Visiting the Smithsonian National Zoo

This post is about the Smithsonian National Zoo. We’ll tell you how to get there, what animals you can see at the National Zoo, how to visit the Pandas, and tours of the National Zoo.

With so much changing as Washington DC slowly reopens due to COVID-19, we are trying to keep all information updated. Note that opening hours, ticketing policies and procedures may vary. For the most up to date information, check the location’s individual website.
The National Zoo is currently open 9am-4pm but timed tickets are required.
  • Individual timed tickets are free OR it is $30 for a parking pass and entrance for all persons in the vehicle.
  • Indoor exhibits, animal demonstration, playground and Carousel are closed.
  • Giant Panda Exhibit is closed.


The National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian Institution so you’ll find no admission prices or tickets to visit. As one of the oldest zoos in the United States, the National Zoo is sure to be a highlight of your visit to Washington, DC, especially for the young and young at heart. Use this post to explore the options at the National Zoo.

Exhibits at the National Zoo

National Zoo Map

Giant Panda Habitat:

The Giant Pandas at the National Zoo are the most popular exhibit. There are two adult Giant Pandas on loan from China, named Tian Tian (male) and Mei Xing (female).

Their offspring born at the National Zoo are kept for a few years and then moved to a conservation center in China. Bei Bei’s last day at the National Zoo before he will travel to China on November 19 2019.

The Giant Panda Exhibit has two parts for visitors – an outdoor viewing platform and an indoor exhibit where you can also view the pandas if they are inside. The inside area also has exhibits about Giant Pandas and the conversation efforts to protect them.

On busy days, the trail through the exhibit is one way allowing visitors to walk through the outdoor exhibit and then the indoor area.

Expert Tip: Check out the National Zoo Panda Cam to find them before heading over! The Panda Cam offers two cameras so you can watch the Pandas wherever you are.

You’ll also find sloths, red pandas, and Asian elephants nearby on the Asia Trail.

Elephant Trail

The National Zoo is home to 6 Asian Elephants which can be viewed on the Elephant Trail. Asian Elephants are currently an endangered species and you’ll see that they are smaller than African elephants.

The Kids’ Farm

Experience life on the farm with goats, donkeys, hogs, and cows.

Great Apes and Primates

You’ll find three types of lemurs on an island surrounded by a moat, including the well known ring-tailed lemur. The Zoo is also home to gorillas and orangutans.  The orangutans have the ability to travel from one enclosure to the next via the O-line, which from a guests perspective means they walk right above you! You can even play tug of war with them in the Think Tank. There is a tall outdoor section to allow gibbons to swing around as they would in the wild.

The Small Mammal House

The variety of foxes, rats and smaller monkeys are housed in the Small Mammal House.

The American Trail

Along the American Trail, you’ll be able to experience the variety of animals and plant life native to North America. There are seals and otters, wolves, and and bald eagles, among others. There are also two American bison at the American Bison exhibit.

Great Cats

Lions, Tigers and … Cheetahs. (Don’t worry, the zoo has bears, too). On Lion and Tiger Hill, you can find African lions, and two types of tigers. Next door is the Cheetah Conservation Station which mimics the Savannah. You’ll find cheetahs but also wolves, gazelles, vultures and more.


You can walk through this exhibit to experience the flora and fauna found in the Amazon. There are many corals, frogs, and other aquatic animals, but also sloths and monkeys.

The Reptile Discovery Center

There are over 50 species of reptiles and amphibians in this exhibit. You’ll find tortoises, snakes, alligators and even a Komodo dragon.

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Hours & Admission

The National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian Institute and is open every day but Christmas (December 25).

The outdoor parts of the Zoo open earlier and stay open later than the buildings so you can explore many of the outdoor areas before the rest of the Zoo opens.

  • Grounds: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admittance 4 p.m.) | 7 p.m. closing in summer* (last admittance 6 p.m.)
  • Exhibit Buildings: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. | 6 p.m. closing in summer* (Amazonia opens at 10 a.m. all year)
  • Important Note: There are often changes to what areas of the Zoo are open, especially during inclement weather. If there is a particular animal you want to see, be sure to check their website first for updates.

The best time of day to visit the National Zoo is in the morning. With the heat of the afternoon and fully bellies from lunch, many animals will be asleep and hidden from view.

The National Zoo is free! There are no tickets required and no security (during certain peak times the Zoo may set up security tents to enter. This is usually around Easter but can be done at the zoo’s discretion.

How to get to the National Zoo

The National Zoo’s address is 3001 Connecticut Ave NW.

How to Get to National Zoo

We highly recommend taking public transportation to the National Zoo. The National Zoo is in Woodley Park neighborhood of NW DC, so a bit further afield that most tourist attractions, but it is worth the journey.

Tip on Public Transportation to the National Zoo:

There is a Metro Station called “Woodley Park/AdamsMorgan/Zoo” on the Red Line. However, we recommend taking the Metro one stop further to Cleveland Park.

It is a 10 minute walk from either stop but from Cleveland Park the walk is downhill instead of uphill from the Woodley Park stop!

Parking at the National Zoo

There is parking ($25 in March of 2018) but it is limited and often full. While there is street parking, it is a residential area so many of the spots will be taken.

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Tours of the National Zoo

Join an animal-loving guide for a highlights tour of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Get up close to some of the Zoo’s cutest and most majestic animals, including our beloved Giant Pandas!

The Zoo sits on 163 acres in the heart of Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park and is home to more than 2,700 animals representing more than 390 species, so we won’t be able to see everything! But you’ll see the highlights and, if you have any favorite animals, let us know and we’ll focus on your preferences, even if snakes are your thing!

Depending on the time of day, we’ll encounter daily zoo life for the animals and their keepers, including Zoo Keeper talks and animal feedings, meet-a-small-mammal demonstrations, and even Asian elephant training!  Learn all about how the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute is working to save species.


  • Asia Trail
  • Cheetah Conservation Station
  • Elephant Trails
  • Small Mammal House
  • Great Apes
  • Reptile Discovery Center
  • Great Cats
  • Giant Panda Habitat

Duration: Tours last about 2 hours.

Where: At the National Zoo main entrance (3000 Connecticut Ave, NW)

When: This tour is offered as a private tour only for small groups. Please contact us with your date, time and group size for rates and availability.

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Come and enjoy a truly magical and FREE holiday attraction. ZooLights Washington DC at the Smithsonian National Zoo welcomes visitors with illuminated trees and animal silhouettes as well as musical light shows and much more.

For more holiday events and attractions, visit our post on visiting Washington DC for Christmas and the Holidays


Top Things To Do at Zoolights

You’ll find your Zoo-magination with their train display that chugs its way through a land of Legos.

On Lion/Tiger Hill, there is a 150′ snow tubing slide to complete your visit to a winter wonderland. The tube tracks are ready to whisk you down with or without a seasonal snow storm, but expect a line and a $3 fee to ride. Just make sure someone is ready to hold your hot chocolate for you.

Visiting at night means you get to experience a different side of the zoo: nocturnal animals! The Small Mammal House, Great Ape House, Reptile Discovery Center, Think Tank, and Kids’ Farm will be open every night.

Glow Zone | Every night: A free, glow-in-the-dark play zone for children features light-up LED games and activities located in the Zoo’s Great Meadow.

Want to ride a tortoise? The Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel is powered by solar energy ready to take you and your family on a whirlwind tour of the Zoo’s conservation and endangered species success stories.

You are no longer allowed to ride the live tortoises (you used to be able to!) but each seat on the Carousel is one of 58 animals you can ride. This is $3 a ride.


ZooLights Hours & Admission

ZooLights will be open for visitors from 5 p.m-9 p.m every night from November 23, 2018 to January 01, 2019 (except for December 24-25 and 31).

It’s a great evening event for every age group and best of all it’s free to attend Zoolights! For more information, click here.


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About the author

Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 3 published books about the city. She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. She's also been interviewed by the Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the host of our podcast, Tour Guide Tell All

With a M.A. in History from University College London and a B.A. in History from Elon University, she is an authority on D.C. history, and has led tours in the city for over 10 years. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to 25 countries. Her two children (both under the age of 3) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts.