Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens Visit

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We recently visited Cincinnati Ohio to cross off a bucket list item – a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens! We’ve visited this zoo before (when the kids were much younger) and if you have followed me for a while, you know I grew up in Cincinnati. I have so many memories of school field trips and family & friend trips through college. I always learn something new when I go and it’s grown so much over the past 40 years. In fact, I would even venture to say it’s one of the best zoo’s in Ohio. It will forever hold a special place in my heart and the zoo I compare all other zoo’s to.

The entrance to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens is so inviting.

What’s special about the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens?

There are so many special things about the Cincinnati Zoo.

First, it’s home to the world famous Fiona the Hippo and her family which now includes baby brother, Fritz. Fiona was born 6 weeks before her due date in January 2017. She was too small to stand and nurse, so the zoo provided around the clock care for her – feedings, keeping her warm, and managing many critical care points along the way. There is a lovely children’s book all about Fiona that we own that shares her birth story.

When we visited Hippo Cove, all four Hippos were collectively together sleeping. We learned that this is called a bloat.

Second, the encounters with so many of the animals are so upclose and it feels personal to you as a guest. The leopard encounter, the African penguins, the African lions & painted dogs, hippo cove, manatee springs, the insect house, kangaroo zone, birds of the world, the gorillas, night hunters, and the cat canyon were our favorites. They are currently working on an expansion for the elephants that looked really incredible. We hope to go back once it opens!

Third, the Cincinnati Zoo is one of the oldest, top rated zoo’s in the country. In 2023, it was rated the second best zoo by USA Today. Most guests rave about how up-close and personal you can experience the animals like what we mentioned above. Over the years, they have continuously improved the guest experience along with the animals habitats. My favorite thing about this zoo is that the exhibits feel close together, but yet the animals have plenty of area in their habitats (zoo map here). It is also very shady so the hot days don’t feel too daunting.

Fourth, the food options are great! It’s not often that you find a zoo with healthier food options. We ended up stopping for lunch at Base Camp, which is right by Hippo Cove. Here is the menu. I shared the Cranberry and Herb Chicken Salad, which was delicious. The kids shared the chicken tenders and the chicken was really delicious. When we were finished eating, I noticed that there was green house right next door growing lots of fresh vegetables. Base Camp was also rated one of the greenest restaurants by the Green Restaurant Association.

Lastly, the Cincinnati Zoo is also a Botanical Garden. The flower and plant varieties and landscaping are stunning and inviting. There are also many animal statues that children can climb on, explore, and they make great photo opportunities.

Where is the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens?

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens is located at 3400 Vine St. Cincinnati, OH 45220. If you are familiar with Cincinnati, it’s very close to the University of Cincinnati Medical Campus. It is 100% worth paying $10 for parking. The neighborhood is not the greatest for street parking, so don’t attempt to park on a side street and walk.

How do I get tickets and what time should I arrive?

Tickets can be purchased on-line in advance or at the ticket window. If you have a membership to a zoo with reciprocal membership (like the Cleveland Zoo) then you can receive a 50% discount on tickets. I’d recommend arriving right when the zoo opens to avoid long lines and to see the animals when they are most active. We paid extra for the rides package so that the kids could ride the train and carousel. Unfortunately, we only rode the train one time and didn’t have time for the carousel. So if you don’t plan to spend the whole day at the zoo or ride more than once, check the ticket prices to determine what you need – train rides are $5 and carousel rides are $4 each.

View of the carousel from the train ride.

What do I wear, bring, and what other tips do you have?

If you have young children, I highly recommend bringing a stroller. While the zoo is easy to get through in one day, it is a lot of walking for little ones and some of is up and down hills. I would also pack refillable water bottles and snacks. If you forget to pack a snack or drink, there are many snack and drink options available to purchase. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes for walking and weather appropriate attire.

Would you recommend this zoo to others?

I absolutely recommend this zoo to anyone and everyone I know. Like I said above, this is forever the zoo that I compare all other zoos to. We’ve visited some other zoos too. Do you want to read more about those experiences? Find them all by clicking here!


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