Accessible Guide to NYC Zoos & Aquarium

Eliza Cooper

There’s plenty of wildlife in NYC—you just need to know where to look. (Insert your own pigeon joke here.) Each of NYC’s five boroughs offers an opportunity to see an impressive array of animals. The Bronx Zoo alone is the largest metropolitan zoo in the United States, home to more than 4,000 creatures. The City’s five zoos and aquarium are family-friendly attractions that will interest many visitors. Each has its own accessibility features, which will feel sufficient to some but may seem daunting to others. We’ve outlined some of these below so you can make the most of your visit. If you have additional questions or concerns, we recommend calling or emailing the attractions ahead of time.

Bronx Zoo. Photo: Christopher Postlewaite

Bronx Zoo

As mentioned above, the zoo is a fully immersive experience with an incredible diversity of fauna on 265 acres of gorgeous property. One of the oldest zoos in the country, the Bronx Zoo is also known for its architectural features and its behind-the-scenes conservation efforts in collaboration with other wildlife organizations around the world.

The zoo’s relatively new attraction, Treetop Adventure, allows visitors age 7 and up to experience obstacle courses and traverse a zip line over the Bronx River. To get an idea of the balance and dexterity requirements necessary to take part in the Treetop Adventure, consult the FAQ/Regulations page.

Accessibility Tips
  • An overview of accessibility information for the zoo is available here. Contact Guest Relations at 718-220-5103 or email guestrelations@wcs.org for further clarification of the information below.

  • Wheelchair/Scooter users: The zoo’s Wild Asia Monorail and Zoo Shuttle can accommodate manual wheelchairs up to 26 inches wide and small motorized scooters. People using larger wheelchairs or scooters can either leave them at shuttle stops and ride round-trip (in the case of the Zoo Shuttle) or transfer to a smaller wheelchair at the monorail or to an onboard seat. The Bug Carousel is accessible for manual wheelchairs, and the 4-D Theater is accessible for wheelchairs and small scooters. Please note: Zoo employees are not permitted to assist visitors in transferring to seats on rides; a member of the visitor’s party must do so.

  • Mobility impairments: The zoo’s accessibility page lists exhibits that contain steep hills or rough terrain. The Congo Gorilla Forest has both, while the Baboon Reserve, Children’s Zoo, Tiger Mountain have rough terrain and no hills. The World of Birds exhibit has steep hills but no rough terrain.

  • Hearing impairments: A TTY-enabled phone is available at Guest Relations, which is next to the Sea Lion Pool on Astor Court. Also, assistive listening devices are available on the Wild Asia Monorail and in the 4-D Theater. We recommend asking for more details upon your arrival.

  • Visual impairments: The zoo’s accessibility page lists exhibits that have touch components or low light. (The Madagascar! and JungleWorld exhibits have the latter.) All but the JungleWorld exhibit contain replicas or objects that visitors can touch.

  • Service dogs: Properly leashed and well-behaved service dogs are allowed on the grounds.

Getting There
  • Public transit: A number of buses from the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens arrive within a block or less of one of the zoo’s entrances. By subway, the 2-train stop at Pelham Parkway is the closest elevator-equipped accessible station.

  • By car: There are two parking lots at the zoo, but the Southern Blvd. entrance is the most accessible, as it is near one of the zoo’s shuttle stops.

  • For more information, see the zoo’s comprehensive directions page.

Central Park Zoo. Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Central Park Zoo

Located inside Central Park near Fifth Avenue and East 64th Street, the Central Park Zoo, which opened as a menagerie in the 1860s, is the oldest of the City’s zoos. Its residents range from California sea lions to tiny ants—over 130 species in all. The zoo is open daily from 10am to 5pm, and half an hour longer on weekends and holidays.

Among the highlights are the sea lion and penguin feedings, which alternate every hour and last 15 minutes each. The zoo also houses the first snow leopard cubs to be born in captivity in NYC, a variety of colorful birds and a family of ruffed lemurs.

Accessibility Tips
  • For the most up-to-date accessibility information, call the zoo at 212-439-6500. Some general accessibility information is available on their website.

  • Wheelchair access: All buildings within the zoo are wheelchair accessible, and there is elevator access to the mezzanine of the Tropic Zone. A limited number of wheelchairs are available free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis.

  • Mobility impairments: A chart on their accessibility page displays which exhibits contains steep hills, rough terrain or stairs. The Penguins & Sea Birds exhibit, Central Garden and 4-D Theater have the fewest accessibility barriers, while the bears and the Tisch Children’s Zoo potentially have the most.

  • Hearing impairments: Assistive listening devices are available for the 4-D Theater. We suggest calling ahead or asking at the admissions desk for more information.

  • Visual impairments: The zoo’s website displays which areas contain touch exhibits and which buildings have low light. The Tropic Zone, Snow Leopard exhibit and Children’s Zoo contain touch exhibits. The Tropic Zone, Penguins & Sea Birds and the 4-D Theater all have low light.

  • Service dogs: All leashed, well-behaved service dogs are welcome. We would suggest exercising caution, however, as the Tropic Zone building has birds capable of leaving their habitat and may be interested in your four-legged companion.

Getting There
  • The zoo is within four blocks of multiple bus routes and a subway stop. For further directions, visit their transportation page.

Prospect Park Zoo. Photo: Julie Larsen

Prospect Park Zoo

Though one of the City’s smaller zoos, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Zoo houses almost 650 animals from around the world, including porcupines, baboons, prairie dogs, alpacas, sheep and pigs.

Don’t miss the zoo’s thrice-daily sea lion training sessions, where you will be exposed to the intelligence and curiosity of these animals. The Sea Lion Court is wheelchair accessible.

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Accessibility Tips
  • The zoo has two entrances: one on Flatbush Avenue and one at the southern end of Prospect Park, next to the carousel and the Lefferts Historic House. Those with mobility concerns and wheelchairs or scooters will have to use the southern entrance, as the Flatbush Avenue entrance has a long flight of stairs. For additional information, visit the accessibility page or call 718-399-7350.

  • Wheelchair/scooter users: The zoo offers a few wheelchairs free of charge (first come, first served). All buildings are wheelchair-accessible.

  • Mobility impairments: Two exhibits—the Discovery Trail and the barn—have rough terrain. There are no steep hills or stairs inside the zoo.

  • Hearing impairments: There are no assistive listening devices for exhibits.

  • Visual impairments: The Discovery Trail, Animals in Art, the barn and the children’s Discovery Center have touchable objects or models,. Also note that the Amazing Animals exhibit has low light.

  • Service dogs: As with the above zoos, well-behaved, leashed dogs are welcome. Owners may want to exercise caution in exhibits where animals have a good view of your dog.

Getting There

The B and Q trains, Franklin Avenue Shuttle and the B41 and B47 buses stop closest to the Prospect Park Zoo. See the transportation page for further directions. There is no parking lot at this zoo.

Courtesy, New York Aquarium

New York Aquarium

After you’ve cruised the Coney Island Boardwalk, devoured your Nathan’s hot dog and almost lost it on the Cyclone roller coaster, head to the nearby New York Aquarium for peaceful encounters with our ocean friends. The oldest continually operating aquarium in the country, the New York Aquarium houses over 250 aquatic species.

Just in time for summer 2018, the attraction launched Ocean Wonders: Sharks! Showcasing over 115 species, this exhibit captures the vulnerability of shark populations, as well as the protection and conservation efforts being undertaken on their behalf. To learn more, visit nyaquarium.com.

Accessibility Tips
  • Visit the aquarium’s accessibility page or call 718-265-2663.

  • Wheelchair/scooter users: All buildings and exhibits here are wheelchair accessible.

  • Mobility impairments: There are no hills or rough terrain. There are stairs in the Aquatheater, but also an accessible ramp.

  • Hearing impairments: Assistive listening devices are available at the Aquatheater and 4-D Theater. Inquire ahead of time by emailing guestrelations@wcs.org.

  • Visual impairments: If low light affects your vision significantly, take note that all exhibits but the Aquatheater are darker than normal. Of potential interest to blind visitors are Glover’s Reef and Conservation Hall, both of which contain touchable elements.

  • Service dogs: Welcome throughout the aquarium.

Getting There

Located at Surf Avenue and West 8th Street on the Coney Island Boardwalk, the aquarium is two blocks from an accessible subway station: the Stillwell Avenue stop on the D, F, N and Q. The B36 and B68 buses stop close to the entrance. Parking is also available. For more detailed directions, visit the aquarium’s transportation page.

Courtesy, Queens Zoo

Queens Zoo

Built as part of the World’s Fair in the early 1960s, the Queens Zoo is an 18-acre expanse of habitats in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. This zoo focuses on the Americas, housing over 75 species, an aviary and a farm.

This is the only zoo in the City that has rare Andean bears on exhibit. (You may want to visit their cubs.) Otis the coyote, rescued from Central Park in 1999, is another popular resident. For descriptions of all zoo attractions, visit queenszoo.com.

Accessibility Tips
  • The zoo’s accessibility page offers a chart of touch exhibits and other features that visitors with disabilities may want to be aware of. For further details, call the Queens Zoo at 718-220-5100 or email guestrelations@wcs.org.

  • Wheelchair/scooter users: Buildings are wheelchair accessible, but wheelchairs may not be provided. Call ahead for more details.

  • Mobility impairments: All exhibits contain some rough terrain except for the waterfowl marsh, aviary, elk, sea lion and bison exhibits. The domed aviary has a steep hill winding through it.

  • Hearing impairments: No sign language interpretation or other assistive devices are available at this time.

  • Visual impairments: Of the 15 exhibits, three have touchable objects and models: the parrot, domestic animals and Conservation Quests.

  • Service dogs: Welcome at the zoo.

Getting There
  • The Queens Zoo is closest to the 7 train at 111th Street, and the Q58 bus to Corona Avenue. Both of these routes require some walking after disembarking. A parking lot is also available. For more details, visit the transportation page.
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Staten Island Zoo. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Staten Island Zoo

The eight-acre Staten Island Zoo is one of the best small zoos around. The zoo houses some 350 species from six continents, including the Amur leopard, the rarest big cat in the world. The attraction offers educational programs, fundraisers and other events throughout the year.

Accessibility Tips
  • For specific questions not covered below, contact the zoo at 718-442-3100 ext. 20.

  • Wheelchair/scooter users: The zoo’s two entrances and all of its grounds are fully accessible, and elevators are available in all buildings.

  • Hearing impairments: There is no sign language interpretation or other accommodation available at this time.

  • Visual impairments: There are no specific accommodations, but there are docents available to give guided tours every Tuesday and Thursday, which can provide visually impaired visitors with information about the animals. You may email ahead—alerting them of your needs and that you’d like to take a tour—at education@statenislandzoo.org.

  • Service dogs: They are welcome at this zoo.

Getting There
  • The zoo is located on the North Shore of Staten Island, at 614 Broadway. There is free parking available, and two buses stop within four blocks of the entrance: the S53 from Brooklyn and the S48 from the Staten Island Ferry. For more details, visit the zoo’s transportation page.

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