• logo
  • logo

The Old Lifeboat House
The Pier
Tel: 01271864533


Ilfracombe Aquarium is a family attraction based in the picturesque Old Lifeboat House, on The Pier, in the beautiful North Devon coastal resort of Ilfracombe. It’s a fun and fascinating family day out that the weather cannot spoil and is an all-year round ticket to an enticing ride on and indeed under the ocean waves.

The emphasis at Ilfracombe Aquarium is on enjoyment as well as enlightenment, its conservation and breeding programmes being open to ticket holders to inspect in its numerous well-lit low level tanks and displays. While the family attraction is not the biggest of aquaria, it plays an important regional role both in terms of education of local children and school parties (who are catered for with special arrangements – see the website for details), and in national programmes where are and endangered species are nurtured and their plight highlighted. Indeed, Ilfracombe Aquarium has a reputation as one of the best facilities of its kind, and its proximity both to an abundance of species and an area of outstanding natural beauty set it apart as a captivating family attraction.

Ilfracombe Aquarium also has artefacts from its days as a lifeboat stationwhen the harbour was a bustling port, seeing fishing vessels in and out all year round, and stagin many a rescue from the venerable old building’s portal. There is an abundance of information on the town’s seaside heritage, its role in fishing and other seaborne industries, and its current functions as a tourist trap and a working port.

All the interactive displays for kids at Ilfracombe Aquarium provide a clear and concise insight into local marine life, as well as some of the more exotic species that are retained on site, with Ilfracombe Aquarium itself housing more than 100 different species of fish and other marine fauna, as well as an extensive collection of both waterborne and land-based fauna, adding further authenticity to the exhibits around the family attraction.

The centrepiece of the family attraction is the Journey From An Exmoor Stream To The Atlantic Ocean of a local fish. This sojourn, by a young native trout, begins with a description and re-creation of the Exmoor Stream source from which it originated, notably the spongy soils of the surrounding uplands, which is followed by a narrative and reproduction of its course through rocks and pools into the fast-flowing Exmoor River.
The family attraction next charts the confluence of numerous local streams and the headlong rush of the torpedo-nosed trout towards the coast, the river’s passage eventually becoming less steep and choppy, thereby allowing perch to loiter, ready to pounce and go in for the kill on unsuspecting fishes heading for the sea. With the trout’s arrival at the calmer and food-rich Taw Estuary, the feeding of shrimps on plant debris and the presence of shoals of predator bass are spotlighted, before the tidal retreat of the Celtic Sea reveals rock pools and sands, which are the home to hermit crabs that scuttle about their home in Ilfracombe Aquarium. Just the ticket for those with a penchant for walking sideways with their arms raised to the heavens!

Ilfracombe Aquarium next looks in depth at the marine life found in the foreshore’s local rockpools, a myriad of which dot the sun-kissed and wind-swept North Devon Coast and nearby Lundy Island before the horizon, with its seals, puffins and dramatic shipwrecks. The award-winning family attraction of Ilfracombe Aquarium provides a fascinating insight into this aquatic world between the mainland and the jutting rock of the holy isle, with an ever-growing collection of native aquatic life that teem in their masterfully re-created natural habitats.

As well as the impressive Estuary and Rockpool displays, ticket holders can see The Harbour outside reproduced in miniature within the family attraction, with stingrays and dogfish nestling among the remains of seagoing craft submerged by the tide, while lobsters lurk in subterranean boltholes and caves.

The family attraction treats The Coast equally well, with pipefish curling around storm-battered sea weeds and tompot blennies darting between rock crevices and crannies. Finally, a family day out traversing the Exmoor trout’s path to the outside world finds its destination in the shape of the open sea and the magical, mystical Lundy marine reserve beyond, which harbours all sorts of unusual marine forms, like the kelp-dwelling cuckoo wrasse, another resident of Ilfracombe Aquarium.

Ilfracombe Aquarium furnishes ticket holders with free children’s quizzes as well as offering a funky fish retail area with aquatic-themed goods for all land-lubbers. Just the ticket for that fork of Neptune or mermaid’s tail! Additionally, the family attraction has a small café with sheltered outside seating area in a relaxing environment with some splendid views, whatever the weather.

Ifracombe Aquarium’s state of the art displays provide information on local and national sea ecology and, moreover, allow ticket holders the chance to come face to face with the likes of Sea scorpions, Lesser-spotted Catshark, Nursehound sharks, Thornback rays and the Small-eyed ray, which ply their way through the crystal waters in search of prey in Ilfracombe Aquarium’s rock ledges and nooks, while crabs and other smaller fry scurry for cover. Other members of the secret underwater world include Ifracombe Aquarium’s friendly Bernard the Gunard, not to mention freshwater as well as seawater fishes like bream and sea bass.

Ifracombe Aquarium also provides Disabled Facilities and access throughout, making it a family attraction that everyone can explore and enjoy.