Last updated on January 27th, 2021
The Royal Edinburgh Zoo
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.
Category: Amusement park, Animals, Gardens
Suitable for ages: 0 to 10 years, 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 10 out of 10
About 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 look at you’re certainly not going to get bored, with lions, monkeys, penguins and tigers to view, as well as the only giant pandas in the UK.
The enclosures that house these animals are really good – especially 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 famous 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, although as yet there’s still no sound of the patter of baby panda paws in the enclosure.
There’s also an exceptionally well-designed primate building which offers fantastic viewpoints for a variety of animals including a troupe of 18 chimpanzees, and there are loads of exhibits designed to educate visitors about the animals inside.
The Budungo Trail features a huge indoor-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.
That’s another great thing about Edinburgh Zoo, they’ve designed it to be enjoyable for the animals and informative for the public in equal measure, and they’ve made real efforts to educate people about their ongoing animal conservation efforts, just as they’ve done at the Highland Wildlife Park. Well done RZSS.
Other enclosures offer views of exotic birds, reptiles, insects and mammals from all over the world, with each habitat clearly signposted and marked so that 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 most likely want to spend the majority of the day at Edinburgh Zoo I really have to recommend a nearby part of the city that boasts an incredible number of Scottish animals that is completely free to visit.
The Water of Leith runs from the Pentland Hills all the way through the city to its final destination at Leith and it offers fantastic walks on well-maintained paths. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see kingfishers, herons, and otters along the way and visiting the walkway and the Water of Leith visitor centre is a great way of understanding Scotlands wildlife.
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 personal and they seem completely happy to wander 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 the impressively named 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 of my 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.
Photos and video
Address and map
134 Corstorphine Road,
Tickets and opening times
Special offer: Click this affiliate link to purchase an Edinburgh City Pass from Viator. You’ll get free entry to 22 tours and attractions – including Edinburgh Zoo – over 1, 2 or 3 days.
|10.00am to 6.00pm||April – September|
|10.00am to 5.00pm||October & March|
|10.00am to 4.00pm||November – February|
Getting there: Bus stop nearby, Car park on-site
Getting around: Easy-access paths, Disabled access, Pushchair access
On-site conveniences: Gift shop, Hot drinks, Picnic area, Restaurant, Snacks, Toilets