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Enjoying a Visit to the National Zoo

Updated on September 27, 2012

Giant Panda eating Bamboo


You don't have to be kid to enjoy a day at the zoo. When my boys were little, we took many, many opportunities to visit The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Since we lived a short drive away in Maryland from the zoo AND it offers FREE admission because it is part of the Smithsonian Institution, it was a hands-down favorite! Now that they are older, it became a forgotten activity.

At the request of some out-of-town guests we hosted recently, we spent an afternoon visiting the National Zoo and had simply the best time watching the animals and learning about them. Now, I cannot wait to go back for my next visit.

The National Zoo is more formally called the National Zoological Park, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution. It is located on 163 acres in the Rock Creek area of the District of Columbia. There are more than 2,000 individual animals (which represent almost 400 species) living here! It is estimated that more than two million visitors, locally and internationally, come to the zoo on an annual basis.

With so many animals to see, special daily events to observe, and a lot of ground to cover, it is critical to make a customized plan for your zoo visit. (There's even an Zoo app from the App Store or Google Play, that you can download to help you make the most of your visit).


A marker3001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC -
3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, USA
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National Zoological Park

Zoo Exhibits

With so many animals to see, special daily events to observe, and a lot of ground to cover, it is critical to make a customized plan for your zoo visit.

Here are the main exhibits and buildings:

  • Giant Panda Habitat (Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are at the zoo under a Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement with China)
  • Great Ape House (gorillas and orangutans)
  • Asian Elephants Trail (brand new exhibit for the elephants with many new elements)
  • Bird House (free flying indoor jungle exhibit, outdoor flying area, large South American birds, and wetlands area)
  • Great Cats (Sumatran tigers and African lions in large outdoor exhibit)
  • Invertebrates House (arthopods like the giant pacific octopus, spiders, and other insects)
  • Small Mammal House (golden lion tamarin, meerkats, armadillo, porcupine, naked mole-rate, among many others)
  • Reptiles and Amphibians House (Japanese giant salamander, snakes, and frogs)
  • Amazonia (features a 15,000 sq ft rainforest to walk through and 55,000 gal aquarium for Amazon fish)
  • African Savanna (cheetah, zebra, oryx, and gazelle
  • American Trail (major recent renovation for seals and sea lion exhibit; includes gray wolf, beaver and a tide pool area)

Animal Portraits

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Kid's Farm at the Zoo

A brand-new exhibit at the National Zoo is the Kid's Farm, which is specifically for younger children and those who live in more urban environments with little exposure to farm animals. The exhibit has cows, donkeys, alpacas, hogs, rabbits and goats.

Children even have the opportunity to groom some of the animals under zookeeper's supervision and touch certain animals throughout the exhibit.

We had a blast visiting this area!

Alpacas -- Too Funny!

Click thumbnail to view full-size

My Favorite Spots

Though most visitors don't want to miss the big exhibits with all the famous animals, I would encourage you to make time to see some of the other creatures. The invertebrate house, which features corals, crabs, snails, spiders, and other insects, is one of my favorites. It's usually not as crowded, and there are some really interesting things to see there. Kids and adults alike will like the up-close-and-personal feel of this area. You can watch staff feeding the animals every half hour daily (currently from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), and then ask the staff any question you want about it.

Another place I love spending extended time is Amazonia. After talking the hike through the rainforest and listening to the sounds of nature, I could sit for hours in the adjoining Amazonia Science Gallery. This 10,000 square foot educational gallery has exhibits that showcase biological processes that happen in the rainforest as well as Smithsonian research taking place in Amazonia and around the world. The gallery includes real-time information on environmental global events. There are microscopes to use and learn about things first-hand.

One of the best times to visit the zoo is during the colder months (November through February) EXCEPT on holidays.

Giant Pandas

Giant Pandas, female Mei Xiang and male Tian Tian, are two of the zoo's most popular animals and represent a very critically endangered species--with only 1,600 known Giant Pandas living in the wild.

They have been participating in major research, conservation, and breeding efforts to help their species survive. There was great excitement at the zoo this year when Mei Xiang became pregnant in spring 2012 through artificial insemination and gave birth to a cub. This was her first live birth as she had five other failed pregnancies. Unfortunately, the newborn, who had not yet been named according to Chinese customs, died suddenly on Sunday, September 23, 2012. Very sad news, indeed.

There are only a few zoos in the United States that have panda exhibits:

San Diego Zoo -

Zoo Atlanta -

Memphis Zoo -

Giant Panda at National Zoo

Favorite Zoo Animals

What is your favorite zoo animal?

See results

Article (C) September, 2012 by Laurel Seiler Brunvoll. All rights reserved. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.


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    • profile image

      Melia 3 years ago

      Your post is a timely coiubirttnon to the debate

    • Laurel Brunvoll profile image

      Laurel Brunvoll 5 years ago

      Mark Lenin, there can certainly be long lines, but we've had good luck going to the zoo later in the day and staying until closes. Of course, your best bet is to visit during the week, off-season. Right now the Panda Indoor Exhibit is closed to give the Mei Xiang some privacy and space to readjust.

    • profile image

      Mark Lenin 5 years ago

      My favorite animal is the Giant Panda but always had long lines: