Fish have always loomed large in Boston , from their role as the foundation of the city’s early maritime economy, to their position grilled or buttered at the top of most restaurant menus. So it is only fitting that the city should also have a world-class aquarium—New England Aquarium (Central Wharf, 617/973-5200, www.neaq.org , 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Sat.–Sun., $1821 adults, $1013 children 3–11, free children under 3, IMAX: 9:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. daily, $10 adults, $8 children 3–11, Whale-whale watch: $3340 adults, $2732 children 11 and under)—that pays homage to the wonders of the sea.
The literal centerpiece of the massive New England Aquarium is a 200,000-gallon tank full of sharks, sea turtles, and giant ocean fish that rises like a watery spinal column through the center of the building. A long walkway spirals around the tank, giving viewers a chance to see sealife on all levels of the ocean, from the toothy pikes that float on the surface to the 45-year-old sea turtle, Myrtle, who often sleeps on the floor.
Other crowd-pleasers are the harbor seals in the courtyard and the enormous open-air penguin pool, filled with three dozen rockhopper, little blue, and African penguins who fill the building with their raucous cries.
The New England Aquarium is not just a museum, but also a research-and-rescue organization that finds stranded seals, dolphins, and other animals and nurses them back to health. You can see the aquarium’s latest convalescents in a hospital ward on the second floor. The aquarium also ventures out into the harbor itself for whale watch trips, seeking out the humpbacks and right whales that make their way into Massachusetts Bay.
The New England Aquarium’s exterior was renovated in the late 1990s, and the IMAX theater opened in 2001 along with a revitalized series of special exhibits. There is also an interactive children’s center, where you can drop off the tykes for sea-related projects.