belle isle aquarium

The oldest aquarium in the United States is just across the border from Toronto

If you're a nature, history and/or fish lover looking for a new adventure, you'll want to add the Belle Isle Aquarium and conservatory to your bucket list.

The two neighbouring buildings were constructed all the way back in 1902-1904 by then-famous architects George D. Mason and Albert Kahn, so they boast a number of stunning hallmark features inspired by design trends of the mid-to-late 19th century that you won't see anywhere else.

With 10,000 square feet to explore, a visit to the aquarium starts with the imposing and ornate Beaux Arts-style stone entryway that feels straight out of another era.

Within, you'll find a long and eerie hallway with a vaulted, green-tiled ceiling that gives the feeling of being underwater (along with some serious The Shape of Water vibes). Colourful fish are on display through windows lining the walls that are meant to make the animals seem like art hanging in a gallery.

Other striking and unique architectural aspects include original skylights and outdoor water features, like a koi fish pond, botanical gardens, fountain and a lily pond. Also, the epic glass domes of the adjoining, extremely Instagrammable conservatory that houses a litany of tropical trees, palms and cacti.

The rich past of the buildings is palpable, making them a dream roadtrip destination for anyone with a penchant for the uncanny. (It helps that they're the oldest aquarium and conservatory in the U.S.)

And, the assortment of fish, flora and other wildlife on display are pretty cool, too — Belle Isle is home to one of the largest collections of air breathing fish in the world, as well as the only full collections of certain aquatic species in the continent.

The aquarium space also only re-opened to the public recently — thanks to volunteers who now run it — after being closed down from 2002 to 2012. It has since become progressively more popular, with attendance numbers tripling within a year.

Both attractions are situated in the beautiful 982-acre Belle Isle park in Detroit, a four hour drive away from downtown Toronto.


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