Take Me to the Zoo!

My husband, Nick, is a history nerd. When we plan trips, he usually picks out all manner of archeological sites, historical buildings and museums to visit. Me? I like those things, too.

But I also try to find kid-friendly activities to balance things out a bit. After all, we (and by we, I mean I) won’t get to see any of that fabulous Modigliani exhibit if we (and again, totally me) are dealing with a screaming child in the lobby.

If we plan some kind of excursion before said exhibit where Chet can run around a bit, we may get away with seeing the whole thing only bothered by nosy old ladies who stop us to say our sleeping kid’s head is positioned at a funny angle. It’s a win-win.

In major Metropolitan areas, there is usually tons of kid-friendly fare to choose from. But by and large, the biggest draw is going to be some type of zoo. What child doesn’t love a trip to the zoo? Overpriced souvenirs, red-assed monkeys flinging poop, and prowling beasts of prey pretty much guarantee delight.

After hitting zoos across the globe, my husband is a little sick of them. He’ll be the first to tell you, “We’ve seen a tiger in Atlanta and, you know, it didn’t look much different in Frankfurt.” And I will begrudgingly admit he’s got a point. But we’ve now come across a few zoos that offer that little something different to make them almost as much fun for adults as it is for the kiddos.

Opel Zoo
Kronberg, Germany:

Big zoos aren’t always the best. Though you may only hear of the city’s own zoo while wandering around in Frankfurt, a short drive towards the Taunus will bring you to the Opel Zoo. A zoo in a natural setting with elephants, giraffes and zebras you can feed, the park also has a huge playground and a stand that offers wine tasting. What more do you need?

Tiergarten Schönbrunn/Zoo Vienna
Vienna, Austria:

Want to see where Marie Antoinette grew up? Check out the Schönbrunn, the Hapsburg summer palace. Walk into the back gardens to Zoo Vienna, formerly the Royal Family’s personal menagerie of wild animals. All the big animals are here – some in historic baroque cages. Hang out for a bit in the monkey house — after a few moments, you won’t know just who is watching whom.

San Diego Wild Animal Park
San Diego, California:

Not brave enough to try a safari in Africa yet? Do the next best thing with a Jeep ride at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. You can also check out the acres and acres of simulated Africa by train (the park was built as a breeding facility) and the animals that call it home.

Skansen Open Air Museum
Stockholm, Sweden:

Located on Stockholm’s Djurgarden, the Skansen Open Air museum has historic buildings and reenactments. But it also has a zoo with Scandinavia’s local species. It’s a lovely, picturesque walk through the park and your kid will get a thrill out of seeing just how big a moose really is.

Jardin zoologique de la Ville Lyon
Lyon, France:

Okay, so I’m sure as you are reading this you are thinking that zoos are even bigger money pits than Chuck E. Cheese. And you’d be right. But in the Jardin zoologique’s case, not so. It is FREE, baby! You can save that 20 Euro for more noble pursuits (like the 8 rides on the Carousel located at the other end of the park or a glass of Côtes du Rhône). Although you can no longer feed the park’s famous elephants, you can check out a wide variety of species in Lyon’s biggest green space.

A trip to Skansen Zoo in Stockholm, Sweden from TravelSavvyMom on Vimeo.

Have a favorite zoo of your own? Tell us about it!

Need hotels to go with those zoos? We recommend these:

In Vienna, the Hotel City Central
In San Diego, the Homewood Suites by Hilton
In Stockholm, the Scandic Hasselbacken
In Lyon, the Hilton Lyon



  1. says

    I, unfortunately, have two kids who would prefer the science museum to the zoo any day. But for the rest of the parenting world, this is great info.

    But, I do have a killer picture of my older son at Melbourne zoo – found in one of my many attempts to organize my photos lately. Anyway, will queue it up as a Photo Friday post so I can link to you and to Debbie. Cool.

  2. Tisha says

    I would add the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, CO.
    Built up the side of a mountain, it’s layout and exhibits are much more creative than your typical big city zoo.. plus the tucker-them-out factor is enhanced by the elevation change. (Or $1 buys an all-day trolley pass… take the trolley to the top, then follow the exhibits downhill). Some of the Highlights include the play area “My Big Backyard”, a wonderful new Rocky Mountain exhibit (watching the mountain lions watch the smaller humans, you can just almost read their minds… “lunch!”), monkeys and primates of many kinds, and my favorite for kids: one of the largest Giraffe herds and breeding programs in the country (which at any given time includes at least a couple younguns) … Platforms put visitors at Giraffe eye-level, and kids of all ages delight in hand-feeding them special giraffe-crackers. Also, pony rides, a vintage carousel, and a ride on a ski-lift up to a platform that provides some of the best views of the city (including picnic tables and a free climbing wall for kids) are avaialble for extra fees.

  3. says

    Oh, I love the San Diego Wild Animal Park as much as my kids! You do have to time it right, though – in the middle of the day (say, noon) all the bigger animals are huddled underneath shade tress and/or asleep. If you schedule your trip there to be later in the afternoon, it’s a real thrill.

  4. says

    The High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon is a great one. Cool wildlife exhibits (wildcats, raptors, otters), a series of meandering paths for kids to explore, and daily shows and demonstrations.

    They also have some “living history” exhibits where costumed actors talk to you as if they really were living in a silver boomtown in frontier Oregon. My kids find that stuff weird, creepy, and deeply embarrassing, but hey, that’s just us.

  5. says

    Personally, I love the Minnesota Zoo — especially in the winter. You can cross-country ski through the zoo (very cool) when there’s snow on the ground. The animals have been selected as suitable for Minnesota’s climate, so they never look miserable (unlike the polar bears at the Dallas Zoo when I was a child). And the indoor rainforest and Discovery Bay are very cool, too!



  6. says

    We love the Dierenpark in Amersfoort (about 45 min from Amsterdam by train). 3 big playgrounds and a dinosaur forest walk plus all the usual really cool zoo stuff. The entrance price is a bit steep (around 14 Euros I think) but the train ride and carousel are only 1 Euro each and the frites (french fries) are a bargain too!

  7. says

    Oh, and of course, don’t forget the National Zoo in DC. Might be a nice break for the kiddos from all the monuments/museums. Plus…it’s FREE. Run by the Smithsonian. We used to go all the time when I lived there. Take the Metro, parking traffic is often a nightmare.

  8. JillS says

    We actually like the Oakland (CA) zoo a great deal. It is mostly designed to be a children’s zoo and he exhibits are really new and very friendly & fun.

  9. says

    Kayt, Chet is SO cute. We just went to San Francisco Zoo on a day it was completely empty. My kids had the day off school (Palo Alto) but no-one in San Fran apparently. The zoo keepers let us feed a lot of the animals. Zoos are so much better now, aren’t they? Much better for the animals. I loved going as a kid and I love it now. More than my kids maybe?

  10. says

    Hi Kayt,

    What a great list of zoos.

    As a resident of the NY metro area, I’m going to give a shout out for the fabulous Bronx Zoo. We took our toddler there a few months ago to ride on the Wild Asia monorail – we thought he would like the elephants and hippos. He was most impressed with the pigeons roosting around the tracks and barely noticed the more exotic parts of the monorail ride.

    I also really enjoyed the night safari at the Singapore Zoo.

  11. says

    Like you Kayt, I’ve visited zoos in many cities and I agree that they make for a very good diversion. Although I love the Central Park zoo, in part because you can just get so darn close to the polar bears, the Menagerie in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris is one of my favorites. It is the world’s oldest zoo (est. 1794). Instead of faux natural settings or depressing cinder block cells, these animals live in a bit of style. The mountain goats, for instance, eat their feed from the windows of a tiny Palladian villa. And zoo keepers aggressively clean the habitats with brooms and buckets, so the animals enjoy a Paris that is as clean as the rest of the city.

  12. says

    Wow, these recommendations are great! We will definitely have to check them out.

    (But I still don’t hear anything about wine tasting…if someone has another zoo that offers that, it will move to the top of the queue).

  13. says

    Zoo are great for the kids. We have a membership in our quite mediocre, but adequate zoo (SF Zoo – tiger attacks extra) but the discounts on other zoos are great when traveling.

  14. says

    Although I don’t have kids … I do really like zoos . ..

    My favorites include the Bronx Zoo in NYC .. just a great time .. don’t miss the mouse house .. small and filled with cuteness …

    I also like the Philadelphia Zoo quite a bit … small and has peacocks running around everywhere …

    The San Diego Zoo and The Wild Animal Park are both great .. the SD Zoo is relatively compact and has lots to see right near downtown. Also all of Balboa Park is great … The Wild Animal Park is great, but last time I went the tram was closed .. I would recommend calling first if driving from downtown area as its about 40 mins away …

    And Chet and the Bear was outrageously cute.

  15. says

    The best memories of my children’s delightful faces are always in zoos…being upclose with giraffes, elephants and other animals that they only get to see in storybooks.

    Apart from zoos, I wonder if anyone has any experience with visits to the safari? Sounds excellent to me, but don’t know if it’s a safe place for kids…

  16. says

    I may not have kids but I really think the Singapore Zoo is definitely a great place. I like bringing visitors to the Night Safari. Auto Mum, have you brought them there yet?

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