Visiting the Antwerpen Zoo in Antwerp, Belgium

By - February 15, 2012 (Updated: February 16, 2017)

Antwerp Zoo's Baby Elephant Kai Mook

Antwerp Zoo’s Baby Elephant Kai Mook

We love animals, be it the furred, the feathered or the scaly. Despite this, it took us six years to visit the Antwerp Zoo, (Zoo Antwerpen in Dutch). It was six years too many.

Established in 1853, the Antwerp Zoo is the oldest zoo in Belgium and, in fact, is one of the oldest zoos in Europe. In 1983, both the architecture and gardens of the zoo were declared a historic monument.

I have to admit, the zoo’s age played a part in my hesitance to visit. I’ve been to several European city zoos, one of my favourites being Amsterdam’s Artis, but sometimes their smaller size and age leads to cramped animal enclosures and run-down facilities.

I needn’t have worried. Despite its small size (10.5 hectares or 26 acres), relative to some of the enormous North American zoos, the animal habitats seem spacious and the zoo is constantly being updated and renovated. In fact, since my photos were taken last summer, a new lion habitat has been unveiled.

Antwerp Zoo's Gardens

Antwerp Zoo’s pretty Gardens and Architecture

The Antwerp Zoo has a daily schedule of activities and shows and has many education programs for students. It is one of the world’s leading zoos for research and education and is involved in many wildlife preservation programs.

But let’s face it, when it comes to visiting a zoo, we all expect interesting animals and exhibits and the Antwerp Zoo definitely scores well on this account. We particularly enjoyed: Vriesland (Freezeland), the penguin enclosure; Nocturama, an exhibit of nocturnal animals, including an enormous fruit bat; and our usual favourites the monkey house and the big cats. There is also a particularly interesting bird exhibit where there are no cages.

Bird in Antwerp Zoo

Look Ma, No Cages

The Antwerp Zoo has been particularly current with social media in the past few years and they regularly release updates on their Facebook Page, have streaming video to some of their exhibits and when a new zoo baby is born, there is a media frenzy.

The best thing about the Antwerp Zoo is how easy it is to get to. It is located just outside the doors of the Antwerpen Centraal train station. There is no need to worry about driving in the city or finding a parking spot.

But I’m sure you’re eagerly awaiting the photos of cute animals, so without further ado, here are a few of my favourites from our trip to the Zoo Antwerpen:

Monkey Tails!

Monkey Tails!

Lizard in Antwerp Zoo

What are you looking at?







and Tigers

and Tigers

and elephants, Oh my!

and elephants, Oh my!

Here Kitty, Kitty

Here Kitty, Kitty

Intrigued and want to know more about a visit to Antwerp? Visit our Slow Travel Antwerp & Mechelen page for even more things to see and do around this beautiful city. You can also subscribe to our newsletter for slow travel inspiration from around the world.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
It's after Halloween so I can officially share Christmas Markets now right...? 🎄🎅 - 1 week ago


  1. Comment by Marc

    Marc February 15, 2012 at 13:12

    Thank you for putting the spotlight on “our” Zoo, and I’m glad you liked it so much! I know, I am a bit biased being born in Antwerp, but it is a beautiful place in the middle of the city. You’re absolutely right, the zoo is constantly being updated, and I have to admit it needed it. The original solution was to get a brand new park, in Plankendael (near Mechelen), where animals got much bigger enclosures. But still the Antwerp Zoo was full of small spaces. For instance, the hippos’ enclosure used to be pathetic. They barely had space to turn in their bath-tub sized (hippo sized of course) ponds. Now, it’s almost lake sized, with a nice in- and outside area. The lions are next (interesting detail: they will share their space with other animals that normally are on the lion’s menu, but they built a tunneling system so they can escape). I read the elephants will soon move to a new space in the sister-zoo in Plankendael, where they will be housed in a space 10 times bigger than in Antwerp. I remember the media frenzy when baby Kai-Mook was born. Did you noticed the elephant skeleton in the Egyption temple? Her name is Jacqueline, and she was the first elephant to arrive in the Antwerp Zoo.

    Another little fact: just after WW2 the cages of the predators (the animals had disappeared long before) were used as a prison for German prisoners and collaborators.

    Little quiz? Do you know why the Siberian tigers couldn’t leave their indoor cages the past few weeks, when Belgium had that cold spell?

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison February 15, 2012 at 14:26

      Thanks for all of the fun facts about the Antwerp Zoo Marc! We really enjoyed our visit and definitely will be back again soon. I have some friends and family visiting soon and I’m sure they’d enjoy it as well.

  2. Comment by Georges Bolle'

    Georges Bolle' February 15, 2012 at 23:53

    Hi Alison,
    This dates from earlier colonial times and our king + an explorer.

    Apparently you missed the snail pavillon, it’s quite interesting too. Did you know the snails are not separated from the public by glass ? They have a ‘freezing cold furtain’ prohibiting them from leaving their ‘home-place’.

    You couldn’t know it, they don’t make any publicity and are even not on You were 200 steps away – other side of the Koningin Astrid Plein, from the Hotel/Eetkaffee MONICO (you can see it on Google street map), on the Plein, at the corner of the Statiestraat.

    They have a very good bistro menu, but also 2 typical specialities, not so easy to find.

    1) Gezoden worst (salted sausage) – very old Antwerp speciality, disappeared for many years, but now coming back 🙂 It’s a more or less white (rose) sausage, very fine milled meat. They serve it hot in the water with which it has been heated. You get mustard and bread with it, fork-knife-spoon, and are supposed to drink the water too. It’s delicious !
    2) Horse steak with mustard. Belgians love horse meat. Their steak is very mild, mustard is optional, bit strange, but not too bad.

    A bit further besides Monico there are 2 businesses, brothers but competitors. They both make the best ‘prepare’ of the world, one is a sandwich shop with 1000 options with or without ‘smos’, outstanding meat shop with a.o. delicious ‘rosbief’, the other one also but additionally serves delicious fries (the small portion is easily for 2), cheescroquettes, all ‘friture’ things, chicken wings in all tastes and with all imagineable sauces, etc…but also old Belgian specialities like ‘ballekes gehakt in tomatensaus, lever met appelpuree’ very delicious steaks and many other things. All at a mini-price. Very kind, fast service.

    Around the corner at the Keyserlei there is a restaurant with TRUE Argentinian filet pure steak, you just need to look at it and it falls apart. Goergeous. I’ll look up the name, their steaks are really very exceptional ! Also their ribs and lamb cuts are very very good. Vaut le detour !!

    Next time I’ll write you about ‘stoemp’ + extraordinary mustard Tierenteyn from Gent much better than the Dijon one, elected as a world kitchen speciality (see the Standaard of today 15.02) + the Art Nouveau St Georges Brasserie Chaussee de Waterloo in Brussels.

    I’m Belgian as you can see and :-)taste:-), born in Antwerp but lived in Gent, Brussels, Walloon region, live in US, Germany, in Poland now since 11 years but regularly come ‘home’ to satisfy my ‘Burgundian stomach’.
    I very much like your newsletters and reportages.

    Kind regards,
    Georges Bolle’

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison February 16, 2012 at 09:20

      Hi Georges,

      Thank you so much for all of this great information! As you know from reading CheeseWeb, we love to learn about the local specialities. You have definitely mentioned some things here we MUST check out.

  3. Comment by Jenn

    Jenn February 16, 2012 at 04:59

    That baby elephant is so cute!!!!! This might need to go on THE LIST!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison February 16, 2012 at 09:15

      I was thinking this may need to be added to the afore mentioned list 🙂

  4. Pingback: Antwerp Zoo – One of Europe’s Oldest | Travel Europe with Best Travel Content Europe

  5. Comment by Nancie

    Nancie March 1, 2012 at 05:19

    Beautiful set of shots. Zoos “that do it right” are tops in my book. Nothing like spending a day looking at animals. My two favorite zoos in Asia are the Singapore Zoo and the Chiang Mai Zoo.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison March 1, 2012 at 09:05

      I agree Nancie. I love spending a day at a zoo that is well run and works hard for the benefit of both the animals and the visitors. I hope to add your Asian suggestions to my listed of visited zoos someday soon 🙂

  6. Comment by Gaëtan

    Gaëtan April 29, 2012 at 00:35


    as suggested by Marc, you should also visit “Planckendael”, which is a kind of “Nature reserve” for the Antwerp Zoo.

    My favorite park in Belgium is “Pairi Daiza” (previously known as Paradisio). I also recommend the more specialized “Les Grottes de Han” and “Sea Life Centre” 🙂 I’ve been a bit disappointed by “Le Monde Sauvage” but it was quite new when I visited it. Idem for “Mon Mosan” which wasn’t really impressive.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison May 2, 2012 at 18:20

      Thanks for the tips! Planckendael is definitely on our list of places we’d like to visit. I haven’t heard of Pairi Daiza but I will look it up! We didn’t have a great experience with Les Grottes de Han but I’ve heard that others like it, particularly with small children.

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