ARTIS is a beloved Amsterdam institution. But don’t let its history lead you to think it is a sleepy place, content to coast on its laurels! It is very much alive with all kinds of living things – animals, people, science, and art!

The Royal Amsterdam Zoo (ARTIS) is nestled amongst old trees, quiet canals, and other botanical wonders. Birds squawk and lions roar as you escape the bustle of trams and those cyclists that nearly run you and your children over even though you’re clearly on the sidewalk … But I digress … Once you make it through the golden gates of Artis there are so many things you don’t want to miss! I can’t guarantee your toddlers won’t have a meltdown over absolutely nothing, but at least their tantrums will be drowned out by chattering monkeys!

1. The Exhibits/Animals

I almost hesitate to list this as a reason to visit … I mean if you visit a zoo, you clearly expect to see animals. But the animals are very entertaining and you are able to get fairly close to them, particularly those Red Ruffed Lemurs! Some birds are allowed to roam free and at one point my toddler stopped quickly as he had a 3 meter stare down with a (presumably) friendly heron. Potential heron trauma aside, the butterfly pavilion is quite enchanting (minus the tropical humidity) as butterflies flit over the paths showing off their delicate designs.

2. Play Areas

The zoo is over 100 years old, which is evident in the lush foliage and large shady trees. Footpaths and gardens are carefully manicured and thoughtfully planned. With two kids I appreciate that we don’t have to walk far between exhibits and we can see a good portion of the zoo in a morning session. Amongst your encounters with lions, vultures, wild dogs, and jaguars there are also dedicated playgrounds for children. The largest play structure is near the Two Cheetahs café and it boasts a dizzying climbing apparatus for older kids as well as a toddler play set. There are also sand pits, big dinosaurs to climb, and stretches of grass to run about on.

3. Location, Location, Location

Artis is situated in central Amsterdam and is easily accessed by bike, tram, bus, walking, or car. There is a large bike and car park area at the end of Plantage Kerklaan. If you have an annual zoo membership there is discounted car parking AND you can skip the line. (See more below about the benefits of the annual pass.)

4. Indoor Activities

The zoo can be an activity for a rainy day! This is handy in Amsterdam. I’ll admit it’s not ideal to be caught in a downpour but Artis still comes through for you! Indoor exhibits include: the Aquarium, Planetarium, Insectarium, Reptiles, Monkey exhibits, cafés, Butterfly Pavilion, and more!

5. Affordable

Initially, I didn’t consider Artis a cheap activity to do with my kids. The first time we went I paid the normal entrance fee of 23.00 euros to determine if the zoo could be “our thing”. In retrospect, I should have purchased the annual membership immediately. It only took 3½ visits to justify the membership cost and we easily exceeded those visits in the course of our first month as Artis card holders! Coffee and food in the park is surprisingly tasty and is similar in price to other cafés in the city. You are also allowed to bring in your own food. I pack a lunch for the kids and buy myself a cappuccino as a reward when we make it to the elephant enclosure.

6. Group Fun

Artis is a great outing for the entire family or with groups of friends. It has become a Friday tradition between a group of moms and me to meet at Artis. It is easy to find people and even if the zoo is busy it never feels crowded. Families, daycares, teenagers, and adults all enjoy what Artis has to offer.

7. Conservation Efforts

Artis is involved in numerous conservation efforts throughout Europe and abroad. They participate in breeding programs for endangered species, support animal reintroduction efforts, and more. I appreciate that my visit to the zoo, (and all the additional purchases I make there) make a small contribution to our planet.

8. Summer Nights

ZOOmeravonden is a special event that happens every Saturday night during the summer. The gates stay open until 22.00 and visitors are treated to music, shows, and a chance to see the animals in their nighttime routine. Or even watch as the nocturnal animals “wake up” for their day.

9. Art

Not a part of Artis itself, but closely connected is Artis Ateliers. This art school offers classes and workshops for children and adults (check out their programs during school holidays) drawing directly on the flora and fauna of Artis as their inspiration.

10. New Experiences

There is always something new to experience at Artis. Exhibits are constantly being updated (but with minimal disruption to visitors) and of course the animals behave differently on different occasions. You may witness a feeding hour with the lemurs or hear the zookeeper present at the penguin enclosure. Babies are born and new animals make an appearance. Visiting Artis with my children has been a chance for me to watch my children’s eyes light up with wonder. Their toy animals and books come to life based on what they see and hear at Artis.

Jenna van Aswegen

Jenna van Aswegen is originally from a small town in the US. She moved with her husband to Amsterdam in 2012. She loves exploring new places, good food, deep relationships, and staying home with her two children.