In this Sea Life London review, we’ll round up some of the best and worst bits of visiting the world-famous aquarium on the Southbank just opposite the Houses of Parliament. Visiting Sea Life with young children can be an intense experience, but it’s also very rewarding to see how they get fascinated by marine life.
Although this article may contain affiliate links, please note that this review is not sponsored by Sea Life in any way (we paid for the entrance ourselves).
From sharks and stingrays to penguins and sea horses, we were positively surprised by the wide range of marine life and huge aquarium tanks within the compact, mostly underground space filled with hands-on displays and interactive exhibitions. It’s an engaging experience for children of all ages, from toddlers to teenagers. Close to Sea Life, you’ll find several other great attractions for families with kids like London Eye, which makes it convenient to combine tickets to make the most of the day out.
Are the queues for Sea Life long?
The queues are not overwhelmingly long in comparison to other attractions in London. Visitor numbers are also limited by timed tickets, which helps even things out avoiding too much congestion. Having said this, the area outside Sea Life gets very crowded with tourists in general, and the queuing system can feel quite chaotic. Our recommendation is to keep your tickets ready when approaching the entrance to make sure you get scanned through quickly.
Is Sea Life push chair friendly?
You’ll have no problem taking a baby or a toddler in a pushchair to Sea Life, but keep in mind that you’ll pass through several different levels, so you’ll need to take quite a few elevators on your route. The passageways are also quite narrow, so in order not to block the different trails, you’ll need to look for places to park the pushchair constantly. Finally, because of the narrow trail, our recommendation is to use a baby carrier instead of a pushchair, which will give you a lot more flexibility when experiencing the different tanks and displays.
What about babies and toddlers, won’t they get bored?
In our experience, Sea Life is a great place to take both babies and toddlers. All the marine life full of strange shapes and colourful creatures are great fun for babies to watch even if they don’t understand what’s going on. Toddlers have a great time as well, especially since it’s safe for them to explore a lot of the exhibitions on their own without parents having to worry about them breaking anything constantly.
Sea Life London’s Cool Penguins
The Polar Adventure, where you’ll find the famous penguins, allows visitors to wander through and experience the world of these magnificent creatures surrounded by their icy home landscape. Penguins are fed two to three times a day, including hand feeding to allow them to get comfortable with humans. Close contact enables the staff of Sea Life to check in on the health and wellness of the penguins at will.
The Rainforest Adventure
From icy to warm, visitors can enjoy seeing creatures from every part of the globe. The Cuban Crocodiles are some of the most aggressive, intelligent and endangered in the world. They feed on turtles, rodents and fish by swallowing their prey whole with a mouth full of stones. The stones help the crocodiles digest their food. These endangered crocodiles only have two wild natural habitats remaining in the world, Isle de Juventud and Cuba’s Zapata Swamp. Visitors can get a rare glimpse of these magnificent creatures and even visit to coincide with the exciting feeding times.
“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.”Sir David Attenborough
The shark tank at Sea Life London
The London Aquarium’s Shark Reef Encounter houses sixteen sharks. Visitors walk on glass just inches over sixteen swimming sharks. The journey then takes visitors to enjoy a breathtaking display over three stories high. The journey through Shark Reef Encounter ends with the interactive Shark Academy, a hands-on learning environment about sharks and their lives.
Octopuses create their own picture-perfect homes at the bottom of the sea by collecting shells and placing them right. These odd-looking creatures are fascinating in behaviour and physiology; octopuses can change their appearance, texture and colour to blend into their environment when threatened by predators.
Sea Life London is home to over 500 different water-loving species worldwide in over 2,000,000 litres of water throughout the aquarium. Home to piranhas, stingrays, a variety of beautiful and rare fish, turtles, coral and exotic vegetation, The Sea Life London Aquarium is an excellent experience for young and old alike. Located in Central London and open seven days a week, except for Christmas Day, visitors are invited to interact, learn and enjoy what the world’s oceans have to offer.
The Sea Life experience is for anyone and everyone alike. So let your imagination take you away on a voyage under County Hall through the wonderful waters of the world.
Witness everything from the beautiful riches of the coral reefs and the Indian Ocean to the dark depths of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. On your trip, you will see over 350 different species, including eels, sharks, piranhas, rays, jellyfish, clownfish, tangs and many more…
Is Sea Life good value for money?
Sea Life tickets cost from £30 which is in line with other premium London attractions like the Tower of London, Madame Tussauds and London Dungeon. However, after nearly three hours at Sea Life without any breaks or any meals we were exhausted, and there’s no doubt that we got a lot of value from our visit.
Spending more than £100 on a tourist attraction for a family of five is of course expensive, but we would definitely say it’s better value compared to attractions like the Shard and London Dungeon. Also when considering the educational aspect, the attraction was well worth it in comparison to other premium London attractions.
Having said that, if you’re on a strict budget and interested in animal attractions, you should check out our long list of free things to do in London which will give you plenty of ideas for how to have a brilliant time in London without spending much at all.
The Octopus Display – Atlantic Coasts
The idea and design of this tank is based on the specialist requirements of octopus with some very unique features! Housed within this tank is also Lesser Octopus, Eledone Cirrhosa. This species is very much a local species and can be found around the British and Irish coasts. Lesser Octopuses are predominantly red-brown in colour but, as with several other octopus species, can change colour quickly to match their background.
We really enjoyed watching these intriguing animals in the aquarium! As well as the octopus, the tank is home to various other animals, all found locally in the UK. Starfish such as the Bloody Henry starfish, Henricia Oculata, and the purple Sunstar, Solastar Endeca, can be seen. Plumose and dahlia anemones complete this display.
Sea Life London Jellyfish Display – Ocean Invadors
This display is based on a world-famous ‘Kreisel’ (meaning ‘spinning top’) design and consists of two separate tanks, sitting back-to-back. Though these tanks are square in shape, the viewing windows are circular with a diameter of 1.5 metres! The capacity of these tanks is approx 700 litres. These new tanks feature two species of jellyfish, the spotted jellyfish, Mastigias Papua, and the Australian white-spotted jellyfish, Phyllorhiza Punctata.
The spotted jellyfish is also known as a ‘lagoon jelly’ as it lives in bays, harbours and lagoons in the South Pacific. They have rounded bells (main body) and strange clumps of arms or tentacles trailing behind them. Instead of one single mouth, they have many small mouth openings on their arms (called oral arms!).
Small fish have been found living within several larger spotted jellies! The fish use the inside of the jellyfish’s bell (main body) to protect larger predators until they reach maturity! Spotted jellies swim in huge swarms and stay in the sun’s direct rays during the day as they use the sun’s rays to fuel the growth of their own symbiotic algae, which live inside them and provide food for the jellyfish. At night, the spotted jellies dive to deeper waters where they absorb different compounds which act as fertilisers for their algae!
The bell of the Australian white-spotted jellyfish can reach up to 50cm in diameter. They are bluish-brown in colour with many evenly distributed, opaque white spots. As well as having eight thick, branching arms, which terminate in large brown bundles of stinging cells, the Australian white-spotted jellyfish also have longer, ribbon-like transparent appendages! As the name suggests, they are native to Australia. Still, they are now found around the Hawaiian Islands, the Caribbean, and Mexico. This is because they were accidentally introduced to these areas.
The Mangrove Display!
The innovative design of the mangrove display allows for regular tidal movements, which supports the tropical fauna and flora found in these fantastic, unique habitats. The main feature of the display is a rock wall backdrop featuring a waterfall and sandbanks along the front of the rock wall. These sandbanks are teaming with mangrove crabs! As well as the crabs, there are other animals typically found in mangrove habitats, such as mudskippers and four-eyed fish. In addition, juvenile mangrove foliage will fill out the display, helping recreate an authentic-looking mangrove habitat.
Mudskippers are gobies that have become adapted to a lifestyle similar to frogs and other amphibians. They are common in tidal mudflats and mangrove areas. They crawl out of the water, feeding on small animals and algae.
Four-eyed fish, commonly known as Anableps, don’t actually have four eyes! Each eye is, in fact, divided into two parts, allowing these fish to see both above and below the waterline. Anableps is derived from the Greek for ‘up-looking’, which is entirely appropriate! Anableps are primarily surface-feeders and can even jump out of the water to catch their food!
Freshwater fish at Sea Life London
The freshwater display is themed on a fast-flowing river. It includes a shoal of brown (or sea) trout, Salmo trutta, surrounded by various living plants. From the viewing window, visitors can see a tumbling, rocky terrain. Hidden water jets throughout the tank creates a natural river water current effect.
Brown (or sea) trout are native to Europe and Western Asia and were introduced into North America in 1883. They are a very important commercial and sport fish. There are many different forms. The most widespread, called the brown trout, spends its life in freshwater and can be highly variable in colour, sometimes appearing a dull, silvery colour and sometimes more black-brown in colour. Another form, the sea trout (which looks similar to salmon), migrates from the river to the sea, returning to the river to spawn. However, on return to the river, they appear a much brighter silver colour with black spots. They are very similar, in appearance, to young salmon.
However, overfishing and pollution have caused brown trout stocks to crash. In addition, high numbers of parasitic sea lice from salmon farms have wiped out sea trout in some areas. Due to the success of brown trout artificially breeding under farm conditions, artificial re-stocking with hatchery-bred trout has often been seen as the remedy but has, in fact, caused further problems to the environment.
Aquaria can provide banks for biodiversity i.e. keep and breed populations of fish that have gone extinct in the wild or are endangered. This is done in the hope that the cause of the animals’ decline in the wild is removed so the species can be reintroduced in the future.
Species that need help are listed in the IUCN (International Union for Nature Conservation) red Data List www.redlist.org. Species on this list are categorised according to their conservation status. Unfortunately, a significant problem for aquatic animals is the lack of data available. Only 10 % of the 25000 species of fish have been assessed.
Species programmes are now coordinated globally, with all aquaria working together to help threatened species. Aquaria and zoo professionals join to form a TAG (Taxon Advisory Group). The tags are focused on groups of species.
Sea Life London Conservation Programs
Freshwater fishes are the most endangered of Madagascar’s endemic vertebrates. Of 92 species, 61 are endangered. This is due to the introduction of non-native fish species, deforestation and smaller fishing mesh being used to catch the fish. Along with other aquariums worldwide, Sea Life London is breeding these endangered species to hopefully be reintroduced back into the wild when the situation improves.
Barombi Mbo Cichlids
Lake Barombi Mbo in southwest Cameroon is home to 11 species of cichlid. Since the rise in human population, the cichlid population has declined due to loss of habitat and new fishing methods. The Sea Life is housing 2 critically endangered species to breed them in the near future.
Central American Livebearers
Sea Life London holds two species of Mexican goodeid, which are under threat in the wild from new introduced species, pollution and drainage of habitat. One species is found only in a swimming pool and a restaurant pond. Also, members are trying to educate people about the importance of keeping these fish alive.
Seahorse populations are threatened in the wild due to overfishing, pollution, habitat degradation & use in the traditional Chinese medicine trade. Sea Life London works with Project Seahorse and the British FAITAG groups to breed and raise seahorses.
Sea Life breeds the Knysna Seahorse Hippocampus Capensis in their quarantine area. The Knysna seahorse has the smallest known rage of any seahorse and was the first to be assessed as threatened on the IUCN red list in 1994.
Development and tourism put heavy pressure on the Knysna estuary, and freshwater floods have caused heavy mortality among the seahorse population. However, once raised to adult size, they are stocked into our displays, used in scientific research and distributed to other aquariums.
Coral reefs are one of the most diverse habitats on earth, rivalled only by the rainforests in terms of species. It is estimated that between 1 and 3 million species exist on coral reefs. In addition, approximately one-third of all fish species live on them. Coral reefs, however, represent just 1% of the oceans.
Coral reefs are under increasing threat due to the actions of man. These pressures include over-fishing and destructive fishing techniques, pollution and coral bleach resulting from global warming, to mention a few. It is estimated that only 30% of coral reefs will remain in 50 years as many are already beyond recovery.
Sea Life London runs a coral propagation project. Currently, they keep over 50 species, 28 of which are being propagated. The project helps conserve corals through captive propagation, therefore, removing the pressure on the coral reefs from importing live corals. It also increases our knowledge of coral biology.
This project is run in conjunction with other European aquariums and academic institutes in a worldwide initiative to promote coral conservation.