The free-to-visit Smithsonian Institution is a stop on most hop-on hop-off trolleys and bus tours of Washington DC, which eliminate the hassle of navigating on your own. For a more tailored sightseeing experience, a National Zoo visit can also be added to private tour itineraries. While outside companies don’t offer tours of the grounds, the zoo has free public tours every day at 9:45am, weather permitting.
Things to Know Before You Go
With daily demonstrations at the Kids’ Farm, the National Zoo is a must-see for families visiting Washington DC.
Before visiting the Giant Panda Habitat, check the park's website for panda updates and closure announcements.
Lines for the Giant Panda Habitat can be notoriously long. The zoo encourages guests to arrive early.
Free tours are at 9:45am daily and are wheelchair accessible.
Be prepared for indoor and outdoor walking with comfortable shoes and layers that are easy to put on and take off.
How to Get There
The National Zoo is located in Rock Creek Park, northwest of Downtown Washington. If traveling by public transit, ride the Metro to Cleveland Park or Woodley Park, or take an L1 or L2 bus to the zoo’s entrance on Connecticut Avenue. Alternatively, book a hop-on hop-off tour to avoid the hassle of navigating on your own.
When to Get There
With the exception of Christmas Day, the National Zoo grounds are open year-round, free of charge, from 8am to 7pm (5pm from October to March). It is busiest between 1 and 4pm on weekends, with weekday mornings offering a quieter experience. The park offers special exhibits on Halloween (Boo at the Zoo) and during the holidays (ZooLights).
Giant Panda Diplomacy
After first lady Patricia Nixon mentioned her fondness of giant pandas to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in 1972, the premier offered to donate two pandas on the spot in the hopes of forging stronger United States–China relations. The connection still remains: In 2002, the Chinese government agreed to loan the zoo two more pandas (Mei Xiang and Tian Tian) in exchange for funds toward conservation efforts in China.
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