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“Good zoo”

Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden
Ranked #1 of 109 things to do in Columbia
Certificate of Excellence
More attraction details
Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: More than 3 hours
Owner description: Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is home to nearly 2,000 animals that represent more than 350 species from around the world. A visit to the Zoo will play host to an array of wild adventures from a diving expedition on a Pacific coral reef to a safari through the plains of Africa to an interactive Outback encounter with a flock of sociable lorikeets. The Botanical Garden boasts 70-acres of unparalleled beauty and is considered one of the America's best public gardens. Dramatic and themed gardens showcase more than 4,300 species of native and exotic plants, providing a living classroom for gardeners and non-gardeners alike. The Garden also is the gateway to natural river views and spectacular valley overlooks. In addition, guests can view structural remains dating back to the early 1800s with South Carolina's textile industry and the Civil War.
Columbia, South Carolina
Level Contributor
273 reviews
88 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 431 helpful votes
“Good zoo”
Reviewed October 17, 2007

The Riverbanks Zoo is a very nice zoo especially considering the size of Columbia. It has a very nice bird house that has a penguin display as well as other nice exhibits. The fish and reptile exhibit are also wonderful. I love the tropical reef tanks. The zoo also has some animals that aren't common in medium size zoos (kaula bears, kangaroos, red pandas).

When you visit make sure to spend the time to visit the batanical gardens as well. They are a part of the zoo (just across the river and up the hill). The gardens aren't large, but they are well displayed and well worth a visit.

1 Thank JonLugoff_SC
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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2,188 reviews from our community

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Raleigh, North Carolina
Level Contributor
258 reviews
96 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 299 helpful votes
“Zoos are my "Thing"”
Reviewed September 27, 2007

I've seen a lot of zoos. Philadelphia, San Diego, Bronx, NC Zoological, Disney, London- so I've been able to sort and compare the positives and the negatives. Riverbanks is not a bad zoo, but it is not the best either.
Some positives: in September it's not crowded on a weekday (I visited on a Thursday); lots of animals out of hiding; the one acre Gorilla enclosure has a nice cover of vegetation for the bachelor troop; the scheduled presentations (penguin feeding, aquarium diving, sea lion show, etc) were informative, the gardens attractive.
The negatives: foul odors, tiger and elephant exhibits undersized for animals,bathrooms in disrepair, aquarium water murky in several exhibits; all food vendors except one and all gift shops except one -closed; Safari bucks (10 for $8.00)sold without any explanation that most restaurants and gift shops where Safari Bucks could be used were closed. As a side note, when I requested a refund on the Safari Bucks due to my discovery that I had few options to spend them, I was told that no refunds would be given and that I could have used them on the Carrousel. Does the teenager in the booth really think an adult would want to use the Safari Bucks on a merry -go- round?
Riverbanks has some small blurbs posted related to conservation, but does not seem particularly oriented toward an ecology theme as I would have preferred. Riverbanks is not a huge zoo. It is walkable, but there is a tram that goes between the zoo and the garden. One note of caution. The tram path is not dedicated. Walkers need to be aware that they may share the path to and from the botanical garden with golf carts as well as the tram.

3 Thank TheCovertCritic
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Jamestown, Tennessee
Level Contributor
38 reviews
22 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 96 helpful votes
“A Great Standard By Which All Zoos Could Be Compared”
Reviewed July 19, 2007

The Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia South Carolina was the special attraction with which I was raised. Every birthday, holiday, or good report card was celebrated with a trip to the zoo. We even spent the night here on an elementary school field trip complete with the most ultimate behind-the-scenes access I could ever imagine. So, even today, I find myself judging the criteria of other zoos upon my experiences at Riverbanks.

Riverbanks feels like the perfectly-sized zoo. No one wants to spend 45 minutes and be done; but on the other hand places like Miami Metrozoo will put you in cardiac arrest, no matter how healthy you think you are! This place is just right and the traffic patterns flow very easily into convenient loops that most often wrap back around to the entrance... You'll never dread that long walk back at the end of a long, hot day with this place...

Through the years, the upkeep of their exhibits has had its ups and downs. You can go for a year or two and be thoroughly impressed; and then you will begin to notice a downslide. Things look dirty and ill-maintained, glass is cracked, signage has been destroyed, and you can even notice a downfall in employee pride. But, a few more seasons, and everything and every one might appear bright and shiny again. Is it management? Funding? Who knows...

The variety of animals has always been impressive. We do miss the polar bears, but now they have other bears the kids still enjoy. Over the years they have built and enhanced many very nice exhibits such as the reptile house, the bird house, gorillas, koala bears, and the elephants. The kids love the flamingos and penguins and the sheer variety of birds; and the reptile house organized by habitat has always been a hit. The indoor exhibits at places like Central Park Zoo pale in comparison to these exhibits. And I've never smelled anything bad in any of them. Some zoos are downright nauseating, but this zoo has no problems with odors, inside or out.

I'm not a big fan of birds in my ears, so we don't feed the lorikeets that often; but it makes for good fun if it is a new experience for you or anyone in your party. There is also a small playground for the kids to take a breather, and for an additional charge there is a merry-go-round.

The farm has seen its good days and along with the bad. I think it has faced the steadiest decline of all the exhibits in the most recent years, but maybe that will change soon. You can see chicks hatching, and get up close and personal with cows and a funny llama with a bad attitude.

The monkey houses have always been some of my favorites over the years. If they still have the Colobus Monkeys, they are a blast. My kids also love the nearby gorillas. The one with the broken finger is always a house favorite. You'll see why.

When you arrive, check their special events schedule. They sometimes will show birds or raptors near the front entrance; we've found stations with animals and specimens manned by incredibly knowledgeable docents along the paths; and don't forget the scavenger hunt in the gardens if you choose to cross the river and make it up there. I, too, recommend the trolley over the uphill walk... But, take the time to take the wooded path back down.

This zoo can be a little questionable during special events. Two seasons ago we attended their Boo at the Zoo event and I was definitely disappointed. No one could decide whether or not admission for a 2 year old was required. The consensus was if I didn't pay, she wouldn't be able to trick-or-treat or receive any goodies. If I did pay, she would be able to participate. Of course, I paid; as a costumed kid has to get her goodies... But, I must have been the only parent of a 2 year old to do so. No one would give her any candy because they all assumed she was a no-pay and was not supposed to be participating. At the end of the night, my oldest had about 30 pieces of candy, and my 2 year old had received 4. Not at all worth the $30 or $40 we spent on admission

On a regular day for a regular visit, I can't see not being pleased with your time spent here. Of most zoos today, Riverbanks still ranks as the most affordable. If you are a member of your local AZA-affiliated zoo, it may even be free with no parking charges.

And you never know, you may just find this zoo to be a great one upon which you will judge all future zoo visits. It really is a great standard and I'm lucky to have spent so much time here throughout my life.

Enjoy your visit, but my final piece of advice is this: If you find yourself pleased with the value of your experience, stay OUT of the gift shop. Of the dozens of zoos I have been to in my life, this IS the most expensive. Don't end a perfectly good day with the family on a sour note as a result of a massive case of sticker shock and kids disappointed because Mom wouldn't pay $28 for a stuffed animal that would cost $4.99 at Wal Mart or $7.99 to $11.99 at any other zoo. We actually collect "biologically correct" stuffed animal species; and no matter what, I have never been able to make a purchase for our collection in this zoo.


4 Thank TravelinMamax3
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
South Carolina
Level Contributor
4 reviews
3 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 7 helpful votes
“An Awesome ZOO!”
Reviewed July 5, 2007

This is my favorite zoo I have ever been to. We live about 45 minutes away from Columbia and go up there all the time. My 2 year old niece loves it. The animals are well taken care of and the grounds are beautifully kept. I alway throughly enjoy going. I know since I was little I have been at least a hundred times. The reptile house is awesome and my favorite place. I personally loved the old bird house they used to have when I was young but the one they have now is nice too. The petting farm is my niece's favorite spot she can feed and pet goats, sheep, and many more. The gorillas are also a great spot. I personally enjoy feeding the Lorakeets.

2 Thank pmmichael
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Southampton, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
14 reviews
6 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 30 helpful votes
“see the lights”
Reviewed December 4, 2006

We are British visitors who have been vacationing in Columbia, SC for many years. Having visited the zoo about four times previously this year we went to the 'lights before christmas' event which runs from Thanksgiving thru the last of the year 6 - 9pm each evening. We went with friends who have children - 8 year old and twins of 13. Everyone enjoyed themselves, many lights of great quality, entry is good value for money. We paid extra $3 to see the 3D winter movie which ran about 20 mins and was good fun. A definite must at any time of the year.

3 Thank jmstob
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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