Edinburgh Zoo review

Our rating 
4.8 out of 5 star rating 4.8
User rating
edinburgh-zoo_205658

In a nutshell

A very family-friendly, welcoming zoo with a good range of animals, set in well thought out grounds with plenty to keep kids of all ages entertained all day
Fun for kids
5.0 out of 5 rating 5.0
Fun for parents
5.0 out of 5 rating 5.0
Worth the money
4.5 out of 5 rating 4.5
Facilities
4.5 out of 5 rating 4.5
Family friendliness
5.0 out of 5 rating 5.0
Pros: Lots of exciting animals to see; great play areas; educational and fun; interesting for all ages; easy to get around
Cons: Food and drinks are expensive; long queues for ice cream; it’s big, so you may not get to see everything

When we visited:

On a sunny, busy weekday during the May half term

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What age is Edinburgh Zoo best for:

Best for: Children aged 2-12 years

Still good fun for: Children aged 12+ years

Avoid if: You like peace and quiet – the zoo is busy and at times fairly noisy in the popular areas, such as around the penguin pool

How much does it cost?

  • Gate prices: Adults £21.95, children age 3-15 £9.95, under 3s free
  • Online prices: Adults £19.95 booked 3 days in advance, children age 3-15 £9, under 3s free
  • Prices include a free map, and a 10% voluntary donation towards conservation projects
  • Annual membership is worth considering if you’re planning repeat visits – £70 per adult, £110 for a joint adult membership, £35 per child aged 3-15

Are there discounts or cheap tickets available for Edinburgh Zoo?

Check Picniq for special offers and keep an eye out for deals on discount sites such as Groupon

Any extra charges once I’m there?

Once inside the zoo, all the exhibits are free. However food and snacks aren’t particularly cheap, so unless you bring your own be prepared to budget for the café and kiosks.

It’s hard but not impossible to avoid the huge gift shop (there is a side exit), however there’s something for all budgets – we bought a cuddly toy penguin and a good quality metal panda keyring for just £4 each.

How long will we spend at Edinburgh Zoo?

You’ll need a full day to see a variety of animals and make the most of the entry fee

What does Edinburgh Zoo offer for families?

Edinburgh Zoo is most famous as the home to the UK’s only pair of pandas – but, as we discovered, there’s much, much more to see. In fact, there are over 80 different kinds of animals at the zoo, spread out over a large area; and depending how you plan your route, it’s possible to see about two-thirds of them during a day’s visit.

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What shouldn’t be missed?

Highlights for us were:

  • The penguins, who are always on the move, were great fun – our kids loved the section of the pool where you can observe them swimming underwater
  • There are glass screens all the way around the penguin area where children can get up-close-and-personal with these funny, friendly birds
  • Definitely don’t miss the Penguin Parade at 2.15pm each day, where the penguins leave the pool area and waddle through the park
  • The monkey and lemur walk-throughs are also must-sees; enter special enclosures (with air-lock style gates) where you can walk among the animals, who seem unfazed by visitors, giving you the chance to watch them up close
  • The UK’s only pair of pandas are top of most people’s lists – although as pandas spend most of their time either eating or sleeping, they may well be snoozing when you visit
  • When your kids need a break from wildlife (yes, it does happen), the park has several well-designed playgrounds – we liked the one just up from the Pygmy Hippo enclosure, where you can find climbing frames and slides for both younger and older children in the same area, plus benches for adults to chill out and recover!

Is Edinburgh Zoo easy to walk round with small children?

As you enter Edinburgh Zoo, it’s definitely worth picking up the handy free map at the entrance which has suggested routes marked. Our only bugbear was that the zoo is built on a hill, and while most of the animals are in the main, lower section of the site, a few of the bigger species are situated at the top, which is a bit of a climb for little legs.

By the time we’d seen all the animals in the main part of the zoo, these higher enclosures were too far away for us to manage; so, if lions, tigers, anteaters or zebras are a must-see for you, it’s probably best to see these first.

Was it pushchair-friendly?

The park is almost entirely buggy-friendly, and it’s worth considering a buggy even for older toddlers, as there is a good amount of walking involved in the day

How busy does it get during the school holidays?

The zoo does get busy during holiday periods, but not ridiculously so – we arrived at 10.30am during half term to find a longish but not horrifying entry queue that was at least undercover and moved quickly. Once inside, the pandas are obviously a big draw but be prepared – there was a short one-in-one-out queue when we arrived at their enclosure, and this can get quite long during the school holidays.

What you need to know before you go:

  • Booking online before your trip will save you money and is well worth doing
  • Plan: we found it helpful to identify our ‘must see’ animals right at the start – in our case, the pandas and penguins – so that we could make a beeline for them first in case we ran out of time (or our kids melted down!) before we’d had a chance to see them
  • There are daily talks on specific creatures, from meerkats to reptiles. Check the Daily Talks section of the website so you don’t miss out ­– it even highlights those with an indoor space for rainy days
  • If you prebook tickets to see the giant pandas, leave plenty of time to avoid missing your allocated timeslot, as the zoo cannot guarantee you’ll see them if you’re late

Did it cater well for different aged children?

Younger ones will love watching the penguin parade, while school-age kids will enjoy learning more about the 80+ different animals. The zoo is geared towards younger families, but there’s still plenty to see for older teenagers, who may prefer the quieter parts of the zoo at the hillier, top part of the site, where they can see animals such as a zebra, lion and tiger. Older kids can take part in the fun ‘badge trail’ by finding and scanning QR codes by the different enclosures – download the app on Edinburgh Zoo’s website.

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What are Edinburgh Zoo’s food and drink facilities like?

There are three main eateries at the zoo, all suitable for families, with highchairs available

  • The smallest, Penguins Café, is best for light bites – it serves sandwiches (from £3.85 each), pastries, soups, salads and coffees
  • Grasslands coffee bar and restaurant is bigger, and serves street food, more traditional dishes such as macaroni cheese (£5.95 for a kids’ portion) and pizzas (£7.50 for adults, £5.95 for a kids’ half pizza)
  • Then there’s the Jungle Food Court, which sells burgers, hot dogs, pizzas and fish & chips and is open Saturdays and Sundays only during term-time, or every day during holiday periods. A meat or veggie burger here costs £6.95 with chips £2 extra; while a kids’ burger with chips included is £5.95
  • The burgers were billed as being ‘gourmet’ but to be honest, we didn’t find them particularly special, and wished we’d eaten at Grasslands instead, which seems better value for money

Where can you buy drinks, snacks and ice creams?

There’s a coffee shop in the food court, where you can buy reasonably priced kids’ packed lunchbags; and snack kiosks are dotted around the park. These aren’t cheap however – expect to pay around £2.65 for a can of fizzy drink; £2.90 for a latte, £2.50 for an ice cream and £1.45 for a packet of crisps.

Visiting on a hot day? Be prepared for huge queues at the Penguins Parlour ice cream stall by the penguin pool – there’s no shelter while you wait, and we eventually gave up. If you want an ice cream, a much better bet is to buy a wrapped one from the chiller in the Penguins Café, where there was no queue at all.

Can you take a picnic to Edinburgh Zoo?

Yes, you can bring your own packed lunch to eat in the grounds or dedicated picnic areas. Whether or not you take a picnic, it’s worth taking your own snacks as these are expensive.

What are the toilets like?

Toilet blocks can be found all around the grounds, and are helpfully marked on the free map (available at the entrance) although some are smaller than others, and not all have baby changing facilities. We visited on a busy day and didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes for a cubicle at any of the toilets we visited; however, if you’re potty training, you might want to take a travel potty if your child will need access to a loo quickly!

MFM tip: If you’re near the penguin pool, save yourself a trek to a dedicated block by using the facilities inside the restaurants and cafes instead, which are more modern.

How well does it cater for disabled visitors?

While there are some steep steps and slopes near the top of the zoo site, most of the zoo paths are pushchair and wheelchair friendly

  • There’s a free wheelchair-accessible mobility vehicle for anyone with difficulties getting around
  • Manual wheelchairs are also available to hire for a £10 deposit
  • Visit the website to download a copy of the accessibility map before you go
  • Admission is free for carers (one per paying visitor)
  • The car park has several disabled parking spaces, and parking is free for blue badge holders

Opening dates and times:

The zoo is open all year round apart from Christmas Day. Opening hours are 10am-6pm April to September; 10am-5pm October and March; 10am-4pm November to February. There are various events and activities throughout the day, including animal feeding time, the penguin parade, and opportunities to handle reptiles. For exact times, see the website and schedule in the entrance area when you arrive.

Best time to visit:

It can get busy during the school holidays, and is generally quietest in the mornings, and straight after lunch on both weekdays and weekends

How to get to Edinburgh Zoo:

Edinburgh Zoo is in the west of Edinburgh, around a 15-minute drive from Edinburgh Castle.

  • If you’re driving, the postcode for your SatNav is EH12 6TS
  • Regular buses go from Edinburgh city centre to the zoo – the Lothian 12, 26 and 31 services all stop outside, as does the 100 Airlink service from Edinburgh Airport or the city centre, and the 900 CityLink from Glasgow
  • Expect to pay £14-£20 in an Uber taxi from the city centre

Do you have to pay for parking?

The zoo car park costs £4 per car per visit and has two electric car charging points as well as some disabled spaces. However, it’s not huge, so if it’s full, you can park in the streets surrounding the zoo

Worth a long car journey?

As zoos go, this is one of the best in the country, and there’s plenty to keep the whole family occupied. It’s great for a special holiday activity if you’re from out-of-town; or, if you live locally, it will provide hours of entertainment even on repeat visits (you can focus on different areas or just have a run-about in the grounds), so it may be worth buying an annual membership pass.

Which hotels or holiday accommodation are near Edinburgh Zoo?

Being located in Scotland’s capital city means Edinburgh Zoo has lots of accommodation options for families nearby, including:

Nearby attractions for a longer day out:

Head into the city for more attractions – Edinburgh Castle is a 15-minute drive away, and the National Museum of Scotland and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is also close by.

MFM VERDICT:

We loved our trip to Edinburgh Zoo – our kids said it was the best bit of their holiday! We all particularly loved the penguins, and while the pandas were asleep when we visited, it was still amazing to see them up close. In fact, there is so much to see and do here that our only real complaint is that we didn’t have enough time to see all the animals. We’ll definitely be making a return visit!

Visit Edinburgh Zoo’s website

See more reviews of Edinburgh Zoo on TripAdvisor

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Intro to me:

We’re a family of 4 from London, with 2 adults and 2 children, aged 3 and 6