Tucked in the basement of the old County Hall on the Thames is a vast underground and underwater world. Some 350 species of water creature live here in more than 50 displays. The largest, the Pacific Ocean tank (built in the old GLC canteen), contains more than one million litres of water, and houses fish from 15cm to 3m long. The tank rises above you and falls beneath you, the thick acrylic walls barely registering as a barrier, so that you feel as though you are in the water with the fish.
Press your face against the window of the Pacific tank and you really can come nose to nose with "a big ugly brute" (my son's description) of a shark. Not to mention the underside of a huge stingray or the glistening, almost paper-thin body of the bizarre moonfish. We had lots of fun trying to predict when the inappropriately named zebra shark (which is covered in spots) would stream across the window blocking our view. The Touch Pool offers a different kind of proximity. When they haven't just been fed, rays flap their leisurely way across the surface close enough to the side for you to reach out and gently touch their patterned backs.
The aquarium has weird and wonderful creatures to suit all tastes and ages. From transparent jellyfish to spiky toxic lionfish, see-through glass catfish to Peter's elephant-nose fish with their miniature "trunks". The children liked the spotted garden eels - brightly coloured cartoon-worm-like creatures that stick upright out of the seabed. They loved the neon colours of the tropical fish, too, and the extraordinary camouflage of the ocellated frogfish, which looks like a stone or a sponge with candyfloss smeared across it.
The aquarium has zones for all the major aquatic habitats, from UK freshwater to coral reef, rainforest and mangrove via the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans. It starts with the Thames, now home to 119 species of fish and invertebrates. The Thames still carries its share of non-organic junk, though, and a display of objects found on the foreshore includes the intriguing fact that a tennis ball dropped into the river at Chiswick would take up to three years to reach the open sea. We learnt that while sharks kill 10 to 20 people a year (fewer than those killed by pigs or falling coconuts), humans are estimated to be killing an unsustainable 275,000 sharks a day (mainly for shark-fin soup).
Nothing in the aquarium (except sweets in the shop), but there is a café next door, and others nearby.
Fully wheelchair (and buggy) accessible. Disabled parking nearby. Hearing loop on the turnstiles. Braille signs.
Open daily (except Christmas Day), 10am-6pm, last entry 5pm. Summer holidays: open until 7pm. From 1 April- 3 Sept and school holidays, adults £11.75, children (3-14) £8.25, family ticket (two adults, two children) £36. Other times, adults £10.75, children £7.25, family ticket £32. Book your tickets in advance.
How to get there
The London Aquarium, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7PB
(020-7967 8000; londonaquarium.co.uk).
By public transport: Westminster and Waterloo underground stations, Waterloo mainline station. Buses to Westminster Bridge Road, numbers 12, 53, 59, 76, 148, 159, 211, 341; or to Belvedere Road (just behind the Aquarium), numbers 77, RV1 (020-7222 1234; tfl.gov.uk). By car: There are (expensive) public car parks on Belvedere Road and York Road behind the aquarium. The congestion charge applies Monday to Friday.Reuse content