Child at an aquarium

The Best Zoos & Aquariums in Virginia


Virginia is home to a variety of animal adventures, including zoos and aquariums that offer guests the chance to see hundreds of species of wildlife up close, no matter the time of year. From drive-through safaris, elephant rides, dolphin tours and interactive displays, Virginia zoos and aquariums can be both fun and educational daytrips for families. Not only do they give visitors the opportunity to see rare and endangered species, but they also give children interactive, hands-on experiences with wildlife. Take a daytrip to some of the best zoos and aquariums in Virginia and enjoy the surrounding area for a fun family getaway that everyone will enjoy.

Best Zoos in Virginia

Maymont in RichmondMaymont Park and Robins Nature Center (Richmond)

Drive time from Charlottesville Downtown Mall: 1 hour
Maymont Park is a 100-acre park and historic estate home with a zoo of animals including mighty black bears, iconic American bald eagles, playful river otters and friendly goats. Animals can be seen at three locations across the park: The Robins Nature Center, Maymont Farm and the wildlife habitats. The Nature Center highlights the ecology of Richmond’s James River in 30,000 gallons of aquaria and with educational opportunities such as hands-on touch stations, interactive animations and recreational play. For more animal encounters, head over to Maymont Farm and feed friendly farm animals like goats, sheep, chickens, pigs and horses. Finally, visitors have the opportunity to see Virginia native species like black bears, bald eagles and bobcats in Maymont’s 40-acre valley of wildlife habitats. After exploring Maymont’s zoo animal offerings, guests can also visit the park’s gardens or tour the historic
Maymont Mansion and learn more about the area’s history. Visitors are welcome to bring picnic items to enjoy in the park’s many outdoor areas, but families can also make the short drive over to Downtown Richmond and enjoy local favorites to complete their Richmond experience.

Metro Richmond ZooMetro Richmond Zoo (Moseley)

Drive time from Charlottesville Downtown Mall: 1.5 hours
The Metro Richmond Zoo is open year-round in Virginia’s capitol city, making for the perfect daytrip no matter the weather. The zoo is home to over 2000 animals representing 190 species of animals from around the world. As Virginia’s largest zoological park, the zoo is situated on 150 acres of land and features countless adventures. Animal experiences at the zoo include a children’s petting area, educational talks led by zoo-keepers and opportunities to feed the giraffes. The park also offers animal-themed rides such as a safari train, safari sky lift and jungle carousel. With such a wide range of attractions, the Metro Richmond Zoo has something to entertain every member of the family. In-park dining options such as the Penguin Falls Café, Cheetah Eat Café and the Rhino Breeze offer fast-casual dining. Visitors are also welcome to pack a meal and visit covered pavilions, picnic areas or benches to rest and eat lunch. Before heading home, visit the nearby Pocahontas State Park and enjoy the park’s Aquatic Center or stop at Jimer’s frozen-custard to enjoy a sweet treat.

Virginia Safari Park, CharlottesvilleFamily Go-to Guide MagazineVirginia Safari Park (Natural Bridge)

Drive time from Charlottesville Downtown Mall: 1.5 hours
The Virginia Safari Park is a 180-acre drive-through zoo home to over 1,000 free-roaming animals, including Africa’s rarest cat, the King Cheetah. Families can choose to either drive along three miles of maintained gravel safari roads or walk amongst traditional zoo exhibits that include giraffes, budgies, kangaroos and so many more animals. The drive-through allows guests to feed animals from their car windows while enjoying views of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The village walk-through invites visitors to feed animals from their hands while enjoying attractions like the petting area, penguin pool and kangaroo walk-about. Pack a picnic lunch or visit the park’s Watering Hole Café to end the day with a delicious meal under the park’s covered pavilion. The area is also home to nearby attractions including the Natural Bridge Caverns and Dinosaur Kingdom II, a walking adventure full of prehistoric creatures and civil war history.



Mill Mountain ZooMill Mountain Zoo (Roanoke)

Drive time from Charlottesville Downtown Mall: 2 hours
Located off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, kids of all ages love visiting Mill Mountain Zoo and riding the popular Zoo Choo train. The miniature train travels along a 1,010-foot-long track and laps around the Virginia zoo twice, offering a behind-the-scenes look at some of the zoo’s animals and stunning 360-degree views of the Roanoke Valley. Mill Mountain Zoo is also home to endangered species like red pandas, snow leopards and red wolves. As the region’s leader in wildlife conservation, the zoo offers educational programming tied to Virginia’s SOL academic standards with a specific focus on species that are native to Appalachia and the Blue Ridge Mountains. A wonderful daytrip for Virginia families, Mill Mountain Zoo encourages children’s respect for the natural world through educational, fun and hands-on experiences with both native and non-native species. Located in Mill Mountain Park, families can also take advantage of the surrounding 568-acres of natural beauty complete with scenic overlooks, the Mill Mountain Wildflower Garden, the famous Roanoke Star, a picnic area and pavilion complete with grills and much more. Visitors can enjoy on-site dining at Bali’s Bistro on a seasonal basis, or visit Blue Cow Ice Cream on their way back home for a delicious treat featuring locally sourced ingredients.

Panda at Smithsonian ZooSmithsonian National Zoo (Washington, D.C.)

Drive time from Charlottesville Downtown Mall: 2.5 hours
As part of the Smithsonian Institution, the Smithsonian National Zoo offers free admission to all guests. The Zoo is home to more than 2,100 animals representing almost 400 different species. Make sure to visit the zoo’s most famous residents, the giant pandas, before enjoying attractions like the conservation carousel and the bee-themed playground. Visitors are welcome to bring their own food, but the park also offers a variety of food trucks and restaurants stationed around the zoo’s many exhibits. If you prefer to eat somewhere local, Duke’s Grocery is located just across from the main entrance of the National Zoo and features local ingredients with a great kids menu. While in the area, families can also make the 10-minute drive to explore some of the Smithsonian’s museums located around the perimeter of the National Mall. Popular attractions include the Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Museum.

Best Aquariums in Virginia

Three LakesThree Lakes Park & Nature Center (Richmond)

Drive time from Charlottesville Downtown Mall: 1 hour
Three Lakes Park & Nature Center features interactive exhibits and displays perfect for any wildlife lover, including a 50,000 gallon in-ground aquarium. The aquarium gives visitors a “fish-eye” view of the underwater world and showcases some of the aquatic residents found in the three lakes the park is centered on. Guests can also visit the observation platform on the lake’s edge to observe herons hunting for small fish and amphibians. The park provides live exhibits, dioramas and interactive displays for visitors to learn more about the plant and animal life native to the area. An extensive trail system invites guests to explore a variety of habitats including swamps, upland forests and open fields full of wildlife. After exploring, enjoy a picnic lunch at the Virginia park’s designated picnic area and shelter. For more adventures, visit nearby attractions like the Children’s Museum of Richmond — a community resource of programs and activities designed for the whole family to play and learn together. The park is also just a short 15 minute drive from Downtown Richmond where families can explore the city’s history and dine at one of the many local restaurants.

Toddler watching fish in Aquarium at SeaQuest in Lynchburg, VASeaQuest (Lynchburg)

Drive time from Charlottesville Downtown Mall: 1.5 hours
Take your family on an interactive land and sea adventure at Lynchburg’s SeaQuest. Guests are invited to participate in hands-on activities like feeding otters, petting sloths and snorkeling with stingrays. The aquarium also offers customized safari experiences featuring hands-on feeding experiences with both land and sea animals. Visitors looking for the ultimate animal adventure experience can book the EpicQuest experience, which includes animal interactions, meet & greets and unlimited feedings with every animal in the park – from sloths to otters, stingrays to sharks and beyond. Seaquest Lynchburg is located inside the River Ridge Mall next to several family-friendly restaurants including fast-casual and sit-down options. While in Lynchburg, check out the nearby Amazement Square’s hands-on children’s museum and activity center or stop at the Lynchburg Museum to learn about the city’s history before heading home.

National-Aquarium-BaltimoreThe National Aquarium (Baltimore, MD)

Drive time from Charlottesville Downtown Mall: 3 hours
The National Aquarium is home to thousands of reptiles, mammals, birds, fish and amphibians from dozens of unique aquatic habitats. Dive deeper into the aquarium with guided tours and experiences including the Family Sunrise Tour, Dolphin Tour and Animal Care and Rescue Tour. If you choose to explore on your own, be sure to visit the aquarium’s interactive Living Seashore featuring two touchpools home to horseshoe crabs, stingrays and jellyfish. Other popular exhibits include the Dolphin Discovery and Jellies Invasion. Dining at the aquarium is easy with a variety of fresh food options served at the aquarium’s cafés. Located on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, The National Aquarium is also near popular seafood restaurants complete with waterfront views, including the Maryland-based and family-owned Phillips Seafood, which includes a solid kids menu. More aquatic-themed fun can be found at the nearby Historic Ships in Baltimore’s floating museums or at the Port Discovery Children’s Museum.

Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center (Virginia Beach)

Drive time from Charlottesville Downtown Mall: 3.5 hours
Come sea beyond the surface at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. Home to 10,000 animals representing over 300 species, the Virginia Aquarium has something for every member of the family to enjoy. Explore environments from pre-historic Virginia in the aquarium’s Restless Planet exhibit, or visit the predators of the ocean in a playfully recreated shipwreck habitat in the Shark Exhibits. If that’s not enough, take a Virginia Aquarium boat tour and see dolphins, pelicans and other native wildlife or relax in the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center IMAX Theater. The aquarium does not allow outside food, but guests can enjoy dining options at the park’s café after a day full of aquatic adventures. Located on-site, the Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium offers climbing and ziplining experiences open to anyone above the age of five. The Virginia Beach Boardwalk is also only a five minute drive from the aquarium and is home to many great outdoor restaurants with oceanfront views.


Kids at the Virginia Living Museum

Virginia Living Museum (Newport News)

Drive time from Charlottesville Downtown Mall: 2 hours
While not quite a zoo or aquarium, the Virginia Living Museum is home to both land and aquatic creatures found in Virginia. Inside, visitors can find reptiles, mammals, birds and fish in a variety of Virginia’s ecosystems. The Appalachian Cove & Cypress Swamp houses alligators, fish, turtles and free-flying birds while nocturnal animals like bats, tree frogs and jellyfish can be found in the World of Darkness Gallery. If seeing the animals isn’t enough, the museum has two separate interactive Discovery Centers that invite guests to touch live sea stars and horseshoe crabs. The fun continues outside where visitors can choose to stroll along the Boardwalk Trail in hopes of seeing outdoor animal habitats home to beavers, river otters, bald eagles and foxes or visit the Butterfly Garden for views of the beautiful insects and native plants. The Dinosaur Discovery Trail is another popular attraction that features hands-on activities like excavating dinosaur bones. After exploring, visit the museum’s Wild Side Café which serves breakfast, lunch and snack items cafeteria-style or drive to the nearby family-owned Harpoon Larry’s Fish House and Oyster Bar to enjoy a delicious meal before heading home.

Daytrips for Kids in Virginia

Whether you choose zoos, aquariums, or other museums, we hope you enjoy many daytrips in the Charlottesville area this spring and summer! Be sure to call or check websites to confirm hours, special event info, specific exhibit information and more before heading out. Check out plenty of other daytrip ideas on our website, inlcuding Fossil & Dino Daytrips, Artsy Daytrips In & Around Charlottesville and Trains, Planes & Automobile Fun.

Check the CharlottesvilleFamily Events Calendar for even more specific family-friendly ideas., a collection of local resources including a popular calendar of events, family services guides and features on education, health and family day trips for parents and teachers in Charlottesville, as well as Virginia Wine & Country Life, a semi-annual life & style magazine, and Wine & Country Weddings, an annual art book celebrating elegant Virginia weddings.