ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, owned by The Zoological Society of London, sits nestled in the beautiful Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire. It opened in 1931, the first zoo in Europe to be easily accessible to the public. Since then it’s gone from strength to strength, now boasting over 200 species of animals, many of which are endangered in the wild.
Author: Helen Stevens
Things to see and Do at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
We arrived at opening (10 am) and stayed almost till closing (6 pm) so we could get the maximum out of our trip. There is so much to see it can’t be done in a day so I really recommend getting there as early as possible. I also recommend taking a buggy or alternative for preschoolers as the place is so enormous, it’s tiring for littles to have to walk all day.
You can take a car in and drive between areas but this costs an extra £12, and honestly, you don’t see as much if you’re not on foot. And it’s not just the animals. It’s worth walking to take in the incredible views. The zoo is situated up a hill and you can see for miles – the beautiful Dunstable downs and the Chiltern hills. It really is stunning.
The first animals you come to, opposite the entrance, are the lemurs. They’re well placed, as the first talk of the day is the lemur talk. The zookeepers tempt the lemurs out of their house and treat them to breakfast and us to various facts about the animals and their conservation.
Conservation is a big theme at Whipsnade. Every animal talk we went to included a lot of information about the work they are doing to conserve the animals in the wild and their habitats, something that’s a hot topic right now. At the penguin talk, we were given leaflets about how to buy sustainable and ethically sourced fish. We also learnt how the zookeepers stay as hands-off as possible when it comes to caring for the animals in the park.
The most impressive thing about Whipsnade is the environments the animals are given. Those in enclosures have lots of open space in an environment as close to what they’d have in the wild as possible. There are animals that are free to roam around the entire park. You’ll often find a wallaby crossing in front of you or a capybara next to your picnic table. We were lucky to discover an entire troupe of wallabies near the log cabins (where you can stay over, for a fee!). Almost every female had a joey peeking out of its pouch!
The park is divided into three main areas: Europe, Asia and Africa. In addition to the educational talks, we also went to “storytime” in Africa. We were treated to a very theatrical telling of a tale of animals at an African water hole, filled by a visit to the stunning lion pride and the meerkats.
One of our favourite exhibits was the elephants – a herd of 9 Asian elephants. Including two youngsters, in a seven-acre paddock with pools, dust wallows, mud baths and an elephants care centre which was added in 2017. We watched the babies playing games, wallowing in dust and racing with one of the adults – truly magical! The giraffes are equally stunning, with a huge viewing tower to see them really close up, and welcomed a new addition this month, a baby named Khari.
Another highlight of our trip was the train ride. You do pay extra for this, but it’s worth it – you see animals you might not get to see otherwise as it travels through the ‘passage through India’ open paddock that cannot be accessed on foot – plus it’s a ride on a steam train, what’s not to love?!
We ate lunch at the “base camp” restaurant, where you order via a tablet on your table, a new experience for me! The food wasn’t particularly cheap, but it was absolutely beautiful. There are plenty of places for picnicking but we chose a rather overcast and rainy day so it was definitely preferable to get indoors for a hot meal to keep us going for the rest of the day.
As well as all the live animals, Whipsnade is currently hosting a “brick safari”, featuring animals built from thousands of pieces of Lego! It’s really very impressive and well worth seeing. Not all of this attraction is accessible during term time so we weren’t able to experience all the children’s activities as part of the brick safari (mini safari cars, giant Lego pit). However, these will all be fully open during the half-term holiday.
The last event we attended was the bird of the world show, where eagles, owls and macaws swooped over our heads in the bird arena. The handlers brought some birds into the crowd so we could see them up close, namely a group of red-billed hornbills – like Zazu, from The Lion King. There was also a very impressive hawk who flew at a speed of over a hundred miles an hour. It was a wonderful way to end our visit.
The park also has a children’s farm, a butterfly house, plus a soft play centre and outdoor playground but we ran out of time to visit any of those!
The visitor’s centre and gift shop are at the entrance/exit, so of course, you have to visit on your way out! There are souvenirs of all sizes and prices and some things were on sale. My daughter wanted a squirrel monkey and when I saw they were half price, I was happy to comply!
Whipsnade is a stunning attraction, full of incredible animals. It’s absolutely worth the entrance fee. The staff are passionate and entertaining, the scenery gorgeous and it’s a truly magical day out for kids and adults alike. Highly recommended.
You can purchase your tickets at the entrance or online in advance with a discount of 10%. To book online it currently costs £22.91 for an adult and £14.89 for a child aged 3-15 years. Under 3’s are free. They also have family tickets, senior rate and more.
You can even book a stay at their Lookout lodge. Their cosy lodges have everything you need for a comfortable night’s stay at the Zoo and are each named after an animal you can find at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. Their nine lodge cabins come with either double or twin beds and each lodge has a private veranda so that you can sip your bedtime tea or hot chocolate whilst listening to the sounds of the Zoo at night. There are loads of benefits to staying over including three exclusive after-hours tours of the Zoo at sunset, after-dark and in the morning.
Disclaimer: Helen received complimentary tickets for the purpose of her review. All opinions and photos are her own and must not be duplicated.
For another fun family day out in Bedfordshire please check out – Mead Open Farm Day Out Review | Bedfordshire.
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