Cincinnati Zoo Exhibits: 11 Amazing Animals You Must See

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The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is consistently ranked as one of the best zoos in the United States.  The habitats look natural.  There are many animals that you would expect to see in a zoo along with some unusual surprises.  We cover 11 amazing animals that you must see during your visit.

First, let’s quickly review what you need to know for your visit.

CINCINNATI ZOO: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Oldest zoo in America?

The Philadelphia Zoo is often said to be the oldest zoo in America.  Apparently, there were a few city park menageries with a respectable collection of animals prior to the Philadelphia Zoo opening.  So, there is a lot of debate about this title.  

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden was founded in 1873, but officially opened in 1875.  It is considered to be the second oldest zoo in America.  So, there is a lot of history here.

Cincinnati Zoo historic structures

The Cincinnati Zoo was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1987.  This was primarily due to the architectural features of the Elephant House, the Reptile House and the Passenger Pigeon Memorial.  

The Reptile House is actually the oldest zoo building in America, dating all the way back to 1875.

Cincinnati Zoo size

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden originally started with 65 acres, but has expanded to 75 acres.  You can easily see the entire park in a day.

Animals at the Cincinnati Zoo

The zoo is home to more than 500 animal and 3,000 plant species.  The animals are the star of the show.  However, there are many beautiful plants to admire as well.

Cincinnati Zoo tickets

Ticket prices vary depending on the day, but have set ranges:

  • Adult (Ages 13-61): $15.50 to $21.50
  • Child (Ages 2-12): $9.50 to $15.50
  • Senior (Ages 62+): $9.50 to $15.50

Ticket options include ride packages and memberships.  Click here for all zoo admission and membership options.  It is recommended that you purchase tickets online in advance of your visit.

Cincinnati Zoo hours

  • Jan 10 – Mar 11:  10:00 am to 5:00 pm (no early entry for members)
  • Mar 12 – Oct 31:  10:00 am to 5:00 pm (9:00 am early entry for members
  • Nov 1 – Nov 18:  10:00 am to 5:00 pm (no early entry for members)
  • Nov 18 – Jan 8:  10:00 am to 9:00 pm (PNC Festival of Lights; no early entry for members)

Cincinnati Zoo food

You have many food options in the park for both adults and children.  The zoo has restaurants and quick service alternatives.  

Food options include pizza, sandwiches, tacos, burgers, hot dogs, chicken tenders and salads.  Snacks include soft pretzels, churros, nachos, cotton candy, popcorn and ice cream.  There is even a beer garden for adults to cool off and relax.

Are you looking to save money?  The Cincinnati Zoo allows you to bring your own food and drinks.  

You may also bring coolers, backpacks, umbrellas, strollers and wagons.  The overall policy is family friendly.

Note that outside alcohol and glass containers are prohibited.   

Cincinnati Zoo parking

Parking is $10.  This must be paid at a ticketing window upon your arrival or in the parking lot upon your exit.  Credit cards are accepted.

Note that parking is included with a zoo membership.

Cincinnati Zoo directions

The address for Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is 3400 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45220.  You can use the interactive map for directions from your starting point.

Where to stay

There are many hotels in the area.  We recommend using Expedia or Booking.com to conduct your search for the perfect place to stay.

Now that we covered all the bases, let’s discuss the 11 amazing animals you must see!

FAVORITE ZOO ANIMALS

Roo Valley

Kangaroo at Cincinnati Zoo
Kangaroo at Cincinnati Zoo

Walking through Roo Valley is an amazing experience.  You are actually in the enclosed area with the kangaroos.

These marvelous creatures are just a few feet away as they feed and hop about.  They do not seem to mind your presence in the least.  You are simply asked to stay on the paved path and not to touch the kangaroos.

Watching kangaroos hop with their powerful back legs is surreal.  They move unlike any other animal I have ever seen.

Fun Fact: Only female kangaroos have a pouch.  The pouch is used to cradle baby kangaroos, or joeys.

Cincinnati Zoo manatees

Manatee at Cincinnati Zoo
Manatee Springs exhibit

Manatee Springs brings a feeling of serenity.  Watching the sea cows peacefully move through the water makes me smile.  These gentle giants seem so graceful in the water.  When manatees swim toward the glass, kids light up with joy trying to touch them.

The tank includes alligator gars.  These fascinating fish look like prehistoric creaturesfrom another time.  Children stare at them with perplexed looks on their faces.

Fat fact: Manatees can weigh up to 3,500 pounds.  Sea cows indeed!

Hippo Cove

Hippo Cove exhibit Cincinnati Zoo
Hippo Cove exhibit

Hippo Cove is home to the most famous hippopotamus on the planet.  Fiona captured our hearts when she was born prematurely.  Thankfully, she was nursed to health by scientists and caregivers.  Fiona is now 5 years old and will become a big sister later this year.

This exhibit allows visitors to see hippos both above and below water.  Kids squeal in delight when Fiona, or one of the other hippos, swims toward the glass.  

Fiona lives with her mother, Bibi, and Tucker.  Unfortunately, Fiona’s father passed away.  Tucker came to the Cincinnati Zoo in 2021.  They are one big happy family!

Not so fun fact: A single hippo can produce 22 pounds of waste per day.  We still love you Fiona!

Cincinnati Zoo penguins

Penguins at Cincinnati Zoo
Penguins at Cincinnati Zoo

We love the penguins.  They are so cute when they waddle.  And, a sleek tuxedo is always in style.  It will bring a smile to your face to watch them splash into the water and go for a swim.

Fun fact: Penguins cannot fly.  However, they can swim underwater faster than many birds can fly.

Color of foxes

Arctic fox in winter
Arctic fox in winter

I find it intriguing that an animal can be one color in warm weather and another in cold weather.  Arctic foxes are white as snow in winter.  Yet, they are brown in summer.  

We excitedly visit this exhibit just to check the color of the foxes.  This is a great example of how animals can adapt for survival.

Fur factNot only does the arctic fox’s fur change color in winter, it also gets much thicker. 

Cincinnati Zoo painted dogs

African painted dog at Cincinnati Zoo
African painted dog

African painted dogs look a bit like our domesticated friends.  Do not be fooled.  They are wild dogs that hunt in packs to take down larger animals.

Each one looks different but has a patchy coat.  It is as if someone dabbed their fur with splotches of paint.

Watching them pace around the habitat is quite entertaining.  Your kids will likely want to take one home.

Fast fact: African painted dogs can run up to 44 miles per hour, the same as a greyhound!

Cincinnati Zoo giraffes

Giraffes at Cincinnati Zoo
Giraffes at Cincinnati Zoo

It is a treat to see giraffes up close.  For $4.00, you can literally have them eating out of your hand.  Even if you do not pay to feed the giraffes, you will still get a close view.  

It is fun to watch them stretch their long necks toward the sky to feed on leaves in the tall trees.  Occasionally, you will see a giraffe strain to bend its neck to the ground for a bite.  They are such peaceful animals.

Tall taleGiraffes can be 13 to 17 feet tall.

Cincinnati Zoo meerkats

Meerkats at Cincinnati Zoo
Meerkats cuddling

Meerkats are a hoot!  These animals have been described as adorable, cute and entertaining.  Meerkats are all that and more.

Meerkats capture everyone’s attention when they stand tall on their hind legs and stare at you with inquisitive eyes.  You can see meerkats crawl through tubes and cuddle together in groups.  They play together and groom each other.

Your kids can imitate meerkats by crawling through a short tunnel that leads to a clear pop up bubble.  Your inner child just might lead you into the tunnel…

Fun fact: Meerkats live in groups of up to 40 members.  The group is called a gang or mob.

Komodo dragon Cincinnati Zoo

Komodo dragon at Cincinnati Zoo
Komodo dragon at Cincinnati Zoo

The Dragons! exhibit is home to the Komodo dragon.  The world’s largest lizard can be up to 10 feet long.  Watching him repeatedly flick his long, forked tongue is freaky.  It can instill fear.

When resting, you can see zebra finches pecking at the Komodo dragon.  He takes it all in stride and just sits there.  While he may not fly or breathe fire, the Komodo dragon is still one of the coolest things at the zoo.

Not so fun fact: The Komodo dragon has 60 razor-sharp teeth and a venomous bite.

Cincinnati Zoo butterfly garden

Blue morpho butterfly at Cincinnati Zoo
Blue morpho butterfly

I readily admit that the World of the Insect exhibit gives me the heebie-jeebies.  If you love large insects, giant spiders and creepy crawlers, this will be your heaven.

The exhibit even has a scale where kids can check their weight in insects rather than pounds.  It is comical to see their amazement when such a large number displays on the scale.  

Personally, I skate past these insects as quickly as I can to get to the butterfly garden.  Be sure to enter and exit this area quickly so the butterflies do not escape.

The butterfly garden is so peaceful as these colorful critters flutter all about.  You will see shades of red, orange, yellow and more.  There are more butterflies than you can count.  

Our favorite is the blue morpho.  When sitting with wing tips up, he is brown.  When in flight, you will see a gorgeous blue beacon float across the garden.  He is breathtaking!

Fun fact: The blue morpho’s wingspan can reach up to 8 inches.

Otters at the zoo

North American river otters at Cincinnati Zoo
North American river otters

Be sure to check out the North American river otters.  These funny looking creatures are very playful and will put on a show.  

Where manatees and hippos slowly move in the water, river otters move swiftly as if in perpetual motion.  They repeatedly swim back and forth playing with each other.  River otters often come toward the glass to make sure you are still watching.

Fun Fact: Otters are the only aquatic members of the weasel family.

WRAP UP: CINCINNATI ZOO EXHIBITS

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s mission is to:

  • create adventure
  • convey knowledge
  • conserve nature
  • serve community  

This mission shines through in everything that they do.  The Cincinnati Zoo is an absolute gem.  You will find your visit to be both fun and inspiring.

Be sure to check out our 11 amazing animals that you must see on your visit.

Don’t forget to pack sunscreen to protect your skin and your camera to capture memories.  Adventure awaits you at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden!

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About the author

We are Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.

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