Penguin parade: A winter outing to Zurich Zoo

A visit at the zoo is also a great activity in winter

In winter, we can go for a stroll with the king penguins, and later, we go to the Masoala Rainforest to get warm again.

Visiting the zoo is a classic activity: Everybody who has children, godchildren, nieces, nephews or grandchildren was at least once at the zoo. Probably when the weather was nice and with many other families. Fortunately, there is enough space for the great number of visitors. But it’s still sometimes difficult to see the animals over all the people standing in front of the compounds. That’s why we prefer to visit Zurich Zoo in bad weather – more than anything else, in winter. Find out why below.

Fewer visitors and trustful animals

In general, there are much less people at the zoo in winter. So, you have much more space in front of the compounds and grounds; everything is calmer and more relaxed. The animals can sense this too. Certainly, the animals always have enough room to seclude themselves when there are too many people for their liking. However, these calmer, more hidden places also mean that the animals are less visible.

A unique experience: the penguin parade
When you look closely and carefully you’ll see many different reptiles and birds in the Masoala Rainforest

It’s when the temperatures drop below 10°C that penguins are at their best

When, between November and March, it gets real cold, when the temperatures drop below 10°C, the king penguins and their entourage waddle a great distance through the zoo. So, why shouldn’t we do as the penguins do and only get out when it’s uncomfortably cold for humans? When it rains or even snows. Because then, we – figuratively, not literally – kill two birds with one stone: the colder it gets the better the penguins feel and the fewer visitors are crowding around them. Thus, the little ones have front row seats for the show. Suddenly they find themselves face to face with these fascinating animals.

Our kids love the penguin parade and know the rules by heart. Our daughter always remembers: "Don’t run past the penguins, don’t walk next to the penguins, and don’t touch the penguins!" But she also wondered why the penguins waddle holding their wings back in a funny way? So, she asked Basil von Ah, manager at Zurich Zoo. The answer was quite plausible. Due to the very short legs and the unfavorable center of gravity (at least on land), they keep their balance with the help of the wings - just as we stretch out our arms when balancing on a rope.

She also wanted to know why the penguins love to eat fish. In this case, supply determines demand, says Basil von Ah. Apart from fish, the selection in Antarctica is not very large. Their physique has adapted to the food source: Penguins are very good swimmers, but - despite their wings - they cannot fly.



Getting warm in the Masoala Rainforest

When we get cold after the penguin parade, we usually go to the monkey house, to the elephants or to the Masoala Rainforest. More than 500 plant species grow in the 120-meter-long and 90-meter-wide hall, among which more than 50 vertebrate species from Madagascar hide. Here the temperatures are tropically warm even in the deepest winter. We usually pack our winter jackets, caps and gloves into the prams, but there are also lockers.

It is worth to take your time at the Masoala hall. The longer you look, the more animals you will discover. Where there is nothing at first sight, you will suddenly find geckos, chameleons, birds, turtles and frogs. But the undisputed star of the Masoala hall, at least for us, is the red Vari. Our daughter is especially fond of the lemur. Our family ritual is to stay in the hall until we have discovered at least one. This has become a lot easier over the years. Basil von Ah knows why: "The mother of the two young died early. Therefore, these two red Varis have grown up in close contact with the humans and are accordingly trustful."


Our tips when visiting the Zoo Zurich in winter

  • Dress warmly. The saying: There is no bad weather, only bad clothing is 100% true, especially at the zoo.
  • Take your time and plan your route. You don’t have to see every animal at each visit.
  • You’ll find the updated info if the penguin parade is taking place here.
  • And, in general, an annual pass pays off very quickly.


Zurich Zoo

The best animal experiences


November 2019

An article by:
Jérôme is a proud father of two and lives in Zurich. He and his wife Deborah write about family adventures large and small at As a man, he often has a somewhat different take on family topics.
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