Under the Sea: Exploris, Portaferry

Now we're all allowed out again (just about), why not take the kids to the aquarium for a socially distanced glimpse under the sea...

At last, we have somewhere to take the kids other than the back garden or a secluded field somewhere away from the rest of humanity! Venture along the beautiful North Down Coast to Portaferry and pay a visit to Exploris Aquarium, located on the shores of the Marine Nature reserve of Strangford Lough. The drive is as lovely as the destination when you get a good day to watch the sun bouncing off the Ballyhalbert shoreline. As are most venues now, Exploris operates on a pre-bookable time slot – reservations are made easily and paid for online www.explorisni.com. As you would expect, all of the necessary sanitisation points are scattered throughout, the appointment system ensures that there is plenty of space for you and your little ones to maintain a safe distance from others and the oneway system put in place makes sure that everything flows freely. On arrival, guests provide their booking reference at reception and are given a map and schedule of what was happening during their visit – from Seal talks to feeding times.

This is an educational and fun way to learn about our marine life and explore the more exotic- You can find Dory, stroke star fish and spot sea horses in an aquatic, underwater themed setting, complete with interactive learning points throughout.

Exploris are renowned for their seal rescue work which started in 1989 when a member of the public contacted the aquarium regarding a young grey seal pup found on a local beach. After being assessed and observed for a period, it became apparent that it needed help. This wasn’t an isolated incident, and soon, Exploris were rescuing seals from around the whole of the Northern Irish coastline. At the realisation that there was a real and ongoing need for seal rescue, Ards Borough Council, Northern Ireland Electricity and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board provided funding for a permanent sanctuary, which opened in 1999 and to date, Exploris has rescued 485 common and grey seal pups!

Exploris is also home to bearded dragons, snakes and a pretty huge crocodile! Well worth a visit for something a little different – bring a picnic and munch at the designated tables outside or enjoy a coffee and a tray bake in the cafe which is now reopen again inside at the end for your aquatic trail. A thumbs up from the youngest to the oldest guest – Not an exhaustive way to spend an hour or two and you can saunter around at your leisure or make good pace in around an hour.

This is such a beautiful nook to explore, when you have finished your aquatic adventure, why not hop on the ferry to Strangford and have an adventure on the other side of the lough… Make sure to pre-book and check your times!