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Housing more than 2,000 creatures - including a colony of gentoo penguins, black-tip reef sharks and a giant green sea turtle - National Sea Life Centre features a world-class rescue Marine Mammal facility, which houses the UK’s first-ever sea otters, Ozzy and Ola.

Other highlights include a 4D cinema, the zebra shark in Shark Lagoon and the Clownfish Kingdom tunnel. The venue also boasts the UK’s only 360° Ocean Tunnel, providing for visitors the truly unique experience of ‘walking through the sea’.

Price: £19 adult and children (aged 3 - 17), carers and under-threes go free.

National Sea Life Centre,

The Waters Edge, Brindleyplace,


B1 2HL


Telephone: 0121 643 6777

Email: slcbirmingham@merlinentertainments.biz

The dreadful weather this summer has made it tougher than ever to keep the kids entertained, but mercifully help is at hand in the shape of Thinktank, Birmingham’s Science Museum, located at Millennium Point. The setting couldn’t be more appropriate, next door to the venerable seat of learning that is City of Birmingham University, and – with an eye to the future – opposite the building site that will ultimately house the station for HS2.

Set over four floors plus an outdoor ‘science garden’, the museum houses ten galleries containing historical, contemporary and futuristic exhibits, many of which have interactive elements suitable for youngsters. There’s pretty much something for all ages – from the toddler-friendly mini city play zone of MiniBrum to an interactive gallery where older kids can put their problem-solving skills to the test.

The variety of options is ideal for families containing a mix of ages, but you might need to let the older ones off the leash a bit to explore and interact to take full advantage. But you’ll also want to rein them back in so you can share a few nostalgic thoughts and layman’s knowledge about the assorted (and crucially Birmingham-produced) trams, steam engines, Spitfire aircraft, Mini cars and other exhibits on display.

Those elements are among the highlights of level 0 (‘the past’) and level 1 (‘the factory’), areas designed to demonstrate Birmingham’s industrial and manufacturing heritage, while level 2 (‘our world’) largely concerns itself with the present day (dinosaur exhibits notwithstanding), with a focus on nature and the planet. The latter includes some fascinating interactive exhibits about the human body (pressing a button to hear what happens when food reaches its inevitable departure point after journeying through the intestines will definitely appeal to visitors of a certain age and disposition), wildlife and climate change – creatively put together to be fun as well as educational, and without being too preachy.

Science, technology and space are the mainstays of the top floor (level 3: ‘the future’), where robots and hi-tech activity are the order of the day. There’s also the UK’s first purpose-built digital planetarium, showing live and pre-recorded (look out for the spelling mistake) shows about astronomy and the solar system. The live show, narrated by an engaging and knowledgeable host, gave us a tour of the night sky of Birmingham, and made for a fascinating as well as educational 20-minute excursion into the cosmos. Entry to the planetarium is in addition to the overall entrance fee but is definitely worth it, although judging by the loud crying of small mouths isn’t really suitable for infants and toddlers that might be scared of the dark. I also found it a little uncomfortable straining my neck to see what was on the screen above and behind me in an auditorium that claims to provide a 360-degree immersive experience.

My 14-year-old companion seemed less perturbed by the screaming and moaning (it wasn’t all me) and deemed the planetarium the highlight of her visit. “I loved it when we learnt about the different constellations and how they’ve been used in history – and how we can see them in the sky ourselves,” she said, sounding like she’d been paying rather more attention than I dared hope. She also enjoyed controlling the robot digger to pick up and move balls around – probably for its fairground attraction-style appeal as much as anything else – but the interactive ‘emotional’ robots were less of a hit, and realistically a bit hit-and-miss, as we watched other visitors struggle to get much sense out of them. But perseverance is key to many of the interactive displays, and kids will definitely get more out of it the more they put into it – and they’ll largely get time to do so, as the museum’s staggered entry system means you rarely feel pressured to move along.  

There’s plenty of entertainment to be had at Thinktank, and while it’s hugely educational, hopefully the kids will be having too much fun to realise they’re learning something too.

Steve Adams

5 Stars on Wed, 09 Aug 2023