|I visited Belfast Zoo this week with my daughter and the rest of her nursery school class. It’s not the first time I’ve been, but it is the first time I have taken one of my children. Belfast Zoo through a child’s eye is a really magical place. Belfast Zoo occupies a site measuring approximately 750 acres and is perched on the spectacular hillside of Cavehill in the north of the city. It started life as ‘The Bellevue Pleasure Gardens’ in 1913, when Belfast City Tramways developed it at the end of a tram line, in a bid to encourage local tram travel. A small zoo was opened in 1933, but it flailed during the war and post war years. It was only when taken over and developed by Belfast City Council in the late 1970s that the zoo flourished and grew to what is now recognised as one of the finest zoos in Europe. The list of animals housed in Belfast Zoo is endless and would take all day to recount, so instead let me fill you in on some of our favourites. Upon entering the zoo with a class of 24 preschool children all that could be heard was “where are the penguins?” and “I want to see the elephants”. You’ll be glad to know Belfast Zoo has both! The zoo has a fantastic aviary, but with the children rushing to see the lions we didn’t spend much time there (except to admire the peacocks of course!). At the Lion enclosure we first thought that we were to be disappointed, until a female of the pack heard all the commotion and came out from the housing to investigate. She was a beautiful creature, and there was something majestic about her as she prowled the area. I would have loved to have caught a glimpse of a male with full mane, but he must have been sleeping or hiding at the time (typical man!). Another favourite of visitors to the zoo is the penguin enclosure. We spent some time watching them congregate on shore, and then diving into the pool, but the best bit was the underwater gallery. This part was fascinating in both the penguin and sea lion pools, both animals looked so awkward on land, yet underneath the water they were graceful and extremely fast. You could watch them chase one another and play together, we had to drag the children away. My absolute favourite animal had to be the gorilla. As we looked into the enclosure we watched as a young male goaded the older more dominant male of the group, the pair had a bit of a wrestle and then went about their own business. Another kept hiding his face under an old t shirt, then peeking one eye out to see if we were still watching. When we moved down to the viewing window we were astounded. At this point we were on eye level with the gorillas and one particularly curious female walked right up and pressed her nose against the window to get a better look at us. We were literally inches from her face, the children could barely breathe! Our last highlight was the african animals area. Here you could watch the elephants wander, see the giraffes nibble the trees, and watch the zebras and ostiches go about their business. The fences are surprisingly low, especially in the giraffe area, so we got a fantastic look at the animals and some great pictures as well. The zoo has toilet and changing facilities dotted around the trail. There are two cafes, The Ark restaurant which provides full meals (not exactly gourmet, but they do a great chicken nuggets, beans and chips) while the Mountain teahouse serves snacks, drinks and confectionary. There is also a small shop at the entrance/exit which stocks toys, stationery and other gifts centering on an animal/conservation theme. For directions to the zoo, including a map and details of local public transport see the Belfast Zoo official website.