Adorable Reasons You Need To Visit The Cincinnati Zoo This Winter

Cincinnati, Ohio is quickly emerging as a top tourist destination within the Midwestern United States. The underrated city has a thriving foodie scene, unique bars, excellent live theater, a vibrant arts community, and popular tourist attractions nearby, like the Midwest's largest theme park, the newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the world-famous Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

Cincinnati's zoo is continuously ranked amongst the best in the world and was voted #1 by USA Today readers in 2022. Founded in 1875, it's also one of the oldest zoos in the United States. You can see more than 400 animal species and 3,000 different types of plants during your visit. Conservation and education are at the core of Cincinnati Zoo's mission — it's a world leader in breeding efforts for endangered species. Sustainability initiatives include massive solar panels that help power the zoo, sustainable architecture, and water reclamation.

Despite Ohio's cool winter temperatures, The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is open year-round. Animals that require warm temperatures are kept inside during the winter months, but you'll see plenty of critters who thrive in the cold, like penguins, snow leopards, reindeer, and red pandas. With special events throughout December and January, winter is one of the best times to visit the zoo.

Festival of Lights

Beginning November 17 and continuing through the first week of January, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden transforms into an enchanting world full of twinkling lights and holiday cheer. Regular hours at the Cincinnati Zoo are from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., but during the special holiday event, visitors can experience the magic until 9 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The impressive nighttime display features over 4 million LED lights and 30 massive animal-shaped lanterns scattered throughout the grounds. Meander through the zoo's beautiful pathways admiring the lights and indulge in fun, family-friendly rides on the North Polar Express Train and the enchanting carousel. Visitors with children will love to meet and greet Santa and Mrs. Claus in Santa's Village which opens daily at 4:30 p.m.

Live shows by Cincinnati's MadCap Puppet Theater occur nightly in the zoo's large outdoor performance space, with showtimes at 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 p.m. "Animal chats" take place throughout the evening in which zookeepers and educators will interact with animals and give small lectures about various species who call the Cincinnati Zoo home.

Tasty seasonal treat options include s'mores, hot cocoa, and a unique purple "hot hippo" drink as well as alcoholic beverages for adults. Tickets to the Festival of Lights cost under $30, and discounts are available for children and seniors. Book your tickets online to save money, or consider booking on a weekday when prices are cheaper.

Penguin Days

Immediately after the Festival of Lights wraps up, Penguin Days begin! Beginning on January 8, you can witness one of the cutest and most iconic sites in Ohio during a visit to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Witness adorable king penguins as they march through the zoo in the unforgettable Penguin Parade on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holiday Mondays at 11 a.m. It's important to note that if the temperature climbs above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the parade will be canceled for the penguin's safety.

During Penguin Days, you can also enjoy discounts on zoo admission. The zoo hours are from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily throughout January, February, and March. Other unique animal encounters include otter training, Mexican wolf feedings, and bird flights that allow you to get up close and personal with some of the zoo's incredible inhabitants.  Some animals will be inside due to the cold temperatures, but many indoor animal exhibits are open to the public. Head inside to warm up as you visit the reptiles, nocturnal creatures, insects, and manatees.

Penguin Days continue through March 8, but if you want to catch this special event, make sure you do so soon! The Cincinnati Zoo's beloved King Penguins are growing older, so they're retiring after the 2024 season.