A visit to Fota Island Wildlife Park is arguably one of the best things to do in Cork with kids.
The park, which is a stone’s throw from Cobh, boasts all the ingredients you need for educational fun and a truly unique experience.
In the guide below, you’ll discover everything you need to know if you fancy a visit to Fota Island Wildlife Park, from ticket prices and tours to what to do nearby.
Some quick need-to-knows about Fota Wildlife Park
Although a visit to Fota Island Wildlife Park is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
You’ll find Fota Island Wildlife Park located on, unsurprisingly enough, the beautiful Fota Island, 10km east of Cork City.
Admission prices for Fota Island zoo are €16.90 for adults and under 16s, €11.50. Students and seniors pay €12.50, while toddlers up to three years of age are admitted for free. Family tickets for two adults and two children cost €49.50 (prices may change).
3. How a visit takes
You’ll want to allow at least 2 – 3 hours for a visit to Fota Island zoo, as there’s plenty to see and do and it’s best visited at a relaxed pace.
4. A place on a mission
Fota Wildlife Park has a mission to create greater understanding of the biodiversity of our world. The second largest tourist attraction in Ireland outside Leinster, the park is open Monday to Sunday, 10am to 4.30pm (last admissions 3pm every day).
The different Fota Wildlife Park tours
As you might expect, Fota Wildlife Park offers several different tour types aimed at entertaining and informing visitors, both young and old.
There’s a guided tour of Fota Island zoo, a unique, behind-the-scenes experience and, finally, a VIP tour.
The guided tour
The guided tour, run by the warden rangers, presents the ideal opportunity to get behind the scenes and find out more about the animals that live at the park, and what their care involves.
A tour allows children to get up close to the animals in a safe environment and includes highlights such as touring the giraffe house or feeding the penguins.
The park runs a conservation and breeding programme aimed at countering threats to the wildlife population thanks to human activity, and this kind of tour is more suited for older learners.
The behind-the-scenes experience
Behind the scenes at Fota Wildlife Park will give you a greater understanding of the animals, their habitats and environments.
The tours offer the visitor the chance to develop further understanding of different species. The visits to various habitats, for example, demonstrate why they are particularly suited to specific species and what can happen to wildlife when those habitats are threatened.
The behind-the-scenes experience lasts for two hours and costs €160 for two adults, which includes admission to the park in the costs.
The VIP family experience
For the ultimate, personalised tour of the park, why not splash out on a VIP family experience? The tour costs €165 per family and takes two hours.
You’ll be guided around the park by a warden, get to feed the penguins and see how the giraffe house works.
The price of admission to the park is included in the fee, and this special experience offers photo opportunities a-plenty.
At the end of the tour, everyone gets an experience certificate and there is a 10 percent discount on the price if you are a Fota Wildlife Park annual pass holder.
A brief history of Fota Wildlife Park
Fota Island zoo belonged to the Smith-Barry family – descendants of the Norman de Barry family – for almost 800 years. The estate was sold to the University College Cork in 1975 when the last of the Smith-Barrys died.
Fota House, originally the family’s hunting lodge and then later home, is managed by the Irish Heritage Trust, while the gardens are jointly run and managed by the Trust and the Office of Public Works.
The wildlife park came into being when the late Dr Terry Murphy suggested a wildlife park be established in Ireland, and Fota Island was chosen as the perfect destination.
The initial works to establish an open and natural park for animals started in 1980. The first animals arrived in 1982, and the park opened to the general public one year later.
Fota Wildlife Park hotel
Fota Island is home to one of the best hotels in Cork, and it makes the perfect getaway any time of the year. The five star luxury makes this destination a special treat.
The hotel has more than 100 splendid rooms available in classic or deluxe, many of which come with a private balcony. You can also choose rooms with interconnected doors for families.
The resort’s golf courses are a big attraction, as is the food, which makes the most of the plentiful local fresh seafood and organic produce.
Things to do near Fota Island Wildlife Park
One of the beauties of Fota Island zoo is that it’s a short spin away from a clatter of other attractions, both man-made and natural.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Fota zoo (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. Titanic Experience Cobh
Titanic Experience Cobh is in Casement Square in Cobh Town. It is housed in the original White Star Line Ticket Office, where thousands of people departed from Ireland’s shores.
The tour experience explores the stories of the final 123 passengers who joined the Titanic at her last port of call before she set sail on her maiden voyage to New York.
2. Spike Island
Definitely one for the history lovers, Spike Island’s past includes a remote monastery, a fortress that was built to defend an empire and a prison, the largest prison at the time when it was built.
You’ll be able to explore some 1,300 years of Irish history on Spike Island which has several museums, exhibitions, island walks, café and gift shops. There’s a guided tour for those who want one, and the visit costs include the ferry over to the island.
3. Cork City
Crawford Gallery is where you can view the works of Irish artists such as Paul Henry, Jack B Yeats and Dorothy Cross, while those who love the outdoors can try the urban kayaking tour on the River Lee.
FAQs about visiting Fota Island Zoo
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from how long it takes to walk around Fota to what to see nearby.
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 is the walk around Fota Wildlife Park?
You should try and allow between 2 and 3 hours for a visit to Fota Island Wildlife Park. The more time you have the better.
How much are tickets for Fota Island Wildlife Park?
Tickets for Fota Island Zoo ar €16.90 for an adult and €11.50 for kids (kids under 3 go free). There are also €12.50 student tickets, €12.50 over 65 tickets and a range of family tickets, too. Note: prices may change.
Is Fota zoo worth visiting?
Yes, Fota Wildlife Park is well worth a visit, regardless of whether you’re going with kids or as an adult, Fota is well run and a visit here offers a great afternoon out.
Emma Baird is a lifestyle editor and novelist. She has worked in the communications industry for more than 25 years, and loves animals, the countryside and lingering in a great pub for the food and the craic.