The best zoos and animal parks in Germany
Whether you're an expat, a tourist, or a local, there are plenty of sights and attractions to visit and enjoy in Germany, with its myriad of monuments and amusement parks all over the country. In fact, there are so many things to do that you're not likely going to find yourself struggling to find an idea for your next day out!
Well, if you’ve visited one too many German castles this year, and don’t fancy a spa day or a trip to one of Germany’s sprawling national parks, why not consider a trip to the zoo? Germany has a great many zoos and animal parks, each with its own unique feel and attractions. From butterfly houses, to open safaris and spectacular aquatic displays, German zoos offer a fun, immersive and educational day out for the whole family - no matter what the weather is like!
Five zoos you have to visit in Germany
Zoos and animal parks in Germany don’t just allow you to see some of the world’s most exotic animals in elaborate, specially-designed enclosures, they are centres of education and often at the forefront of worldwide conservation efforts. The following five zoos are among the best in Germany, housing an eclectic mix of animals and specialised attractions that allow you to learn about the world’s most intriguing critters in-depth and up close.
Zoologischer Garten Berlin
Starting with Germany’s oldest, and perhaps most famous, zoo, the Berlin Zoological Garden is one of the most popular zoos in the world. It was founded almost 200 years ago in 1844 and now attracts around 4 million visitors a year. The zoo boasts around 1.200 species of animals, from elephants, to meercats, to lizards, to the zoo’s oldest inhabitant; a 74-year-old flamingo named Ingo. It is also the only place in Germany you can spot the rare giant panda!
The Zoological Garden in Berlin is the number one stop in Germany for animal lovers. With giant, immersive enclosures and a wide variety of animals, this is the closest you’ll get to seeing your favourite animals in their natural habitat. On the zoo grounds, you will find an aquarium, which houses all your favourite creepy crawlies, reptiles, and, of course, fish. You can also find the “World of Birds” at the zoo, where you can marvel and some of the most exotic, even fantastical, winged creatures. The zoo has become a fan favourite for its public feedings and animal shows.
The zoo is also at the forefront of worldwide conservation and breeding projects, working with a number of universities, zoos and research institutes from all over the world. It is also involved in European breeding programmes, helping to protect endangered species and reintroduce them to the wild.
Leipzig Zoological Garden
The Leipzig Zoological Garden in Saxony is another of Germany’s most popular zoos. Ernst Pinkert opened the zoo in 1878, converting it from the restaurant he owned. Since then, the zoo has grown to house more than 850 species of animals. The zoo is unique for its special “Theme Worlds”, such as the tropical Gondwanaland and primate-themed Pongoland, which are part of its “Zoo of the Future” plan. The plan will see the zoo transform into six special enclosures, designed to closely replicate the animals’ natural habitats. It has previously been ranked as the best zoo in Germany, and the second best in Europe.
Leipzig Zoo is contributing to conservation efforts across the globe, working closely with animal sanctuaries in Asia and Africa. The zoo also takes part in specialised global breeding programmes and helped reintroduce animals that had previously gone extinct in the wild, like the Mongolian wild horse and the scimitar oryx, back into the wild.
The zoo is also perfect for a day out with the kids, as it offers numerous opportunities for interacting with the animals through attractions like the jungle river boat trip and the petting village.
Wilhelma Zoologisch-Botanischer Garten
The Wilhelma Zoologisch-Botanischer Garten in Stuttgart is one of the most unique animal parks in Germany, and one of the biggest in Baden-Württemberg. Originally designed as a bathhouse for Duke William I of Württemberg in 1837, it is the only combined zoological and botanical garden in Europe. It was reopened as a botanical garden in 1919, following the abdication of the last king of Württemberg in 1918. At this time, the garden was famous for its orchid collection.
It was reopened in 1949 with an attached aquarium after being devastated in the Second World War and since then hosted a number of exhibits, such as the "Animals of the German Fairy Tale" and the “Indian Jungle Exhibit” in the 1950s, which boosted its popularity. Since 1950, the garden has acquired a number of new buildings and exhibits, including an aquarium, an aviary, elephant and rhino houses and an outdoor terrarium, where butterflies glide around you.
The rich history of the park has contributed to its truly unique and stunning visage. The garden looks more like sprawling country grounds than a zoo, complete with beautifully designed buildings and enclosures, as well as intricate gardens and spectacular flower displays. The Wilhelma Zoologisch-Botanischer Garten is a place you can appreciate nature in all its glory.
Founded in 1911, Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich, Bavaria, is actually the world’s first Geo-zoo; a zoo in which animals are housed according to their geographical location. The enclosures are designed to closely replicate the animals' natural habitats, allowing them to form close, complex communities, much like they would in the wild. The park is specifically designed so it more resembles a nature reserve than a zoo and offers visitors the chance to view animals much like one would on a safari.
The park puts on a number of animal shows throughout the day, including the ever-popular sea lion training show and the birds of prey training show. Visitors also get the chance to watch feeding sessions, which gives zookeepers the opportunity to educate visitors with fun facts and intriguing information on some of the world’s most reclusive and secretive animals.
The zoo also takes an active role in education and conservation. In 2018, Mühlendorf Village opened to the public. The Bavarian-style village is part of the European section of the zoo, focusing on regional biodiversity and educating visitors on local wildlife. In July 2019, the Zoo School opened at the Mühlendorf Village. The school teaches children more about biodiversity through interactive lessons and even follows a special education programme with topics such as “Fascinating Facts about Wild and Honey Bees”.
Rounding off our picks for the best zoos and animal gardens in Germany is Duisburg Zoo. Located in Duisburg, North Rhine-Westphalia, the zoo is well-known for its dolphinarium, which is one of the biggest in Germany, and for its focus on Australian animals. The zoo has the most species of kangaroos in all of Germany and keeps wallabies, wombats, Tasmanian devils and emus. However, the zoo is most famous for its koalas, having bred 30 babies in the last 25 years.
As already mentioned, one of the zoo's most well-known exhibits is the dolphinarium. The dolphinarium is home to eight bottlenose dolphins that dazzle spectators in public training sessions that help to educate the public on the dangers their kind face in the wild. Despite the zookeepers’ mission to educate the public on these beautiful creatures and the challenges they face in the wild, particularly from humans, the dolphinarium has courted some controversy from animal rights activists.
The zoo also features a number of other areas that are designed to mimic the animals' natural habitats such as the tropical Rio Negro, an Amazonian-style enclosure that is home to an abundance of wildlife. The zoo makes frequent use of underwater viewing platforms, that allow you to see aquatic wildlife close up in the Rio Negro exhibit, as well as in the dolphinarium and the adjoining aquarium.
Time to enjoy the sun!
So, the next time you’re not sure what to do on a sunny day, why not take yourself and the family down to one of Germany’s beautiful animal parks? Whether you prefer beautiful, sprawling gardens, a jungle safari or a deep sea adventure, there really is something for everyone.
You can also learn about each zoo's conservation efforts, and how they are directly impacting animal populations in the wild and, in some cases, reintroducing previously extinct animals back into the wild. On top of this, most animal parks have a plethora of learning facilities for both children and adults, making going to the zoo a fun, educational day out - perfect for the school holidays!