Allow at least an afternoon to explore Antwerp Zoo in Flemish-speaking Belgium, which was built in 1843 and is today right next to the city’s main railway station. Despite its early foundation it is one of the more forward-thinking of European zoos, running several conservation programmes, having a high success rate with breeding, and looking to run sustainably on its own resources.
There are more than 5,000 animals at the Antwerp Zoo, with some 950 species, including endangered okapi and red pandas. There’s a lot packed on to the 26-acre (10.5-hectare) site, so be sure to get a plan at the ticket office so you don’t miss the reptile house, aviaries, winter gardens, polar bears, petting zoo for toddlers, rare Siberian tigers and Arabian oryx, gorillas, koalas, panthers, reptiles, lions, bison, and even sharks.
Family favorites take to the stage daily. Seals are fed twice, at 10.15am and 4pm; it’s raptor feeding time at 10.30am; while sea lions also get two spots in the limelight, at 1.15pm and 3pm in the Aquaforum. The penguins frisk around in their sub-antarctic pool, and feeding time at 3.30pm daily is a highlight for kids – perfect timing if you’re on an Antwerp day trip from Brussels.
The planetarium opens up the secrets of the skies with 3-D movies at 2pm; there are eating options from Belgian waffle stands to self-service salads or brasserie dining in the elegant Art Nouveau Grand Café Paon Royal; there’s also a souvenir store where children make a beeline for notebooks made from elephant manure. And this is a zoo with an architectural twist – where else would giraffes and elephants be housed in an Art Nouveau Egyptian temple covered in hieroglyphics?