Occupying a 26-acre (10.5-hectare) site behind the city’s grandiose railway station, Antwerp Zoo was built in 1843 – when it was outside the city walls – in colorful Art Nouveau style; as well as being one of the oldest zoos in the world, it must be the only one where the elephants are housed in an Egyptian temple swathed in hieroglyphics.
Currently the zoo has more than 5,000 animals of around 950 species; family favorites such as lions, tigers, polar bears, zebras and gorillas, are housed among the spacious and colonnaded enclosures, themed habitats, Arctic pools, aquariums, reptile house, aviaries, winter gardens and petting zoo for toddlers. There are daily talks plus penguin and sea lion shows; elephant, seal and hippo feeding sessions; 3-D movies in the Planetarium; and plenty of eating options for families, from waffle stands to brasserie dining.
Despite its early foundation, this is one of the more forward-thinking of European zoos, running successful conservation and breeding programs and looking to run sustainably on its own resources. Recent breeding successes have included rare Malayan tapirs, endangered okapi and Eurasian black vultures, while fresh additions at the zoo are the spectacular Reef Aquarium and the restored Flemish Garden, where two cute koala bears have taken up residence as part of an international breeding initiative. A new Savannah habitat is also being planned.