I love animals, especially when given the chance to see them up close in a safe and controlled environment. I always enjoy visiting places like zoos and aquariums when I’m in a new city and have had the opportunity to visit ones all across the country. Here in North Carolina, we have a fantastic zoo in Asheboro- The North Carolina Zoo. But did you know that we also have a wonderful aquarium in the state? Well, technically we have more than one. But the main location is in Kure Beach North Carolina and is one of the best in the country. At least according to rankings by Travel Awaits.

They ranked the 12 best aquariums in the US for 2023 and included the North Carolina Aquarium among some good company as one of the best. The aquariums recognized spanned both coasts and some spots in between. And aquariums don’t just have fish. Many also have large mammals such as sharks, whales, and dolphins. But even other creatures that don’t spend all of their time in the water. This includes adorable penguins, otters, and seals. But also reptiles like alligators and turtles. Many or most aquariums and committed to the conservation of species and help to ensure their survival.

A visit to an aquarium can be a fun activity for adults and kids alike. And if you can’t escape the Monday workday, but want a little joy in your life, most have life camera feeds where you can watch the animals. I may or may not be watching a penguin right now for **research** purposes. Keep reading to see and learn about not only the North Carolina aquarium that is among the best but a couple of others that are an easy driving distance from NC. One has some events I’m dying the check out later this fall. You can read the full list from Travel Awaits here.

  • North Carolina Aquarium At Fort Fisher

    Rank: 8th

    Location: Kure Beach, NC

    The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is one of three in NC that were originally Marine Science Centers. Visitors can explore exhibits such as “Otters On The Edge”, “Cape Fear Shoals”- the home of the sharks, and touch experiences at the “Coquina Outcrop”. Or take a behind-the-scene tour.

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  • Tennessee Aquarium

    Rank: 3rd

    Location: Chatanooga, TN

    Located on the water, the Tennessee River, in downtown Chatanooga the Tennesee Aquarium in home to animals such as otters, macaroni penguins, sand tiger sharks, and more. It features “journies” of different eco systems including the River Journey and Ocean Journey. Get More Info

  • Georgia Aquarium

    Rank: 6th

    Location: Atlanta, GA

    I visited the Georgia Aquarium a few months ago when I was in town and it was a fantastic experience. A personal favorite of mine was the Penguin Encounter we did as an add-on to the ticket cost, the Dolphin show, and the sharks. Exhibits include “Sharks! Predators of the Deep”, “Pier 225”, “Ocean Voyager” and “Cold Water Quest” among others. There are also numerous add-on experiences including the aforementioned penguins, as well as dolphins, sharks & rays, sea lions, and more.

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  • Ripley's Aquarium of The Smokies

    Rank: 9th

    Location: Gatlinburg, TN

    Riley’s Aquarium of the Smokies features over 10,000 animals in 10 different exhibits including “Ocean Realm”, “Shark Lagoon”, “Coral Reef”, and “Stingray Bay” among others. They also offer fun experiences such “Pancakes with Pengiuns”, a “Sip & Sharks” 21 and up sleepover, and “Pints and Penguins”. I’m going to need to attend all of these.

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