Family day out: 11 tips for visiting Hastings Aquarium
Aquariums are my go-to solution for bad weather days at the seaside: you get to hide indoors from the rain, my daughter is fascinated by marine creatures and it makes me feel like we’re exploring the coast without getting soaked.
So on our short break to Sussex, with bad weather forecast for day 1, we headed a little way along the coast to the Blue Reef Aquarium Hastings to spot sea creatures and hit the seaside if the sun came out. Which it did.
After our own impromptu trip, here are my top tips for visiting Hastings Aquarium with kids to get the most out of your day.
1. There’s nearby parking on Rock-A-Nore road which had plenty of space even on a Saturday afternoon. And despite what the internet suggests, you can use RingGo to pay for it if you don’t have enough cash. It’s definitely not cheap at £6.50 for up to five hours (only slightly less for up to three hours). You might as well make the most of it.
2. Do buy tickets online for the aquarium to save money. You can book up to an hour before your visit and you only need show the email confirmation if you don’t have a printer. Adult prices are £7 instead of £9, while three to 12-year-olds are £4.95 rather than £6.95. You will get hit by a charge for paying online regardless though whether you use a debit card or Paypal.
3. Do look out for the porcupine pufferfish and the stonefish, two of the more unusual inhabitants along with rays, sharks, colourful reef fish, seahorses and the rather fabulous giant pacific octopus.
4. Do buy the guide. There’s two pages of animals to tick off as you go around, along with some great facts for mini marine biologists and a very tricky spot-the-difference if you need some added entertainment while you’re waiting for lunch.
5. Ask for the scratch-off animals card as you enter too. There are multi-choice questions dotted around on different boards, where you can scratch off the answer to get a smily face. It’s worth making two circuits of the smallish aquarium before you try as we only found out a few answers a little way after the question board.
6. Do check the event timings online before you go or as you enter. Even though it’s a relatively small attraction, we never quite seemed to be in the right place at any stage for any of the feedings or talks.
7. Do read the signs! Despite requests for people not to touch the rays in the open topped tank or to avoid using a flash near the light-sensitive octopus, I spotted people doing both of these.
8. Do get a stamp on your hand so you can come and go throughout the day – we had a break for lunch before going back in to look at everything again. Plus it’s pirate themed.
9. If it’s a sunny day, do check out the outdoor tables in the cafe (slightly hidden through a door) with surprisingly well-behaved seagulls who contented themselves with crying out nearby and didn’t attempt to steal a single chip.
10. But you may want to skip the cafe entirely. Although the kids’ lunchbox was good – including fresh sandwiches plus a Babybel, drink, mini muffin and apple – the adult meals are definitely not the best on the seafront. Just a minute or two away, you’ll find stalls selling freshly cooked fish sandwiches. Or nearby, Eat @ the Stade looked great if you visit with younger kids, with bright highchairs.
11. Do go for a walk along the seafront – check out the old boats, the huge oyster-clad anchors and some fantastic old photos of fishermen. You an even hop onto a mini train for a ride along the front. If you wander far enough, there’s a mini amusement park with rides as well as an arcade… be warned!
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