Nine Reasons You Should Visit The Lisbon Oceanário

Nine Reasons why you should visit the Lisbon Oceanário

The Oceanário in Lisbon is easily the best aquarium we’ve ever been to. It’s also one of the biggest, with a fantastic variety of fish and other animals. You’ll find puffins and penguins, sharks and jellyfish as well as the more unusual creatures such as the cartoon-like sunfish and the adorable sea otters.

Here are all the reasons why you should visit.

It’s the largest indoor aquarium in Europe

© Mafalda Frade

The Oceanário is Europe’s biggest indoor aquarium, containing about 25,000 different fish, seabirds and mammals from around the world. But it’s so well designed that it doesn’t feel too big to enjoy.

What’s more, the building itself is really cool. My James Bond-obsessed 12-year-old said it looked “just like an evil villain’s hideout”. The eye-catching building appears to be floating on the water and you enter by crossing a footbridge.

It’s extremely well laid out

The aquarium is on two floors surrounding a massive central tank. The tank is seven metres deep so that visitors can look into it at different levels for close ups of the creatures living at the top and the bottom of the ocean.

The four main areas around the central tank showcase four different habitats around the world: the North Atlantic rocky coast, the Antarctic coastal line, the Temperate Pacific kelp forests and the Tropical Indian coral reefs.

As you wander in and out of the four habitats you keep coming back to the central tank and you’re guaranteed to see something new and fascinating every time. There are lots of helpful signs all over the walls so that you can find out interesting facts as you look around.

The central tank is truly incredible

The central tank is as big as four Olympic-sized swimming pools and contains 100 different species from around the world. Because it’s on two floors you can look into it from different levels which gives you the chance to observe some fish that you wouldn’t normally be able to see.

On the ground floor you can get a better look at the fish that spend most of their time at the bottom of the sea, like the zebra sharks and the guitarfish that look like something halfway between a ray and a shark. You can watch flatfish like plaice, sole and brill burying themselves in the sand and you can sometimes spot penguins diving in-between the rocks.

On the top floor we loved watching the graceful moray eels and the ‘devil fish’ Mantas whose horn-shaped fins work as giant spoons to direct small fish into its mouth.

Like most people, we were particularly taken with the numerous sharks. The sharks here are fed with ten kilos of fish twice a week. We learnt that sharks often shed their teeth and that some of the sandbar sharks have more than 20,000 teeth throughout their lives.

It’s a rare chance to see a sunfish

© Pedro A Pina

We were fascinated by the Ocean Sunfish. It looks like something a child would draw – I’d never seen anything like it in my life. It’s the largest bony fish in the world – more than three metres long and weighs over two tons. It looks exactly like a rock and often lies on its side on the surface of the water to sunbathe.

We were very lucky to see it – the Oceanário is one of very few aquariums in the world to have a sunfish because they are so difficult to care for.

You’ll fall in love with the sea otters

The sea otters, which come from the North Pacific Ocean, were some of my favourite animals in the whole aquarium. They are the only marine mammal to rely on their fur to maintain their body temperature so as a result they’ve got the densest fur in the animal kingdom and spend most of their day grooming their hair.

You can watch the otters doing just this at the Oceanário. They swim to the surface and lie on their backs, rubbing their cheeks with their paws, holding their paws over their furry tummies then rolling around in the water. It’s one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen – my youngest son and I literally had to be dragged away so that we could see everything else in the aquarium.

You can walk through a rainforest

The Tropical Indian Ocean part of the aquarium recreates the coralline beaches of the Seychelles. The rainforest and the coral reef are two of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Planet Earth. In this area you can go on a walkway through the forest listening to the sounds of birds and monkeys.

…and into the Antarctic

In the Antarctic area you’ll get to see Rockhopper Penguins and Magellanic Penguins from the Falkland Islands – always a huge favourite in any aquarium we’ve been to. Here the experience is made even better by having Inca Terns flying right above our heads.

It’s a great place to shelter from the sun and rain

Lisbon can get really hot in the summer months and when you’ve had a few days of intense heat it can be a big relief spending a few hours in the cool, tranquil space of the indoor aquarium. It can be a blessed escape from the rain too. Despite its reputation as one of the sunniest cities in Europe, it was pouring with rain when we arrived in Lisbon in February. Spending the afternoon in the Oceanário on that first day was a great way to escape the awful weather.

Even the shop is worth a visit

I’ll usually avoid the gift shop if at all possible but I had to make an exception for this one. It’s packed with great products including soft toy penguins, puffins and sharks. I think they’re missing a trick though – we couldn’t find any soft toy sea otters. We’d have bought those for sure!

The Oceanário de Lisboa is open daily from 10am until 8pm, until 6pm during the winter months. Tickets, adults, €14; children, €9; under 4s, free. Family tickets cost €36 for a family of four.

Disclosure: We were very kindly given free admission to the Oceanário but all opinions are honest and my own.

For more ideas and inspiration on visiting Lisbon, take a look at City Breaks with Kids: Lisbon and A Guide to the Palaces of Sintra and Seven Foodie Treats to Try in Lisbon.

9 Reasons to visit the Lisbon Oceanário, best aquarium in Europe









  1. 8th August 2016 / 8:32 am

    I can never resist seeing a penguin up close, they are so adorable! Haven’t been to Lisbon yet, but when I do travel there I will remember to plan a visit to the Oceanario, thanks for sharing!! xoxo, nano |

    • 8th August 2016 / 5:45 pm

      There’s just something about penguins! Lisbon is absolutely fabulous. We all fell in love with the city when we visited. Thanks so much for visiting again, Nano.

  2. 8th August 2016 / 10:02 am

    Pinning for later! We’re planning our Portugal trip for sometime soon and we always love a good aquarium. Otters and sharks and puffins? Oh my. We’re in! Thanks for sharing. Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

    • 8th August 2016 / 5:46 pm

      Oh that’s fantastic that you’ve got a Lisbon visit planned soon! We loved the aquarium here.

  3. 8th August 2016 / 11:26 am

    It looks fantastic, I visited soon after it first opened in 2000. Our entire family love aquariums, they are one of the few places where both young and old are equally fascinated. Have fun x

    • 8th August 2016 / 5:47 pm

      We just loved it. It really was the best I’ve ever seen.

  4. 8th August 2016 / 12:27 pm

    Wow! That Aquarium looks amazing! How cute are those otters? Just chilling and floating around on their backs. Was it quite crowded when you went? Or did you find it quite peaceful watching the sea life gently swimming around?

    • 8th August 2016 / 5:54 pm

      The otters were unbelievably cute!! We went quite late in the day and it really wasn’t that busy. There’s a lot of space to wander around and sit and watch the central tank so the atmosphere is more peaceful than hectic.

  5. avrilor
    8th August 2016 / 8:36 pm

    Lovely pictures, Clare.

    Up the walls with course – will email soon and eplain where our lunch date went. xx

    Avril O’Reilly

    Children’s Book Writer and Illustrator

    My new straight-to-the-point one page website


    • 11th August 2016 / 8:55 am

      Thanks Avril. Looking forward to it!

  6. 9th August 2016 / 8:33 am

    Wow. What a great aquarium. I love sea otters too. They are so playful and funny. Looks like incredible value at that price or maybe I’m just used to London prices. Saving for later

    • 11th August 2016 / 8:57 am

      It’s a fantastic aquarium. I’d definitely visit again.

  7. 9th August 2016 / 8:37 am

    That does look fascinating! It’s huge!!!
    Love your description of the sunfish, “it looks like something a child would draw” because that’s exactly how I would draw a fish. Lol.

    • 11th August 2016 / 8:58 am

      Haha, me too!! They look like cartoon fish!

  8. mymeenalife
    9th August 2016 / 8:47 am

    How adorable are those penguins!? I’m all about birds so I’d probably spend half the visit in the rain forest. 🙂 #citytripping

    • 11th August 2016 / 9:01 am

      They were adorable. I loved that you could see them above and below the water.

  9. 9th August 2016 / 10:12 am

    We had a great visit on Christmas Day a few years ago (pro-tip: they are actually *open* on Christmas day; one of the few attractions in Lisbon that is open). Plus one to your recommendation. This is a great place to spend an afternoon. #citytripping

    • 11th August 2016 / 9:02 am

      We loved our afternoon here. How cool to spend Christmas Day among the fish!

  10. 9th August 2016 / 12:25 pm

    It’s a while since I’ve been to an aquarium – we used to visit such a lot when my son was little. I think I’d be tempted by this one just to see the sea-otters – too much cuteness!

    • 11th August 2016 / 9:04 am

      I’m not aquarium crazy but I absolutely loved this one. Those sea otters…

  11. 9th August 2016 / 2:23 pm

    The sun fish looks amazing but I love the sea otters and the tiny penguins.

    • 12th August 2016 / 4:44 pm

      They were all fantastic, Ahila! It was the best possible activity for a rainy afternoon on our first day – we were all exhausted after an early morning flight from the UK but it was so relaxing walking around with the fish and other creatures.

  12. 9th August 2016 / 5:24 pm

    Oh I definitely think I’d fall in love with the Sea Otters! It’s been a long time since I went to an aquarium! Maybe I should add it for when we go to Lisbon one day! #CityTripping

    • 13th August 2016 / 4:51 pm

      You definitely would fall in love with those otters – I wasn’t joking when I said I had to be dragged away!!

  13. 9th August 2016 / 7:11 pm

    This looks great, what cute little otters! Love the comment about the villan’s hideout :’) #citytripping

    • 13th August 2016 / 4:51 pm

      Thank you! Yes, my son is somewhat James Bond-mad and he really took to the look of the building! I think he has a point actually.

  14. 9th August 2016 / 8:48 pm

    How amazing – I love Lisbon but have not yet managed to visit here. I know my daughter would adore it. The sunfish is astonishingoing too – and otters are always unfeasibly cute #citytripping

    • 14th August 2016 / 1:34 pm

      Your daughter really would adore it, Cathy. This was by far the best aquarium we’ve ever been to.

  15. 9th August 2016 / 8:53 pm

    This place looks incredible! Breathtaking central tank, and the Sunfish is weird and wonderful. We’re going to a similar (but not quite so large) aquarium in Brittany – it’ll be interesting to see how they compare.

    • 13th August 2016 / 4:50 pm

      It’s absolutely brilliant, Nell. I hope you enjoy the aquarium in Brittany as much as we did this one.

  16. 10th August 2016 / 8:00 am

    We’re planning a trip to Lisbon next year and I’d already thought about a visit to the aquarium so this was a timely post!

    • 13th August 2016 / 4:49 pm

      Lucky you! We fell in love with Lisbon and the Oceanário was one of many highlights of our trip.

  17. 10th August 2016 / 6:00 pm

    This sounds amazing! Aquariums are such great educational spaces and sounds like you learnt a lot – thanks for passing it on – didn’t know otters had the densest fur and the amount of teeth some sharks go through is incredible. Love the sunfish too. Thanks for linking to #citytripping

    • 13th August 2016 / 4:48 pm

      I wasn’t expecting to learn quite so much but it’s wonderful learning while you’re also enjoying yourself so much. I just loved this aquarium!

  18. 10th August 2016 / 11:05 pm

    Omg.. I don’t think I need 9 reasons to visit this. The first reason is good enough. For an aquarium this size, the admission is surprisingly reasonable! #CityTripping

    • 13th August 2016 / 4:46 pm

      Thanks! It’s a fabulous aquarium – certainly the best I’ve ever been to.

  19. 11th August 2016 / 3:13 pm

    Looks like an incredible aquarium and the sea otters do look irresistible! I’m fascinated by sharks..the central tank looks like quite something..

    • 14th August 2016 / 1:32 pm

      There is something really fascinating about sharks. It’s amazing to see them swimming around right in front of you.

  20. 11th August 2016 / 4:59 pm

    I liked it too!:)

  21. 12th August 2016 / 3:35 pm

    It looks like an amazing aquarium, the central tank looks insane! Love the sea otters 🙂
    Maya Not Mya

    • 14th August 2016 / 1:31 pm

      Me too! The central tank was extraordinary. Just loved it!

  22. 12th August 2016 / 7:28 pm

    This is so inspiring! I love the post:)

  23. 15th August 2016 / 10:12 am

    I looooved the Ocenario in Lisbon, I recommend it to everyone visiting the city. The otters were too cute, I spent a lot of time watching them floating, haha. #citytripping

    • 15th August 2016 / 4:49 pm

      Oh me too! Honestly I could have stayed there for hours watching the otters. Good job I didn’t though because the central tank was just wonderful too.

  24. 16th August 2016 / 5:32 pm

    It looks really lovely! I’d love to visit it – I bet it’s a tad more impressive than the London Aquarium.

    • 16th August 2016 / 6:44 pm

      It’s a great aquarium, Mandy. So much better than the London Aquarium. In a different league and a lot less crowded – at least it was when I visited anyway.

  25. 27th July 2017 / 1:29 pm

    The last time I went to Portugal I didn´t know about this! Next time I go (because I will, it´s such a beautiful country) I will pay a visit!

    • Clare Thomson
      2nd August 2017 / 5:57 pm

      It’s such a fantastic aquarium, Johlene. It’s worth visiting for the sea otters alone!

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