Rare animals, impressive enclosures and up-close encounters: some zoos in Germany are so attractive that they alone are reason enough for a trip. And there's lots more beyond the zoo gates...

Leipzig: from the zoo to the Monument to the Battle of the Nations

Leipzig: Suspension bridge in the tropical forest of the Leipzig Zoo Leipzig: Suspension bridge in the tropical forest of the Leipzig Zoo ©Adobe Stock (DZiegler)

Why does Leipzig's 27-hectare 'Zoo of the Future' regularly sits at the top of the rankings? On the one hand, it benefits from a strong TV presence with a popular docu-soap. On the other hand, it carefully combines species-appropriate care and a unique visitor experience. Visitors can see this in action at the "Pongoland" primate enclosure, the only one of its kind in the world. "Gondwanaland", Germany's largest tropical rainforest, is home to no less than 200 exotic animal and 500 plant species. Snow leopards are also a rare sight, as well as the elephant temple with underwater views of bathing pachyderms. In short: you need more than a day for the other attractions of "Leibzsch" anyway, as the lively and laid-back student town is known in Saxony. You'll definitely need more time for the opera, the Old Town Hall, the elegant Mädler-Passage including Goethe's "Auerbachs Keller" and St. Thomas Church, made famous by J.S. Bach and the St. Thomas Boys Choir, as well as the Monument to the Battle of the Nations located outside...

Stuttgart: animals, flowers, architecture

Stuttgart: Wilhelma Zoological-Botanical Garden Stuttgart: Wilhelma Zoological-Botanical Garden ©Adobe Stock (karlo54)

The Wilhelma is one of Germany's most-visited zoos. Originally designed as palace grounds by King Wilhelm I of Württemberg, the area is now much more than that – namely a unique combination of zoo (home to around 1,200 species), botanical garden (with around 8,500 plant species) and historical park (with plenty of Moorish architecture). However, the highlights remain the animals and their impressive habitats, above all the ape enclosure including a 'Kindergarten' for hand-reared gorillas, the enclosure for bears and climbing animals as well as the aquarium house. Another eye-catcher is the Amazon house, which is home to tropical plants and animals. The greenery in the long palace garden next door is different, but nevertheless you're surrounded by foliage all the way to the city centre, with its Staatstheater, Hauptbahnhof and New Palace. On the square in front of it, the 30-metre-high anniversary column commemorates – you guessed it – King Wilhelm I of Württemberg. And so the circle is complete.

Hamburg: pioneer of modern zoos

Africa Panorama at Hagenbeck Zoo Africa Panorama at Hagenbeck Zoo ©Hagenbeck (Lutz Schnier)

Like the neighbouring tropical aquarium, the beautifully designed Hagenbeck Zoo, which remains family-owned to this day, is a symbol of Hamburg. Although it was founded earlier, it made headlines when it opened in 1907 at its current location in the Stellingen district – as the world's first zoo without bars. Carl Hagenbeck was thus a pioneer of modern zoos and was, in this respect, way ahead of his time. The zoo has since repeatedly featured in the media: as a backdrop for TV series, the home of the famous walrus Antje (the unforgotten mascot of the Norddeutscher Rundfunk TV network) or the world's oldest Sumatran orangutan, who was honoured with a Guinness Book entry in 2021. The Eismeer section opened in 2012. On a 750-metre-long trail, visitors can glimpse fur seals, polar bears and penguins as they live in a modern and natural environment. The extra small version of this zoo in the Miniature Wonderland in the Speicherstadt , which is a UNESCO Site near the Elb Philharmonic is also worth a visit. It goes without saying that Hagenbeck is honoured here, as well.

Hanover: Zambezi or Leine? Both!

Hanover: Child sees polar bear at the Adventure Zoo Hanover: Child sees polar bear at the Adventure Zoo ©Lookphotos (Lukas Spörl / Jalag)

Opened in 1865, Hanover Zoo has a long history, but it's anything but tired. On the contrary: it was one of the world's top nominees when it came to impressive shows. You can experience pelicans and Bennett's tree-kangaroos up close, thanks to its walk-through enclosures. The crown jewel of a day at this zoo is the Zambezi safari, where visitors glide past flamingos and giraffes on boats and spot impressive apes in the mist on Gorilla Mountain. Penguins, seals and polar bears await you in a large Alaskan landscape with a river, wolf's gorge and harbour. Ducks line the banks of the Maschsee, the top inner-city meeting place for sunbathing, swimming, strolling, cycling and jogging in the Leinemasch. It's perfect for anyone for whom the Steinhuder Meer, North-West Germany's largest inland lake at around 30 square metres, is too far away. Or you can seek out something different with a visit to the Herrenhausen Gardens, the Lower Saxony State Museum or the Hanover State Opera House.