Nausicaa, the National Sea centre of France on the Opal Coast at Boulogne-sur-Mer, Hauts de France, opened a brand new state of the art extension in spring 2018. It has made it one of the largest aquariums in the world, certainly the biggest in Europe – and it is spectacular.
A truly giant fish tank
Giant tanks fill the new space and we mean giant. The “Big Tank” holds 10,000m³ of water – that’s enough water to fill four olympic swimming pools. It is an awesome sight. You can walk right up to it and peer into the blue waters with shark, manta rays and shoals of fish swimming right up to you. Or you can sit and watch, mesmerised, from benches in front of the tank, it’s strangely relaxing and hypnotic.
There are almost 60,000 creatures, 1,600 species, living in the huge underwater world of Nausicaa, as well as a few above water too. The oldest resident is a sand tiger shark and the biggest resident is the wonderfully intelligent sea lion Speedy. It takes 7km of piping to move all the water round, a massive 17,000 m³ in total.
You’ll often spot divers in the tanks cleaning the copious amount of glass with sharks, sea lions and fish of all sorts swishing close by. You get a real feel for what life is like under the ocean.
Kids will love Nausicaa’s water fairies
I took 10 year old Lexie and 3 year old Bella who announced she wanted to be a diver when she grew up. She squealed with delight at spotting Nemo and Dory, was enchanted by the giant tanks of ethereal jelly fish which were cleverly lit: “water fairies” she said. And she adored plunging her hands into the touch pool to feel fish like Dover sole, skate and rays.
We pretended to be in a shark cave under the water with clever graphics making it look like a shark was swimming straight at us. We had our pictures taken in a diving suit, walked through a glass tunnel with sea lions swimming all around us, loved the coral reef and ooh’d and ah’d over thousands of fish.
I had to drag the girls away from the penguins, the giant tortoise and the sea lion show. Largely in French it didn’t matter, everyone can appreciate a 208kg sea lion having its teeth cleaned! Lexie already wants to come back for her next birthday when the baby hammer head sharks will have been released from their giant nursery pen which we found fascinating to watch from the observation window above.
It’s an educational visit as well as fun, with a focus on how the fragile seas require humans to respect their environment, the effects of pollution and over fishing. There’s a robust breeding programme at Nausicaa too and they’ve been very successful with several species.
We spent an easy three hours here and could have done much longer if we hadn’t needed to catch the ferry.
It makes for a brilliant and easy day trip by Eurostar to Calais, a 20 minute drive, or by DFDS ferry to Calais port, a 30 minute drive, or Dunkirk, about 45 minutes’ drive.
Out and About near Nausicaa
If you’re travelling to or from Calais on the A16, stop off and go see this awesome aquarium, it’s fascinating for the whole family – from the littlest kids to nana and grandad. There are loads of places to take a break while you’re there including several cafes and a restaurant inside Nausicaa.
Pop into the old town and see the sites, enjoy a steak frites meal at chez Jules, the lively Saturday morning market and more. If you get there really early, before it starts enjoy a traditional fisherman’s breakfast at Le Chatillon.
Take the scenic route to/from Boulogne along the D940 road which follows the stunning Opal Coast shoreline, taking in authentic little fishing villages, secret coves, sandy bays perfect for a paddle or dip, and dramatic cliffs from which you can see the White Cliffs of Dover on a clear day. Stop off for fish and chips on the way, there’s a great choice in the Opal Coast – you can really make a meal of it!
More information www.nausicaa.co.uk