The Out About Scotland complete guide to The Royal Edinburgh Zoo
What’s this attraction all about?
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.Read more...
The history of the attraction
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.
What can you do there?
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 too. 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. All-in-all, If you’re visiting Edinburgh and want to take a break from its historic buildings and street performers, a visit to the city zoo really should be at the top of your list of must-see attractions.
What I liked about this attraction
- The enclosures are world-class and the animals appear to be very well cared for
- It’s a big zoo with loads of animals to see. There’s enough to occupy you for an entire day
- It’s great that the zoo is so involved in conservation work
What I didn’t like about this attraction
- It can get crazy busy during the school holidays. Be prepared to fight through crowds
- The zoo is set on a hill so you’ll be walking up a lot of inclines
- It’s expensive, not just for the entrance tickets but for food and drinks as well
134 Corstorphine Road,
Prices and opening times
- Adult: Online £17.50, Walk-up £19.50
- Child (3 to 15): Online £9.95, Walk-up £9.95
- Child (under 3): Free
- Concession: Online £15.00, Walk-up £17.00
|10.00am to 6.00pm||April – September|
|10.00am to 5.00pm||October & March|
|10.00am to 4.00pm||November – February|