8 Best Aquariums In The Midwest USA

Last Updated on October 27, 2023

Continuing on from 9 Best Zoos In The Midwest USA, this guide looks at the best aquariums in the Midwest! As well as learning about ocean marine species, such as sharks, several of the aquariums have exhibits on the freshwater life that can be found in the rivers that pass through the Midwest! Many have touch tanks and experiences to help visitors understand and appreciate the wildlife we share the planet with.

Best Aquariums In The Midwest

  1. Best Aquariums In The Midwest
    1. Aquariums in Illinois
      1. Shedd Aquarium
    2. Aquariums in Iowa
      1. National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
    3. Aquariums in Minnesota
      1. Great Lakes Aquarium
      2. Sealife at Mall of America
    4. Aquariums in Missouri
      1. St Louis Aquarium
      2. Wonders of Wildlife Museum & Aquarium
    5. Aquariums in Nebraska
      1. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
    6. Aquariums in Ohio
      1. Greater Cleveland Aquarium

Aquariums in Illinois

Shedd Aquarium

🗺Chicago, IA

Submitted by Theresa from The Local Tourist

Shedd Aquarium is a must-see destination for both locals and tourists. As one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world, it is home to over 32,000 animals representing 1,500 species from around the globe.

Visitors can explore the aquarium’s many exhibits, including the Caribbean Reef, filled with exotic fish and colorful coral; Amazon Rising, which showcases the diverse flora and fauna of the Amazon Rainforest; and the Polar Play Zone, where they can learn about the animals that call the polar regions home.

Shedd Aquarium - Caribbean Reef. Photo credit: Theresa from The Local Tourist
Photo credit: Theresa from The Local Tourist

In addition to its many exhibits, the aquarium also offers a variety of interactive experiences, such as the 4D Experience Theater, where visitors can watch educational movies in 3D with added sensory elements, and Stingray Touch, where they can touch and feed gentle stingrays.

Abbott Oceanarium is one of the highlights. It’s home to dolphins, beluga whales, and other marine animals. Visitors can watch these animals as they swim and play in an environment designed to resemble their natural habitat, or even take a behind-the-scenes tour to learn more about their care and conservation.

Shedd Aquarium is a fascinating and educational destination that offers something for everyone and it’s one of the best things to do in Chicago. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or just looking for a fun day out, this world-class aquarium is a must.

Aquariums in Iowa

National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

🗺Dubuque, IA

The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa, is one of only a handful of establishments that is accredited by BOTH the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The museum is split into a couple of different sections. The Woodward Wetland & Mississippi River Center focuses on the wildlife found along the length of the Mississippi River. As well as fish, there are otters, alligator snapping turtles and American alligators exhibited.

National Mississippi River Museum
Stingray at National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque IA

Another area of the museum is the ‘Rivers to the Sea – Gulf of Mexico Aquarium‘. The Mississippi River’s final destination is the Gulf of Mexico. In this area you’ll find more tropical species of fish, that live in salt water environments. There is a stingray tank and visitors can see Dot the sea turtle (Santa SCUBA dives in this tank in the lead up to Christmas!).

As the name suggests, it is a museum along with being an aquarium, so there are lots of exhibits about the history and geography of the Mississippi River. The William M. Black paddle steamer is docked outside the museum, on selected dates it is open for tours. It was built in 1934 and is now a National Historic Landmark. There is also a 4D cinema!

Aquariums in Minnesota

Great Lakes Aquarium

🗺Duluth, MN

Submitted by Suzy from Sisters of the Spoon

My first thought is who wants to see a bunch of fish that we catch in the lake during summer and eat. Experiencing aquariums with ocean life, how could a Midwest aquarium possibly compare.

Here is where I was so wrong. We had a group of 12 consisting of myself and my husband, our 4 adult children, their partners and our three grandsons under 6 years old. Everyone loved the aquarium!

As you work your way past the immense wall of mesmerizing flowing water, there are several exhibits, tanks, interactive areas and a gift shop. 

Great Lakes Aquarium Minnesota. Photo credit: Suzy Sisters of the Spoon
Photo credit: Suzy from Sisters of the Spoon

In the tanks, they not only had native Great Lakes fish and Midwest fish, such as rainbow trout, lake trout, sunfish, bass and muskies, the aquarium also had other species like a zebra shark, seahorses, jellyfish and a 60-pound electric eel! 

The Great Lakes Aquarium is open daily 10am to 6pm. At 3pm daily is the otter show. Otters are so fun to watch. This is very popular with visitors. 

Tickets are priced for adults, seniors, children; toddlers under 3 are free.  

Sealife at Mall of America

🗺Bloomington, MN

Submitted by Jordan from The Homebody Tourist

Did you know Minnesota’s largest aquarium is housed inside the Mall of America?! Sealife is home to thousands of different underwater creatures, rescued turtles, touch pools, VIP experiences, and of course the famous 300-ft underwater tunnel

Sealife is located on Level 1 on the East side of the Mall so you should park in the East Ramp for the easiest access. Once inside, you’ll see huge signs pointing you to the aquarium’s entrance. Tickets are limited and timed, so it is recommended that you buy your tickets online ahead of time. 

Sea turtle at Sealife Mall of America. Photo credit: Mall of America
Photo credit: Mall of America

After you are all aquarium-ed out, be sure to wander around the Mall for other cool finds such as the massive Lego creations, FlyOver America, a mirror maze, and of course countless unique stores and restaurants. 

It’ll surely be a great stop full of countless memories that your family will not forget from your Midwest getaway.

Aquariums in Missouri

St Louis Aquarium

🗺St Louis, MO

The St Louis Aquarium at Union Station opened on December 25th 2019. It is home to over 13,000 animals! Similar to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque IA, it has an exhibit dedicated to the aquatic life found in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Along with this, other exhibits include: Global Rivers, Ocean Jewels, Shark Canyon and The Deep.

There are animal encounters and unique interactions such as jelly fish touch tanks. At Christmas they have a SCUBA Santa and throughout the year they offer ‘dive messages‘, where a member of staff holds up a message inside one of the tanks, perfect for proposals and birthday messages etc.

Union Station St Louis
Union Station St Louis MO

While visiting the St Louis Aquarium, make sure to check out the other attractions at Union Station. You’ll find the St Louis Wheel, a carousel, mini golf, a high ropes course, a 3D Light Show in the Grand Hall and a Fire & Light Show. If you need somewhere convenient to stay, check out the St Louis Union Station Hotel (by Hilton).

Wonders of Wildlife Museum & Aquarium

🗺Springfield, MO

Submitted by Christina from Destined Globetrotter

Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife Museum & Aquarium is in Springfield, Missouri, next to the flagship Bass Pro Shop (Johnny Morris is the founder of Bass Pro). With over 800 species of marine life and 1.5 miles of walking area, it takes 3-4 hours to navigate. The huge tanks, as you enter, set the tone for the magnitude of this aquarium. 

There are three unique experiences that you can add on to your general admission: a penguin encounter and two shark encounters. The shark encounters provide you with a special air helmet that allows you to dive underwater without certification.

WoW Aquarium Springfield MO
Photo credit: Christina from Destined Globetrotter

If you are traveling with kids, make sure that you allow some time at the end in the Sketch Aquarium. Your child(ren) can color a fish, scan it and then watch the fish “swim” on the big screen. Our kids loved it!

Parking is plentiful in front of the aquarium or in the Bass Pro parking lots. If your group gets hungry, there are two cafes and the Shipwreck Snack Bar. The aquarium is busiest over the summer, during school breaks and on weekends. The best time to visit is Monday through Thursday in late fall or winter.

Aquariums in Nebraska

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

🗺Omaha, NE

The Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium is said to be one of the largest aquariums in a zoo in the world. It is located within Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, so you can enjoy a huge range of animals all within one ticket price. The enclosures at Henry Doorly Zoo are done very well!

Yellow frog against the glass at Omaha Zoo and Aquarium in Nebraska USA
Frog in the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium at Henry Doorly Zoo

There is a 70ft underwater shark tunnel with sharks and sea turtles, calming backlit jelly fish tanks, but my personal favourite was the polar regions exhibit. They have 3 species of penguin: rockhopper, gentoo and king penguins. Their habitat is fully temperature controlled, the lighting mimics that of Antartica and it even snows! There are underwater viewing areas too.

Unlike some of the other aquariums in the Midwest, the majority of the exhibit feature salt water marine life. However there is one fresh water exhibit is home to species that are found within the Amazon. In other areas of the zoo, you can see other water loving species such as sea lions, crocodiles and alligators.

Aquariums in Ohio

Greater Cleveland Aquarium

🗺Cleveland, OH

Submitted by Amanda of Cleveland Traveler

Cleveland’s city aquarium is small but mighty, making it an excellent aquarium to see in the Midwest. The Cleveland Aquarium is located in a historic building dating from 1892, and has 8 different themed galleries housing more than 2,500 creatures from oceans, lakes, and rivers from all around the world.

You can walk through a glass seatube with sharks swimming overhead, learn what lives in Ohio lakes and rivers, and gently touch a stingray in the 11,000-gallon touch pool at the Coastal Boardwalk exhibit. 

Cleveland Aquarium underwater tunnel with shark by Amanda of Cleveland Traveler
Photo credit: Amanda of Cleveland Traveler

Most exhibits are at kid-friendly heights, and the aquarium also puts on several events throughout the year for future aquatic enthusiasts to enjoy. An annual favorite happens around the holidays, when “SCUBA Claus” goes diving in the shark tank with an elf friend, and you can stop by to chat and take very unique Santa photos.

The Greater Cleveland Aquarium is especially great on a rainy day, and is perfect if you’re looking for a shorter outing in Cleveland with kids since you can see everything in about an hour. 

You currently need to purchase timed entry tickets online in advance. The Cleveland Aquarium is fully accessible, and strollers and wagons are encouraged if you’re visiting with little ones.

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About the Author – Kylie

My travels have taken me to over 40 countries worldwide (& I lived in USA for 4yrs). I hold a BTEC National Diploma in Travel & Tourism (triple distinction) and have been writing on Between England & Everywhere since 2015.

Expert in: Adventure travel🎢, beach destinations🏖️, and packing light (mid-budget backpacker)🎒

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Best Aquariums in the Midwest USA

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