ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

In May we had a spontaneous Saturday day out at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire.  Located in Dunstable, not far off the M1, it only took about an hour to get there from our house.  As the journey continued the sunny skies of London were replaced by dark clouds and I started to regret that I had a lightweight jumper and leather jacket on.  This regret only increased when we parked up and almost every other family was layered up and even had waterproofs.  Oops.

Luckily I always tend to have spare layers for the kids in the changing bag and Mini ATWWAH has his pram for shelter.  Just myself and Mr ATWWAH left to freeze then.  Oh, and Ronnie the Bear from Master ATWWAH’s nursery who we had to take care of for the weekend.  He went naked!

Parking and Entry Fees

There is free parking with a very short walk to the zoo entrance.  And, although Whipsnade Zoo isn’t a safari park there is also an entry option where you can take your car in and park in designated areas.  This costs £22 on top of the entry fee (entry fee currently around £22 for adults and £16 for children aged 3-15)  So, taking your car in too makes for a costly day out.  We decided not to and I can honestly say you don’t need to.  The zoo is huge but if you’ve got all day you should be able to get around most of it.  Master ATWWAH was almost 4 when we visited and managed to walk around all day with us.  It is a great option though if you are visiting with someone less able to walk around or if the weather is really wet at least you can take sanctuary in the car.  Personally I wouldn’t waste my money.

There are also different entry fees depending on if you book in advance and whether you’re a ZSL member so definitely check their website if you are planning a trip in advance.

I must admit when we paid the entry fee I felt it was pricey but by the end of the day I can honestly say this is a full day out and then some.

Animals Galore

We’ve visited London Zoo before and really enjoyed it but Whipsnade Zoo beats it hands down.  You can get much closer to the animals and although they are obviously not in their natural habitat it felt more open and wild than London Zoo.

The zoo is sorted into areas including Base Camp, Asia, Africa and Europe.

Base Camp is the first place you come to and it connects all the other zones.  It does feature some animals including chimpanzees, sealions and the red panda but also has an indoor and outdoor play area, a children’s farm and a steam engine ride, the Jumbo Express (you pay extra for this, £4.50 for an adult and £1.50 for a child) which takes you on a whistle-stop tour of the zoo and has a live commentary giving you lots of information about the animals you see and the zoo in general.

whipsnade - red panda

A hungry red panda at Whipsnade Zoo

Africa features lions, giraffes, white rhinos, meerkats and zebras amongst others.  In Europe you will find brown bears, penguins, wolves, moose and wolverines.  Finishing with Asia which features camels, sloth bears, rhinos, elephants, tigers and camels.


European Brown Bear at Whipsnade Zoo

baby giraffe

Shorter than a baby giraffe

Talks And Shows

Unsurprisingly the zoo features lots of talks and shows and also an opportunity to see some of the animals being fed including the lemurs, chimps, wild boar, penguins, camels and pelicans. Even if you miss the talk though you will often find members of staff close by who will chat to you about the animals you are looking at and answer any questions you may have.

We caught the Sealion Splash show at 4pm which was pretty entertaining although I often wonder how happy the sealions are about doing these shows.  I suppose they don’t know any different but it always sits a bit uncomfortably with me.

When you arrive you are given a leaflet with all the times of the talks and if there is a specific animal you are interested in then definitely check the times as some talks only happen once a day.

The zoo is very much about preservation and it’s interesting to read all the signage about the animals and find out which species are vulnerable or near extinction.


Ronnie, the nursery bear, with a camel who was not amused

Shelter From The Elements

The majority of the zoo is outside so definitely dress appropriately.  There are however shelters dotted around if the heavens suddenly open.  It is on top of a hill so it gets pretty windy so the shelter can be needed.  And the quirky thing about the zoo is you may find yourself sheltering with some of the animals.  We ran to get out of a shower to what we thought was an empty building only to find three or four white rhinos in there too.  And some of the outdoor shelters saw some of the animals which can roam around freely hiding there too.

white rhino

Sheltering from the rain with a rhino at Whipsnade Zoo

There is also a bus which circles the outside of the zoo which is free to use if you want to avoid the rain or are feeling a bit lazy.  If you have a pram with you though you have to fold it down before getting on the bus and put it in the boot.


If you are organised and a much better mum than I am, you can pack a picnic as there are lots of places to set up and eat your own food.  If not, there are three main places to eat.  Lookout Café in the Europe Zone which has great views of the countryside.  We had lunch in there.  As with most attractions the food is over priced but it tasted fine.  We just ordered sandwiches and had crisps and fruit.  There is also a microwave in there for anyone who brings along baby food/milk.  And, you can order soup as well as hot drinks.

We also went to the Wild Bite Café for a drink later in the afternoon and this serves lots of hot food including kids meals as well as sandwiches etc and had a lot more seating than the Lookout Café.  Apparently the food served there is all sourced locally and some is even grown in the zoo.

We didn’t eat there but there is also Hullabazoo Café next to the outdoor play.  I did spend some of the time around Hullabazoo trying to make sure Master ATWWAH didn’t notice there was a playground.  I know it is mean but I figured we can go to a playground any day and there was loads to see of the zoo.

If you buy a souvenir guide, which we did, take a look in it as at the back there are vouchers for money off in the shop and also the café.

Bits We Missed

As I said previously it is definitely a whole day out and we didn’t get to see everything.

The finishing touches were just being put to the Butterfly House with one of the largest butterfly biomes of any UK zoo.  There are also added extras you can do if you want to make the day extra special including Meet The Animals, Keeper For A Day and staying overnight at a Lookout Lodge.  We saw the lodges next to the café and they looked really tiny but I imagine an older kid would love spending the night there.  They have special family friendly nights and start at £149 per person.

Or, for a birthday party with a difference (and a big budget) you can do a BedBugs Sleepover, for kids aged 8-12 yrs, where they stay over in the BUGS area for the night, at £65 per child.

For the upcoming school holidays the zoo has partnered with the Deadly 60 to create the Deadly Explorer Trail where kids can complete challenges across the zoo to earn a certificate.  There is also a weekend (25-27 July) where Steve Backshall will be running Deadly Summer Shows  For more information visit the zoo’s website.

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  1. Whipsnade is somewhere that’s high up my list – along with London Zoo – so really interesting to see the review. Very cute red pandas and I like the idea of getting a bit closer too. Completely agree about the playground though! #countrykids

    • Thanks Cathy. We should start a campaign to ban playgrounds in attractions you pay for 🙂

  2. We love whipsnade, it’s only about 20 minutes from us too which is great.

    We’ve been a number of times over the years and I can’t wait to see the butterfly house, I didn’t realise they were adding that.

    Over time we’ve learnt to take our picnics etc with us but we always pay to take our car in, we walk lots of the places but love the options to go through the drive through and great to have our picnic safe etc without carrying around.

    Like you said though much better than London zoo and the views from the penguin enclosure is spectacular!

    • Thanks for your comment. I think you get to see some other places on the drive through don’t you?

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