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Europe's largest aquarium

Patricia Szilagyi
July 7, 2021

At the French Nausicaá marine center in Boulogne-sur-Mer, you can get upfront and close to a manta ray and sharks. Part 18 of our Extreme Places series.

Frankreich Meeresforschungszentrum Nausicaa in Boulogne-sur-Mer
Image: Johan Ben Azzouz/Maxppp/dpa/picture alliance

The sea has traditionally played a big role in Boulogne-sur-Mer, a city some 30 kilometers south of Calais. It is, after all, home to the largest fishing port in France. The Nausicaá sea center – a gigantic aquarium – is located not far from the fishing boats, right by the coast. The building's elegant exterior somewhat resembles a gargantuan manta ray. Inside, visitors can admire this majestic sea dweller upfront and close.

France Nausicaá Marine Research Center in Boulogne-sur-Mer aerial view
The Nausicaá has been allowing visitors to immerse themselves into the depths of the oceans since 1991.Image: NEOGRAPHIC

At Nausicaá, visitors navigate winding corridors leading though an eerily fascinating subaquatic world, where a total of 1,600 ocean species are on display. One tank boasts colorful tropical fish zigzagging among coral reefs, while in the next delicately shimmering jellyfish drift about weightlessly. A few meters on, visitors can watch as sea lions glide elegantly through the water. A 18-meter glass tunnel, meanwhile, allows intrepid visitors to practically immerse themselves in the ocean, as sharks, rays and large shoals of fish float by overhead.

Up close with manta rays

 Watch DW's Hendrik Welling as he explores this stunning underwater world on DW's lifestyle and culture magazine, Euromaxx. During his visit, he learned a lot about the ocean's rich marine life and was taucht about its fragile ecosystem from sea experts on site. Hendrik was even allowed to help feed the manta rays. 

Window into another world

France Nausicaá Marine Research Center in Boulogne-sur-Mer
​​​​​​Giants of the seas: manta rays are the stars at NausicaáImage: Johan Ben Azzouz/Maxppp/dpa/picture alliance

A special highlight awaits towards the end of the tour: Europe's largest aquarium tank. Containing a staggering 10 million liters of water, this enormous tank imitates the Pacific Ocean ecosystem found off the Colombian coast, thousands of kilometers away. Visitors can marvel at the marine life through a 100-square-meter pane of glass, admiring goliath groupers, schools of sardines and even hammerhead sharks passing right before their eyes. And not to forget giant manta rays, which even seasoned divers rarely get to see.

Service tips:

Address: Nausicaá, Boulevard Sainte-Beuve, 62203 Boulogne-sur-Mer, France

Getting there: You can reach the aquatic center in around 2.5 hours by car from Paris, alternatively by train from Paris via Calais, onwards by bus (line F).

Hours: Daily 9.30am – 6.30pm, closed 25 Dec

Admission: Day tickets starting at 18 €

Special tip: The nearby museum Maison de la Beurière shows how fishermen lived in Boulogne-sur-Mer towards the end of the 19th century.

Buchcover | Buchcover Extreme Orte Englisch

The accompanying book

The "Europe to the Maxx" series on DW's lifestyle and culture magazine Euromaxx showcases Europe's vibrant culture, presenting extraordinary architecture, spectacular landscapes, unique cultural phenomena and more. Make sure you don't miss any of these recommendations and get the accompanying the book, 111 Extreme Places in Europe That You Shouldn't Miss, published in cooperation with Emons Verlag. This alternative travel guide is both informative and entertaining, appealing to avid travelers, fans of Europe, and anyone who enjoys showing off at the next pub quiz.