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Join us beneath the waves as we meet Gulliver on our travels
Gulliver, the Green Sea Turtle is a star attraction at SEA LIFE Brighton

NESTLED just a few yards from one of the UK’s most famous beaches, it’ll always take something special to drag tourists into a dark, subterranean warren full of ocean-life. Thankfully, SEA LIFE Brighton really does offer an extraordinary experience.

Read on for our extensive review of SEA LIFE Brighton

While it might not enjoy the iconic status of its surrounding attractions, the water world is actually one of Brighton’s oldest tourist spots, outdating the world-famous pier it sits beside, by 27 years. Built in 1872 - and therefore the world’s oldest aquarium - the Sea Life Centre sprung up in a time when Brighton was a burgeoning destination for Londoners wishing to sample the healing powers of the fresh sea air. It opened its doors a whole seven years before the Volk’s Electric Railway began ferrying visitors along the seafront; 38 years before the opening of the Duke of York’s Picturehouse (the UK’s oldest operating cinema); and five years before Preston Park Velodrome (the oldest working velodrome in the world) welcomed its first cyclists.

SEA LIFE Brighton as it appeared in 1872

It’s a Trigger’s Broom of a venue, having morphed through various changes since it was conceived by architect Eugenius Birch - the man responsible for the city’s ill-fated West Pier. It was bombed during the first world war and ran into financial difficulties, before being taken over and extensively remodelled by the Brighton Corporation. During WW2, the fish made room for the RAF and in the 50s and 60s The Florida Rooms jazz club welcomed bands including The Who into the aquarium, helping to write the city into folklore as the concept of Quadrophenia no doubt began to take hold.

SEA LIFE bought the aquarium in 1991 and immediately set about bringing it into the modern age. They responded to the growing public concern about captive dolphins, by rehabilitating the pod of mammals and releasing them into the wild, before embarking on a multi-million pound remodelling of the whole venue.

It now proudly boasts over 5,000 sea creatures and more than 100 different species across its various experiences.

Much of that work included restoring Birch’s Victorian Arcade, which is a breathtaking welcome as we stroll into a long room

capped with beautiful, gothic arches that dive down into ornate, stone columns. It feels more like a grand church than a tourist attraction, with each arched cove containing vast, backlit tanks full of sea life plucked from the English Channel outside.

The beautiful Victorian Arcade at SEA LIFE Brighton

It’s a gentle introduction to life under the waves, featuring rays that breach the water (much to the delight/terror of our children) and a series of big, grey fish that struggle to capture the attention quite as much as what’s to follow.

It’s a same to rush past the beautifully ornate arches, doused in colourful foliage and perfectly uplit in tones of fuscia and yellow, but our children dart towards the starfish pond, where they are allowed to gently stroke the crustaceans while being wowed with stories of how they boast an eye at the end of every arm and can regrow their missing limbs.

We follow our excited offspring as they dart into the Rainforest Adventure, where they duck through a tunnel and poke their heads into a bubble just feet away from Eugene, the aquarium’s resident Iguana. He’s quickly usurped by the sight of Piranhas (poor Eugene, children are so fickle these days…), whose sharp teeth and carnivorous diets are the perfect formula for grabbing the attention of young minds.

It’s not just water life here - alongside the Iguana, there are Leaf Cutter Ants and a gaggle of terrapins relaxing on the rocks, which can also be viewed through a bubble, allowing our kids to get up-close and personal with the nippy little flappers.

But for all that’s gone before, there’s really nothing that will stick in the memory quite like the Day to Night experience, which explores life around the clock on a coral reef. Auditorium-style seating curves around the water - possibly a throwback to when this room was used as a dolphinarium three decades ago - but downstairs is where the real magic happens.

Underwater windows offer an incredible view as a frenzy of Blacktip Reef Sharks skulk through the vast, 750,000-litre aquarium. It’s an incredible feeling to be within touching distance of the huge predators as schools of brightly coloured tropical fish dart out of their way.

Blacktip Reef Sharks at SEA LIFE Brighton

Elsewhere, Nurse Sharks creep along the sand and huge Stingrays splay themselves over the glass windows, desperately battling for their share of the love from onlookers. But it’s remarkable that, in a tank full of sharks and stingrays, neither are the centre of attention. That accolade goes to Lulu and Gulliver, a pair of Green Sea Turtles who manage to take our breath away every time they circle back around the tank. Their every move is accompanied by gasps from the crowds. Their sheer size alone is incredible - they must be around 6ft in length and

Weighing in at over 28 stone, 82-year-old Lulu is the true star of the show. She’s enormous, utterly beautiful and completely mesmerising. She shares the tank with Gulliver, a slightly smaller turtle who follows her around like a lovesick stalker as it’s currently mating season. Not that Lulu seems to mind, as she glides gracefully from the brightly lit, ‘day’ side of the tank to the murky, white-light illuminated ‘night’ side, where fish creep through the darkness and lurk around the neon coral.

Lulu and Gulliver are the stars of the show at SEA LIFE Brighton

For those not captivated by the turtles, an interactive light display allows guests to tread along a ‘beach’ to see the effects of bioluminescent plankton as it lights up their footsteps behind them. There’s also a Virtual Reality experience, offering the chance to join a dive with Tiger Sharks, swim with Humpback Whales,  journey into the deep sea of the Bahamas or join an educational, animated adventure through the ocean.

But no virtual adventures for us: We head straight for the real life excitement of the Underwater Tunnel, which allows us to walk straight through the shark infested waters and gawp at the giant turtles and Stingrays as they float above our heads. Families float above on the Glass Bottomed Boat (£30 additional fee per group of up to 6), which looks fantastic, but for our money, the best viewing is to be had down here beneath the surface.

The underwater tunnel at SEA LIFE Brighton

We hang around for just long enough to witness the shark feeding from our subaqua vantage point, before tearing ourselves away to complete our aquarium journey.

Secrets of the Reef invites us into the world of Dory, Nemo and friends in an explosion of colour, while Conservation Cove teaches about the widespread destruction of marine environments and the conservation work of the SEA LIFE Trust. We’re treated to a beautiful display of Jellyfish, which allows the children to change the lighting colours, turning the gelatinous beasts into a psychedelic, living lava lamp. From here, we’re straight back into the Gothic splendour of the Victorian Arcade, where we’re seen out by an exhibition of water beasts who’ve been rescued by the SEA LIFE centre having outgrown their owners’ tanks.

As we make our way back into the sunlight upstairs, the children are already scouting the beach for Green Sea Turtles, desperately hoping to find a Gulliver of their own, to take home. We have to settle for a few discarded sea shells instead, but SEA LIFE Brighton has created two, budding marine biologists - just as this venue has done for over 150 years.

Tickets from £19 adults + toddler (aged 5 and under) BOOK NOW

SEA LIFE Brighton, Marine Parade, Brighton and Hove, Brighton BN2 1TB

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