Belle Isle Aquarium, MI

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Detroit’s tiny aquarium claims the title of “America’s Oldest Aquarium.” It was designed by Albert Kahn, the “Architect of Detroit” who built the Art Deco Fisher Building downtown as well as the Cotswolds-inspired Edsel & Eleanor Ford house. Having heard that it was small, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect from this aquarium, but the tanks were pristine and the kids genuinely enjoyed our visit. As you might expect, the fish are predominately from the Great Lakes region, with some non-native varieties present.

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In addition to viewing the fish, the aquarium’s building is worth the visit. The gallery is a single level with green glass tiles covering the walls and ceiling to evoke the feeling of being underwater. During Prohibition, the basement was occupied by a speakeasy and later served as a storage area for larger fish, which were visible via closed circuit television.

Know before you go:

  • The aquarium is located at 2 Inselruhe Ave., Detroit, MI 48207 and is open Friday-Sunday from 10-4.
  • Admission is free for all the attractions on Belle Isle but to enter the island, you’ll need to purchase a day pass ($9 at the time of this writing) or an annual pass ($31). That being said, when I’ve visited Belle Isle on Thursdays and Fridays, the booth where they check and sell passes has been unmanned. Drivers with Michigan-registered vehicles can purchase a Recreation Passport for only $11 that allows access to all state parks, including Belle Isle.
  • Go on Friday if you can – we had the place to ourselves!
  • Don’t speed on Belle Isle. The speed limits are low, so it’s easy to do but the state police that patrol it (thankfully) have little else to keep them busy.
  • Accessibility: There is a handicap ramp to the left of the building but when we visited during the week, the door was locked, so I ended up baby-wearing. That might be a good idea regardless, since it’s a small aquarium and probably gets crowded on the weekends.

If you visit when the weather is pleasant, there are several outstanding playgrounds where the kids can burn off some steam. (A favorite is the one outside the nature center at 176 Lakeside Dr., Detroit, MI 48207.) Hopefully you enjoy your visit to “America’s Oldest Aquarium” as much as we did!

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