Top Five Reasons to Visit the Smithsonian's National Zoo This Holiday Season

Instead of hibernating this holiday season, visitors can weather the winter at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. With so much to see indoors, a stroll through the Zoo will not feel like an arctic trek. Visitors can stop in any of the eight animal houses to warm up, enjoy animal demonstrations and chat with keepers about the Zoo's residents and conservation efforts. View the demonstration schedule.

  1. Go Bananas on Turkey Day—This Thanksgiving, take a break from cooking and swing by the Great Ape House and Think Tank for Kiko's birthday celebration. The Zoo's only fully adult male orangutan—distinguishable by his large cheek pads and long hair—turns 24 years old Thursday, Nov. 24. Watch him tear open his birthday piñata to reach the cake made of leaf-eater chow inside.
  2. ZooLights—Sparkling brighter than ever in its fifth straight year at the National Zoo, ZooLights—powered by Pepco—remains the only free holiday light show in the Washington-Metro area. Create memories with loved ones while enjoying dozens of environmentally friendly animal light displays, an iceless skating rink, train rides around Great Cats circle and more. Visitors can thaw their paws and attend keeper talks in the Small Mammal House, Great Ape House, Reptile Discovery Center, Think Tank and Kids' Farm. ZooLights will run the weekends of Nov. 25–27, Dec. 2–4, and Dec. 9–11, and every night beginning Dec. 16–Jan. 1 (except Dec. 24, 25, 31), from 5 p.m.–9 p.m.
  3. Meet a Kiwi—Visitors can flock to the Bird House to see the nation's only Meet a Kiwi program! They can interact with Manaia, a brown kiwi that hatched at the Zoo in 2006, and learn what it takes to breed and raise these unique birds, as well as catch up with the latest conservation efforts, including Operation Nest Egg, which improves wild kiwi's chance for survival. Meet a Kiwi takes place in the resource room at the Bird House every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11 a.m.
  4. See Red (and White) Pandas—Since making their debut in the Giant Panda House, Pili and Damini—the Zoo's feisty red panda cubs—have delighted visitors with their playfulness. They have mastered the climbing structure in their enclosure and will transition to the outdoor Red Panda Exhibit soon. In addition to ground-level viewing, visitors will be able to watch the cubs maneuver through the trees with ease from the observation overlook. The cubs' father, Tate, currently occupies this exhibit. Visitors can try to spot the differences between Pili and Damini (hint: the rings around Pili's eyes form a complete circle).
  5. Feel the Heat—Only a five-minute walk from the Mane Grille, the Amazonia Exhibit stays 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Visitors can meander through the aquarium and encounter the giant, alluring arapaima fish, graceful stingrays, swimming river turtles and more. The Field Station has two new species: angelfish and pink-toed tarantulas. In the rainforest, there is a fish feeding demonstration every day at 11 a.m. as well as titi monkeys, spoonbills and the sleepy two-toed sloth. Frogs, salamanders and caecilians live in the Amphibian Alert Exhibit, and visitors can learn how Smithsonian scientists are saving them from extinction.

Visitors are encouraged to take public transportation to the National Zoo. It is possible to reserve a parking space 48 hours in advance by calling Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) Guest Services at (202) 633-4480 between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Parking reservation fees of $20 for FONZ members and $30 for nonmembers apply.