‚Äú XIV. √Āllakerti √ļt 6 / 12 / M1 Sz√©chenyi f√ľrd√Ķ / Bus 72 / Completed in 1911 / most of the zoo's original buildings have now been replaced / although the elephant house near the main gate remains largely intact. Unfortunately though / the zoo lies in a bad state of disrepair and needs funds urgently to bring it up to the standards of those in the west. The zoo is open all year round / but longer hours operate during the summer months. ‚Äě
Budapest zoo is incredibly reasonable, I think the cost of my student ticket came to roughly ¬£2. The zoo is very large and contains a wide range of animals, we spent a whole day here and to be honest were rushed to fit it all in. There is a good range between indoor and outdoor exhibits which is ideal for different weathers experienced. I found the one-site food to be very reasonable, and was surprised to find a fully equipped bar in the centre of the zoo, who drinks at a zoo?! The sealion show was unspectacular yet entertaining and most of the animals seemed to reasonably happy. My major negative point about the zoo was the polar bear. He seemed to be severely distressed and spent the whole day stepped back and forth over the same area. The cruel positioning of his enclosure directly in front of his natural prey, the seals, cannot be ignored.
Founded in 1866, Budapest zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the world. It is located outside of the city centre on the Pest side of the Danube, in the V√°rosliget, one of the many parks in the city. This particular park starts just behind another of Budapest¬ís great landmarks, Hos√∂k Tere (Heroes Square ¬Ė basically the Hungarian equivalent of Trafalgar Square), which can be easily accessed by the Metro on the yellow line at the stop of the same name. Heroes Square is one of visitor hotspots in Budapest where coach loads of tourists are periodically disgorged; as a result, the square itself is usually very busy, and crowded with stalls selling over-priced ice cream and soft drinks. The V√°rosliget, on the other hand, seems to attract very few foreign tourists, which is a great pity as it is a wonderful park and a great place to relax away from the noise and bustle of the city.
The zoo itself is on the edge of the park, about a 10 minute stroll from the Hos√∂k Tere metro station; there are huge gates delightfully decorated with elephants to get your attention, so you are hardly going to miss it! You can also get to the zoo on the buses if you prefer - numbers 4, 20 and 30 all stop nearby (the stop name is ¬ď√Āllatkert¬Ē) ¬Ė making it a very accessible attraction for those of us not being ferried around on air conditioned coaches (as I recall, the metro trip was direct from the centre of Pest and took less than 10 minutes). The zoo makes a relaxing change from the cultural and historical sights that abound in the city, and it is a wonderful day trip that combines well with seeing Heroes Square and/or the V√°rosliget, yet I was aware of no other foreign tourists the whole time I was in the zoo. I think it was a very under-appreciated sight.
The zoo is open daily throughout the year from 9am, closing at 4pm in winter and 7pm in summer, with last admission an hour before it closes. The entrance price is a modest 1300HUF for adults (about ¬£4), with children under 14 costing 900HUF (just under ¬£3). However, if you possess a Budapest Card (5900HUF for 3 days) then you can get into the zoo for free, which is excellent value when you consider that the card also gets you completely free access to all public transport in the city as well. In fact, a trip to the zoo on public transport from the city centre will virtually get you your money¬ís worth in one go!
Budapest zoo is pretty substantial in size and bills itself as one of the premier zoos in Eastern Europe. When you consider that they house some 700 animals (including an internationally recognised primate centre with over 200 inhabitants) and over 2,000 species of plants in their botanical gardens, it is easy to see why. Since the grand opening of the site in 1911, the zoo gradually stagnated until the early 1990s when a new director aided by private sponsors began some long overdue improvements. The zoo has undergone major works since then to achieve ¬ďWestern standards¬Ē (their words), and you can really see the benefits of these improvements, both for visitors and animals. A great deal of effort has gone into providing good visitor services, including plenty of toilets, bins, recycling points and refreshment areas (including the only place I ever encountered blackcurrant ice cream ¬Ė yum, yum), plenty of shaded seating and picnic tables and some more child-friendly features, such as a petting zoo (I don¬ít know who was more enthusiastic about this, the children or the baby goats!).
What we really appreciated, though, was the signage, where cartoon pictures accompanied the words on the signs to help young children understand them. This was also very helpful for tourists like us who don¬ít speak Hungarian, as we could follow the pictures to find our way around, LOL! It is unfortunate that because of the lack of international visitors to Budapest zoo the guidebooks and information panels are not yet available in English, so we found this signage to be a brilliant (if unintentional) way of getting around the language barrier. We used the signs easily to find our way around the zoo and went everywhere¬Öexcept for the feature denoted by a spider symbol. For some strange reason, I really didn¬ít fell like investigating that one further.
Huge efforts have also gone into improving the lot of the animals in the zoo. There was a conservation and research centre, and an internationally important captive breeding programme for endangered species, of which the zoo had many on show, some of which I had never even heard of (are mudi dogs and cikta sheep familiar to anyone out there?). I was impressed by the size of the areas the animals had to live in and by how healthy and content they looked ¬Ė well, with the exception of a rather melancholy rhino, but then I¬ím not sure if rhinos ever look particularly happy, to be honest. While I was there, a series of building works were underway to improve the living conditions of the polar bears (they were getting an impressively large new swimming pool), and the breeding programme had produced a great success in producing some rare wolf cubs, who were just old enough to be playing outside for the first time. I just wish I could post my photos of them on here!
The animals themselves weren¬ít the only attraction at the zoo, however. Unusually, Budapest zoo also contained some listed art noveau buildings that had survived from the original opening of the site in 1911. While many had been removed as part of the ongoing programme of renovation, a number of these buildings by leading Hungarian architect K√°roly K√≥s had survived, including the fabulous elephant house built in the style of a temple, which was quite the most decadent animal housing I had ever seen! In fact, so magnificent was this building that the EU had actually given it an award for outstanding architecture, which is proudly displayed for visitors to see. Where else are you going to see such amazing historical buildings in a zoo, I ask you?
**My Overall Thoughts**
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Budapest zoo; it really was an afternoon well spent and a highlight of my trip to the city. As well as seeing some wonderful animals (my favourites had to be the wolf cubs), I relaxed by the lake and in the new Japanese gardens, and was suitably impressed by the lengths that had been gone to in providing visitor facilities. So many attractions in the UK seem to put seating for visitors in grudgingly, but here they were on every corner and often with canvas awnings to he shade visitors from the sun. Bins were liberally scattered around the site and always accompanied by recycling points for cans and bottles (you could really see the benefit of this in how clean and tidy the zoo was), and all refreshments and souvenirs were reasonably priced. In their ambition to reach ¬ďWestern standards¬Ē I think they easily outdid them in many regards. I do hope than in future more foreign tourists would be encouraged to visit and that the guidebooks and information becomes available in a variety of languages: this is about the only thing I can fault them on.
√Āllatkerti krt. 6-12.
P.O. Box: 1371
Budapest 5, Pf. 469
Telephone: (+36.1) 363.3710