For those of you who haven’t heard of Wipsnade Zoo, it is the sister of London Zoo, located just outside of London to the North West. Over Easter weekend LSH and I took The Terrorists out there for a day out. As it’s so rare for me to say this – I feel I should start with it: YOU DON’T NEED TO ARRIVE EARLY! It is huge and there is so much space that even on a busy Easter Saturday it didn’t feel overcrowded.
We drove from Wandsworth (South-West London) and the journey (with quiet traffic) took us just over an hour. We arrived at opening and the gates were busy then, based on this it is probably worth arriving a little later for the initial rush to die down. The site itself is huge and as such they offer the option for you to take your car inside the gates to get around. If you do this there is one area where you can take it in ‘safari park’ style to drive through the animals but otherwise you are limited to going from one car park to the next. With the hassle of forever getting 2 little ones in and out of car seats we opted not to do this and instead enjoyed the chance of a big walk and lots of scooting (there is also a free bus which you can hop on and off).
Due to the sheer size, getting round everything in a day is tight (doable but you would need to be quite well planned). I have listed below our top bits (for very young children). There is plenty more there (check out the website) but these are the bits The Terrorists loved:
- The elephants – there are lots including some very cute little ones (if you can catch a talk it is really worthwhile)
- The tigers – unlike London Zoo you can usually get a pretty good view of them in their enclosure
- The sealions – where you can go underground to view them through huge windows swimming underwater
- The giraffes – again a great opportunity to get close and get a good look – also one of Bollie’s top choices
- The hippos – pretty stinky but endless enjoyment for The Bear watching them sink into the mud and then pop back up again!
- The discovery centre – a great one to escape the rain – this indoor section allows close viewing of snakes, lizards and turtles (a big must sees on The Bears list)
- The newly re-vamped penguin beach – because Bollie never misses a chance to see a ‘Piwi’ as she calls them
- The children’s petting farm in the new Hullabazoo area. This includes a fab indoor soft play (which we avoided on this occasion but looks very new and clean and great fun for little ones)
- The lions – who often hang out by the huge glass window affording a very close encounter!
- The owl wood – a quiet secluded little area with several caged owls (tricky explaining why the mice were bloody and laying on trees and not all friendly with Mr Owl as per the Gruffalo!)
- The little steam train (an expensive extra but a great opportunity to view lots of animals and a fantastic trip for little train obsessed people!)
- The huge outdoor play area with fantastic climbing frames – LSH enjoyed it as much as The Bear I think!
There are also often events on, we did an Easter Egg hunt while we were there and have in the past had the chance to meet Raa Raa the Noisy Lion. Check their website for the latest events.
This is literally just scratching the surface of what is on offer, but with so much to see and do and The Bear loving all the open space for scooting (while Bollie picked a million daises) we were exhausted just doing this much.
There is one main (and very good restaurant) which does very high quality (if quite expensive) food and usually a big BBQ in the summer months (LSH is a big fan of this). As usual we saved money here and took a picnic (in our Yumboxes – www.yumbox-uk.co.uk) which we enjoyed at one of the many picnic areas.
Top Tip – ensure you pack some warm clothes. It is on top of the Chiltern Hills and quite exposed so can feel very cold even on a sunny day (due to the wind)
Time to visit – this is at least one full day – probably 2 to do it justice
Highlights – I would say the main highlight is the space and the chance to see the animals in their more natural environments. The new Hullabazoo is also excellent and in great condition (both indoor and outdoor play areas and the farm)
Getting there – It really does require a drive but there is lots of free parking – it is 20mins from junc 21 of the M25. If you are feeling like a proper adventure there is a great campsite nearby so you can make a proper weekend of it (I must confess I have never actually camped there – it just looks great when we drive past! http://www.townfarmcamping.co.uk/home)
Pushchair access – everywhere is very pushchair friendly with ramps etc – it is a long way to walk around though so be prepared (wear comfy shoes!)
Price – this is, I think, is the biggest drawback. It is very expensive (especially if your kids are over 3 as they cease to be free then). Adults are £23.50 and kids (over 3) are £17. There is a small discount if you book on-line in advance and annual memberships are available (worth doing if you plan to go more than 4 times a year across here and London Zoo). Do bear in mind though that it is a registered charity and the money does go to animal conservation projects.
Food and Drink – the main restaurant is well maintained and the food is very nice and fresh (if busy and expensive) but there are great opportunities for picnics. There are also a number of snack bars and ice cream vans etc
Other attractions nearby – haven’t ever needed to find any but the Chiltern Hills are beautiful
Baby facilities – there is baby change though they get crowded. There are lots of highchairs and benches for feeding babies.
Website – http://www.zsl.org/zsl-whipsnade-zoo