Océanopolis, Brest, France – a family day out in Finistère, Brittany

Océanopolis, Brest, France – a family day out in Finistère, Brittany

In August, we escaped the heat of Brest, in Brittany, France, and visited Océanopolis, a large aquarium based on the harbour, close to the city centre.

Family outside Oceanopolis

If you’re looking for things to do with kids when it’s raining, aquariums are good places to visit. Children are like cats; they’re drawn to rapidly moving, bright creatures, and a large tank full of the things is a good way to keep them still for a while. And for us Océanopolis’ cool, hushed interior was a welcome change from the blistering French sunshine. It’s one of the more popular places to visit in France. The aquarium opened in 1990, and welcomed its tenth million visitor in 2014.

How busy is Océanopolis Brest?

Despite the churn of people through the doors, the only time we felt a little crowded was at the entrance to the Tropical Pavilion, where people were clustered around a couple of portholes to gaze down into the 17-metre shark tanks, to spot the bull sharks, zebra sharks, whitetips and others of the seven species housed there.

Boy looking at shark in Oceanopolis

Tropical Pavilion at Océanopolis

My top tip would be not to bother battling crowds to try and look through the portholes. There are plenty of other opportunities to see the sharks in the rest of the Tropical Pavilion. This is the most impressive section of Océanopolis, thoughtfully set out with plenty of viewing windows and a lift that takes you on an eerie journey down through the French Polynesian atoll shark tank, so you can watch the creatures swimming above your heads.

Fish at Oceanopolis

The sharks share their tank with other species, including rays and saw fish with noses longer than a giant’s arm. In the Tropical Pavilion you can walk through a mangrove swamp, gaze at neon-bright live coral from New Caledonia and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and look into a tank in the Caribbean area devoted to endemism, or very slow evolution. That’s where we came across the grand old sea turtle in the picture below, who meandered pondorously along through the water, winking at us and slowly waving his fins.

Turtle swimming in water at Oceanopolis

You can see the turtle, and a few sharks, in this little video clip:

Fish at Oceanopolis

Marine creature at Oceanopolis

Sea anemones at Oceanopolis

Fish at Oceanopolis aquarium

Boy looking at fish at Oceanopolis

Species of fish at Océanopolis

Just as eye-catching as the larger species were the smaller, colourful fish. Our six- and four-year old watched butterflyfish, angelfish, parrotfish, batfish, damselfish and surgeonfish all darting around merrily in their own little mini-ecosystems.

But as well as the fish, sharks, rays and turtle there were more treasures to see, like freshwater and sea otters. Océanopolis is the first place in France to have otters from Alaska.

Polar Pavilion at Océanopolis

In the Polar Pavilion You’ll find King, Gentoo and Rockhopper penguins, and seals. You can watch them grappling with each other to be first in line at feeding time. As with the sharks, there are a few different viewing areas for the ringed and harp seals, who live in a 1000m tank which includes an ice floe with Norwegian style mock-huts.

Seal tank at Oceanopolis aquarium

Local marine life

Océanopolis’ home town of Brest is in Finistère, the most westerly tip of France and an area with a strong connection with the sea. Fishing has always been a strong industry in Finistère. The coastline is dotted with small islands (on of which, the Glénan Archipelago, we also visited on this trip). The Temperate Pavilion is devoted to the rich flora and fauna of Brittany’s coastal area, and includes a kelp forest, an Iroise Sea tank with ray, turbot and lobster, and a touch pool, where you can handle starfish, sea urchins and scallops.

Boy handling sea creatures at Oceanopolis

Fish at Oceanopolis

Children looking at sea creatures at Oceanopolis

Places to eat at Océanopolis

Océanopolis is well set-up for family visitors, with a large shop, restaurants, a small outdoor play park and a picnic area where we ate goat’s cheese sandwiches under the shelter of coconut-matting umbrellas. In the picnic area there was also an intriguing row of (locked) beach huts, whose purpose we never quite got to the bottom of.

Beach huts at Oceanopolis France

Whale sculpture at Oceanopolis

Although we managed to see most of Océanopolis in the few hours we were there, we would return, as it was a lot to take in on just one visit. Océanopolis is very close to Brest’s beach, and Finistère in general has plenty to offer families; I’ve posted about it here.

How to get to Océanopolis

To reach Finistère, there are ferries from the UK to Roscoff, St Malo and other French ports. We travelled with Brittany Ferries on this trip, and you can read about what to expect from the ferry line here. Brest has its own airport, as do other nearby cities. The Eurostar also runs trains to Paris, where you can catch connecting services.

How much to tickets for Océanopolis cost?

Opening times for Océanopolis vary according to season. In the spring, the French aquarium opens at 9.30am and closes at 6pm. Children under three are free, and ticket prices vary. You can get up-to-date information on pricing and opening hours on the Océanopolis website.

We worked in collaboration with Brittany Tourism and were given tickets to Océanopolis for this post.

You might be interested in these other things to do in Brittany, and places to stay in Finistère:

A photo tour of Pont Aven

Are the Glénan Islands the most beautiful in Europe?

Camping holidays in France: Siblu Domaine de Kerlann, near Pont Aven in Brittany

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Océanopolis France - an aquarium in Brittany, northern France


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  1. December 15, 2016 / 8:29 am

    That sounds like such a great day out. I do love a good aquarium! Zoos not so much, but anything underwater I am always a sucker for! 😀

    • Nell
      December 19, 2016 / 10:13 am

      It did seem as though they’d considered the welfare of the sea creatures. A good place for a visit!

  2. December 15, 2016 / 9:14 am

    Turtles are my favourite sea creatures but I also like the sea otters. Looks like a lovely aquarium and a nice kid friendly spot especially the tactile area. I used to love foraging in rockpools as a kid and that looks to be the next best thing. Thanks for joining us again on #FarawayFiles Nell

    • Nell
      December 19, 2016 / 10:24 am

      Ah, rockpools are brilliant!

  3. December 15, 2016 / 10:03 am

    Love those beach huts! I’m not much of an aquarium-goer, probably because I went all the time as a kid in San Diego but reading such posts reminds me that I should go again since it’s been so long! Happy Holidays! #FarawayFiles

    • Nell
      December 19, 2016 / 10:23 am

      And Happy Holidays to you too! x

  4. December 15, 2016 / 10:22 am

    Wow, it looks like there’s loads to see here. I love the photo of the sea turtle, they’re such amazing creatures. I really struggle to see how they stay afloat, they look so heavy!

    • Nell
      December 19, 2016 / 10:31 am

      Yes, and they hardly look as though they’re moving at all!

  5. December 15, 2016 / 1:42 pm

    I think aquariums are such a wonderful places to go with kids – mine loved the Oceanario at Lisbon earlier this year. This one looks great – otters, penguins, sharks, turtles. Yet another reason to plan a trip to Brittany! Thanks for sharing this on #FarawayFiles

    • Nell
      December 19, 2016 / 10:32 am

      You should definitely go, Clare. Brittany would be right up your street. x

  6. December 15, 2016 / 6:34 pm

    How fun! I love all the colors – inside and out of the aquarium.

    • Nell
      December 19, 2016 / 10:41 am


  7. December 16, 2016 / 5:26 am

    I adore aquariums! We have several around here and I learn so much every time I visit. Is that an albino turtle or something similar? Those sharks are impressive! #FarawayFiles

    • Nell
      December 19, 2016 / 10:48 am

      I didn’t make a note of the exact species of turtle, but it was in the Caribbean zone, if that helps. And yes, the sharks were very impressive!

  8. December 16, 2016 / 12:54 pm

    I love the beach huts and the mock Norwegian huts on the ice floe enclosure – I must just love huts! Océanopolis looks great. I love the respite from the heat that a cool aquarium gives. I was also wondering if that turtle was albino – strange colouring #FarawayFiles

    • Nell
      December 19, 2016 / 10:52 am

      I know, he was rather unusual.

  9. December 16, 2016 / 1:07 pm

    Our family loves a good aquarium! We have visited MANY all over the world – something mesmerizing and peaceful. This looks like a lovely respite from the heat – I love the Norwegian setting! Of course! Cheers from Copenhagen and thanks for linking with #FarawayFiles, Erin

    • Nell
      December 19, 2016 / 10:52 am

      Ha ha yes of course!

  10. December 18, 2016 / 9:37 am

    Ah – aquariums! Our rainy day saviours for many years now (but, as you say, they are also great on hot days too!). We´’ve visited several all over Europe, but not this one… and I have to say that it looks like it could be the best of them all. I think I was hypnotised by your wonderful video… and I do wonder what those beach huts are for?
    More inspiration for a trip to Brittany – thanks! #farawayfiles

    • Nell
      December 19, 2016 / 10:52 am

      I know, I was curious too!

  11. December 18, 2016 / 10:00 am

    Love your wording ‘dessicating heat’ – that’s the kind of heat I yearn for (but rarely get)! Very impressed with your pictures, whenever I take photos in aquariums I usually get reflections off the glass or blurred fish :-). #farawayfiles

    • Nell
      December 19, 2016 / 11:04 am

      Well there were a fair few that did turn out blurry! Thanks for visiting.

  12. December 18, 2016 / 2:00 pm

    My girls love going to aquariums and could go over and over. This one looks especially neat. Whenever we travel we always make sure to see if there is an aquarium in the event of rain, or like you say, heat! #farawayfiles

    • Nell
      December 19, 2016 / 11:05 am

      I could definitely go to another. The kids were captivated!

  13. December 18, 2016 / 7:23 pm

    We have spent many holidays in Le Conquet just along the coast from Brest and seen posters for the Brest Aquarium all over the place, we’ve never managed to tear ourselves away from the beach to visit, sounds like we should! #FarawayFiles

    • Nell
      December 19, 2016 / 11:05 am

      Yes, it’s definitely worth the trip!

  14. January 3, 2017 / 8:19 am

    I love aquariums – a definite must with kids. This looks like a great one! #citytripping

    • Nell
      January 6, 2017 / 2:43 pm

      It really was!

  15. January 3, 2017 / 4:26 pm

    This looks amazing! So many colourful aquatic creatures and I love the video showing sharks and turtles and their most graceful. #citytripping

    • Nell
      January 6, 2017 / 2:46 pm

      They glide along so smoothly, don’t they?

  16. January 3, 2017 / 5:11 pm

    We have had some wonderful trips to aquariums over the years. We did visit one in Brittany many years ago but I don’t think it was this one. I love the Norwegian-style huts for the seals.

    • Nell
      January 6, 2017 / 2:47 pm

      I know, that was a really nice touch.

  17. January 3, 2017 / 7:08 pm

    The statue of the enormous whale is AMAZING!!! What a great way to really teach kids just how BIG that creature is – love it.

    We love visiting aquariums and seeing all that the ocean has to offer. It is interesting how aquariums present animals differently and it is fun seeing different habitats. We’ve not visited an aquarium in a different country and we’ll need to consider that the next time we are abroad. The kids would LOVE to go to France!

    • Nell
      January 6, 2017 / 2:52 pm

      Yes, the whale was a big hit with our two. You should definitely visit France if you ever get the chance.

  18. January 3, 2017 / 7:44 pm

    What a wonderful place -you’re absolutely right about them being relaxing. My daughter can get mesmerised in an aquarium! We’ve visited a fair few over the years and this looks particularly good. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

    • Nell
      January 6, 2017 / 2:53 pm

      I hadn’t been to one for years. I’d definitely go back. Lots of fishy fun!

  19. January 4, 2017 / 5:38 am

    Sounds like a wonderful place to visit with kids. The seal enclosure with the mock huts look lovely. Wishing you a happy 2017! #CityTripping

    • Nell
      January 7, 2017 / 3:57 pm

      And a very happy New Year to you too!

  20. January 4, 2017 / 6:06 am

    I’ve not heard of it before but it definitely looks good and it must be so popular if it’s had 10 million visitors. I love an aquarium to wander about, luckily, both my boys love them!

    • Nell
      January 7, 2017 / 3:58 pm

      Yes, they’re very easy places to take kids, aren’t they?

  21. January 5, 2017 / 4:08 pm

    That wee turtle has the sweetest little face! What a wonderland. Underwater life is nothing less than astonishing; there is always something new to learn and some creature that seems more imagination than Earthly. Thanks for sharing this story and the stunning photos. Fabulous!

    • Nell
      January 7, 2017 / 4:15 pm

      It really is another world, isn’t it.

  22. January 6, 2017 / 11:26 am

    I love a good aquarium but haven’t actually been to one for years now. This was looks a little different with its Norwegian fishing huts (fab!) and colourful beach huts. YOur pictures are lovely, I find it hard to take good ones behind glass bt you’ve done well! Thanks for sharing with #AllAboutFrance

  23. January 9, 2017 / 7:46 pm

    You know I do love your posts about your hols last year because they remind me of my hols nearby about the same time! That’s quite a few miles you did to get to Oceanopolis from where you were staying, is that right? Going from my hazy memory from reading your other post. Definitely worth it, lovely photos too. All ages love aquariums, I reckon.

    • Nell
      January 15, 2017 / 8:29 pm

      Yes it was a bit of a drive – just over an hour, if I remember correctly. Like you, I do love reminiscing back over those weeks. Such a great holiday.

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