Reviewed by Laura Wragg
We finally gave in to our daughter’s requests for a trip to France at half term and set our sights on Boulogne sur Mer, hoping for some winter sunshine and looking forward to seeing the penguins at Nausicaa. The historic port city is only a short drive from Calais, very much within day trip distance for much of the UK, so after a very easy mid-morning crossing from Dover we chose to take the scenic coast road (D940) which winds west over the dunes, arriving in Boulogne in good time for lunch.
Nausicaa National Sea Centre is located on the seafront, a short walk along the promenade from a free carpark and very easy to find. Once inside, you walk into a large central atrium, from which lead several doors and passages and from here you are free to explore in your own time. Do ensure that you hold on to the map provided when you buy tickets as, despite plenty of signs around the place in both French and English, you could easily miss areas.
With the children re-fuelled at the snack bar with distinctly un-French hotdogs, we decided to head straight for ‘Penguin Beach’. It’s quite a small enclosure but you’re able to get remarkably close to the birds who certainly seem to enjoy the attention. Our one year old boy has been making penguin noises ever since! From here, we moved on to the more serene ‘Island Stories’ exhibition where we found some very content looking turtles and iguanas lounging a stone’s throw from the shark aquarium! After some dorsal fin spotting from above the upper floor, we headed downstairs to view the sharks from beneath the surface and they’re certainly not shy about making their presence felt. Intimidating, even behind the safety of the glass, but impressive to see.
After the sharks, we found the sea lions nearby and this is where we spent more time than anywhere else. The tank is huge and, like the sharks, can be viewed from above the surface or from behind glass from beneath. They’re wonderful creatures to watch and you get a real sense of their playfulness as they swim back and fourth around you. Our children (one and five) sat down in front of one of the large windows and watched, mesmerised by them gliding gracefully by every few seconds, for around ten minutes. On to the reptiles last, having visited the ‘Tactile Pool’ en route and stroked a sting ray! They’re housed in the ‘Submerged Forest’ which feels like a tropical, underground cave. Filled with Caiman staring back at you only a few feet away. Certainly a rather different atmosphere to that of the sea lions!
All done, we spent nearly four hours in Nausicaa and could easily have stayed longer. It’s the best aquarium I’ve visited, putting our local Sea Life Centre to shame both in terms of the variety of the exhibits and also the cost. At under €20 for an adult ticket and €10 for children under twelve (under threes go free), you get an awful lot for your money. My only negative point would be that the baby change facilities could be better as I could only find a small table in the ladies toilets. That’s really being very picky though, the Nausicaá really is a brilliant and informative day out for both adults and children. If you’ve time, I recommend exploring Boulogne while you’re there as it’s got a lot of history and loads to see. Not to mention a glorious beach. Bon voyage!
For more information or to book tickets visit www.nausicaa.co.uk.
Nausicaa Centre National de la Mer, Boulevard Sainte Beuve, B.P. 189, 62203 Boulogne-sur-Mer Cedex, FRANCE