Approximately 2,000 animals call the 163-acre Smithsonian National Zoo home, from Asian elephants to great apes to sea lions. While here, don’t miss your chance to meet the zoo’s most popular resident, a baby panda named Bao Bao who was born on Aug. 23, 2013. Also, be sure to look up every now and then as you stroll beneath the Orangutan Transport System (called the O Line): Chances are you’ll spot orangutans swinging along cables between eight steel towers. Or, if you’re more intrigued by the exotic animals native to South America, head over the to the 15,000-square-foot Amazonia exhibit, home to creatures like titi monkeys and silver-beaked tanagers.
Recent visitors praise the zoo for its pleasant surroundings and broad selection of species, but they do caution that visitors should set realistic expectations. Though some travelers say the zoo could be more exciting, keep in mind the nearly 400 species are free to visit. Meanwhile, the zoo provides an engaging afternoon for younger visitors.
Although the zoo is free, the adjacent parking lots are not. You’ll pay $16 for the first three hours; if you stay past three hours, you’ll be charged $22. For this reason, the easiest (and most affordable) way to reach the National Zoo is by taking the Red Line to the Woodley Park-Zoo Metro station. The National zoo welcomes visitors every day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. (with extended hours from late spring through summer); exhibits are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with an earlier 4:30 p.m. closing time in winter. If you arrive during the winter holidays, plan your visit around Zoo Lights and you’ll be rewarded with thousands of twinkling lights of figures of the zoo’s popular animals, as well as seasonal crafts, treats and ice sculpting presentations.