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New England Aquarium vs. Museum of Science: Comparing the Two

Traveling in Boston and not sure whether to visit the New England Aquarium or the Museum of Science? Though both are incredible institutions of learning and fun, one may be better suited for your trip.

Not to worry, we've broken down all the key differences and highlights at each attraction so you can easily decide which is the best fit for you and your travel crew. 


Sometimes when deciding whether to visit New England Aquarium or the Museum of Science, it really just comes down to the logistics of getting there.

New England Aquarium

New England Aquarium location

New England Aquarium is located right on the waterfront at Central Wharf, offering gorgeous views of Boston Harbor and beyond. Getting here is relatively easy. There are plenty of bus and T lines (Boston's subway system) that come right into the area as well as an abundance of parking garages for those who prefer to drive in.

The best part is that it's only a 5-minute walk to Faneuil Hall and the North End, one of the most famous places to visit when in Boston. After you've watched the adorable penguins splash around at the aquarium, you can head over to Faneuil to shop at Quincy Market.

Pro tip: Save some time to have a meal in the North End, known for its delicious Italian food and pastries.

Museum of Science

Museum of Science location

The Museum of Science is located between the West End of Boston and Cambridge overlooking the Charles River. You can get here easily as well, with plenty of buses coming from inside and outside of Boston to the museum and its surrounding areas. You can also easily drive (there's a parking lot on site) or take a ride-share.

Since it's sandwiched in between two great locations, you have quite a few options for post-museum activities. You can explore Cambridge and even journey up a bit further to the Harvard campus, or you can explore the riverfront on the Charles River Esplanade if it's a nice day.

Comparing the Exhibits

New England Aquarium

A must for any animal lover. Thousands of animals call the place home, with more than 15 different species of aquatic creatures. What you'll see:

  • African penguins and Rockhopper penguins
  • Fur seals
  • Green sea turtles and Loggerhead sea turtles
  • Giant Pacific octopuses
  • Balloonfish
  • Coral reefs
  • Stingrays
  • and plenty more
New England aquarium fish

Exhibits include:


  • Giant Ocean Tank: this massive tank is home to more than 1,000 fishes and the famous 550-pound sea turtle, Myrtle. The 200,000-gallon tank is also home to an array of colorful fish and three other sea turtles - two Loggerheads and one Kemp's ridley.
  • Penguinology: featuring three different species of penguins, this exhibit is the central piece of the entire aquarium. As soon as you walk in, you'll see their giant habitat complete with caves, an underwater viewing section, and a spacious pool for them to flip about in.
  • Yawkey Coral Reef Center: this recently renovated exhibit showcases an entire reef ecosystem. You'll spot garden eels, long-spined sea urchins, and various vibrant reef fish, but the best part is all the anemones and corals.
  • Amazon Rainforest: the Amazon has made its way to Boston. Six different tanks make up this overarching exhibit that'll have you feeling like you're on a jungle adventure. Watch for poison dart frogs, piranhas, anacondas, and more.
  • Edge of the Sea Touch Tanks: if you've ever wondered what a stingray feels like, now is your chance to find out (spoiler alert: it gets slimy). At the touch tanks, you can plunge your hands right into a pool of rays, sand sharks, and horseshoe crabs.
  • Gulf of Maine: learn more about what lives beyond Boston Harbor. The Gulf of Maine stretches all the way from Boston to Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary and is full of dogfish sharks, lobsters, sea stars, cod, and much more.

Aside from the most popular above, the aquarium also features Science of Sharks, Atlantic Harbor Seals, Blue Planet Action Center, New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center, Olympic Coast, Seadragons, and Sea Jellies exhibits.

Aquarium fish

Museum of Science

At the Museum of Science, you'll get a taste of what it's like to be a real scientist - if only for a day. Explore over 700 interactive exhibits that showcase all different forms of technology, discovery, and human life. What you'll see:

  • The inside of the human body
  • The world's largest air-insulated Van de Graaff generator
  • A 65 million years old fossil that was discovered in the Dakota Badlands in 2004
  • A virtual tour of Acadia National Park
  • A butterfly garden
  • A gallery of illusions
Museum of Science electricity exhibit


  • Hall of Human Life: step inside the museum's biology exhibit that takes you on a journey through the inside of the human body. With over 70 components, you'll walk away with a new appreciation for your figure.
  • Theater of Electricity: look on as indoor lightning bolts are created by the world's largest Van de Graaff generator. See how lightning, conductors, insulators, and magnetism work together with electricity.
  • Triceratops Cliff: see a 65-million-year-old fossil of the triceratops. The one on display at the Museum of Science is one of only four nearly complete triceratops models in the entire world.
  • Live Animal Center: get a behind-the-scenes peek at some of the museum's real animals, from badgers to porcupines. 
  • Butterfly Garden (additional cost): no matter the season, a trip to the Butterfly Garden will have you feeling like you've been transported to the tropics, with warm temperatures and gorgeous flowers. Watch them flutter; if you're patient enough, wait for one to land on you gently.
  • A Bird's World: take a virtual tour of Acadia National Park and see every known species of bird living in New England.
  • Seeing is Deceiving: explore a gallery of paintings and photos that will leave you asking, "Am I seeing this right?" Each photo is an illusion that will test your mind.
  • Wicked Smart: Invented in the Hub: celebrate the innovations of Boston-based inventors and innovators.
Museum of Science Dinosaurs

In addition to these popular exhibits, you can also visit Bradford Washburn: The Man Behind the Lens, Conserve @ Home, Cosmic Light, Dinosaurs: Modeling the Mesozoic, Investiage!, Living on the Edge,  MSI: Then and Now, Nanotechnology, New England Habitats and more.

Comparing the Sizes

No matter which you choose, you'll definitely be doing a bit of walking from exhibit to exhibit.

New England Aquarium

  • Four floors of exhibits
  • Over 2,000 animals
  • 11 different themed zones

Museum of Science

  • Three floors, three wings (Red, Green, and Blue)
  • 30 different exhibitions
  • A butterfly garden and a live animal exhibit with up to 150 different animals

Tips for Visiting

New England Aquarium:

  • On average, visitors spend about two hours exploring the entire attraction
  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothes, you'll be walking a lot
  • Bring a camera to capture photos of your favorite critters
  • If you're interested, leave time to catch an IMAX showing
  • Should you need a break, you can get a hand stamp upon entry that will allow you back in at any time for the rest of the day
  • If you are carrying luggage or large bags with you, the aquarium offers storage lockers and coat check

Museum of Science Tips:

  • Because there's so much to see here, start with the larger and more interactive exhibits
  • Consult the museum map before starting your day so you can make sure that you hit everyone's must-sees
  • Note the scheduling of any shows or talks you want to see so you can be mindful of that as you go
  • If you'd like to visit the Butterfly Garden or catch a planetarium show, make sure to get tickets for that beforehand to ensure your timeslot
  • Consider eating at the Riverview Cafe within the museum to save time
  • Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothes, the museum is rather large and there are three different wings to explore

Upgrades & Interactive Experiences

In addition to the long list of general admission exhibits, both of these institutions offer additional experiences you can upgrade to. These experiences require you to purchase a separate ticket.

New England Aquarium

  • IMAX: Visit The Simons IMAX Theatre to experience the creatures of our beautiful planet in high-definition 3D. The aquarium constantly rotates its lineup with films about specific land and sea creatures, like Oceans 3D: Our Blue Planet which follows dolphins, octopus, and whales into the depths of the ocean. Or stick to land with Pandas 3D. 
  • Animal Encounters: there are several different types of animal encounters you can experience at the aquarium. You can schedule a meet & greet with the Harbor Seals, meet Myrtle the famous sea turtle, and go behind the scenes of select exhibits. Book online through the New England Aquarium website.
  • Whale Watch: New England Aquarium also offers a Whale Watch Cruise that takes off right from the wharf. Hop aboard the ship and get a front-row seat to view one of the ocean's most fascinating creatures. The aquarium guarantees you'll see at least one whale (but usually more) popping up above the surface.
Whale watching
  • Charles Hayden Planetarium: the most technologically advanced planetarium in New England. Showcases a variety of engaging shows that take you on a trip to outer space. 
  • Mugar Omni Theater: catch a larger-than-life projection on a five-story IMAX screen and explore flora, fauna, and faraway places. 
  • 4D Theater: What's better than 3D? You'll find out if you decide to purchase a ticket to the show at the 4D theater. Enjoy a multi-sensory experience complete with rain, snow, wind, and more.
  • Butterfly Garden: for an additional cost (typically under $10), you can visit the Butterfly Garden with a pre-timed ticket. You can purchase this within the museum once you've arrived.
Museum of Science Hall of Human Life

Key takeaways about the two museums

New England Aquarium: You'll see over 2,000 animals across four floors of exhibition space, including seals, penguins, sharks, and more. It's not as big as the Museum of Science, so if you're worried about time constraints this may be the better option. It's also close to many other famous Boston landmarks.

Museum of Science: you can easily spend the entire day here. With over 700 interactive exhibits, three wings, and three full floors of things to see and do, it will most definitely keep the kids busy.

While you can see animals at the Butterfly Garden and Living Animals exhibits, it will not be as extensive as the aquarium. Most exhibits focus on technological advancements, the human body, historical and anthropological finds, and other scientific innovations.

There are some exclusive exhibits, like the Van de Graaff generator and the Triceratops fossils. While it is not as walkable to other attractions or landmarks, the Museum of Science is located close to Cambridge.

Can't choose? No need, see it all with Go City®

If you really don't want to pick just one, we don't blame you. Both of these institutions offer amazing experiences and exhibits that are a quintessential part of any Boston visit.

Discover our full line-up of Boston attractions including the Museum of Science, Boston Children's Museum, Swan Boats of Boston, and more.

🤩 >> If you want to see and do as much as you can, our All-Inclusive Pass is for you.

😎 >> If you want to pick just a few attractions and visit at your own pace, our Explorer Pass is the perfect option.

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