Family Day Out Review: ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, Dunstable
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
Value For Money9.0/10
Variety Of Activities9.0/10
Things We Like
- A huge variety of animals in large enclosures, including all the 'big hitters'
- Hullabazoo (farm, indoor play, outdoor play) a really good bonus
- Plenty of interesting shows, talks and demonstrations to watch
- Annual pass is a great option for local families visiting frequently
- Continuingly updating and modernising, e.g. Butterfly House, Elephant Care Centre, Restaurants
Things We Dislike
- Vast site means kids can quickly tire without 'transport'
- Hullabazoo indoor play often at capacity during peak times
- Can get very cold and windy up there
What’s It All About?
With over 3,500 animals, across 200 species, living in 600 acres of stunning countryside atop the Chiltern Hills, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is the largest – and arguably one of the best – zoos in the UK. You’ll not only find Elephants, Giraffes, Lions, Rhinos, Tigers, Bears and more living in huge enclosures, but there’s also a Butterfly House, a farm, daily demonstrations, a steam train and indoor and outdoor play areas. A must visit for the family!
What Do We Think?
We love Whipsnade Zoo. I’ve lost track of the amount of times we’ve been since having kids – it’d probably be 30+ if I had to guess. The fact that we’ve had an annual pass for the last three years says it all really, and means we can either visit for a full day out or just pop along for a couple of hours if we’re struggling to decide what to do. It’s without doubt one of the best zoos we’ve been to!
As you’d expect from a zoo, there’s thousands of animals there who call it home. In a way, it almost feels like a safari park at times. You can take your car in (at a cost), the enclosures are huge and there are animals roaming free – the first time you go, you’ll think that something has escaped when you see Maras and Wallabies making there way across the paths in front of you.
When it comes to the 3,500 animals, the zoo is roughly split into three main areas (Asia, Africa and Europe) with the animals from that continent roaming around that area. So, for instance, Asia has Asian Elephants, Asian Rhinos, Bacterian Camels and Amur Tigers, Africa has Giraffes, Meerkats, Grevys Zebras, White Rhinos, Hippos and and African Lions, whilst Europe has Wild Boards, European Brown Bears and European Lynx. The thing you’ll notice is just how big their enclosures are compared to other zoos.
Of course, not every animal fits nicely into these labelled areas. Some of the other highlights around Whipsnade Zoo include the Penguins, the Sea Lions, the Flamingos, the Chimpanzees and the Lemurs. Then there’s the Butterfly House, which was opened in 2015 and features more than 30 different species. This is really interactive as you walk around the (very humid) biosphere as butterflies fly by and even land on you. There’s also a couple of West African Dwarf Crocodiles – although these are safely behind glass….!
Like most zoos, Whipsnade has a number of daily events, feeds and demonstrations. From the Chimp Chat to the Tiger Talk to the Penguin Talk, there’s something arranged pretty much every half an hour. Our favourite events to catch are the Sea Lion talk where you get to see them do tricks and training, as well as the Birds Of The World talk where birds including stalks, macaws, hawks and eagles fly above your head around the Arena.
One of the bonus areas of Whipsnade is Hullabazoo. This features an indoor soft play, an outdoor adventure playground and a small farm with rabbits, goats and donkeys – in a way, it’s a day out in it’s own right. As ZSL members, we’ve been known to visit Whipsnade just for the play areas! The great thing about Hullabazoo is that it provides an alternative to looking at animals – we find that there’s only so many our eldest wants to look at before getting a bit bored.
The Hullabazoo indoor play has two separate areas – a smallish baby / toddler zone (0-3) with a ramp, slide and foam shapes, as well as a bigger kid zone (4-10) set over three levels with the likes of a ball pit, tunnels, slides and plenty of other things to interact with. If you plan to go during your visit, I’d suggest you head their straight away to book for later in the day as it quickly fills to capacity.
The Hullabazoo outdoor play area features everything you’d expect and more – swings, slides, roundabouts, seesaws climbing frames, assault courses and even a zip wire. The most impressive bit is Whipsnade Heights – a huge structure featuring six towers, cargo nets, rope bridges and slides for your children to play on. There’s also a smaller, preschool area if your kids aren’t old enough or confident enough to tackle some of the big equipment just yet.
As buying food and drinks at places like this can soon get a little expensive on top of the entry price, we’d suggest bringing a picnic. When the weather is nice, you’ll see families picnicking everywhere, but particularly on the grassy area by the Birds Of The World Arena and overlooking the stunning views by the Penguins / Rhinos.
If you’re buying food and drink, there’s a few places you can go at Whipsnade Zoo. There’s the Visitor Centre cafe at the entrance, the newly (2018) refurbished Base Camp Restaurant, the new (2017) Base Camp Pizzeria on the main lawn, the Hullabazoo cafe inside the soft play and the new (2018) River Cottage Kitchen And Deli which is in partnership with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall over by the White Rhinos. They’ve pumped a lot of money into the food and drink side of things and the upgrades definitely show.
In terms of other family-friendly facilities, there are six toilet blocks around Whipsnade Zoo, all of which have baby-changing facilities. Parking is across the road, but it can get busy at peak times which increases the walk. There’s an indoor picnic area inside the Butterfly House which is handy if it’s raining, there’s the Jumbo Express steam engine and the majority of areas have pavements, which make it very accessible. The zoo also do many themed events throughout the year – from things like meeting Paw Patrol or Father Christmas, right through to sunset safaris and a silent cinema.
However, the zoo is huge – you’ll need to think about what you’re going to do when those little legs get tired. Over the years, we’ve done some combination of baby carrier, pushchair and scooter as there’s a lot of walking to be done. Alternatively, there’s a free bus that stops around the zoo, and as I said earlier, you can drive and park around the site – the latter gets you access to the ‘cars only’ Passage Through Asia too. Finally, it gets very windy and cold up there, so if it’s not the summer months, make sure you wrap up warm.
If you’re local(ish), an annual membership is something to strongly consider. We’ve had a membership three years running now and it’s been worth every penny. Our most recent one cost £243 for two adults and an over three (under threes are free) – it doesn’t take many visits to make your money back when a single adult ticket is around £25. In fact, since renewing in December 2017, we’ve already been five times and got our money’s worth.
What Does It Look Like?
What Do I Need To Know?
Address: ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU6 2LF
Opening Times: Seven days per week (except Christmas Day). 10am-5.30pm (Winter), 10am-6pm (Summer). Last entry is one hour before closing time.
Price: Adults (£28 at the gate / £22.90 online), Child 3-15 (£20.35 / £16.60), Child under 3 (free).
Toilets: Yes six separate blocks of toilets around the zoo. Male, Female and Disabled toilets all with baby changing facilities.
Cafe / Restaurant: Yes. Multiple places to eat, including Base Camp Restaurant, Base Camp Pizzeria, Hullabazoo cafe and River Cottage Kitchen And Deli.
Parking: Yes. One large, free car park. For £25 (£12.50 for members), you can also drive into the zoo and park in specified areas.
Public Transport: Nearest large train stations are approx. 10 miles away at Luton and Hemel Hempstead. Centrebus route 34/35 links Whipsnade Zoo with St Albans and Dunstable.
Duration: 2 to 8 hours.
Age Range: Babies and Toddlers (0-3), Young Children (4-8), Older Children (9-12).