mongoose at the Berlin Zoo

Zoo Berlin, A Fantastic Attraction for Animal Fanatics

Zoos are something that always make me feel conflicted. While I hate seeing wild animals in captivity, especially if they seem agitated, I love animals. LOVE them! It’s unusual for us to even visit more than one zoo in a year, but during our recent trip to Berlin, we spent our last day in the city exploring the aquarium and one of the city’s two zoos, the Berlin Zoological Garden. Built in 1844, it’s Germany’s oldest zoo. In fact, it’s one of the oldest in the world. With about 19,000 animals representing approximately 1600 species, many of which are critically endangered, it also features more biodiversity than any zoo in the world! Unless you’re completely anti-zoo, a visit to Zoo Berlin and Aquarium is bound to wow you.

entrance to Zoo Berlin
Two large elephants carved from German sandstone mark the south entrance to Zoo Berlin.

Berlin Zoological Garden

In terms of actual size, Zoo Berlin isn’t huge – just 35 hectares. So it’s particularly impressive that despite the vast number of animals it houses, the grounds still feel roomy to visitors. It’s also worth noting that the zoo was absolutely devastated during WWII – out of 3700 animals, only 91 survived – yet it has since been lovingly rebuilt. Here’s a look-see at some of our favorite animals, many of which we’ve never seen anywhere else.

A Madagascar ring-tailed mongoose anxiously awaits supper on his log perch.
You might mistake this wide-eyed feline for a typical house cat, but he’s actually a rusty-spotted cat.  Found in Asia, he’s one of the world’s smallest species of wild cats.
Just as we had to let our eyes adjust to the dark in the Nocturnal House, you have to search for the furry little sugar glider perched on the tree limb. You can just barely see his beady little black eyes shining in the darkness.
An Arctic wolf native to Canada kisses a young girl while she takes a selfie with him.
One of Zoo Berlin’s more stunning habitats is the Hippo House, with a glass viewing area to watch them swim underwater.
Several large male hippos share the large enclosure, alternately diving and floating on the surface.

Aquarium Berlin

Built in 1903, Aquarium Berlin is a bit newer than the zoo.  Nestled in a three-story building on the grounds of the zoo, it houses around 10,000 animals ranging from amphibians and lizards to jellyfishes and insects.  It’s quite something!  Jellyfish are always a highlight for me, so I was excited to see several species we’d never seen before, especially these thimble jellyfish.  Cutest little guys in the world!

spotted jellyfish at Aquarium Berlin
A tank full of spotted jellyfish resemble iridescent mushrooms – some ghostly white, others a deep blue.
These European Morey Eels definitely look like they’re up to no good. Why do eels always have to look so devious?!
A small spotted catshark wiggles inside his egg chamber. When full grown, they can grow up to a meter (3 feet) long.
The gharial is a type of crocodile native to India. Check out those chompers, man!
How amazing would it be to see a beaded lizard in the wild instead of in a zoo?

Unbelievably, my favorite animal of the day wasn’t the adorable mongoose or penguins, not the Fennec foxes or baby chimp.  It was a fish.  A fish!  Everyone has an animal that grabs them unexpectedly, right?  For me during this visit it was the arapaima, a species of giant fish from the Amazon.

Travis stands in front of a tank of arapaima fish, one of the largest species of freshwater fish in the world.  They can grow up to 3 meters (10 feet) long and weigh over 200 kg (400 lbs).

I’ve always thought that sharks look like a relic of the age of dinosaurs, like other-worldly creatures.  The arapaima has that quality about them, but their scales are absolutely exquisite!  They gleam with the colors of the ocean fused with gold, tapering to black and red.  Such a beautiful and fascinating creature.  I sat and watched them floating through the water so long I lost track of time, then came back later to watch them again.  Make sure you don’t miss these guys during your visit!

arapaima at the Berlin Aquarium
The arapaima is carnivorous, primarily dining on fish and low-flying birds. In Brazil they’re called pirarucu and in Peru, paiche.

If you have a chance to see all these fantastic animals for yourself, we definitely recommend it.  My only regret is that we didn’t arrive earlier in the day or visit in summer when both attractions close later. We spent over four hours there, and it wasn’t nearly enough time. I enjoyed our day there so much, I’d go back to Berlin just to visit Zoo Berlin and Aquarium again.


Know Before You Go:

  • A single adult ticket to either Zoo Berlin or Aquarium Berlin is €14.50. A combo ticket for both attractions is €20.
  • The zoo closes before the aquarium so we recommend visiting it first.
  • For a free coupon to the zoo and a handful of other discounts at Berlin’s most popular attractions, scoop up a free Berlin Stars book upon arrival in the city.
  • If you plan to use public transportation during your stay in Berlin, consider buying the Berlin Welcome Card. Costs start at €19.90 for a two-day pass (for 2017) and include discounts to about 200 attractions, including the zoo.
  • Official website for Zoo Berlin (EN, DE), which answers questions about ticket prices, open hours, parking, feeding schedules for the animals, site closures due to construction, and more. It’s a fantastic website!


What’s up next on our agenda?

Our first skiing adventure in Germany in the Harz Mountains…

41 thoughts on “Zoo Berlin, A Fantastic Attraction for Animal Fanatics”

  1. Wow…really nice post and beautiful photos 🙂 in particular I appreciated the white wolf, so impressive. I feel the same about Zoo, and actually I only went once, at Bio Park in Valencia (Spain) and was amazing. But it’s always a pleasure to see that animals are well treated 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Stefano. 🙂 I really enjoyed the wolves too, especially since I’ve never seen white ones before. It was fun watching them play together just like big puppies! We haven’t been to the zoo in Valencia, but it’s nice to know the animals there are treated well also.

  2. I hate endorsing zoos because I just feel like wild animals should not be held captive like this 🙁 Other than that though, there are some pretty exotic creatures! I had no idea Berlin had a zoo haha silly me.

    1. I know, Tatum! I hate the idea of them in captivity too, but I hate the idea of entire species being wiped out without making efforts to stop it from happening. I wonder if it’s hard on the zookeepers…? I’m guessing most do their jobs because they love animals, yet some of them probably also struggle seeing them in captivity. 🙁

  3. Wow! I didn’t realize Berlin had a zoo. Nor did I know about its historical stature. Great pictures, and at the very least I hope the work the zoo is doing helps to preserve biodiversity (admittedly, I don’t know much about the arguments for and against zoos).

  4. I’m conflicted about zoos too – I think it’s important to educate people about animals they may never say and some have great breeding programmes for endangered species but I don’t really feel that animals should be kept in cages. However looks like Berlin Zoo is one of the better ones and they have lots of space and are well looked after. This seems like a really great zoo that cares for the animals and looks like a great day out!

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Emma. From what we saw, the animals at Zoo Berlin all appeared well cared for, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say they have lots of space. Considering how many animals they have, it’s actually amazing how small the total zoo area is. They’ve come up with some clever ways to utilize the space, like having the entire floor of the nocturnal house below ground level. I think folks would have less of an issue with zoos if the animals just had more space! Why do they always build them in big cities?!

  5. The rusty-spotted cat is so, so cute, I could easily adopt it and have it as my pet if it wasn’t wild (it would probably kill me in my sleep I suppose, haha). The Berlin zoo looks like the perfect place to spend a day in peace with your family, entertaining the children. The biggest zoo I have ever seen in my life was Vienna zoo, that one is very impressive as well.

    1. I loved the rusty-spotted cat, Joanna! He was so timid, I can’t imagine he’d eat you in your sleep, but ya never know. You’re definitely right about it being a family affair, though peaceful it definitely was not. We visited on a Sunday and it was a total zoo, pun intended! I think everyone and their mother was there. We haven’t been to the Vienna Zoo, but we’ve heard that it’s fantastic.

  6. I’ve never been to a zoo for ages. Like you and the others who have commented, I would rather see animals & aquatic creatures in their natural habitat than in captivity. However, we have heard of individuals or groups inflicting untold pains and suffering on some poor animals while training them for entertainment. Likewise, hunters/poachers who will go to the extent of killing animals for the sake of making money. The list goes on. It was for these reasons that I appreciate the commitment and efforts of some zoos responsible enough in providing sanctuary and protection to animals facing dangers. I would like to believe that Berlin Zoo is one of them.

    1. Hey, thanks for weighing in, Ash. The discussion about animal conservation definitely seems to become an emotional, personal one with most folks very quickly. I know it is for me!

      Our relationship with animals is a rather fascinating one, whether it be exploiting them for food, sport, or entertainment, or going to incredible extremes to save an obscure species of insect.

      Unfortunately no issue is black or white. For example, after 146 years in business, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey has announced they’ll be disbanding their circus this spring. This may be a clear success story for extreme animal-rights groups like PETA, but those animals will be farmed out to new homes, many of which will likely be zoos. While animals in the wild face increasing threats from humans on all fronts, they seem to face equal threats to their survival in captivity. I take heart from entities like Zoo Berlin that dedicate their existence to animal welfare.

  7. I’ve been to a few different zoos but none as big as this. I went to the zoo in Honolulu and the shark reef aquarium in Las Vegas both had quite a big variety of animals. I know how you feel about being a bit conflicted about going as my zoo experience in Honolulu was pretty depressing and I haven’t been to one since.

  8. The entrance to the zoo looks amazing. Those seem to be African elephants. Loved the pic with the wolf and the girl. Nice captures of the aquarium too. This place is definitely worth a visit.

    1. This entrance with the elephants is one of two at the zoo; this is the more famous of the two. Zoo Berlin definitely has joined our short list of favorite zoos and aquariums! We also love the Belize Zoo & Tropical Education Center, the Albuquerque Biopark in New Mexico, the Vancouver Aquarium in British Columbia, and the Newport Aquarium on the Oregon Coast. I actually prefer both of the latter aquariums to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. Do you have any favorites?

  9. The Berlin’s zoo has amazing collection. the pic of arctic wolf kissing the girl is so touching. They must be craving for company . The underwater species have been captured so well.

    1. Zoo Berlin really is impressive, Indrani! So many animals, not enough time to see them all. I liked the wolf too. I think he was probably a juvenile from the way he was curious with visitors and how he kept hiding and pouncing on another wolf in his enclosure. So sweet!

  10. I love Berlin! I feel like there’s so much history there, that a zoo or aquarium would be very far down my list. Maybe if I had a month there, lol. The prices seem a bit high as well.

    1. Me too, Brian! My husband, not as much, but we’re usually not big city people. The zoo was one of the best we’ve visited, but like you, it wasn’t at the top of our list either. We live in Germany and I’ve been to Berlin before, so we visited a fair number of other attractions first. In fact, the zoo was the last site we saw on our way out of the city. 🙂

  11. I’ve been to Berlin twice but I had no chance to go to the zoo. And that’s a pity, because I see there are 3 of my favorite animals there, the sugar glider, the arapaima, and the jellyfish!
    Next time I go to Berlin I’ll head there for sure!

    1. Berlin has so much cool stuff to do, it’s impossible to see everything. I’m impressed you know what the arapaima is, Brian! In fact, how DO you know what it is? It’s seriously a cool animal – I read that they have bony teeth on their tongue. Whuuu??? Hope you have a great visit while you’re there!

  12. I’ve stopped going to zoos as they give me all around bad emotions – sorry for the animals, angry they are there and guilt that I am paying to see them be in captivity. It is interesting how old this zoo is and its WWII history. The aquarium would be neat to see. And, I’d be at the jellyfish tank too!

    1. I can totally understand that, Lara. We visited the Beijing Zoo in 2010, and I was so horrified, I swore I’d never go to another zoo. It was a long time before we visited one again, and luckily we’ve since seen some fabulous animal sanctuaries. The jelliesssss! Totally awesome. If you like jellyfish and haven’t been, the Albuquerque Aquarium in New Mexico is awesome, and we also love the Vancouver Aquarium in BC. Monterey Bay Aquarium is nice too.

  13. It looks indeed as a nice place where they take care of animals. Still, I didn’t want to go, it’s against my belief. Funny thing is that when I was a girls I used to go to my local zoo every Sunday.

    PS: that wolf! <3

  14. There are zoos out there that really know what they’re doing and actually do make an impact on animal lives. So many zoos do research and breeding programs that are helpful to the animal kingdom. I’m glad you’ve found a great zoo in Berlin. The aquarium looks way cool.

    1. I absolutely agree, Brianna. Zoo Berlin is a member of both WAZA and EAZA, so it must meet a high standard of care for the animals. It also operates breeding programs on site and funds a variety of conservation programs worldwide for a long list of critically endangered species. As sad as zoos can make us feel, the only chance of survival many species have – both in zoos and in the wild – is because of zoos. I cringed when we forked out the money for tickets, but I’m happy to support the zoo when I think that some of that money bought dinner for the incredibly ring-tailed mongoose and some of it could possibly help save an entire species. <3

  15. This is amazing. My kids and I are going to Berlin in April. I’m doing some research of places to go to and things to do. I’m definitely adding this to my list. It looks fun.

    1. That’s awesome, Amer! Will it be your first time in Berlin? If you do decide to visit the zoo & aquarium, the ticket price for a “large family” (2 adults + their kids) is €50, which is not bad considering my husband and I paid €40 just for the two of us. If you’re looking to save some money, make sure to grab a coupon from either the Berlin Stars book, which is free, or you can buy a Berlin Welcome Pass, which you might already know about. I hope you have a fantastic trip with your kids!

  16. always love going to a nice zoo. I have seen some that were pathetic. It is a joy to see animals that I would never see other than in a zoo, and appreciate the work involved in saving at least some endangered creatures. So glad you found a good one!!

    1. The pathetic ones make me so sad and angry, Ma Carney. SO sad! But when I see baby otters playing in a beautiful enclosure, like at the Cologne Zoo, or rare and beautiful fish like the arapaima (that have NO idea they’re not in the wild!), it’s a nice reminder that many zoos are simply trying to help animals. 🙂

  17. I totally know how you feel about being conflicted over zoos! I love them too but also feel bad about animals not being in the wild. But I like to think about the great conservation and education work that zoos do. Berlin Zoo looks awesome and you’ve got so many gorgeous photos here! Definitely putting it on my list for when I finally get to Berlin 🙂

    1. It’s a relief to know I’m not the only one, Kristy! Usually there’s a moment at every zoo where I see something that makes me think, “Why did I come to another zoo?” but then I see the otters playing or read about a breeding program at that zoo that helped save a species from extinction. I appreciate the work they do for sure. It’s just sad that the bad ones give all zoos a bad rap. Thanks for the lovely compliment, and I do hope you visit the zoo some day!

      1. I feel the same way! It feels like every other article about the ethicality of zoos is conflicting, but I do agree that it’s just the bad ones that take over people’s image of all zoos. This, however, looks like a great, “legit” zoo and you have some really beautiful photos of it!

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