Sunday, 26 September 2010

Fab day out with the kids at Nausicaa National Sea Centre, Boulogne, France

Ever since we've lived in Dunkirk, Nausicaa in nearby Boulogne has been on our list of places to visit but, for one reason or another, we've never actually made it there. The main reason was that I've always thought the kids were a bit young and would get bored after looking at a few tanks full of fish. However, when the chance came up to go there on a press trip and to take the whole family along with me, we jumped at the chance. The girls, aged 9 and 5, have been getting more and more excited as the big day approached. And that day was today!

Nausicaa is really easy to find as it's located on the seafront and you drive straight past it if you follow the main road to the town. The building is literally behind the Boulogne cross-Channel ferry port but if you arrive at Calais, either by ferry or by the Channel Tunnel, you're still only about 20 minutes away. There's a car park on the seafront a couple of hundred yards away.

We arrived bang on midday and wandered straight up to the reception. There are ticket booths outside but these are closed off season so you queue up (if necessary, we didn't need to) inside the building in the warm and out of the wind or rain. There is a fairly posh restaurant in the reception area where you can eat (but they seem to work on a booking system so you may be advised to book in advance if you want to be sure of a table at peak times). We decided to grab a quick sandwich in the Tropical Lagoon bar, which offers prepackaged sandwiches, pasta pots and drinks. One thing to note - there are toilets just opposite. Go there as soon as you've finished eating because it's really hard to get back to them afterwards (you need to take the disabled people/pushchairs lift because it's not accessible by the escalators - as we discovered after going up and down twice !!).

Before arriving, we'd been playing in the car and guessing all the things that we may see. We listed various types of fish, crabs, lobsters, sea anemones, seahorses  ... Well, they were all there but we never dreamed that we would also see sharks outside of tanks, with their fins slicing through the water like in the Jaws films, sea lions (from above and below the water as well as outside), penguins, giant tortoises and crocodiles.

I wondered if there would be a touch pool but didn't mention it in case there wasn't so Sophie was absolutely blown away when she got to touch a ray. As you can see from the photos, the grown-ups had just as much fun too. Mike had so much success that I nicknamed him "The Ray Whisperer" ! Meanwhile, Juliette sneaked off to the little soft play area opposite (reserved for kids aged 5 and under so it's nice and gentle). Pierre could have gone in there too but he was too busy gaping at the fish through the pushchair level viewing windows !

The visit follows a logical journey through various themed sections - The Mangrove, The Coral Reef, Man's Ocean, etc - and there is a huge amount of information that you can read (in both English and French - audioguides are also available at the reception desk) to learn about the diversity of life in the world's oceans and things you can do to help protect the planet. However, the girls were so excited, they were constantly running ahead to the next thing to see what else they could discover so we didn't read many of the information boards !

The girls still learned a lot using the interactive displays, pushing various buttons and turning the numerous globes. They particularly loved the little house where you can learn how to be green and the dark passage with animal noises and creepy gusts of wind as you pass through little hidden holes in the wall. "Eeeeeeek something keeps touching me and blowing in my ear", screeched Sophie, grabbing hold of my leg, before giggling and running back to the end so she could walk along it again !

There are lots of steps and escalators to the various displays but they have thought about people with pushchairs or mobility problems and have a little photocopied sheet telling you where to go, via a series of lifts, so that you can see all the exhibits without using the stairs. Everything has been created with kids (and big kids !) in mind so there are child-friendly little extras, like the ladders with viewing bubbles so you can stick your head up inside the aquariums and the sealions area where you can walk through a glass viewing tunnel where you can even see them swimming beneath your feet.

When you have finished the main exhibits, make sure you don't miss the "Steer South" area just opposite the turnstile gates. You'll see the aforementioned penguins but above all, you get the chance to see a ten-minute 4D film that the whole family will absolutely love. I wasn't sure what 4D meant and I won't spoil the surprise but lets just say, the 3D shark coming straight at you as you peer through your special 3D glasses won't be the only surprise you're in for !

I did a bit of research when we got home and discovered that Nausicaa welcomes almost 600,000 visitors each year, it is home to more than 35,000 fish and marine creatures and, since opening in 1991, it has welcomed more than 10 million visotors through its doors. It is among the top ten tourist and cultural attractions in France but, as well as being a popular tourist attraction, it is also a breeding establishment and nursery, a hospital for sick animals, a cultural forum and a research base with its own multi-media centre and team of experienced scientists.

We left at 3 o' clock and noticed that there were a lot more people waiting to buy tickets than when we'd arrived so plan to arrive early to beat the crowds. My other top tip is look at the list of feeding times before you start the visit and leave yourself plenty of time to get to the area you need to be in, because my one little criticism is that the map is really hard to read and finding your way around is a bit hit and miss. On the way out, we noticed that they say an average visit lasts 3 hours so we were spot on, although you could spend longer if you took the time (with older kids) to read all the information boards.

We decided to finish off with the traditional visit to the gift shop and I was impressed on two counts. Firstly, the prices were very reasonable : we bought a pack of pencils, 2 bracelets and a bouncy ball for the grand total of €6. There were some quite decent soft toys for €2.50 and some mini snowglobes with various marine creatures for €2.90 so it's great for kids to actually find souvenirs they can buy with their own pocket money. Secondly, nothing is on sale that harms marine life or the broader environment.

I asked the girls what the best thing was and they came up with various answers - the sharks, the sealions, the 4D film, the touch pool, ... I asked them if there was anything that wasn't good and Sophie said yes - having to go home at the end ! I think that says it all really !

star rating : 4.5/5

price : €17.40 per adult, €11.20 per child, €9.50 disabled (family/mini group of 4 people minimum - €14.90 per adult, €8.70 per child)

for more information :

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Keycamp - Château de Drancourt parc, St-Valéry-sur-Somme, Picardy, France

Build A Bear Workshop

Brewers Fayre family-friendly dining

DRAGON HUNTERS : A family feature film in 3D animation

Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch ?! Kids Eat Free at Pizza Hut until Jan 9th 2011


  1. Wow, what a fab looking centre, the touch tank must have been wow. My favourite sea creature has to be sea horses, I also love starfish. Fab pictures too.

  2. Looks like you had a great day, I'll plan to visit next time we visit France.

  3. Looks fantastic love the touch tank would be great for the kids.

  4. My kids would love this !
    I am all for anything that is both entertaining AND educational.
    Definitely on our list of 'must dos' now !

  5. That looks like so much fun. I love aquariums and the like, so I will definitely have to add this to my Bucket List of places to visit in my lifetime.

  6. wow this looks brilliant my youngest would love it