Hands up if you like zoos! ?‍♀️?‍♀️?‍♀️

As a kid, I looooooooooved going to the zoo. Guess what, as an adult I still looooooooooove going to the zoo.

I’d like to say I like the look on my child’s face as he stares, completely fascinated, at the animals. While it is true, I seriously think I still enjoy zoos more than my kid does!

We recently took a trip to the Antwerp Zoo in Belgium and it was absolutely worth the trip!

Read on for 7 reasons why you should definitely make a trip down to the Antwerp Zoo if you ever get the chance!

1 The Antwerp Zoo represents such rich history

The Antwerp Zoo (Zoo Antwerpen in Dutch) has been around since 1843. And that is not a typo, it was indeed founded in the 17th century.

Granted, it’s not the first zoo in the world – I think we have the Egyptians and the Chinese to thank for that (unsure, but I would think early civilisations had their own form of zoos to please their pharaohs and emperors!), but it’s certainly been around a long time – definitely the oldest in the country, and on the top 10 list of oldest zoos in the world. Back in 1983 (before I was born!) the zoo was even classified as a monument.

The Antwerp Zoo was founded back then by the Société Royale de Zoologie d’Anvers (The Antwerp Royal Society for Zoology) for botanical and zoological research. Today, the Antwerp Zoo is still run by the city’s zoological society, now called De Koninklijke Maatschappij voor Dierkunde van Antwerpen.

While you’re strolling through the zoo, you can get a sense of how it must have been like for people in the olden days, wandering round, looking at all kinds of interesting animals that aren’t from “around here”. With the Antwerp Zoo’s history and architecture, it is an absolute must-see for any historical buff, or if you just like old-ish things.

2 The Antwerp Zoo houses interesting animals

The Antwerp Zoo is home to more than 600 species of animals. Did we actually see 600 different animals? I’m not sure! But there sure were MANY!

But what sets this zoo trip apart was that I learnt of many animals that I hadn’t learnt of before. Such as the macaroni penguin (My husband, to me, at this exhibit, “Hmm not I really feel like eating macaroni!”), the emperor tamarin, the owl-faced monkey (he didn’t really look like an owl to me!), and the grey-winged trumpeter (a bird!).

There were also many animals that you’d never ever otherwise see in Europe – the tapir (usually in South America), the okapi (native only to Congo), and the pair of Asian elephants, brothers Assam and Sam (that probably come from somewhere in Asia, like their species’ namesake).

The almost-mystical Okapi that looks like a combination of animals!

If you want to go to a zoo that has more than just lions, giraffe, hippos and monkeys, then take a trip to Antwerp Zoo. You won’t be disappointed by the number of new animals you’ll learn about in one single day!

3 Beautiful moments at the Antwerp Zoo – The butterfly pavilion

Every zoo presents itself as the backdrop for beautiful moments and lasting memories for sure.

But there were a few moments on this trip that stood out especially for me.

One of them was entering into the butterfly pavilion. It’s a late 19th century architectural gem of glass and steel providing a tropical illusion. But it felt much more like walking down a well-trodden trail in a lush, tropical rainforest, even with natural sunlight shining through its glass skylight that caps this building.

What an amazing feeling being surrounded by fluttering!

Have you ever had hundreds of butterflies swirl around you at once? It’s a feeling that is magical and romantic and enchanting all at once. Definitely a moment I will not forget! To add to the magic of the place, soft, soothing music is piped in, so all your senses are equally tickled.

I might never experience swirling around in fairy dust, but I can say that at least in this lifetime I’ve had butterflies of all shapes and colours swirl around me! Absolutely wonderful! I swear one even almost landed on my head!

4 Beautiful moments at the Antwerp Zoo – The sea lions

Another moment was watching the California sea lions out and about. Yes, many zoos have showtimes where they display their sea lions proudly, usually involving some kind of feat which involves jumping out of the water and touching a ball hung up high in the air, or so. They’re great fun to watch, but nothing beats watching them just go about their day, swimming to and fro.

It can be utterly mesmerizing, I tell you! I really wished I had the whole day to just sit there and watch them. Watch every graceful twist of their bodies, every swish and flick of their fins.

I’m not sure if the zoo usually has showtimes and feeding times, or if they’re just all cancelled due to the Covid restrictions, but we happened to chance upon feeding time at the sea lion enclosure.

Antwerp Zoo sea lion
“I is good boy, yes?”

Watching one of the faces of the sea lions waiting to be fed was like looking into the face of my doggo Canoonie, that “Am I a good boy? Yes yes yes! Me wants food!” kinda face that probably every furmama is well familiar with! And it kinda struck me how connected and alike all these animals really are.

Sea lions obviously are not the lions of the sea, they’re named that way because the males of the species usually have thick fur around their neck, thus their name. This, ironically enough, is with the exception of the California sea lions, which are the ones we were watching on this trip to the Antwerp Zoo.

In Dutch, however, sea lions are called “zeehonden” in Dutch, which directly translates in English to “sea dogs”. So they’re lions, and they’re dogs, but they’re really more like cats, with their long whiskers and their love of fish!

Either way, watching these multifaceted animals was simply fascinating. I’d love to go back and pack and lunch and munch away while watching a live NatGeo!

5 Playgrounds around the Antwerp Zoo

If you’re going with kiddos, then be prepared to spend an entire day there. Not only are there so many animals to look at, there are also plenty of playgrounds scattered all around the park.

Playgrounds are great when your kid is still full of energy but you need a break!

I think I counted at least four that we walked past, but who knows, there might have been some that I missed! My son had a lot of fun playing on one of them, and there were plenty of spots around the playground for the parents to camp out and have a much-needed coffee.

A stone’s throw away from the playground was a stall from which you could get a coffee, drink or ice cream. I had a latte macchiato – it was €3,40 I believe, so not cheap, but it was definitely a welcome respite to sit and have a cuppa. There were also decaf options available, a wonderfully thoughtful thing for people who need decaf (my bestie who was with us on the trip being one such being, for personal health reasons).

6 It’s not expensive to eat at the Antwerp Zoo

I don’t know about you, but going to the zoo is always an event in which you have to budget not only the entrance tickets, but the humungous substantial amount of money you’ll be paying in order to have your midday meal there.

I know nobody goes to a zoo specifically to have a meal, but you can’t avoid it if you’re going to be out all day and don’t want to pack a lunch that will be sweaty by the time you get to eating it.

Thankfully, it’s not so at the Antwerp Zoo. I spotted a stall selling hotdogs at €3,90 a pop, the burger I had at the Restaurant Savanne (it was a veggie burger but it was OMG SO GOOD) was a decently priced €6,50, and there were also wraps and sandwich options (or what we call “broodje” here, a half-sized baguette sliced into two and filled with different types of ingredients) at also around €5-6 each.

Of course, there are the more expensive warm meal options like spaghetti at €12,90, or the classic vol-au-vent at €14,50. So whether you’d like to have an actual proper meal with cutlery, or rather opt for the hands-on kinda meal, you’re well set at the Antwerp Zoo, without burning a hole in your pocket.

I have to say, for a zoo, Europe, and such a great zoo IN Europe – I’m mighty impressed at such decent and affordable prices!

7 Covid-19 measurements at the Antwerp Zoo

We’re always a bit afraid of going to any place there might be crowds while this pandemic is still raging on. With good reason, obviously. Even if we’re all going to be masked up, social distancing has been quite an issue at other places we’ve been to before. So heading to a place like a zoo is always a little bit iffy.

Boy, was I impressed with how the Antwerp Zoo has handled this. They have drawn up a very clear and easy-to-follow Covid-19 Circulation Plan. That way, visitors simply have to follow from 1 to 27 on the map and they would have seen every single animal exhibit in the park, without a bunch of people wandering aimlessly in every direction and making social distancing an impossible task.

The numbers are not only marked clearly on the map that you get when you enter the zoo, but also along the way all over the park. It’s rather intuitive and natural that it doesn’t feel awkward or restrictive.

Also, the space available on every pathway between the exhibits presents enough space for actual social distancing. You really don’t have to be squished up against anyone else. In fact, a lot of the spaces are so wide, you could even go mask-free if you should want, because it’s just like being in an outdoor, open-air space.

It’s not really that I want to name names here, but I must say, this was a stark contrast to when we went to Pairi Daiza last year. Because of the way many of their exhibits are situated, there are plenty of occasions where you simply can’t get away from people, and you’re literally bumper to bumper. NOT social distancing proof!

When you do have to enter any enclosed space at the Antwerp Zoo, there are signs reminding you to mask up, and hand sanitizers at every single entrance and exit. It gave me the impression that it was all very well thought of and prepared.

Not only that, but at midday, when it felt like the most crowded in the park, I went on their website to check their real-time update of the number of visitors in the zoo against their maximum capacity allowed under Covid-19 restrictions. At that particular moment, the zoo was 56% at capacity.

Considering that their max capacity would have been carefully planned such that there would still be room enough for all visitors to practice safe social distancing, this number simply meant even more space for all visitors.

And this was on a Sunday in the middle of summer holidays, when all the kids are out of school and parents are available to take them to zoos!

It was a very reassuring thing to see that the Antwerp Zoo was really playing its part in helping everyone still stay safe while having a fantastic time at the zoo. All their staff always had their masks on as well, even if they were outdoors and in the open.

So, are you convinced yet that you should give the Antwerp Zoo a go? Tickets are €25 for kids and €31 for adults, with other discounted prices available for students, seniors, the handicapped, and their minders. Kids under 3 enter free! (So take advantage of this if you have a little one! Mine is now sadly over 3 hahaha!)

If you still need one more push, watch this quick 5-minute video I shot and edited on my phone. It was all done by the time we even came through the front door at the end of the day (obviously I wasn’t the one driving haha). Also, yes, I spammed it with pics of my kid LOL.

An amazing experience awaits you at the Antwerp Zoo!

Last but not least, I’d love to hear your opinions on the Antwerp Zoo! If you’ve been there before, what did you especially love about it? If you’re thinking about going and have any questions, feel free to ask me! I’d be happy to share!

Take care and stay safe, everyone!

Lots of love,

Michelle xoxo