A visit to Belfast Zoo is one of the most popular things to do in Belfast with kids, and for good reason!
Belfast Zoo covers 55 acres, and 120 animal species call it home. Visitors have been coming here since 1934, making it one of Belfast’s oldest attractions.
The Zoo is known worldwide for its conservation work and is an active member of several organisations around the world collaborating to protect endangered species.
Below, you’ll find everything from the opening hours for Belfast Zoo and how much a visit costs to what to see and more.
Some quick need-to-knows about Belfast Zoo
Although a visit to Belfast Zoo is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
The Zoo is located on the Antrim Road, just 15 minutes from Belfast City Centre. Several bus routes stop on the Antrim Road, 500m from the Zoo. You’re within easy reach of other attractions such as Lost City Adventure Golf (15 mins), Aunt Sandra’s Candy Factory (15 mins), and Belfast Castle (9 mins).
2. Opening hours
The Zoo is open 7 days a week and operates hourly sessions from 10am until 3pm. The last admission is at 4pm and the Zoo closes at 6pm. Non-members must book in advance, but members can enter with their membership ID card.
The Zoo donates 5% of ticket price to conservation projects so, with that being said, the cost of admission ranges from FREE for children under 4 and Carers to £14 for adults. Family tickets (2 adults, 3 children) are available for £40 and there are price reductions for group bookings (prices may change).
Belfast Zoo provides 400 free parking spaces. 12 of these are designated for disabled drivers holding a Blue Badge. There’s an electric charge point in front of the Visitor Centre. The car parks are usually full by noon during summer so get there early if you can.
About Belfast Zoo
Belfast Zoo’s location 15 minutes out of the city centre on the side of a mountain gives a feeling of being in a jungle, far from everything. Of course, that means there’s a hill so it’s not suitable for everyone, but there are amazing views out over the city.
Most of the animal species at the Zoo are endangered in their natural habitat and as an elephant lover I’m thrilled they have a ‘retirement home’ for old, rescued elephants.
Enrichment activities such as trick-training with the sea lions and puzzle feeders in the enclosures demonstrate the care taken by the staff here.
There’s a large play area for the children and lots of places to sit and watch the world go by if you need a break.
What you’ll see at Belfast Zoo
Out of the 120+ animal species at the Zoo, there are 39 species of mammal. These range from the well-known Shetland Pony and Red Squirrel to the Malayan Sun Bear and majestic elephants.
The Zoo is part of a Europe-wide breeding programme for Asian elephants and is also a sanctuary for old, non-breeding females, some of whom have been rescued from difficult situations.
As a species, the tiny Shetland pony has been around for over 2,000 years – a huge feat for such a small, and quite delicate-looking animal. The Zoo’s farmyard is home to four of these lovely creatures.
The Zoo’s amphibian population comes to a grand total of TWO. And they’re both frogs. The Asian Mossy Frog and the White’s tree frog from Australia.
The mossy frog has a green skin, with dark blemishes and lumps and bumps in a reddish hue and looks just like a clump of moss. If it sits still, it is almost impossible to see it. If you see a pair of eyes and nothing else protruding from water, it’s a mossy frog!
White’s tree frog changes its colour according to its mood and you’ll have to look up to see one – they live in trees near water.
Geckos are my favourite reptiles and there are two at the Zoo, the Turquoise Dwarf Gecko, and the Leopard Gecko. There are several Iguanas and tortoises and the Bearded Dragon is great fun to watch as it puffs out its throat when excited (or angry).
A beard rises on its neck – pointed scales – to make it look fiercer to its opponents. The Turquoise Dwarf Gecko is always a dominant male (all others are green or copper coloured). Native to Africa they are endangered by agriculture and the pet trade.
There’s approximately 30 species at the Zoo ranging from Norfolk Grey chickens to Darwin’s Rhea. Darwin’s Rhea? It’s a flightless bird from the ostrich family, native to parts of South America and can reach speeds of up to 60 kmh.
It’s very sociable which is always popular with the children visiting the Zoo. Another South American bird, the Southern Screamer can be heard more than 3km away and act as a guard for others as it’s not hunted itself. The gorgeous Nicobar pigeon lives in the Zoo’s Rainforest House and is the closest living relative of the extinct Dodo.
Other things to do at Belfast Zoo
There’s plenty of things to see and do at Belfast Zoo, with a bit of something that should tickle most fancies.
Below, you’ll find everything to the extensive education program and food to the popular photography base camp.
Belfast Zoo places great importance on its education program and offers curriculum-led lessons as well as virtual learning, self-guided or even outreach. The Zoo uses animals to educate their students and have 5 animals they use most often:
- Sanchez the leopard gecko
- Sasha the royal python
- African pygmy hedgehogs
- Stick insects
- White’s tree frogs
The lessons are interactive and bring the classes to life for the students. An excellent resource for parents and schools alike.
You definitely won’t go hungry as you explore the Zoo. Bearing in mind that it can take up to 6 hours to navigate. you will probably need to eat at some point. The Lion’s Den Café is open 7 days a week and has indoor and outdoor seating, while the Treetop Tearoom at the top of Cave Hill is perfect for a snack, a rest, and gorgeous views. There are lots of picnic benches around too so you can bring your own food with you.
3. Photography base camp
A visit to the Zoo wouldn’t be complete without a few photos and getting your photo taken with a pride of lions or towering giraffes is pretty special. The Photography Base Camp is just inside the entrance, and you collect your photo on the way out when you’re leaving. It opens at 10 am each day and prices range from £12 for two 8x 6 prints to £22 for two family photos in a zoo wallet and on a USB stick.
Things to do near Belfast Zoo
One of the beauties of the zoo in Belfast is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best things to do in Belfast.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Belfast Zoo (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Cave Hill Country Park (5-minute drive)
Cave Hill is a landmark for Belfast and is named for the five caves found on the cliff sides. Adventure playground, visitor centre, Eco trail, gardens and archaeological sites supply a wealth of interesting things to do. And of course, there’s Belfast Castle and Napoleon’s Nose as well.
2. Belfast Castle (10-minute drive)
Belfast Castle is not completely open to the public but there is a public area and a restaurant that you can visit, and it’s also used as a wedding venue at times. In the garden you can amuse yourself and the kids by finding the nine cats – one cat for each of a cat’s nine lives. These are stones in various shapes and sizes.
3. Titanic Belfast (15-minute drive)
The Titanic Belfast exhibition is literally a journey through history. As you wander through the galleries you don’t need much imagination to see high society in the grand salons. Take the Shipyard Ride to see the coal-blackened faces of the workers and then see the SOS messages as the Virginian received them.
FAQs about visiting the zoo in Belfast
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from does Belfast have a zoo (it does…) to does Belfast Zoo have crocodiles.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
How long does it take to go around Belfast Zoo?
You’ll want to allow around 2 hours to get around Belfast Zoo. The more time the better, but 2 hours will allow you to see the main attractions.
How much is it into the zoo in Belfast?
Cost of admission ranges from FREE for children under 4 and Carers to £14 for adults (prices may change).
When does Belfast Zoo open?
Belfast Zoo is open 7 days a week and operates hourly sessions from 10am until 3pm. The last admission is at 4pm and the Zoo closes at 6pm.
Norah is a writer and self-publisher of fiction and non-fiction. She adores the excitement of unknown places and together with several locations in Ireland, has, over 21 years, made her home in London, The Hague and New Zealand, returning to Ireland with her Kiwi rescue dog Barney, in tow.