Inside Atlanta: Guide to visiting the Georgia Aquarium

Opened in 2005, the Georgia Aquarium is a 600,000 square foot facility containing some 10 million gallons of fresh and salt water, making it the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere.

The aquarium aims to "inspire, educate, and entertain" its guests by teaching them about the world's aquatic biodiversity through hundreds of exhibits and with tens of thousands of animals.

Some quick history: Atlanta businessman Bernard Marcus announced his vision to build an aquarium in 2001. After visiting 56 aquariums in 13 countries, Marcus contributed $250 million, the bulk of the funds, to establish the Georgia Aquarium. With an additional $40 million in corporate contributions, the aquarium opened in 2005. It was the largest aquarium in the world until 2012, when Marine Life Park opened in Singapore.

For hours, locations, discounts and ticket prices, click here.

Here are the must “sea” highlights at the Georgia Aquarium:

• Aquanaut Adventure, the aquarium's newest gallery, invites sea explorers of all ages to engage in an educational journey through the science of aquatic life. As Aquanauts-in-training, participants will explore fresh water and marine habitats, scientific research, how animals thrive in extreme environments, and even catch a glimpse into what it's like to have a career in aquatic and marine sciences. Participants also have the chance to be certified as a Georgia Aquarium Aquanaut or Aquarium Scientist.

• SunTrust Pier 225, where you can watch sea lions and see them in action during the Under the Boardwalk live show, and the AT&T Dolphin Presentation, during which you can enjoy these marine mammals' fun antics. Guests are advised to arrive at least 30 minutes before show times, to ensure decent seats.

Credit: Jonathan Phillips

Credit: Jonathan Phillips

• Waddle Walk, when trainers lead several African penguins on a daily stroll across the Aquarium's main atrium.

• Cold Water Quest, includes marine animals from Oregon to South Australia. The Southern sea otter exhibit has doubled in size since its inception in 2010. A new feature of that exhibit is a sneak peek window that gives guests a look into the behind-the-scenes area for the sea otters. The African penguin exhibit features more than 25 nesting areas integrated into naturalistic rock work and comes equipped with a state-of-the-art lighting system that mimics the natural light cycle from twilight to moonlight.

Whether you're a penguin lover, a dolphin fanatic or just someone who enjoys watching the exotic sea creatures swim behind the glass, you're sure to go home impressed.

In total, the aquarium should take two to four hours to tour, depending on you and your group.

How to get in free: Every Monday, the aquarium opens its doors for free to active military personnel. Veterans and their families also receive a 30 percent discount. The aquarium also offers free entrance to visitors on their birthdays. So, if you were looking for a creative birthday activity, the Georgia Aquarium is definitely a good option.

Where: The aquarium is situated across the street from the north end of Centennial Olympic Park at 225 Baker Street in Atlanta. Entrances to the aquarium's parking decks can be found on Luckie Street and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard.

When to go: Although the aquarium is open 365 days, its hours vary from day to day. The hours adjust depending on the month and also on specific days. Generally, the facility opens around 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. and remains open until 9 p.m. Some days it closes earlier, at 5 p.m. Double check the aquarium's hours online before you visit, or call (404) 581-4000.

Cost: General admission tickets cost $32.95 for adults (ages 13 to 64), $28.95 for children (ages 3 to 12) and $30.95 for seniors (65 plus). Prices are reduced by up to 30 percent after 4 p.m. Parking costs an additional $12 but there are reduced packages for purchasing aquarium tickets and parking ahead of time.

There are several other discount packages and deals available for families and groups.

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