We started a 10 day holiday to the continent with a drive down to Disneyland Paris, split up with 2 breaks for our little guy who gets a bit unsettled in the car after a couple of hours. The latter of these was a hotel break in Amiens, which also included a walk to the zoo in winds which almost turned his buggy in to an aerofoil, only to see that the zoo had been shut for the day… because of ridiculously high winds!
The first of these 2 breaks however was in Boulogne-sur-mer which is just a half hour drive from Calais, and in particular along the seafront where you can find Nausicaá, the largest aquarium in Europe!
Getting to Nausicaá
Even if you were just making a day trip in to France using either the channel tunnel or the ferries, the trip over to Boulogne, is a fairly short one (about half an hour or so), and is well worth it. The town itself is really nice and quaint, with a brilliant stretch of seaside (including both a large beach and a nice harbor).
We travelled by channel tunnel from folkestone to Calais, which started out with a 90 minute delay, so we were off to a good start!
I’m not sure what the public transport from Calais is like, but I would guess that if you have a look around (if you don’t drive) that there will be some coach companies organizing trips out there.
We came in the off-season so there is a lot of work being done on the infrastructure around the sea life center, in particular the parking. As a result we had to drive along the seafront for possibly half a mile or so to a public car park, which was free on a Sunday, but was also half filled with a market, so parking for us was limited. However it is good to know that even during their busy season, if the car parks are full, there are quite a lot of parking options just along the seafront and harbor areas.
Nausicaá is advertised as the largest public aquarium in Europe, and I must say that in Europe I’ve not personally seen a bigger one (although in the States that’s a different story – check out the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta if you want to see a big aquarium!), so how about some figures (thanks to Wikipedia of course) to show you what that means:
- Around 58,000 animals (that does include individual shrimps etc too).
- Around 1,600 different species on display.
- Their largest tank is around 10,000,000 litres in volume (2,600,000 US gallons).
- Total water volume of all of their tanks combined is around 16,000,000 litres (4,200,000 US gallons).
- The centre covers an area of around 15,000 square meters (160,000 square feet).
- It was opened in 1991.
When we first arrived we went through the new area called “The High Sea” which only opened in 2018 and has a MASSIVE tank in it with sharks and rays alongside a lot of other fish species. However, Ripley was asleep for the whole time around that area, so we just kind of rushed around there and headed round to the section which houses the sea lions as well.
The main reason for getting round to there first was that the main restaurant was shut my belly had started rumbling!
The food there is pretty good, but without main kids options that I could see, although they did have facilities for heating baby food. Space for buggies and high chairs on the other hand was a whole different story! This smaller restaurant (by the mangrove tank) looked incredible and has a nice view, but the space is very limited and getting in and out with a baby is hard work!
One thing which I found incredible about this place is that they tell us all about plastics, because as more and more people are finding out, plastic is one of the biggest threats to the oceans, they served just about everything in the cafe in plastic. Even the burgers were displayed in a card box with a plastic window, and inside the burger itself (before being cooked) was also shrink wrapped in yet another layer of plastic.
Lunch however was the break we needed for RIpley to wake up (I think it was the wind in the sea lion area (which is outside) which might have done that!
So we wandered around this area for a while with him, and it soon dawned on us that he really liked fish, and I thought that in the new area he might like it even more. Sure the fish looked great and are super colorful, but also the rest of the older areas is very bright. We walked back to the new section (its a big but well organised site which you can walk around very quickly and easily) where the tanks are all blue and the rest of the area is nice and dark… It’s like and absolutely huge baby sensory class!
Blue lights with black backgrounds? Check!
Soothing classical music? Check!
Whale sounds? Check!
Lights which gently change color or move around? Check!
And finally awesome jellyfish floating around? CHECK ! ! ! !
Just as I had thought, he absolutely loved it… It was like he was watching the best ever show on tv, he was absolutely transfixed. The big tank viewing gallery even made for one of the best ever places to sit and feed him – he couldn’t have been happier when he finished his milk and got to look up at the sharks!
Is Nausicaá Baby Friendly?
As I mentioned, at the moment there is some refurbishment work being done on the restaurant so the catering facilities are currently not baby friendly in terms of space – but that’s a temporary solution so is understandable.
Beyond that, yes it’s very baby friendly indeed!
Even getting around is very easy thanks for alternative routes available by lift, which don’t force you to miss loads of areas of the centre. As well as that all of the toilets are really spacious, bright and complete with clean baby change areas.
I don’t think that you could possibly ask for a better organised day out for a family, with kids of any age than what they have done at Nausicaá… Give it a go if you’re heading over to Calais any time soon.