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Published: June 30th 2017
I left the UK on the 11th with a channel crossing around midday-ish before driving to Antwerp. The next day I visited Antwerp Zoo and because I had an hour left before it closed after finishing the zoo, I visited Aquatopia as well.
I thought Antwerp Zoo was good generally; it had a similar feel to Artis Zoo in Amsterdam which I visited earlier in the trip due to both having the same sort of historical buildings and setting. The zoo was also located very centrally in Antwerp so some of the historical buildings in the city could be seen from inside the zoo.
I liked the layout of the zoo which can be seen on the zoo map ZOO map · ZOO Antwerp
(Note: the map makes the zoo seem smaller than it is, many of the smaller enclosures are not marked, and things such as the nocturnal house which is reasonably large is only marked with an Aardvark) and I thought the landscaping around the zoo in general was very nice. However one criticism that I do have is that the area that you first view upon entering the zoo isn’t as impressive as it could be and is probably the least attractive looking area of the zoo in my opinion which I didn’t think gave a good first impression.
In terms of the enclosure quality and size, it was a little more variable. I thought it was fairly good in general, but there were some smaller enclosures that could have been better such as the Jaguar Enclosure which I thought was a bit on the smaller side Or the Indoor Penguin Enclosure for example.
But even saying those examples are bad is very nit-picky and they are perfectly acceptable, it's just that they could have been better.
However having said that about some enclosures that could have been better, I thought the majority of enclosures were very good such as many very nicely done enclosures in the bird house, and the large and impressive butterfly house just to give a few examples. There were a few interesting enclosure designs too such as the dark corridor in the bird house where there were no barriers for the bird enclosures but the only things stopping the birds escaping was that they wouldn’t fly into the dark.
Antwerp Zoo also has several very unusual species and highlights included the Black-and-rufous Giant Sengi, Macaroni Penguin, Green Honeycreeper, Crested Oropendola, Humboldt’s Night Monkey and of course the Eastern Gorillas that the zoo is famous for. definitely enjoyed my visit to Antwerp Zoo which – all things considered – is a fantastic zoo in my opinion.
After visiting Antwerp Zoo I still had some time left so I decided to visit Aquatopia which is an aquarium located on the other side of the same square as Antwerp Zoo. Aquatopia is on the corner of a regular block attached the rest of the building which is a Radisson Blu Hotel. The aquarium is spread over three floors, street level, a basement and one floor up. The building looks like any of the buildings around the square with some banners depicting fish etc. and this sign over the entrance. The aquarium is divided into 12 sections (plus two sets of escalators) which are Rainforest, Submarine, Lab (young fish and smaller things like starfish, seahorses etc.), Educational Room (where there are displays at certain point during the day and an educational film playing), Mangrove, Swamp (reptiles), Coral Reefs, Lake Managua, Shark Tunnel, Sharkies Café, Prehistoric Hallway and the Gift shop. I have pictures of each of these sections in the gallery. The main attraction of the aquarium is a large shark tank with seven species of shark, several large fish species and Loggerhead Sea Turtle. The aquarium has a total of 12 species of shark which I was given a leaflet about with the ’12 Shades of Grey’ showing the 12 shark species in the aquarium those are Nurse Shark, Zebra Shark, Grey Reef Shark, Blacktip Reef Shark, Banded Houndshark, Tawny Nurse Shark, Epaulette Shark, Small-spotted Catshark, Short-tailed Nurse Shark, Arabian Carpetshark, Grey Bamboo Shark, Brownbanded Bamboo Shark.
The aquarium wasn’t so fantastic but it was quite nice. There were lots of nice fish and other marine species as well as some Snakes, Turtles, Iguanas and Red Tegus in the swamp section and some Frogs and a Florida Softshell Turtle in the Rainforest section. There was nice decoration in the visitor area as well as in the tanks, with planting as well as other decoration to match the theme of the area.
And although it was nice in certain bits, at times I found it a little too excessive and at points when the theming took away from the actual exhibits I found it to be too much. The aquarium was also very dimly lit and while this was good in some areas, there were no windows anywhere and everything was enclosed in this one building so it felt like the whole place was rather dark.
Another thing that I found very annoying was the one way route system. There were no routes where going back was encouraged at all and usually if this is the case then I would just walk back along the paths that I came but because there were only escalators taking you up or down between floors this was not possible. Another minor annoyance is that there were tanks in the walls that the escalator went past so you could only view each of these tanks for a maximum of five seconds.
The other very annoying thing was the signage. In certain situations there was no common name in English but there was a scientific name or there was no English common name or scientific name. There were also a lot of species that were unsigned and many with signs on a screen with one screen for the whole main coral reef tank so it would have taken too long to see a whole list.
Another thing that I noticed was how empty the whole place was. In the entire aquarium there couldn’t have been more than a dozen people and this really contrasted with Antwerp Zoo which was very busy. Part of the reason could be the very nice (but extremely hot!) weather on the day that I visited so people would rather go outside than be in an indoor aquarium. But I wonder how much competition there is between these two places because you can literally see the entrance to one from the other and if you were only going to visit one of these two, the Zoo would be the obvious choice and it is better value for money too since for me to go to the zoo was €17.50 but the aquarium was €14.95 for something that is a tenth of the size of the zoo.
So to conclude, the aquarium wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t super fantastic. I’d say it’s probably worth a visit after visiting Antwerp Zoo though, especially if you like fish.
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