Baby Steps: An Enchanting First Visit to the Bronx Zoo's Butterfly Garden
NYC has so many incredible institutions, but navigating them with a small child can feel overwhelming. For me, even something as kid-friendly as a visit to the Bronx Zoo felt intimidating to attempt with a toddler. With 265 acres and 6,000 animals, where does one even begin?
My family took our very first trip to the Bronx Zoo to visit the Butterfly Garden, a seasonal exhibit open April through October. I hoped that starting off with this bite-size visit would be an easy way to introduce ourselves to the massive zoo. And it was! It was a really memorable experience for the entire family, especially my little ones. Entering the Butterfly Garden feels like you are being transported to an enchanted place. It's worth a trip to the zoo on its own, but while we were there we picked up a few other tips for navigating an inaugural visit to the Bronx Zoo with a small child.
As we walked toward the garden, the kids excitedly talked about what color butterflies they would find. My 3½-year-old hoped to see a pink one, but both kids were immediately transported as we stepped into the Butterfly Garden. The transformation is noticeable immediately as the room is hot and humid, with lush foliage covering everything from the ground to the netted roof. It's like stepping out of the regular world and into a magical tropical jungle.
The main attractions, however, are the butterflies, and they do not disappoint. The entire space is filled with them. My kids were captivated by the array of colors, including neon green! It was especially cool to see how the pink, purple, yellow and orange flowers, and small dishes of nectar attracted different species.
My friend's 5-year-old was excited to receive a pamphlet with pictures of the various types, and had fun walking through, trying to spot his favorites. Another highlight for him was watching researchers behind a glass window as they examined boxes with rows upon rows of cocoons labeled by species. Some had already started to hatch into butterflies. This was fascinating to the adults in the group as well, and we spent several minutes observing.
Aside from the visual beauty of the exhibit, it was interesting to learn more about butterflies and the importance of protecting the creatures. Signs along the path in the garden offer information about butterflies, including the stages of their lives and the monarch's migration. A zoo handout also gave tips on how to create your own butterfly garden at home, which we may have to try.
There's more to see in this exhibit than just butterflies. The koi pond was a big attraction for the kids, who were enthralled by the size of the large fish. My 19-month-old was also delighted to see two ducks waddle right past her stroller. In fact, several types of small birds were walking through the garden.
We checked to make sure no butterflies had landed on us before stepping out of the exhibit, although I would have been thrilled if one had, and headed to the Bug Carousel, which is next to the Butterfly Garden. It's a unique merry-go-round featuring different types of insects instead of horses. "Every bug moves up and down!" my 3½-year-old excitedly pointed out.
Ready for a bite to eat, we skipped the expensive fast food and enjoyed our packed lunches at the nearby pavilion with plenty of shaded picnic tables.
The Butterfly Garden is open from April through October. Entry is included with Total Experience tickets, which are $30.55 online or $33.95 at the gate for adults, and $21.55 online or $23.95 at the gate for children ages 3-12. Alternately, you can opt for general admission and pay an extra $5 for the Butterfly Garden. Wednesdays are pay-what-you-wish at the Bronx Zoo and children under 2 are always free.
Here are some more tips for visiting the Bronx Zoo with a baby or toddler:
- The Children's Zoo is a fun place for little kids to explore and burn off energy. They can pet farm animals in the farmyard. The rest of the exhibit will open in late May.
- Nearby, in the Astor Court, the sea lions are always a favorite with kids of all ages. If you can catch the show, that's even better.
- If you want to explore the whole zoo with small children, consider taking the shuttle, which runs seasonally and costs $5 or is included with Total Experience tickets.
- If you are coming by public transit and don't want to schlep a stroller, you can rent single and double strollers by each entrance (as available).
Getting There: The zoo is a short walk from the 2 and 5 trains. However, note that the West Farms Square-East Tremont Avenue stop on the 2 train has a few levels of stairs. If you have a stroller or tired kids, use the Pelham Parkway station on the 2 line, which has three elevators. There is also an express bus to the zoo from Manhattan's East Side.
For more seasonal fun, check out our Spring Activity Guide.