The Antwerp Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in the world, is one of the most popular attractions in Antwerp. With an animal population of over 5,000 and more than 950 different species, it attracts about one million visitors each year.
The Royal Society of Zoology was founded in 1843. It acquired four acres of land well outside the Spanish walls, next to the East Station. In 1904, the small East Station was replaced by the current Central Station. The new zoo kept expanding throughout the nineteenth century until it was about 26 acres large. Recently a new expansion has been announced which will add a surface of 15,000 sq. m. (4 acres) to the existing zoo.
During the nineteenth century expansion, several ‘exotic style’ buildings were constructed to house the animals. One of the most remarkable buildings is the 1856 Egyptian temple, which currently houses the giraffes.
It was modeled after the 1854 ‘Egyptian Court’ at the Crystal Palace in London. The hieroglyphs symbolize the relationship between the Royal Society of Zoology and the City of Antwerp.
After the Second World War, the zoo was reorganized in order to create a ‘model zoo’ with more focus on education and with more space and light for the animals. In the last couple of decades, the zoo has started to focus more and more on the creation of biotopes where animals can walk around more or less freely.
The Antwerp Zoological garden holds the studbook for five animals, including the okapi. This animal was introduced in the zoo shortly after its discovery in Congo. There are still several of these strange animals with long tongues in the zoo. More than 75% of the okapis in captivity have Antwerp blood. Some other notable animals out of the +900 species include the polar bear, Siberian tigers, Indian lions, Arabian oryxes, Indian elephants, gorillas, bison, orangutans, crocodiles, small panda, koala, panthers, sharks, …
Other attractions include the planetarium, the winter garden, birdhouse, reptile building, nocturama (nocturnal animals), aquarium and the recently created vriesland (‘freeze land’): a biotope with sea otters, King penguins and macaroni penguins. A recently added biotope is the ‘swamp land’, where you can see the habitat of the hippopotamus, tapirs, pelicans and some other animals. The Antwerp zoo used to have a dolphinarium with several dolphins, but the basin was too small, so the dolphins were replaced by sea lions. The former dolphin show is now replaced by a very popular sea lion show.
The Antwerp zoo also has a ‘kidsite’, with a playground and some small animals that the children can touch. Also on the site are several restaurants and a shop.
If you’re not interested in animals, the exceptionally well-kept gardens are worth a visit in itself. Many of the gardens feature beautiful sculptures created with flowers and shrubbery. It is almost certainly the most beautiful garden in Antwerp.
When visiting the zoo, make sure you reserve at least half a day as there’s a lot going on. Also, make sure you get a map of the zoo. At the entrance, you can also obtain a schedule of the feeding times of the animals. You can also find them at their website, which is available in English. Most of the staff at the zoo do speak English, and maps and brochures are available in English as well. The entrance of the Zoo is located at the Astrid Square, right next to the Central Station.