San Sebastián Aquarium, an ocean at the heart of the city
Aptly named the Palacio del Mar (Palace of the Sea), San Sebastián’s aquarium is located in an emblematic building built in 1928, and is dedicated to research and the scientific study of the marine world. Another of its principal goals, however, is to reveal this magical underwater world to any children and adults seeking to explore its depths. And this makes the San Sebastián Aquarium the perfect plan for anyone wanting to spend a pleasant morning or afternoon discovering the ocean’s deepest secrets and learning about the surprising wonders of nature.
The origins of San Sebastián Aquarium
The aquarium dates back more than 100 years to 1908, when the Gipuzkoa Oceanic Society was formed to research all aspects related to the sea: weather, biology, currents, etc. The idea was to apply what they learned to another discipline that has close ties to Gipuzkoa – fishing – as a large proportion of San Sebastián’s residents made a living from the sea. They gathered photos and testimonials and created a museum in this building located in the Parte Vieja, the city’s old town next to the quay. From here you will have fantastic sweeping views of Monte Igueldo, another of the city’s main attractions.
What to see in the Aquarium
- The museum: bearing witness to history.
The museum occupies the first two floors of the building. There you will see model boats, pictures and documents relating to the history of the mariners and fishermen who dedicated their lives to the sea. The documents bear witness to the conditions in which these men worked many years ago. It was a hard and dangerous life, and the museum is a way of ensuring these professions are not forgotten.
- The 360º tunnel.
The museum prepares you for the next step of your maritime journey: a walk through the impressive 360º tunnel called Oceanarium. Take your time to marvel at the more than 200 marine species that swim around you. This is, of course, the greatest attraction of the Aquarium, but it is far from only for children. The underwater tunnel is an awe-inspiring domed glass corridor, and walking through it is a unique and magical experience. The magnificent tank is home to curious species of sea life, such as sand tiger sharks, enormous turtles, moray eels, and skate.
Whether you visit the Aquarium with children or not, you are bound to enjoy the highlight of the day when the keepers enter the water to feed the animals. If you would like to see this event, check the feeding times on the website when planning your visit.
As well as this enormous tunnel tank containing a 1.5 million litres of water, there are a further 31 huge tanks that are also fascinating to observe. In them you will see eagles rays, emperor angelfish and jellyfish in a myriad of colours. Information panels are provided, but, if you are keen to learn more, you can book a guided tour to learn some fun facts about these incredible invertebrates and ask any questions you can think of.
- The tropical zone.
No visit to the Aquarium is complete without spending some time in the tropical zone, an area ablaze with colour, and home to some truly surprising species. You can’t help but be amazed at the vibrant colours of these strange and wonderful fish, such as clown fish, surgeonfish and rock beauty angelfish. Everyone will be fascinated by what they see.
For a dramatic end to your tour, make sure you visit the impressive North Atlantic right whale skeleton which hangs from the ceiling on the second floor. It was one of the last whales to be caught off the coast of Gipuzkoa 140 years ago (whaling is no longer permitted). 12 metres long and comprising more than a hundred bones, the skeleton has been viewed by no less than 15 million people since it went on display in the Aquarium.
Planning your visit
To ensure you make the most of your day at the San Sebastián Aquarium, it is a good idea to plan your visit and know how long you are likely to spend in each section. You should allow a total of about two hours for your visit. But what can you do afterwards?
Remember that the building is located on the quay in the old town, and is surrounded by many restaurants and taverns which are ideal for lunch. The perfect plan would be to visit the Aquarium in the morning, and then try some of the local Basque Country cuisine nearby. In the afternoon you can take a walk around the old town and enjoy some of its attractions. Take in some of the striking churches and monuments if you are feeling cultural, or head for the shops for some gifts or to treat yourself. Take a walk up Monte Urgull for some spectacular views, or explore the pintxo bars to soak up the atmosphere and experience true Basque traditions.
Information of interest
- Check current ticket prices on the official website. Discounts available for children, unemployed and over 65s. Free entry for under 4s.