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Belle Isle Aquarium: 2023 Ultimate Guide

Belle Isle Aquarium in Detroit

Belle Isle Aquarium
3 Inselruhe Ave, Detroit, MI 48207

Hours: Friday – Sunday; 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Admission: Free; $5 Donation encouraged

Detroit’s Belle Isle Aquarium is one of southeast Michigan’s best-kept secrets.

Want to go eye-to-eye with a Moray Eel? Or have an unforgettable encounter with an Albino African Clawed Frog? How about peeking in on some Michigan Gar Pike?

You can do all of these things at the Belle Isle Aquarium, a family-friendly aquarium on Belle Isle in Detroit. You’ll find a huge collection of fish from the Great Lakes region, and get an up close look at some local species of fish and other aquatic life.

Read on to discover everything you need to plan a visit to this amazing public aquarium in southeast Michigan.

pike at the belle isle aquarium

Belle Isle State Park

Belle Isle Aquarium is located on 982-acre Belle Isle State Park, in the middle of the Detroit River.

Belle Isle Park has been a Detroit gem since it was purchased by the city of Detroit in the 19th century. It provides a natural retreat and numerous recreational opportunities for both residents of Detroit and visitors to the city, who flock to the island to get in touch with nature while in the city.

It’s not just the pretty setting, either. You’ll find amazing views of the Detroit skyline, the Ambassador Bridge, and Windsor, Ontario, CA.

In addition to the aquarium, Belle Isle offers other fun experiences for visitors. Over the years, institutions on Belle Isle like the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, Dossin Great Lakes Museum, and Belle Isle Nature Center have offered unique experiences for guests to learn about and understand what makes the Great Lakes State so special.

A Michigan State Park, Belle Isle is supported by the Belle Isle Conservancy, friends of Belle Isle dedicated to preserving the island’s beautiful setting and rich history.

Gar Pike in Michigan's Belle Isle Zoo
Gar Pike in Michigan’s Belle Isle Zoo

History of Belle Isle Aquarium

About Belle Isle Aquarium

The Belle Isle Aquarium holds cultural signifigance in the city of Detroit.

The oldest public aquarium in North America, it was also the third largest aquarium in the world at the time of its opening in 1904. A popular tourist attraction for years, the city of Detroit announced its closure in 2005 for economic reasons. It Belle Isle Conservancy reopened the aquarium in 2012 and it has been a top attraction in Detroit ever since.

It’s a popular spot for school field trips, families, and anyone interested in nature.


The Architecture of Belle Isle Aquarium

Designed by Detroit architect Albert Kahn, the aquarium first opened on August 18, 1904. This significant historic Detroit landmark with a Beaux Art-style entrance, complete with an ornate arch that features two spitting dolphins and Detroit’s emblem.

The interior of the aquarium includes clear, green glass tile. The tiles line the arched ceiling and give it an underwater feel.

One of the Belle Isle Conservancy’s goals since taking on the responsibility of the aquarium has been to restore as much of the aquarium as possible, so visitors can enjoy the historic Detroit landmark for years to come.

African Cichlids
African Cichlids

What to See at the Belle Isle Aquarium

The aquarium and conservatory at Belle Isle offer great opportunities to learn about nature both local and exotic.

The aquarium is home to one of the largest collections of air-breathing fish, as well as the only known collection of all seven Gar species in North America. These collections make up just a fraction of this aquarium’s unique menagerie.

Catfish, Bichir, Arowana, and African Cichlids of all kinds help show off the diverse life found in the world’s freshwater.

Meanwhile, Bluegill, Perch, and the infamously invasive species Asian Carp help us understand our Great Lakes ecosystem while saltwater species like the Red Snapper, Moray Eel, and the familiar Clownfish give us a glimpse into oceans around the world.

Other aquatic species like the Red Eared Slider Turtle, Albino African Clawed Frog, and marine Starfish give context to the complexities of these marine ecosystems in which each animal is dependent on one another.

Moray Eel at the Belle Isle Zoo
Moray Eel at the Belle Isle Zoo

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Does it Cost to Get into the Belle Isle Aquarium?

While the aquarium itself has free admission and parking, because Belle Isle is a state park, entry to the island with a vehicle requires a Recreation Passport, which costs about $12 – $17 depending on where it is purchased. Pedestrians and cyclists do not need a Recreation Passport.

How long does it take to go through Belle Isle Aquarium?

Despite being the third-largest in the world at the time of its initial opening, Belle Isle Aquarium is fairly small by today’s standards. You can expect to spend about an hour looking throu

Is Belle Isle Park Wheelchair Accessible?

Overall, yes, however, accessible bathrooms are limited and some pathways through gardens, greenspaces, and picnic areas may be difficult to traverse.

More Michigan Aquariums

SEA LIFE Aquarium
4316 Baldwin Rd, Auburn Hills, MI 48326

If you enjoy the Belle Isle Aquarium, be sure to visit SEA LIFE, Michigan’s largest Aquarium, and come face-to-fin with over 250 species and 2,000+ creatures including sharks, rays, and green sea turtles.

Get hands-on with a ‘splash’-tacular sea star or sticky anemone at the Touchpool and then walk through Michigan’s only 180-degree ocean tunnel! ‘Sea’ what other amazing discoveries you’ll uncover when you visit SEA LIFE Aquarium!

Want More Michigan Aquariums and Zoos

About the Author-

Bella DiMascio is a Content Editor for She grew up in the Detroit suburb of Westland and later attended Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. She majored in Communication Studies and minored in English: Writing. Creative writing has been a hobby and interest of Bella’s since she was in elementary school. She is thrilled to be using her talents to highlight the Great Lakes State. Outside of writing, Bella enjoys getting outside with her two Australian Shepherds, playing video games, and binging shows on Netflix.