The zoo on the island of Korkeasaari is mainly inhabited by northern species of animals, but it also has the "mini rain forest" Amazonia and Feline House, with creatures from warmer climes than Finland. Back in the North again, Borealis House is a wetland habitat. And of course you must see the bearded golden vultures in their new dwelling / Korkeasaari Zoo / Fon: 169 5969 / Open year round / 1.5 / 30.9. daily 10 / 20;
1.10 / 28.2 daily 10 / 16; 1.3 / 30.4. daily 10 / 18. „
As soon as the holiday to Helsinki and Tallinn was booked, I began looking at what tourist attractions there was in those cities. The first thing I came across for Helsinki was its zoo, which is one of the most popular attractions that it has to offer. I love zoos as it is so it went straight to the top of my list of things I wanted to do. What attracted me to this zoo mostly is the fact that it is situated on an island and I have never seen something like that before. Actually, the zoo is the whole island.
== How to get there ==
The easiest and most stress free way of getting to Korkeasaari Zoo is by ferry. At the edge of the market square is quite a large dock where all of the sightseeing ferries can be found. Just across from where you board the ferry is a small booth where you can buy your tickets and the price from here includes the ferry journey as well. The ferry ride is only 15 minutes each way but you also get some lovely views along the way. I really enjoyed the ferry journey as there are lots of little and pretty islands to look at and the view of the city from the middle of the water is quite breathtaking.
You can also get to the zoo by bus and you will need to catch the number 11 from the main train station on platform 8. If you already have a day ticket for the Helsinki transport system, you can use this to get to the island or you can buy a ticket from the driver. It is a lot easier to buy transport tickets from a machine though as I found some of the drivers didn't understand English very well. Unlike on the ferry, you do need to buy your zoo ticket when you get there if you travel by land.
== Quick history of and about the zoo ==
During the 1500s, the citizens of Helsinki were given permission to use the island for public use by the King of Sweden. As it is close to the sea fort, it was once used for storing gun powder and also as a grazing ground before it ever became a zoo and for a long time, it was just used as a public park. Although the island made the change from park to zoo, it still does its best to keep the environment as natural as possible. The zoo is quite steep in places and you can tell from this that where possible, land wont be changed in order to house animals and instead, the enclosures will be built around or on the hilly parts.
== My zoo experience ==
As soon as I got off the ferry, I was really excited. The island looks beautiful from the boat and it just keeps getting better once you are actually there. Just outside of the dock is a small gift shop and hut for return ticket sales should not have one already. We did go into the gift shop before looking at the animals to get it out of the way but I was really disappointed. The gift shop is tiny and doesn't sell a whole lot. While most zoos have a large selection of gifts and souvenirs to buy, this one doesn't. The most you can get is a few varieties of soft toys and postcards but not much else. I love buying things from places like this but I didn't even manage to get one thing this time.
From the beginning of the zoo, it was extremely well signposted and we were easily able to follow it round along with the help of our map. The zoo is split into six sections of animals which are Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, North America and Australia. Due to the island giving the animals large and natural enclosures, it doesn't have the largest range of animals and they certainly aren't as impressive as some zoos I have been to in the past but there are still plenty to keep you entertained. Also, the zoo is proud to have a range of species in risk of being endangered and do all they can to stop this happening.
Korkeasaari has one of the largest cat sections that I have ever seen in a zoo. The Cat Valley is home to animals such as the Asian lion, Amur leopard and the snow tiger. Each of the enclosures was very large and the cats looked to have a lot of space to run around, play and hide all at the same time. Each enclosure looked to suit each animal extremely well and for them to have enough space to be really happy there. Unfortunately, not many of the cats wanted to come out and be seen. We visited the zoo in the middle of July on a scorching hot day so I think they were probably very hot and wanted to hide away in the shade rather than be on show for the public.
The highlight of my trip to this zoo has to be seeing reindeers for the first time. No other zoo I have been to has housed any so I was quite excited to see them and they didn't disappoint me at all. Their enclosure was absolutely massive and I was very impressed to see just how much room they had to run around in. At the time of our visit there were about 10 reindeers in total and they ranged from youngsters to a fully grown adult male. To see them follow each other around was great to see and it really looked like they were enjoying themselves. Seeing this amazing animals was worth the trip alone.
The Africasia section was another favourite of mine. This part of the zoo is all indoors and here you can see a range of reptiles, bugs and other small animals. I had never seen a dwarf mongoose before but I have to say, they are completely adorable. They were so cute and fluffy and I wanted to take a couple of them home with me. These seemed to be one of the highlights of this section of the zoo as it was very busy for a long time and we had to wait a while before we could even get to the edge of their enclosure. Both me and my sister had a lot of fun here trying to find the frogs and snakes in their tanks because a lot of them were great at hiding themselves.
Dotted around the zoo are plenty of benches and picnic areas along with little kiosks selling drinks and ice cream. It was so insanely hot on the day I visited the zoo that these were definitely needed. We found ourselves sitting down at nearly every chance we got just so we could cool down. The drinks and ice creams are reasonably priced as well which was a bit of a shock as places like this tend to charge as much as they possibly can because they know people will pay the prices. Many of the benches are shaded by some large trees so at least you don't have to be in the direct sun all day long. Some of the enclosures around the zoo also have shaded benches just outside of them too so you can watch the animals in peace.
Although the trip to the zoo was fun, I do wish we had gotten to see more of the animals. I don't know if it was the heat that kept them hiding but it did feel a bit like a waste of money when we didn't get to see that much. Luckily, the island and its surroundings are so beautiful that it made up for the shy animals.
== Additional information ==
00099 CITY OF HELSINKI
Street address: Mustikkamaanpolku 12
Customer service/guides (on weekdays): +358 (09) 310 37900, zoo.asy (at) hel.fi
Ticket office: +358 (09) 310 37901
Restaurant, reservation: +358 (09) 696 23731
Euro10 By Land
Child (under 6)
Euro5 By Land
Group (2 adults, 2 children)
Euro30 By Land
Euro47 By Ferry
January - March 10 am - 4 pm
April 10 am - 6 pm
May - Aug 10am - 8pm
September 10am - 6pm
October - December 10 am - 4 pm
Mary - this zoo does have moose!!
Helsinki's Korkeasaari Zoo is one of the city's chief attractions and it's not just the opportunity of seeing a range of animals that makes it such an interesting place to visit. The Zoo is situated on the island of Korkeasaari, in fact the whole island IS the zoo. It's an attractive environment and the planting of trees and shrubs from all over the world has been given as much consideration as the presentation of the animals. The fact that this zoo is so much a part of its natural environment, rather than merely being a big animal park built in the city, is very important. What's more, although it's possible to access the island by means of a bridge and come by bus or car, you can also get there by boat from the mainland which really enhances the whole experience. So you see, a visit to Helsinki Zoo is a way of seeing not just the animals there, but of appreciating and experiencing a very distinct natural environment.
Getting to Korkeasaari
There are two boat services to the island but only one operates all year round; this is the one from Mustikkamaa. The other service, from Kauppatori operates only in summer; this is the one we used. It's a fairly small boat and you can sit on deck or in the cabin. Even in September it was quite cool and very windy so we arrived at our destination feeling very weather-beaten. It's a ten minute ride out to the island, weaving around a number of the city's outlying islands. When using the Kauppatori ferry you get a combined ferry fare and zoo admission ticket.
The Zoo Bus (service number 11), operates from the main train station to the zoo all year round every day, except on Christmas Eve and the journey takes about twenty minutes. If you travel by car you have to park up at Mustikkamaa and there are limited parking spaces.
Helsinki regional and city travelcards are accepted on the Zoo bus. When using the zoo bus or arriving on foot, you pay the admission fee at the entrance when you arrive.
What to see in the zoo
The various paths and enclosures are well-signposted and you can pick up a plan of the zoo to make the most of your day. The thing I like about this zoo is that it doesn't try to cram in every animal possible; the animals here are, almost without exception, ones that can happily live outdoors for the whole of the year and this means that there are a great many from northern Europe and North America. In that respect, I suppose, Korkeasaari lacks the wow factor some zoos have with exotic beasts from tropical climes. On the other hand, as someone who enjoys visiting zoos, I found that there were plenty of animals I knew much less about so this was a good opportunity to learn about something new.
Take the wolverines; I'd heard of them before but I'd never seen one, not even in a photograph. From the name I'd expected them to be a miniature wolf but the truth is very different. They are almost ursine and resemble a man wearing a shaggy costume. They weren't especially sociable creatures and I got only a fleeting glimpse of them but I was quite delighted to learn finally exactly what they are.
The zoo is home to several species that are native to Scandinavia, in particular several that are endangered. Wild mink have virtually disappeared in Europe but Korkeasaari does have some. There are also northern foxes, European otters, grey seals and ermine. Of the great predators that can still be found in parts of Finland, there are bears, lynx and those wolverines. The bears were the most obliging and a sunny spell brought them out for a spot of lounging. We could view them through a vast one way window which meant that we got see them (two adults and a cub) behaving quite naturally. The cub was feeding from the mother and she waited patiently as the cub climbed all over her until finally he had had enough and lay down next to her for a snooze.
There are lots of creatures like Arctic reindeer, mountain ibex, Rocky Mountain goats and musk ox that children might believe are all the same thing. Some ibex put on a display of fighting, locking horns and behaving quite menacingly towards each other but otherwise these animals were quite laid back and didn't feel obliged to be in the least bit entertaining. This seemed to be the general way of things at Korkeasaari. There were no lists of events such as feeding time or parades of certain species. Admittedly September is classed as the off peak season in Finland so it may be that there is more going on in summer to highlight certain species and to entertain children. While one can't predict what animals will do, I have to admit to being a little disappointed myself to either get fleeting glimpses of some creatures or none at all of others. While it is nicer to be able to watch animals behaving naturally, planned events such as feeding times do create an opportunity to get some of the animals where visitors can be sure of seeing them.
Of course, not all the animals are from Europe. From Australia there are wallabies and emu, from Africa elephant shrews and Egyptian tortoises. From South America there were most notably tiny tamarins including the most wonderfully coloured golden ones, while those from Asia included red panda and Asian lions. I was most looking forward to seeing the Amur tiger from Siberia but I could only get fleeting glimpses as he padded around his enclosure.
The island is home to over one thousand species of trees and plants from all over the world although, as with the animals, a special effort has been made to highlight planting of local species so there are lots of noble conifers and other northern European trees. When we visited in mid September we found a riot of colour which made a striking backdrop. There was plenty of information about the various plants if you wanted it but it's enough just to see the overall effect which makes even the sections where there are no enclosures worth exploring.
Korkeasaari has existed as a pleasure ground for over one hundred years, gradually evolving into the zoo it is today. As Russian sailors returned to port with animals from their travels, so a more formal zoo was established, one of the oldest in the world. As a result there are lots of nice traditional features like cute refreshments kiosks housed in quaint wooden villas and chalets and even the ruins of an old castle. The buildings are sympathetic to the landscape and there are no extras such as fairground rides and the like. All exploring is done on foot, there are no land trains or boat rides; the footpaths are in good repair but there is a little uphill walking. Fortunately there are plenty of places for refreshments ranging from informal restaurants to ice cream kiosks.
There are lots of picnic tables dotted around the island and in two locations there are barbecues that can be used by visitors (charcoal is sold in the shops on the island). There are a couple of small childrens' play areas and even a crèche in summer months - though I would have thought you'd want to go round the zoo with your children to enjoy their reactions. For younger children you can hire pushchairs and push-along carts. Although the island is wheelchair accessible, on Thursday mornings only you can drive around the island.
We really enjoyed our visit to Korkeasaari even if we felt we hadn't really managed to see a great deal of the animals kept by the zoo. We seemed to do a lot of peering through fences wondering if there really was anything in there. However, we were pleased with those we did see - especially the sea lions and the bears - and enjoyed walking generally in the peaceful paths off the beaten track. It's worth a visit even for the boat ride out to the island which allows you to see Helsinki from a different perspective and allows you a better look at some of the gorgeous houses on the tiny outlying islands.
We paid Euro12 each as adults for admission and this included the fare for the boat ride; admission without the boat trip is just Euro7 which I think is pretty good value. This is a very traditional zoo without all the hoopla that often goes with animal parks these days so chances are you needn't spend too much extra and you could even take a picnic lunch to save money. I'd say Korkeasaari is suitable for a half day visit.
For opening times and full admission costs see the zoo's website