The Bottom Line
- Large and varied number of animals in well-sized enclosures.
- Even smaller enclosures provide privacy for animals.
- Unique display of bears in Ireland.
- Signposted visitor route makes ascend easier.
- Footpaths are good but the geographic location accounts for some steep areas.
- Animal privacy can lead to "no shows" in some enclosures.
- Souvenir shop extremely small and can get cramped.
- Large zoo in spectacular hillside location - making for a bracing walk and great views.
- Only display of bears in Ireland.
- A colony of escaped prairie dogs "roughing it" will have children occupied for hours.
Guide Review - Belfast Zoo
To reach Belfast Zoo you have to leave the city proper and make your way through the suburbs up to the hills. The enclosures were literally dug into the hillside and have an amphitheater-feeling about them occasionally. Great viewing, but also a good, bracing walk! But if you follow the signposted route you should have no problems (and a café can refresh you at the very top).
Most enclosures provide privacy for the animals, either by sheer size or by strategically placed vegetation. Even the small cages for the monkeys are a miniature jungle. This in turn means that you will have no-shows at times - the big cats can be especially elusive. If you are travelling with children prepare them for the possibility of not seeing the tigers or lions. But with some observational skills and a modicum of patience one should usually be okay in this aspect.
The menagerie is standard fare in most aspects but some animals are worth a special mention. Belfast has the only bears in Ireland (Himalayan Sunbears and Spectacled Bears), the rare Temminck's Golden Cat (a puma-like animal) and the enigmatic Fossa (Madagascar's largest predator).
Visitors with an interest in history may also take notice of the memorial near the top of the zoo where a US bomber crashed during the Second World War. Children will more than likely be more interested in the prairie dogs "gone native" in the bottom part of the zoo - these escapees can even be touched (with a bit of luck and patience).