Edinburgh Zoo is set in 82 acres of beautiful parkland on Corstorphine Hill in Edinburgh. The zoo was the first in the world to house and breed penguins but it is best known today as the only zoo in Britain that keeps pandas. The zoo features children’s play parks, cafés and gift shops in addition to the animal enclosures where you can see species ranging from meerkats to chimpanzees.
Review of Edinburgh Zoo
Set over 82 acres of parkland on the south-facing slope of Corstorphine Hill, Edinburgh zoo is the second most popular tourist attraction in Scotland after Edinburgh Castle. Owned by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the zoo was constructed in 1913 and today sees visitor numbers totalling over 600,000 each year.
As well as being one of the top-rated zoos in Europe it’s also famous for being a world leader in captive breeding programs and animal behaviour research, and the RZSS is actively involved in providing education to children of all ages.
Edinburgh zoo has a huge amount of things to see and do and with over a thousand animals to view you’re certainly not going to get bored, with lions, monkeys, penguins and tigers as well as the only giant pandas in the UK.
The enclosures that house these animals are first-rate and include Penguins Rock which has Europe’s largest outdoor penguin pool and the Budongo Trail where you can watch chimpanzees in one of the world’s most innovative man-made habitats.
Things to do at Edinburgh Zoo
It’s not just the penguin hatchery that draws visitors to Edinburgh Zoo. The zoo is also rightly proud of its Giant Panda breeding program which saw the introduction of two bears from China, Yang Guang and Tian Tian, in 2011.
Hundreds of visitors flock to the panda compound every day to catch a glimpse of the animals and hopefully it won’t be too long before the adults are accompanied by baby pandas.
There’s also an exceptionally well-designed primate building that offers superb viewpoints for a variety of animals including a troupe of 18 chimpanzees, and there are loads of displays designed to educate visitors about the animals.
The Budungo Trail features a huge indoor and outdoor area that can easily house up to 40 chimps at a time and there’s plenty of climbing frames and thick undergrowth to allow them to forage just like they would in the wild.
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That’s another great thing about Edinburgh Zoo. The staff have designed it to be enjoyable for the animals and informative for the public in equal measure and they’ve made a real effort to educate people about their ongoing animal conservation efforts, just as they’ve done at the Highland Wildlife Park. Well done RZSS.
Other enclosures allow you to look at exotic birds, reptiles, insects and mammals from all over the world, with each habitat clearly signposted and marked so you won’t ever find yourself getting lost.
Even so, as a top-tip I’d recommend going to their website maps and guides page which has an interactive map and a free downloadable pdf so you can get to grips with the layout before heading out. The map is especially useful for wheelchair users as it shows which areas are easily accessed. Handy for an attraction that’s located on the side of a steep hill.
During your visit you’ll find the obligatory (although excellent) gift shop, and both families and couples are catered for with two very good restaurants and a coffee shop on-site, and there are several smaller fast-food eateries dotted about as well.
While you’ll likely want to spend the majority of the day at Edinburgh Zoo you might consider a walk along the Water of Leith afterwards.
The Water of Leith runs from the Pentland Hills all the way through the city to its final destination at Leith and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see kingfishers, herons, and otters along the way. The Water of Leith visitor centre on Lanark Road is a great starting point.
The history of Edinburgh Zoo
One of the zoo’s earliest successes was its penguin breeding program, which is still in effect today. The program can trace its roots back to the 19th-century days of Edinburgh’s whaling industry when whaling ships brought back the first penguin specimens from their long-distance voyages, but it wasn’t until 1919 that the zoo’s first captive hatching occurred.
The Penguins have since become one of the favourite attractions at the zoo and a visit wouldn’t be complete without checking out the hatchery section of Penguin Rock and trying to catch a glimpse of any chicks nestled under the protective bodies of their parents.
If you visit the enclosure around midday you’ll get to experience the daily penguin parade which began in 1950 when several penguins escaped by accident. The Penguins enjoyed their taste of freedom so much that the keepers decided to let them out at the same time each day, and it’s now become a bit of a tradition.
The parade is a great way to see these birds up close and they seem happy to plod around the paths circling their enclosure.
Rest assured the animals are allowed to choose whether or not they want to join the parade, so if you take a peek inside Penguin Rock while the parade is running don’t be surprised to see a few of the lazier penguins lounging around by the poolside.
Two of the most famous animals that have called Edinburgh Zoo their home were Wojtek the Polish bear and Sir Nils Olav, the Norwegian King Penguin.
Wojtek was the mascot of the Polish 22nd Artillery Supply Company during WWII who retired to the zoo when the Polish troops demobilized after the war ended, and his exploits during the war have become something of a legend, with several books written about him.
His story has even been memorialized in a bronze statue that can be seen in Edinburgh’s Prince’s Street Gardens. The other famous zoo inhabitant, Sir Nils Olav, was the mascot and Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian Kings Guard who was donated to Scotland in 1972.
His son Nils Olav II was knighted in 2008, and a third penguin, Nils Olav III, was promoted to the rank of Brigadier in 2016.
If you’d like to discover more places to visit in the city read my Guide to the Top 25 Tourist Attractions in Edinburgh.
- The enclosures are first-class and the animals appear to be very well cared for – as you’d expect from one of the world’s leading zoos.
- It’s a big zoo with loads of animals to see. There’s easily enough to occupy you for an entire day.
- The reptile and monkey habitats are amazing. Your kids will love them.
- It can get crazily busy during the school holidays. Be prepared to fight through crowds.
- You can get there by Lothian Buses on services 12, 26 and 31 and these buses will also take you back to the city centre.
- If you like attractions like this you’ll be pleased to know the eastern side of Scotland is awash with animal-themed places to visit. Two family favourites are St. Andrews Aquarium and The Scottish Deer Centre. Alternatively, if you head north I recommend Edinburgh Zoo’s sister site at the Highland Wildlife Park.
134 Corstorphine Road,
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Things to do near Edinburgh Zoo
- Dean Village. Dean Path, Edinburgh EH4 3AY. 8-minute drive. Historic site in Edinburgh that prospered with mills powered by the Water of Leith in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now a popular tourist destination thanks to the restored buildings and scenic walkways along the river’s edge.
- Corstorphine Hill. Cairnmuir Rd, Edinburgh EH12 6UP. 5-minute drive. A natural woodland located on a hill near the centre of the city. Popular with locals due to its ease of access from the A90 to the north of the hill. There are paths throughout the hill in addition to attractions like Barnton Quarry – a Cold War bunker – and the Corstorphine Hill Walled Garden.
- Cramond. Cramond, Edinburgh EH4 6NU. 12-minute drive. A peaceful coastal village that sits on the edge of the Firth of Forth. Cramond is the main access point for visits to Cramond Island. The River Almond Walkway can be joined to the south of the village which follows the river as far as Edinburgh Airport.
- Gorgie Farm. 51 Gorgie Rd, Edinburgh EH11 2LA. 12-minute drive. Friendly hands-on city farm that allows visitors to pet and play with a collection of animals including goats, pigs, ferrets, sheep, rabbits and more. There is a shop and a café on-site. The farm is run by the LOVE charity.
- Lauriston Castle. 2 Cramond Rd S, Edinburgh EH4 6AD. 8-minute drive. A 16th-century castle in the style of a Georgian manor house. The castle overlooks the Firth of Forth and features expansive grounds with a woodland walk and a Japanese garden.
More places to visit in Edinburgh
- Cramond Island – Edinburgh: Complete Visitor GuideSituated just over 3/4 of a mile into the Firth of Forth, Cramond Island is a tidal landmass located close the village of Cramond near Edinburgh.
- Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect World: Complete Visitor GuideEdinburgh Butterfly World is a fascinating tourist attraction on the southern outskirts of Edinburgh that showcases some rather incredible, beautiful, and very creepy-crawly insects and reptiles from across the globe.
- The Scotch Whisky Experience – Edinburgh: Complete Visitor GuideIf you’re embarking on a visit to Edinburgh then your trip won’t be complete without a visit to The Scotch Whisky Experience, located just a short walk from Edinburgh Castle Esplanade on the Royal Mile.
- The Royal Yacht Britannia – Edinburgh: Complete Visitor GuideThe Royal Yacht Britannia is the former royal yacht of HM Queen Elizabeth II which now takes pride of place at the Ocean Terminal shopping centre at Leith in Edinburgh. Over the course of her working life Britannia was the official residence of the Royal Family and sailed over one million miles around the world.