The Best Zoos in the World

Zoos are capable of showing us some amazing animals that we wouldn’t otherwise ever be able to see in person, they are a source of entertainment for people of all ages and they are slowly becoming more and more conscious of animal welfare. When looking at the best zoos in the world we took into account conservation efforts, variety of animals and overall visitor experience. From the oldest of zoos to free admission zoos to the ones who are at the top of research and education, here are the 20 best zoos in the world.

20. Basel Zoo – Basel, Switzerland

This zoo may not be talked about around the world but Basel Zoo is a must-visit if you are looking to see one of the very best in the world. It also happens to be the most visited attraction in Switzerland with over 1.8 million happy visitors a year. This zoo is largely dedicated to its animals, keeping close attention to their diets and behavior. This dedication has led Basel Zoo to become a leader in breeding endangered species such as cheetahs, Indian Rhinos and okapi. Popular animal exhibits are rhinos, hippos, apes, cheetahs, okapi, and flamingos. There is plenty of open space for the animals, well-kept clean grounds, and not so big that you cannot walk around the entire zoo; this is a hit for anyone living in or visiting Switzerland.

19. Korkeasaari Zoo – Helsinki, Finland

The Korkeasaari Zoo, located in Helsinki Finland is the country’s largest zoo. What makes this zoo unique, is that it’s located on an island in the Baltic Sea. The island can be reached by a local ferry or bus that runs from May through September. Guests who visit the Korkeasaari Zoo will be able to see first hand how the zoo puts the needs of conserving biodiversity first. Their mission is to teach guests the importance of being environmentally friendly and how those changes can affect biodiversity. The zoo also aims to be carbon neutral by the year 2030. At the zoo, guests will have the opportunity to observe and learn about a variety of species including Amur tigers, snow leopards, and more all the while being able to take in the luscious green Finnish landscape.

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18. Toronto Zoo – Toronto, Canada

The Toronto Zoo is the largest zoo in Canada and at 710 acres, one of the largest in the world. Housing more than 16,000 animals, the Toronto Zoo remains dedicated to expanding and creating natural environments for these animals. This zoo is also largely involved in collaborating with other zoos across the world to conserve endangered species and have been largely successful in captive breeding programs and even the re-introduction of many species. Visitors here will be privy to endless amounts of fun but should be warned there is a lot of walking involved. Animals range from giraffes to gorillas to giant pandas to pavilions full of nocturnal creatures and even a komodo dragon. There is a ton of dining options and picnic areas, kid’s playgrounds and behind-the-scenes experiences to enhance your visit.

Giant Panda Zoo

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17. Australia Zoo – Queensland, Australia

The Australia Zoo, located in Queensland, Australia boasts 1000 acres of wonderful exhibits. The zoo is a member of the Zoo and Aquarium Association and is owned by Terri Irwin, the widow of the late Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. Terri Irwin, Bindi Irwin (daughter of Steve and Terri Irwin), and Robert Irwin (Son of Steve and Terri Irwin) have dedicated their efforts to honor Steve by making sure his legacy lives on. The Irwin family has made sure the Australia Zoo follows Steves’s mission of “Conservation through exciting education”. The Australia Zoo offer’s many hands-on experiences from learning how to safely feed kangaroos and wallabies to encountering wombats, tigers, elephants and more.

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16. Chester Zoo – Chester, England

It is one of the UK’s largest zoos and the most visited wildlife attraction in Britain and just happens to be one of the best zoos in the world. This is in large part due to both the commitment it has made to developing a long-term conservation strategy for animals in Africa and its focus on research and education. The amazing animals, exhibits and scenery at the zoo only further its popularity. The Chester Zoo has put a big focus on giraffes and their closet living relatives the okapi; both of which are largely endangered. Visitors to this zoo may have the chance to see some babies of both species as Chester has been successful in breeding them.  Many behind the scenes experiences are available as well as daily talks by keepers, further enhancing the experience for visitors.

Chester Zoo, England

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15. Saint Louis Zoo – St Louis, Missouri, U.S.

The Saint Louis Zoo is one of the top free attractions in America. With more than 17, 00 animals (many of which are endangered and rare) there’s no wonder why many make this a destination to experience again and again. Saint Louis Zoo’s mission is to conserve animals and their habitats, and they always put the care and protection of their animals first. To read more about their mission read HERE. The zoo sees about 3 million visitors per year and guests can wander the 90 acres of animal exhibits, attractions, shopping, and dining making it a great family outing.

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14. Smithsonian’s National Zoo – Washington DC, USA

This is one of the oldest zoos in America which houses about 1,800 animals and offers free admission. It is part of the Smithsonian Institution which means these animals are not only well taken care of but a lot of research is put into them. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institution collaborates with other groups on research initiatives such as studying the elephant herpes virus and amphibian conservation. About one-fifth of the species here are threatened or endangered and this was, in fact, one of the first zoos to create a scientific research program. Visitors here will come up close with apes, giant pandas, Asian elephants, big cats and more.  This national zoo offers visitors the chance to go behind the scenes in the state of the art elephant barn and offers guided tours for additional experiences. Open 364 days of the year, free to get in and doing their part in animal welfare; this is one stellar zoo.

Smithsonian’s National Zoo

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13. Philadelphia Zoo – Pennsylvania, USA

America’s first zoo, Philadelphia Zoo officially opened its gates on July 1, 1874. Today, the zoo allows guests to explore the state of the art exhibits that are designed to simulate the natural environment for its 1,300 animals including many rare and endangered species. The zoo sees more than 1.2 million visitors per year and is dedicated to educating its guests about animal and environmental conservation. The zoo even offers a groundbreaking animal exploration trail experience called Zoo360 which is a collection of see-through mesh trails that allows the animals to roam around and above zoo grounds — as you move, the animals move too!

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12. Edinburgh Zoo – Edinburgh, Scotland

This was the first zoo in the world to house and breed penguins along with being the first in Britain to house koalas and giant pandas. The vision of  Edinburgh Zoo is to not only cater to tourists but to actively participate in breeding programs of endangered species and promote conservation around the world. One more claim to fame for this zoo is the state of the art chimpanzee enclosure that has been endorsed by experts such as Jane Goodall. Visitors will want to witness the famous penguin parade when penguins are let out of their enclosure and can walk around as they please with their keepers. Daily talks and tours are a large part of the visit to this zoo and there is certainly no shortage of animals to look at and things to learn during a day here.

Edinburgh Zoo

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11. Wellington Zoo – Wellington, New Zealand

The Wellington Zoo is New Zealand’s first zoo and has been caring for animals since 1906. The zoo has been a not for profit charitable trust since 2003 and is the world’s first Toitū caboNZero certified zoo which means the zoo works hard to reduce their environmental impact.  Read more about that HERE. The zoo is spread over 32 acres and is home to many endangered species that are native to the land. Guests can see a Sun bear (the smallest bear species), Red Pandas, Brown Capuchins, and more. To view their full list of animals read HERE. Wellington Zoo is committed to providing its animals with the best care including proper veterinary care, keeper care, and enrichment activities.

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10. National Zoological Gardens of South Africa – Pretoria, South Africa

It may not be the most well-known zoo on this list but the National Zoo in South Africa is a world-respected research facility and famous for its successful breeding programs. So successful that most of the animal’s visitors see, were actually born here. And there are a whole lot of animals to look at. The numbers are quite staggering actually; 3117 specimens of 209 mammal species, 1358 specimens of 202 bird species, 3871 specimens of 190 fish species, 388 specimens of 4 invertebrate species, 309 specimens of 93 reptile species, and 44 specimens of 7 amphibian species. Don’t worry about walking the entire 210 acres; there are golf carts you can rent by the hour. Night tours and sleepovers are also offered here.  An aquarium and reptile park round out this property and this zoo is rated as one of the best in the world.

9. Yokohama Zoological Gardens “Zoorasia” – Yokohama, Japan

Yokahama Zoo‘s mission is to combine life and harmony with nature. The Zoo is divided into 7 areas; Asian Tropical Forest, Central Asian Highland, Oceanian Grassland, Japanese Countryside, African Tropical Rainforest, and the Amazon Jungle. To ensure the animals are placed in the best environment and so visitors can learn and have an authentic experience, the exhibits are designed to display the natural habitat of each species. The zoo is committed to providing environmental education for its guests, as well as puts a big focus on zoological research and wildlife conservation.

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8. Tiergarten Schönbrunn – Vienna, Austria

Tiergarten Schönbrunn is the oldest zoo in the world, opened in 1752 and over the past 260 years has established itself as a center for species conservation and education. It also happens to be full of amazing architecture as it is located on the grounds of the famous Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria. This zoo is home to many firsts, including the first zoo to have an elephant born in captivity and the first natural insemination panda birth in Europe. While taking in the scenic grounds, visitors will have the chance to see giant pandas, monkeys, penguins, elephants and more. Here they focus on daily animal talks and feeding displays in order to educate the visitors as well as exciting guided tours, backstage access, and nighttime tours. There is plenty to see and do, along with many places to eat and drink and overall this zoo continues to be one of the best in the world.

7. Welsh Mountain Zoo – Colwyn Bay, Wales

Welsh Mountain Zoo, also known as the National Zoo of Wales was established in 1963 making it the oldest zoo in Wales. This picturesque zoo occupies 37-acres of lavish green landscape and overlooks Colwyn Bay and the Carneddau mountains in North Wales. Because of this landscape, the zoo looks more like a wildlife conservation area rather than your typical zoo. To date, more than 8 million guests have visited Welsh Mountain Zoo. Guests will have the opportunity to witness over 140 species including otters, California sea lions, Humboldt penguins and more. But above all else, the Welsh Mountain Zoo’s mission is to protect the animals and raise awareness of the world’s impact on wildlife and the environment.

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6. Bronx Zoo – New York, USA

It covers 265 acres and is the longest metropolitan zoo in the world, housing over 6,000 animals. Since the beginning the zoo has focused much of its efforts on protecting and breeding endangered species, making it the go-to for orphaned animals in need. Recently the Bronx Zoo has been focusing its efforts on making itself more eco-friendly, installing compostable toilets that will save millions of gallons of water. Visitors will find plenty of big animals including giraffes, lions, bears, and tigers along with monkeys, leopards and much more. As well as plenty of animals, this zoo offers plenty of other experiences such as a 4D theatre, camel rides, live shows, animal feedings, and a monorail ride. The dedication of this zoo to breeding programs and protection of animals combined with the unique experience visitors get here pushes this to be one of the best zoos in the world.

5. Taronga Zoo – Sydney, Australia

Australian native wildlife species, as well as a number of imported animals, make up Taronga Zoo‘s 4, 00 animals. Over the years, the zoo has evolved from an entertainment destination to a mature conservation and education hub. This award-winning zoo believes that we hold a responsibility to protect the world’s precious wildlife and because of this, their team of scientists uses a combination of their existing knowledge as well as new data to determine the most effective conservation actions they need to take. As you can see, Taronga Zoo consistently puts the needs of their animals first. The zoo is opened all year long and is only 12 minutes away from Circular Quay by ferry. The ferries depart every 30 minutes and run an all-day hop-on, hop-off service.

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4. Berlin Zoological Garden – Berlin, Germany

It is the most popular zoo in Europe and just might have the most comprehensive collection of species in the world with over 20,000 animals represented by 1,500 species. The Berlin Zoo is often celebrated for its successful breeding program of endangered species as well as the re-introduction of species. They are also known for re-creating the animal’s habitats as close as possible to their natural habitats, but most of the public knows this zoo because of its famous polar bear Knut who was born into captivity at the zoo, rejected by his mom and hand-reared by the trainers. Visitors to this zoo will love the popular animal feedings which include the polar bears, orangutans, carnivores and more. Home too many of the popular animals such as lions, giraffes, hippos and more, this zoo also gives the public the opportunity to visit less known species such as rare deer and pigs.

berlin zoo

3. San Diego Zoo – California, USA

The San Diego Zoo is known around the world for pioneering the concept of cageless, open-air exhibits that help re-create the animal’s natural habitat. In terms of conservation, there may not be a better zoo out there than this one. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is the largest zoo-based multidisciplinary research effort in the world with over 200 scientists carrying out research all over the world. In terms of the animals, the zoo houses over 3,700 of them including Giant Pandas, gorillas, monkeys, elephants and many, many more. This zoo offers a slew of extra experiences for visitors including special morning visits with the pandas as they eat their breakfast, backstage access to trainers and animals and sunrise walking tours. A ton of dining options, kids play areas, shows and animal encounters combined with the conservation efforts of this zoo make it one of the best in the world.

2. Singapore Zoo – Singapore

This highly visited zoo is one of the only zoos in the world to be 100% cage-free. Instead, the Singapore Zoo uses a series of moats and glass to enhance both the experience for visitors and to recreate the natural habitats of the animals. This zoo has invested in rescue and conservation efforts to protect wildlife and the late Steve Irwin (aka the Crocodile Hunter) greatly admired them for their work. A visit to this zoo is unlike any other in the world. It is the only zoo in the world where you can have breakfast with a group of free-ranging orangutans in their habitat. The lush rainforest setting that encompasses the entire zoo encourages animals such as free-ranging kangaroos and flying foxes to interact with the public. The daily animal feedings and shows are popular amongst visitors and promoted as learning experiences rather than entertainment shows.

1. Henry Doorly Zoo – Nebraska, USA

In 2014 this zoo was rated the best in the world by Trip Advisor based on millions of reviews and considering the conservation, research, and experience that visitors have, it is, therefore, no surprise it remains at the top of the list. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo is renowned worldwide for its leadership in conservation and research and has the incredible exhibits to back these claims up. The largest cat complex in North America, the largest indoor desert in the world, the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit and indoor swamp and one of the world’s largest indoor rainforests are all located here at this zoo. Visitors love the tide pool touch tank where they can get up close and personal with sea creatures and walking through the second-largest free-flight aviary in the world. Shows, feedings, education, conservation, and research make this the number one zoo in the world.

Nebraska Zoo