Amsterdam Travel: Visiting ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo

“Lots of people talk to animals... Not very many listen though...that's the problem.”  Benjamin Hoff

Visiting ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo

Before we go any further with this post offering some tips for visiting ARTIS Royal Zoo in Amsterdam, I have to make something very clear. I have mixed feelings about zoos. I don't like seeing animals contained, but I don't like to see them die in the wild through human or natural causes either. 

Now I'm a mother, I also find this conflict hard to talk about with my sons. I want them to enjoy and admire and appreciate the beauty of nature and the animals that call it home, but I also don't want them to be unaware or worse, ignorant, to the realities of their existence. But it's also true that zoos are great teaching and learning places for kids (and adults!) and I do often recommend people go to ARTIS if they're visiting Amsterdam with kids.

Also, before my first visit I was very intrigued by ARTIS Amsterdam Zoo for quite some time, not least because I have cycled and sailed around it on a number of occasions, seen the heads of giraffe pop up over a fence and started to wonder what lies within. It's a brilliantly central city zoo and its origins are steeped in history. There is something special about a city zoo in the way it offers a little oasis of nature and wilderness in the middle of an otherwise relentless and often concrete-heavy (but not really for Amsterdam!) urban sprawl. 

So one day, when my brother and his family came to visit, I finally did go to Amsterdam's ARTIS Royal Zoo for an overcast but warm and dry late summer visit. While my 18-month-old nephew seemed to like chasing the pigeons more than any of the monkeys, penguins, lions or other big cats, I personally very impressed with what you could see there.

Since then, I have been back a few more times with my own son. While it was occasionally a similar story - he was particularly taken with the ducks! - we've always enjoyed a little run around the zoo and I always forget that there are lots of small playgrounds and play areas to run around in so it's definitely not a place where they just go from one enclosure to the next.

The best thing about visiting Amsterdam's ARTIS Royal Zoo is the escape from the city sprawl. It's true that Amsterdam isn't as busy, built-up or vehicle-heavy as many cities (which is why we love living here) but it's still a chaotic capital city with lots going on all the time. So a place where you can truly escape to nature, immerse yourself in wildlife (albeit not in their natural habitat) and let your kids run around for a while is always going to be somewhere I don't mind returning to.

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Tips for Visiting ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo

Over my six or so years living in Amsterdam, we've visited ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo maybe three or four times so I've learned a few ways you can make your visit easier.

  • Pick a good time to visit ARTIS Amsterdam. Needless to say weekends, the summer and school holidays are going to be busier times to visit ARTIS so if you don't like crowds or queues, then avoid these times. If you can go on a weekday it doesn't really matter what time of day you rock up although of course the earlier the better. For weekends and school holidays I would definitely recommend going first thing, which would also be smart to do in the summer so you avoid the sun and heat at its hottest.
  • Buy your tickets online. I'm always quite surprised with how busy ARTIS can get, even on a normal weekday that isn't in the summer or school holidays, so I always try to buy my tickets online and in advance so I can go straight in and not worry about the queues.
  • Walk or get public transport to ARTIS Royal Zoo. In other words don't drive or expect any kind of decent, easy or affordable parking nearby. If you have no choice but to drive I would strongly recommend doing a Park & Ride to get into Amsterdam, and then walking or using public transport. There is a tram stop immediately outside the zoo's entrance and the tram number 14 (which departs from Centraal Station) and the bus N87 (which also leaves from Centraal Station) stops there. 
  • Dry weather is better than wet BUT a rainy day visit is not a totally terrible idea. So, it's true that much of ARTIS's animal enclosures are outside and when it rains it won't be much fun walking around the zoo and also many of the animals may retreat inside to shelter too. However, if you get rain your whole visit to Amsterdam and you still want to go to the zoo, going when it is raining isn't the worst idea in the world. Not only will it most likely mean the zoo is very quiet so you'll have next to no crowds to contend with, but it will also possible to see quite a bit inside too as there are a number of indoor enclosures.
  • Take your own refreshments. While there are a number of cafes and one big restaurant located in ARTIS, I don't think I'm offending anyone when I say the food isn't the best, the prices are of course a little inflated, and more problematically they will be busy and choatic on the busier days. If the weather is fine, you'll find lots of benches and picnic areas to have your lunch or a quick snack so you can save yourself some time and money doing this. 

  • Restaurants near the zoo will be busy! If you were hoping to get breakfast or lunch just outside ARTIS, it's worth knowing that many other people have the same idea and so the restaurants, bars and cafes immediately outside and close to the zoo can get very busy. My best advice is to find somewhere to eat a bit a bit further away or eat before you come.
  • Check the website before your visit! If you didn't know already, zoos don't often stay the same because animals come and go, give birth, sadly die, or they get sick or have babies. So if you're especially keen to see a certain kind of animal at ARTIS Zoo I would strongly recommend that you check the website to find out if the animals you want to see are definitely going to be there.
  • There is more to do than just the zoo! ARTIS is also the home of the ARTIS Micropia exhibition, but you will need a separate ticket for this. I've not been (yet!) myself but many people have recommended it.
  • ARTIS Zoo is included in the I amsterdam City Card. If you're planning on getting an I amsterdam City Card two of the attractions you can get free entry to with it are ARTIS and ARTIS Micropia. Considering if you do both, the two tickets together would cost €40 for one adult - just for these two attractions! - then an I amsterdam City Card for 24 hours of free public transport and free entry to over 70 other museums at €65 is actually a good investment. Read my full review of the I amsterdam City Card here.
  • ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo is doing a lot for conservation in the wild. Here's what Artis has to say about its conservation practices, if you're interested like I was before I visited.

Photos of ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo

Here are my photos of our first visit to ARTIS Royal Zoo in Amsterdam with my then 18-month-old nephew who was visiting from the UK. I may update the post in time with more photos of ARTIS Amsterdam from visiting with my own kids, but for now, I think these photos are the best of all because I didn't have to worry about using my hands to stop my own young kids running off (at least not all the time because it was nice to give my nephew's parents a break too!).

FURTHER READING: If you'd like more tips for planning your trip to Amsterdam be sure to check this page listing all my best blog posts about travel to Amsterdam. You may also like to know about the best hotels in Amsterdam for all budgets, the ultimate Amsterdam bucket list, my best tips for visiting Amsterdam on a budget, and the best 100+ things to do in Amsterdam for free. Oh, and don't forget to get inspired by reading all the best Amsterdam books.

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Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before putting down some roots with her Australian partner and having a baby boy in July 2015. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her son around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

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