20 Of The World's Best Zoos And How To Find Them

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As well as an urban traveller I'm bit of a nature lover at heart, a fact that it's easy to gather from my last blog, '10 Public Parks You Have To Visit While Sightseeing'. So now I've decided to add the fauna to the flora, and put together a list of some of my favourite city zoos and how to find them.

So if you intend to reel in the natural world during your next city break, or are travelling with kids and are looking for a simple family activity, read on.

1) Artis Royal Zoo, Amsterdam:

  • Location: Plantage Kerklaan 38-40, 1018 CZ Amsterdam.

Located a short walk east of Amsterdam's canal-lined Grachtengordel neighbourhood, Artis Zoo is amongst one of the world's most reputed zoological institutions. It first opened in 1838 and today features over 900 animal species as well as some 200 species of tree.

Artis Zoo Lion

Lion lounging at Artis Zoo.

Though Amsterdam is hardly a city whose urban architecture becomes tiresome Artis still offers a beautiful and fun-filled escape from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets. A few popular highlights include its Butterfly Pavilion, which at 1000m² in size is the largest in the Netherlands; its Aquarium and tropical coral reef, and Planetarium. Be sure to see its elephants, brown bears, gorillas and hyenas.

Artis is within easy walking distance of most points in the city centre, but if you book the City Sightseeing Amsterdam bus tour you can also hop off at stop 4.

2) Barcelona Zoo:

  • Location: Parc de la Ciutadella, 08003 Barcelona.

Situated at the heart of Barcelona's oldest and grandest green space is its much loved city zoo. Those who've been there before might remember it as the home of the famous albino gorilla Snowflake, who lived there until his death in 2003. Today Barcelona Zoo is still renowned for its Gorilla House and conservancy efforts relating to the species. You can view their resident primates go about their daily lives and enjoy an engaging exhibition about the work being done to protect the creatures and their habits. Snowflake is a special focus of the exhibition, with the story of his life being told from start to finish.

Barcelona Zoo Gazelle

Barcelona Zoo Gazelle.

While at Barcelona also check out their purpose built Komodo Dragon facility, which includes a few other exotic Southeast Asian species such as Muntjac deers and Java Sparrows. There's additional special enclosures for Titi Monkey's, small primates and reptiles.

Parc de la Ciutadella is easily reachable by hopping-off at stop 3 on the Barcelona City Tour (West Route).

3) Belfast Zoo:

  • Location: Antrim Rd, Belfast, Antrim BT36 7PN.

Belfast Zoo might not be largest or best known on the list, but it sits within the beautiful natural surrounds of Cavehill, a green highpoint on the Antrim Plateau overlooking Belfast and its lough. Across the 55 acre site you'll encounter around 1,000 animals of 150 species. It's notable for its 33-strong herd of Rothchild's giraffes, its Asian elephant enclosure, and a Rainforest House where you might catch a glimpse of Linne's two-toed sloths during the summer months.

Rothschilds Giraffe Belfast Zoo

Young Rothschild's Giraffe at Belfast Zoo.

For easy access to Belfast Zoo hop aboard a public bus on Upper Queen Street in Belfast city centre and ride any of the following services to Antrim Road: 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E, 1F, 1G or 2A.

4) Berlin Zoological Garden:

  • Location: Hardenbergplatz 8, 10787 Berlin.

At 86 acres in size Berlin's Zoologischer Garten ranks amongst the largest in the world. The accolade it's most reputed for, however, is having the most diverse collection of species in the world, a figure which currently stands at a staggering 1,500. Such a range means there's little point in listing specific species, but be sure to pay a visit to the Hippo House, Penguin World, the Nocturnal House and Aquarium Berlin.

Berlin Zoo Hippo House

Berlin Zoo Hippo House.

An easy way to reach Berlin Zoo is to hop-off at stop 2 (Wittenbergplatz) on the Berlin City Tour.

5) Bristol Zoo:

  • Location: Clifton, Bristol BS8 3HA.

Situated on the Clifton Downs just north of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol Zoo is ideal for a family day out in south-west England. It houses over 175 species, significant amongst which are two male Asiatic lions, Red Pandas and Western Lowland Gorillas. There's also a host of attractions that are fun for all ages: see a family of South American fur seals and critically endangered African penguins along the 'Seal & Penguin Coasts', visit Gibbon Island, and discover crowned pigeons along with bleeding heart doves in the 'Forest of Birds'.

Bristol Zoo South American Fur Seal

Bristol Zoo South American Fur Seal.

If you're on a sightseeing trip to Bristol then a quick way to reach the sprawling park is to ride the Bristol Insight bus tour to stop 7. Flash your bus ticket upon arrival to 20% off entry per person.

6) Central Park Zoo:

  • Location: 64th St and 5th Ave, New York, NY 10021.

At just 6.5 acres in size Central Park Zoo is the smallest institution on this list, but with a quaint and exciting character is one of New York's best loved. It's located on the south-eastern end of Manhattan's Central Park, easily making it one of New York's City most visited attractions. Head along during late morning/early afternoon and spectate the feeding of the penguins and sea lions. The zoo is currently also home to Grizzly Bears, Red Pandas, Snow Monkeys and an endangered Snow Leopard.

Harbour Seals And Snow Leopards At Central Park Zoo

Harbour Seal and a Snow Leopard At Central Park Zoo. Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © Wildlife Conservation Society.

Getting to Central Park Zoo can be done by either riding the New York Subway to its 5 Av/59 St station and walking north, or by hopping off at stop 31 on the Big Bus New York tour.

7) Copenhagen Zoo:

  • Location: Roskildevej 32, 2000 Frederiksberg.

Copenhagen Zoo is extremely easy to reach from the city centre (the likely first port of call for most visitors). Once you cross over H. C. Andersens Boulevard, or stop off at Tivoli on the Copenhagen Bus Tour, it's a simple matter of strolling down Vesterbrogade and adjoining Roskildevej. Copenhagen Zoo lies prominently along the latter.

Though you can walk these lengthy streets another fun alternative is to cycle. Copenhagen is known for being one of the most cycle friendly cities in the world, and the cycle lanes running to Copenhagen Zoo are virtually uninterrupted. So if it's a nice day get on your bike and park up at one of the zoo's ample bicycle parking spots.

Copenhagen Zoo Elephant And Polar Bear

Copenhagen Zoo Elephant and diving Polar Bear © Frank Rønsholt.

Copenhagen Zoo boasts some 3000 animals divided into 264 species, which are in turn spread out across a selection of themed enclosures. Famous amongst the displays is the panoramic glass Arctic Ring, where visitors can get within inches of swimming polar bears. The Arctic Ring is a part of their dedicated polar exhibition, which also features diverse range of North Atlantic birds and seals.

Meanwhile the Serengeti's of Africa are recreated as faithfully as can be in Northern Europe as part of their savannah experience, whose star attractions include giraffes, zebras and rhinos all living side by side. There's also elephants, which reside in their very own enclosure fitting dubbed the 'Elephant House'. It was designed by British architect Norman Foster (also designer of Germany's Reichstag building), and is noted as being one of the best elephant facilities in the world.

Copenhagen Zoo Red Panda And Rhino

Copenhagen Zoo Red Panda and Rhinos © Frank Rønsholt.

Another highly recommended experience is the 1500m2 tropical rainforest. Here you'll encounter all kinds of wonders that crawl, swim, fly, flutter and climb in jungles throughout the world. See snakes and crocodiles, tree-dwelling mammals like marmosets; hornbills, exotic birds and butterflies, and even one of the world's smallest ungulates, the dwarf deer.

Finally, if you have young kids in tow you might like to check out the Children’s Zoo, a place where you can meet many different farm animals and get to pet African dwarf goats. This same site is also where they train horses, which you're allowed to pet as they are being fed at the grooming stations. Entry to Copenhagen Zoo is 170 Danish Krone for adults, though you can also gain admission with a Copenhagen Card.

8) Dublin Zoo:

  • Location: Phoenix Park, Dublin 8.

Every visit to Dublin should include an exploration of Phoenix Park, and every exploration of Phoenix Park should include a visit to Dublin Zoo. You can find the 69 acre site on the eastern end of the park, either by one of the frequent public buses from Dublin city centre or by disembarking at stop 19 (red route) on the City Sightseeing Dublin bus tour. The Zoo is home to over 400 animals, from mammals such as Amur Tigers, Red River Hogs and Asian Elephants, to birds such as Abyssinian Hornbills and Waldrapp Ibis'.

Dublin Zoo Gorilla

Dublin Zoo Gorilla © Dublin Zoo.

9) RZSS Edinburgh Zoo:

  • Location: 134 Corstorphine Road, Edinburgh EH12 6TS.

Amidst the Gothic high rises of Edinburgh Old Town and the Georgian splendour of its New Town you could be forgiven for not realising that one of the UK's most important Zoological parks was just a stones throw away. Hop aboard one of the frequent public buses and ride along to the southern slopes of Corstorphine Hill, where the entrance to Edinburgh's second most popular attraction stands in full view.

Edinburgh Zoo Lemur And Panda

Edinburgh Zoo Lemur and Panda © RZSS Edinburgh Zoo.

Edinburgh Zoo is home to the UK's only pair of giant panda's: Tian Tian and Yang Guang, as well as the country's only koalas and the first wallaby joey born on British soil. This year, 2015, Edinburgh will also accept a male Sumatran tiger called Jambi from Berlin Zoo. As these animals are critically endangered it's hoped that a litter of cubs will be produced following his introduction to zoo's current female tiger.

Edinburgh Zoo Chimp And Emperor Penguin

Edinburgh Zoo Chimpanzee and Emperor Penguin © RZSS Edinburgh Zoo.

Another highlight of Edinburgh Zoo is its penguin colony. At 65 metres in length and 3.5 metres deep at it's deepest point the colony's outdoor penguin pool is the largest of its kind in Europe. Stick around for the famous penguin parade, a fun and unique daily event. Check out the title link above to book tickets and meet all of the animals currently living at the zoo.

10) Lisbon Zoo:

  • Location: Praça Marechal Humberto Delgado, 1549-004 Lisboa.

Lisbon Zoo consistently ranks amongst the most popular visitor attractions in the Portuguese capital. The park is home to some 2000 animals of 330 diverse species, placing it toe-to-toe with similar zoos in some of Europe's largest cities. It's located in Lisbon's north-west and can be accessed by riding the City Sightseeing Lisbon bus tour to stop 19 (blue line).

Lisbon Zoo Entrance

Lisbon Zoo main entrance.

11) London Zoo:

  • Location: Regent's Park, London NW1 4RY.

First established in 1828 London Zoo is the oldest scientific institution of its kind in the world. It can be found by heading along to the northern end of Regent's Park via the London Tube's Camden Town and Regent's Park stations, or by hopping off at Albany Street on the Original London Bus Tour.

ZSL London Zoo Penguin Beach

Visitors at ZSL London's Penguin Beach.

Home to nearly 20,000 animals London Zoo has arranged its renowned collection into some of the world's most unique nature experiences. Face your fears at 'In With The Spiders', Europe's only walk-through spider exhibition where you can get up close to countless species. 'In With The Lemurs', is the same idea, though you'll be flanked by dozens of the iconic Madagascan primates, sometimes just feet away!

12) Madrid Zoo Aquarium:

  • Location: Casa de Campo, s/n, 28011 Madrid.

Madrid Zoo is well out the way of the city centre, but can be reached easily enough by riding the Madrid Metro blue line towards Casa de Campo station. From here the zoo is only a short walk up Paseo Puerta del Batán.

What's wonderful about this 49 acre site is that it combines a beautiful and well-arranged zoological garden with a 2000m2, two-story tropical aquarium. Discover mammal species from every continent on the planet, be they African Forest Buffalo's or Bennett’s Wallabies. The birds featured include everything from the dazzling Mandarin Duck to Spanish Imperial Eagles and the infamously bad-tempered Cassowary.

Madrid Zoo Eagle And Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck and Spanish Imperial Eagle at Madrid Zoo Aquarium.

In the aquarium you'll encounter Bull Sharks, enormous bony fish called Giant Groupers, and three species of turtle. Lastly, be sure to catch at least one of Madrid Zoo's magnificent shows. There's two that focus on birds, one for raptors and one for exotic birds like macaws and cockatoos. The other two are thrilling displays by the resident dolphins and sea lions.

13) Melbourne Zoo:

  • Location: Elliott Ave, Parkville VIC 3052.

When in Melbourne take a ride by whatever means to the zoological gardens in Parkville, an area about 4 kilometers north of the CBD. The 55 trams stop right outside the entrance, as do the City Sightseeing Melbourne buses, the tickets for which can also get you entry to the zoo.

Melbourne Zoo Penguins And Lemurs

Keeper feeding penguins and a surprised lemur at Melbourne Zoo.

Highlight attractions amongst the 300-odd resident species include the Asian Elephant Trail, the Baboon Lookout, and Lion Gorge. Every manner of native Australian wildlife is also on display, all you have to do is take a stroll through their recreated Australian Bush.

14) National Zoological Park:

  • Location: 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008.

As with other Smithsonian institutions throughout the United States the National Zoological Park in Washington DC has no entry charges. If paying nothing to experience one of the country's most renowned nature attractions isn't enough to reel you in consider the fact that at 163 acres in size it's one of the world's largest, and that its 1800 animals comprise some 300 species. Getting there is extremely straightforward. I'd recommend taking the Washington Metro to either Woodley Park or Cleveland Park stations, or if you have a ticket for the Big Bus Washington DC tour, hopping-off at stop 39 (Yellow Loop).

National Zoo DC Panda And Andean Bears

Bao Bao celebrates her first birthday and two Andean Bear brothers © Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Particularly popular amongst the National Zoo's inhabitants are a few of its mammalian species. It's one of only four zoos in the United States that house Giant Pandas, of which they currently have three: Tian Tian (male), Mei Xiang (female), and Bao Bao, a female cub born in 2013. Perhaps it's a theme that dates all the way back to Smokey Bear in 1950s (the real one), but ursine creatures seem to be a defining feature of the National Zoo's identity. In addition to their resident pandas they also boast two Andean bear cub brothers, Mayni and Muniri, both born between November 10-11 2014. This plucky pair are actually one of only five surviving litters born in North American Zoos in the past decade.

National Zoo DC Kiwi And Orangutan

Kiwi and Orangutan at the National Zoo © Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Other favourites include a herd of seven Asian elephants, and the Orangutan 'O-Line', where these red-haired 'people of the forest' can can be seen swinging between the Think Tank and Great Ape House. Two American Bison's also feature as part of a 125th anniversary exhibition, and on Monday's, Wednesday's and Friday's (11:00), why not 'Meet a Kiwi' in the Bird House. Meet a Kiwi is the only program of its kind in the US that allows visitors to observe and learn about New Zealand's famously elusive national bird.

15) Perth Zoo:

  • Location: 20 Labouchere Rd, South Perth WA 6151.

At some point during your sightseeing trip to Perth take a ferry from the Barrack Street jetty and sail across to the southern banks of Swan River. Just a few minutes walk away from the opposite jetty is where you'll find Perth Zoo. The 41 acre site is split into three main sections: the Australian Walkabout (home to indigenous Australian animals), the Asian Rainforest (with Elephants, Javan Gibbons and Sumatran Tigers), and the African Savannah (popular for its White Rhinos and African Painted Dogs). Also interspersed throughout the park is a dazzling variety of Western Australian flora.

Perth Zoo Lion And Elephant

African Lion and Elephant © Perth Zoo.

An interesting thing to note is that Perth Zoo has a stellar reputation when it comes to primate conservation. Its Sumatran Orangutan breeding program has been going strong since 1970, with 29 individuals born during this time. In addition Perth Zoo also boasts the largest collection of Orangutans in Australasia. Then there's its Gibbon conservation program, one of the most robust and successful in the world.

Perth Zoo Numbat And Orangutan

Numbat and Sumatran Orangutan © Perth Zoo.

When it comes to non-primates Perth Zoo has the only Numbat breeding program in the world, and has been instrumental in saving the Western Swamp Tortoise from extinction.

16) Prague Zoo:

  • Location: U trojského zámku 3/120, 171 00 Praha 7.

Occupying 143 acres north of Prague city centre, and counting amongst its 4000+ animals some 133 critically endangered species, Prague Zoo is world renowned for its visitor experience and conservation efforts. Przewalski's horses are a particular species whose numbers have been greatly improved due to breeding and rehabilitation efforts by the zoo, and TripAdvisor rated it as the 7th best of its kind in the world in 2014. During your visit check out the zoo's 12 purpose-built pavilions, each housing a unique animal in a wonderfully rendered natural environment. Such areas house: Gorillas, Tortoises, Penguins, Gharial Crocodiles and more.

Prague Zoo African Savannah And Przewalski Horses

Prague Zoo African Savannah (© Petr Hamernik) and Przewalski’s horses in Mongolia (© Miroslav Bobek) Prague Zoo.

Kids can get up close to a variety of farm animals in the Children's Zoo, while the whole family can have fun exploring the vast African Savannah, walking the South-East Asian Parrot Trail, and getting within arms reach of lemurs on Lemur Island. To get to Prague Zoo ride the 112 bus from Nádraží Holešovice to its last stop, Zoologická Zahrada.

South-East Asian Parrot Trail Prague Zoo

South-East Asian Parrot Trail at Prague Zoo © Petr Hamernik.

17) San Francisco Zoo:

  • Location: Sloat Blvd. at the Great Highway, San Francisco, CA 94132.

San Francisco Zoo lies south-west of the city centre along the edge of the Pacific coast. So not only would I recommend it for the 200 or so animal species it has on display, but also the stunning seaside views. None of San Francisco's sightseeing tours seem to visit the 100 acre site, but it's still easily accessible by riding the Muni Metro L-Line all the way to its final stop.

San Francisco Zoo Hearst Grizzly Gulch

San Francisco Zoo Hearst Grizzly Gulch.

Once you arrive get exploring one of the zoo's many themed exhibition spaces. Go walkabout in the Australian outback, spy on a few polars and grizzlies in Bear Country, and journey through their newly renovated South American Tropical Rainforest and Aviary.

18) Skansen Open-Air Museum & Zoo:

  • Location: Djurgårdsslätten 49-51, 115 21 Stockholm.

Resting in the centre of Stockholm's leafy Djurgården island is the Skansen Museum and Zoo. Founded in 1891 it's notable for being the world's first open-air museum. Its main activities centre around the depiction of traditional Swedish rural life, from house building and furnishings to farming and animal raising. Our focus, however, is on the zoo portion.

What's special about Skansen Zoo is it focuses on Scandinavia's indigenous fauna. These include around 75 species from domesticated husbandry animals such as cows, sheep, pigs and horses, to stunning wild creatures such as the brown bear, wolves, lynxes and elks. Skansen does have a collection of animals from other parts of the world. Their Aquarium is home to mini coral reefs, tropical fish, crocodiles and turtles. Their 'World Of Monkeys' features primates big and small, like baboons, lemurs, tamarins and pygmy marmosets.

Skansen Zoo Lynx And Wolf Pack

Lynx (© Petter Westberg) and a Wolf Pack (@ Marie Andersson) at Skansen Zoo.

Like a few of the other attractions on this list Skansen has a Children's Zoo, the 'Lill-Skansen'. Here is where kids can see and handle small animals, have fun in the in-door play area, and enjoy a show at the outdoor theatre stage.

All-in-all Skansen is frequented by approximately 1.3 million visitors annually, making it one of Sweden's most popular tourist attractions. It's reachable by land and water, either by hopping off at stop 14 on the Stockholm sightseeing bus tour, or by sightseeing boat.

19) Taronga Zoo, Sydney:

  • Location: Bradleys Head Rd, Mosman NSW 2088.

I think it has to be said that the first great thing about Sydney's Taronga Zoo is that getting there is an adventure in its own right. As it's located on the northern shores of Sydney Harbour getting there from the CBD entails jumping aboard a ferry boat at Circular Quay. Alternatively, you can take the Sydney Harbour Eco Hopper, or a Captain Cook Cruise 'Zoo Express' from Pier 26 at Darling Harbour or Circular Quay. Buses and trains are viable, but that's just not as fun.

Taronga Zoo Aussie Bush Talk

Taronga Zoo Aussie Bush Talk and Animal Handling at Taronga Zoo.

Once you arrive it's like stepping into the planet's natural world in microcosm. The zoo is home to some 4,000 animals spread out across 8 geographical regions. Every manner of native Australian mammal is on display, as well as birds which can be viewed in the park's walk through aviaries. From other parts of the world the zoo has accepted such fascinating and endangered creatures as Galapagos Tortoises, Przewalskis Horses, Black Rhinoceroses and Western lowland gorillas.

Taronga Zoo Red Kangaroo

Feeding a Red Kangaroo © Taronga Zoo.

Other things you might enjoy during your visit include the Wild Ropes adventure course, an adrenalin filled experience that incorporates wonderful views across Sydney Harbour, the free seal and bird flight presentations, and their daily spider showcases.

20) Tallinn Zoo:

  • Location: Paldiski Maantee 145, Tallinn, Estonia.

Most of the Estonian capital's finest attractions are situated a short drive outside the city centre, and Tallinn Zoo is no exception. Spread out across 210 acres and with nearly 14,000 animals it's both the largest and most visited zoological park in the Baltic region. Its Alpinarium boasts the world's largest collection of mountain sheep and goats, as well as endangered Snow and Amur Leopards. Its two tropical houses feature crocodiles and exotic fish in addition to birds, terrestrial reptiles and arboreal mammals.

Tallinn Zoo Snow Leopard And Marmoset

Snow Leopard and a Marmoset at Tallinn Zoo © Signe Kalgan.

Despite the name the Elephant House is also where the zoo's pygmy hippos, armadillos and snakes reside. Discover its family of raptorial birds along the nooks and crannies of Hawk Mountain, and explore the Middle-Asia Complex to see beasts of the plains such as hyenas, Przewalski's horses and the critically endangered Bactrian camel. You may also be interested to know that Tallinn Zoo was responsible for the reintroduction of the European mink back into its native Estonian habitat. Prior to this the creature had effectively been extinct in the wild.

Tallinn Zoo Mountain Goat And Rhino

A Tadjik Markhor (© Christina Daous) and a Rhino (© Signe Kalgan) at Tallinn Zoo.

The easiest way to get to Tallinn Zoo is to hop off at stop 5 on the Tallinn City Tour (blue line).

SPECIAL MENTION (FIVE SISTERS ZOO): If you're planning a festive visit to Edinburgh be sure to check out the 'Zoo Illuminations' Christmas Lights Show at Five Sisters Zoo. Back for 2017 by popular demand, the event aims to create a traditional Christmas village experience with a wild twist.

The Five Sisters Zoo is a great family run zoo. Opened in 2005 the zoo continues to encourage the conservation of endangered wildlife for both native and non-native species, and create a safe and natural environment for all their animals. Recently they rescued 3 ex-circus bears and 4 ex-circus lions from Europe, giving them a far better quality of life and the ability to roam free in open, natural areas.

The zoo now boasts over 180 different species of mammals, birds and reptiles from all around the world - situated in great enclosures and areas which allows up-close viewing for visitors. The zoo operates as a non profit making organisation where money is injected back into the Zoo to help with the animals upkeep, veterinary bills and maintenance of the enclosures.


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