the next exhibit is Jellies: Living Art in Chattanooga, in collaboration with the Hunter Museum of American Art. The exhibit blurs the lines of aquarium and art museum, showcasing 6 species of jellyfish alongside glass sculptures by a variety of renowned artists.

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© Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto -

In addition to the animal exhibits, visitors can also visit the IMAX 3D theater. With a 6 story screen, the immersive experience enables visitors to see underwater in a whole new way. Showings vary but include such titles as A Beautiful Planet and National Parks Adventure 3D.


In addition to its abundant exhibits and visitor opportunities, the Tennessee Aquarium is also involved in important conservation efforts. The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TACI) works to protect and conserve animals in the region. This includes scientific studies, conservation efforts, education and advocacy. The Institute also offers education programs, fellowship and volunteer opportunities for high school students interested in freshwater conservation.

The Aquarium is also a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s new initiative: Saving Animals From Extinction. (AZA-SAFE). This collaboration combines the power of resources generated from visitors with the expertise of the organizations to focus on saving endangered sepcies. The Tennessee Aquarium is currently working to conserve and protect local species, from Tennessee’s only native trout, to the giant Lake Sturgeon, to tiny topminnows. Participation in AZA-SAFE promotes knowledge sharing and collaboration among some of the best conservation and research institutions world-wide. Through this collaborative partnership, the Tennessee Aquarium is creating conservation action plans for animals in the Southeast.

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4.Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit
© Courtesy of Steve -

The Tennessee Aquarium is easily accessible from major freeways, or from a shuttlebus in the downtown Chattanooga area. Parking structures around the Aquarium and IMAX Theater are just a short walk from the entrance. The Tennessee Aquarium experience typically lasts a minimum of two hours and includes access to both the River Journey Building and the Ocean Journey Building. All galleries are fully accessible. The aquarium website provides recommended plans and routes for optimal experience of the exhibits.


The Tennessee Aquarium also provides opportunities for unique experiences. Backstage Pass allows visitors to go behind the scenes, accessing keeper’s only areas, viewing animal nurseries and touching or feeding the animals. The 45 minute tour is kept to a maximum of 15 people; advanced reservations are recommended. Visitors can also Sleep in the Deep, at a sleep over with friends or family in front of the massive viewing windows, waking up to breakfast at the aquarium. Availability varies, so it is recommended to check the website and book in advance. River Cruises are also available through the aquarium, aboard the River Gorge Explorer. The 2 hour cruise down the Tennessee River provides views of the riverfront, observation of local wildlife and history of the city.

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One Broad Street, Chattanooga, TN 37402, website, Phone: 800-262-0695

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Things to Do in Chattanooga, TN: Tennessee Aquarium

  • The River Journey, Photo: Courtesy of Robert Hainer -
  • The Ocean Journey, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto -
  • IMAX 3D, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto -
  • Plan Your Visit, Photo: Courtesy of Steve -
  • Cover Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto -

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