panda bears at national zoo

Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Located in the heart of D.C. and spanning over 163 acres, the National Zoo is a must when visiting the nation’s capital. Admission is free and it’s open every day of the year except December 25th. Hours vary, depending on the season–but the grounds are open from at least 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. We blocked out nearly a full day for this and were there nearly six hours. We LOVED going off peak: the grounds were nearly empty and the animals were very active. Maps of the zoo do cost money, so consider printing yours at home in advance or download the app.

panda bears at national zoo in dc

The pandas were at the top of our list. They were so fun to watch!

lions at national zoo

We also loved visiting the lions.

national zoo carousel

And a ride on the Conservation Carousel brought lots of smiles.

elephants at national zoo

The elephants, like the pandas, have both an outdoor and indoor viewing area.

kids at national zoo  family at national zoo

national zoo DC


The zoo has a variety of dining options. We chose to eat lunch at Mane Grill and found lots of healthy options (like quinoa bowls, grilled protein items, wraps, fruit bowls, string cheese, etc.) in addition to the standard kid meal options. You can also bring your own food into the zoo.

We used public transportation (the Circulator) to get to the zoo–it dropped us off  just a few blocks away at the Woodley Park stop, an easy but uphill walk . You can also take the Cleveland Park stop, which is the same distance as Woodley Park but without the uphill walk. Public parking is available but is extremely limited and is a flat rate of $22 for the day.

The Circulator ended up being our favorite way to get around during the day–it’s only $1 per person and kids 5 and under are free.  The drivers were super helpful in getting us where we needed to go, and there was a stop right by our hotel. We found in the evening, when traffic increased, it was a bit slower, but still offered many convenient stops that we didn’t mind the slightly longer ride, plus our tired feet needed the rest! Check out the Circulator’s website for all the stops, hours, and more.

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