We were invited to visit the Oceanopolis in Brest. Brest is the second-biggest city in Brittany, and the Oceanopolis is one of the top attractions in the area.
The Oceanopolis is situated in a large industrial estate, next to the port. Parking is free and plentiful. We visited at the end of August, when the marina and port were very busy, but we found no issues with where to park the car. Entrance to the Oceanopolis is via the ticket offices at the front of the building, and you must go through a bag check area. Entrance costs €20.30 per adult (aged 14+) and €13.10 for children aged 3-13. Be aware that your ticket does not allow you to leave and return, however do keep your ticket because you can use it to get a discounted trip on a Pen Ar Bed boat tour, if that’s something you fancy.
There are shows and demonstrations during the day. We didn’t find that these were promoted once you were in the buildings; we were given a leaflet on entry and that allowed us to plan our visit to include things like the penguin feeding and seeing the seals get checked out while having their lunch.
There are three main display areas – Polar, Tropical, and Temperate.
The Tropical area houses all the little displays of brightly coloured fish you might expect from an aquarium, as well as huge tanks with many different types of sharks. There are interactive exhibits and videos to watch, with themed seating, which the boys really enjoyed. There is also a lift with a glass wall so that you can view the fish while you go down to the lower level. The great thing about the Oceanopolis, which we all appreciated, was that the tank has lots of viewing areas, and lots of benches to sit on while you view the sharks and other fish swimming about. There wasn’t too much crowding in these spaces and while some of our party wanted to rush ahead or go back through spaces we’ve already been (Noah), others could sit and relax to see the amazing creatures.
Towards the end of the Tropical pavilion, there is a jungle walk which takes you past all different types of trees and plants you might find in the tropics, and tanks of fish like piranha. I was a bit disappointed that this area wasn’t a bit more tropical – I was looking around to see if there were any birds, for example, but alas, the focus was clearly on the underwater life!
There are a number of picnic spots in the Oceanopolis, although they do have a cafeteria, too. Remember that you can’t exit the place and return using the same ticket, so if you haven’t brought a picnic, you can also buy items to eat outside from their takeaway service. By the entrance there is a large climbing frame and play area, with a small number of picnic tables dotted around. However, there is also a larger area without the distraction of a playground if you need to get your kids to focus on food! I’m laughing typing that as Noah couldn’t sit to eat here because he really wanted to explore these colourful beach huts. We had to keep his sandwich for later!
Next we visited the Polar exhibition, which demonstrates both the Arctic and the Antarctic. They house the biggest penguin colony in Europe along with a real ice-floe inhabited by two types of seals. As keen divers, we have swum with the seals in the North East of England on many occasions, where they visit in the summer for the warmer waters. So we were interested to see the enclosure and see if it was realistic. It was lovely to see them swimming about and great to be able to show the boys these creatures, too. Later we were able to see them get their lunch, and the staff check them over. We were watching one man peek inside the mouth of a seal before he gave her a fish, but just at that moment another seal cheekily popped up through a hole in the ice floe to attempt to steal the fish from his hand! Nice try! Having visited quite a number of aquariums around the world, Oceanopolis was different in that there wasn’t a member of staff talking about what they check or look for during this feeding time, or explaining anything about the seals or the exhibit. Maybe we visited on an off day, or maybe they just don’t offer this type of talk.
There are three types of penguin in the same enclosure, which is a 1000m3 space with craggy rocks and water. They had been splashing so much that it was difficult to get a good photo because the glass had too many water drops on, as in the seal tank. Do penguins ever really look happy?
Just outside of the Polar exit you can see sea otters floating about in their tank. They’re below you, so you can get a good view of these playful creatures. Noah loved them – they were his favourite thing in the whole place, I think.
We spent some time (and some euros) in the large gift shop. Locally produced goods are available along with cuddly toys, t-shirts and a great many other Brittany or marine-life themed products.
Finally we headed outside and round the front (the lift was broken and we had the pushchair) to the Temperate exhibit. This is where the Oceanopolis has recreated life outside Breton coast. Here, sardines swim in circles and blennies peek out from under rocks. There is an area where you can touch sea creatures, and a member of staff tells you what you’re holding and a little bit about it. James was so scared to touch something, anything, to start with but by the end of about 20 minutes of seeing his Grandad and me stroke sea cucumbers and sponges, he was fine and enjoyed holding a starfish.
Facilities for families
Oceanopolis in Brest is a great way to spend the day. We were advised to begin our visit at 10am, and we left at approximately 3pm. The facilities inside are well set up for toddlers and older kids, with tanks easily viewed from a range of heights. We found that there weren’t any toilets accessible within each exhibit, and only at the start/finish of each area, however there were plenty of clean, environmentally friendly loos. There was only one changing table per restroom facility, so you may have a little wait.
Make a day of it
You can spend all day here, without a doubt. Depending on the ages of your children, you can make it educational or entertaining. The Oceanopolis is a 5 minute walk from the beach and we enjoyed a stroll along the port to see all the boats in the marina, and watch men play boules in a shaded park while enjoying an ice cream.
There’s more to see in Brest, such as the Tall Ships, or head into the city for shopping. It’s possible to go diving to see the local sea life in the wild, using the company Scubaland, located very close to the Oceanopolis, too.