These are six of our top tips for visiting the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC. One of the best things about visiting the National Zoo is that unlike other zoos in the United States this one is completely free. It might not be the biggest or grandest zoo in America, but this zoo definitely packs a punch!
1. Don’t drive or park at the National Zoo
Regular parking right now costs over $20 per visit. Not only is it expensive but spaces are extremely limited. Even if you are willing to pay, if you show up on a really busy day there might not be anywhere for you to go!
A much better option for getting to the National Zoo is to take the Metro‘s red line. A bonus hack for this is to always walk downhill. When traveling to the National Zoo, use the Cleveland Park station, you’ll walk downhill to get to the zoo entrance. When you leave the zoo, walk downhill to get to the Woodley Park station. This is especially handy if you are traveling with strollers. Nobody wants to push those up a big hill!
2. Use free shuttles to get around the National Zoo
Most visitors don’t realize until they arrive, but the National Zoo is actually built on a huge hill. So, when you are walking around in the zoo to get from exhibit to exhibit you’re actually walking up and down hill the entire time. Make sure to pack comfortable walking shoes!
The National Zoo runs a shuttle throughout the day. So if you’re at the bottom of the hill, and you’re tired, just wait at one of the shuttle bus stops and let a bus drive you back to the top of the hill. The zoo shuttle is completely free.
3. Know where to park your stroller
If you are visiting the National Zoo with kids you will probably have at least one stroller. A stroller makes things super easy because you can pack everything you need in it. There are exhibits that encourage you to leave your stroller outside. We recommend you have another small bag with all of your valuable items so, you just take with you as you leave your stroller at the designated stroller parking.
4. Skip the zoo food
Food at the National Zoo has improved tremendously over the past few years, but the best places to eat are outside the zoo. If you’re organized you can bring your own lunch and or eat at restaurants nearby like Nando’s or Duke’s Counter. Duke’s located right across the street on Connecticut Avenue from the front gate of the National Zoo and is a great place for lunch. There are about ten restaurants located on Connecticut Avenue near the zoo so there are plenty of options.
5. Visit the National Zoo early in the morning
Unlike Smithsonian museums that are located on the National Mall which open at 10:00 a.m., the National Zoo is actually opens early. The grounds open at 8 a.m. and the exhibits open at 9 a.m. One of the great things about getting there early is that it’s usually cooler in the morning and the animals are more active in the morning hours than they are in the afternoon.
If you want to see animals, we definitely recommend going at dawn or at dusk. Midday is hot and its when the animals take their naps. One good thing about visiting the National Zoo during the summer though is there are misters throughout the zoo that are super fun for kids. There is also a splash pad that’s easy to miss. Check it out near the sea lion exhibit.
6. Check out the special events
The National Zoo hosts special events throughout the year. The best known is ZooLights which takes place every year between about Thanksgiving and January 1st. ZooLights is great because it gives you a chance to see the zoo at night. It is all lit up, it’s beautiful, it’s also cold. So, bring hand warmers, and maybe a thermos of cocoa.
The Zoo also has events like Breakfast at the Zoo in September and have Boo at the Zoo in October. You can trick or treat at the National Zoo. This is definitely an experience you’re not going to want to miss if you’re around for it.
Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?
Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.