Marwell Zoo, Hampshire review

Our rating 
4.2 out of 5 star rating 4.2
User rating
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In a nutshell

A fun-packed zoo set in a 140-acre park, home to hundreds of animals and 5 adventure playgrounds
Fun for kids
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Fun for parents
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Worth the money
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Facilities
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Family friendliness
5.0 out of 5 rating 5.0
Pros: Lots of info about the different animals, interactive exhibits, train or tractor ride to help tired little (or big) legs
Cons: You may not see all the animals as they could be hiding or asleep, plus - the main café is a bit of a trek if you’re on the other side of the zoo

When we visited:

I visited with my two little boys, Ellis, 3.5 years and Theo, 2.5 years, and their dad. We went on a sunny Sunday, the weekend after the schools started back for the new school year.

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What age and family is Marwell Zoo best for?

Best for: all ages but especially children aged 6-11 years

Still good fun for: babies, children aged 2-5 years

Avoid if: you’re not an animal lover

How much does it cost?

Prices for a day ticket for Marwell Zoo vary depending on the time of year – it’s a bit cheaper to visit in winter (around £3 less per adult).

During the rest of the year it costs:

  • £21 per adult (this includes and optional donation as Marwell Zoo is an action orientated conservation charity) or £18.88 without the donation
  • £17 for kids aged 3-16 years (with donation) or £15.29 without donation
  • £18.50 for adults over 60 and students (with donation) or £16.64 without donation
  • infants under 2 go free

Are there any online / advanced booking discounts?

Unfortunately there’s no discount for booking in advance online but it does give you fast track entry, handy on a busy day.

And similarly you can’t use Tesco Clubcard vouchers or any other kind of coupons to get a discount.

But if you travel by bus you can get a 10% discount and there are also group discounts available.

Will I be spending lots of money once I’m in there?

Once you’ve paid for entry it is possible not to have to spend any more money once you’re in the zoo as you can bring a picnic.

There are optional costs: the rail train is £2.50 per person for a 15-minute round-trip. But we saved money by catching the free road train with a tractor at the front and the boys didn’t feel as of they were missing out.

For once we weren’t forced to walk through the gift shop so it is possible to avoid it if you don’t want to spend any extra.

And while some of the items are quite pricey (£5,000 for a painting from the gallery anyone?) there is also a section of pocket money items ranging from £1.50.

All of the profits made from the sales are go back into the charity so the money goes towards the care of the animals and conservation projects.

Are the any handy guides, maps or apps for our visit round the zoo?

Yes – the zoo has launched a new app: we mainly used it for the map as the only printed maps available are in the guidebook, and this does have an audio tour as part of it.

The tour features various facts about different animals and gives times of talks and feeds.

If you want to find out more about the animals, the zoo sells guide books at £2.99.

Marwell Zoo’s free app does also have its own audio tour but we mainly used it for the map as the only printed maps available are in the guidebook.

Can you feed the animals?

If you want to feed the animals the zoo offers a range of animal experiences that include feeding giraffes and penguins, starting from £100.

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How long will we spend at Marwell Zoo?

The zoo recommends a stay of 4-5 hours and you definitely need at least one full day to explore Marwell Zoo properly.

We had a super early start and arrived for when it opened at 10am and left as the zoo closed at 5pm. We booked a hotel to stay overnight so we didn’t have to travel back home to Kent on the same day and were very glad we did as we were all utterly exhausted.

We did find we had to rush round some parts as the zoo covers 140 acres. And if, like us, you have toddlers in tow walking at a snail’s pace, you might need two days to really explore the zoo properly.

That said, we did find Ellis and Theo started getting a little bored and preferred to ride on the road train, which had a tractor at the front of it.

How family friendly is Marwell Zoo?

The zoo is geared towards families — aside from the animals themselves there are 5 different playgrounds for both older and younger children as well as educational exhibits a rail train and a tractor road train that was the highlight of our visit for my 2 little boys.

How easy is it to find your way around?

The zoo is fairly easy to navigate in that the trail goes round in a loop but we did sometimes struggle to find individual areas as we found the signs a bit confusing.

The only way to get a printed map is if you buy a copy of the guidebook. But there are various maps on noticeboards located throughout the zoo.

You can download the zoo’s app – it’s fairly simplistic but also has a map. Or the zoo’s website has a PDF of the map that you could print off at home and bring with you on the day.

Would it still be a good day out in bad weather?

Our day involved lots of walking and as quite a few of the animals were outside a trip to Marwell Zoo is ideally suited to a sunny day.

But rain wouldn’t make your visit a total washout as there are plenty of indoor exhibits, covered picnic areas and you can get on and off the road train to avoid getting soaked going round the zoo.

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What shouldn’t be missed?

The tractor ride

The highlight of the day for my boys was the tractor ride — the road train that runs in a loop round the zoo. We loved it too as it was a welcome break from walking and allowed us to sit back and look at all the animals and take in the zoo as a whole.

The talks and animal feeds

There are daily talks and animal feeds where staff are on hand to answer any questions you might have. We saw the giraffes having their second breakfast and were all mesmerised by the size of the giraffe’s tongue (around 20″!).

The Wild Explorers exhibit

This shows how white rhino, scimitar-horned oryx and Grevy’s zebra are studied and observed in the wild. As well as views of the animals from a raised boardwalk it also features a discovery zone.

The Tropical House

As its name suggests the brand new £8 million Tropical House, a bit like a rainforest in a giant greenhouse, covers 2 floors and gives you a chance to get up close to wildlife, flora and fauna in tropical conditions.

The Lemur Loop

The Lemur Loop is an outdoor walkway where you can see four different types of lemurs and there’s also an indoor exhibit.

The Explorers Trail

The Explorers Trail is also popular with small children, although ours were still a bit too small to appreciate it.

What else is there to see/do apart from the zoo?

Playgrounds

The zoo has 5 playgrounds suitable for varying ages dotted around the grounds. It’s worth bearing in mind though that a couple of these were pretty small and I’d call them more of a play area.

Road train

If you’re feeling tired or need a bit of help getting round the zoo there’s a free road train, which was a big hit with my 2 little ones.

It runs in loop round the zoo with stops at the gift shop, giraffes, tigers and the snow leopards.

We took our double buggy – there’s a carriage at the back for bags, buggies and wheelchairs, you just need to fold them down.

Rail train

The zoo also runs a 64-seater scenic rail train from spring to October. It’s a 15-minute round trip but you can’t take buggies on-board, you need to leave them on the platform opposite the Penguin Cove.

It costs £2.50 per person and children under 3 years go free. You can pay by card at the station as you board. If you want to pay by cash you need to buy tickets in advance from the gift shop.

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Are there any scary/boring elements that young or sensitive children might not enjoy?

My boys are 3.5 years and 2.5 years and can be quite sensitive, but they weren’t frightened by anything.

My youngest did start to get a bit bored if we stayed too long at any of the animals and they were a bit too little to appreciate the animal talks, although they were keen to see the animals being fed.

Does it cater well to children of all ages?

Yes, the zoo does cater well for children of all ages. There are interactive exhibitions for older children, full of fascinating facts (we saw different types of animal poo in one of them).

There are playgrounds for different ages and the rail train and road train are exciting for smaller kids.

What to bring:

It takes about half an hour to walk from one side of the zoo to the other so if you have toddlers I’d recommend bringing a buggy as they’re likely to get tired.

You can use the road train to get round but as it has a compartment for buggies we brought ours anyway to be on the safe side. And by the end of the day our 2 were totally exhausted.

What food is available?

Coffee and snacks

If you’re desperate for a cuppa when you arrive the closest coffee shop is in the gift shop (you can grab a cappuccino for £2.60 or a tea for £1.75) and it’s open until 4.30pm.

Otherwise you can get yourself a coffee at the snack station up the hill by the penguin toilets. It sells savoury pastries (£3.45 for a Cornish or cheese pasty) as well as hot drinks but it was closed during our visit.

There are various kiosks selling Marsfield ice cream (£2.25 for a single scoop), hot and cold drinks and snacks, located across the zoo. But quite a few of these are only open during the summer weekends or school holidays

The main restaurant – Graze cafe

The zoo has one main restaurant, the Graze café, located near the tigers and meerkat enclosure. We brought a picnic with us so only ventured inside for a coffee and much needed rest just before it was about to close. By this time it was pretty empty, and there wasn’t a huge amount of food to choose from.

There were tables inside and also plenty of covered seating outside too. The food looked pretty average and as you might expect on a day out, with kids’ meals costing £4.50 for a main and 2 sides or £4 for a kids’ box consisting of a cheese roll, packet of pombears, dried fruit and a choice of milk, water or juice.

Some of the food for grown ups (the £7.50 main meals) didn’t look especially appetising, sitting on a counter in ceramic dishes that appeared to have been left out for quite a while.

For those after healthier options, as well as cakes and biscuits you can also buy fruit and yogurt. And the Graze Cafe also has a microwave that you can use to heat up baby food.

Bushtucker Bites kiosk

The Bushtucker Bites kiosk, by the playground in the Fur, Feather & Scales area, has a slightly bigger selection of food than some of the other kiosks selling wraps or bloomers (£4.45) or marinated chicken skewers or onion bhaji served in flatbread with salad (£4.95).

It was much busier than the Graze Cafe but this was probably due to it having lots of picnic tables outside and it being a sunny day and its location, opposite the children’s playgrounds.

Can you take a picnic?

Yes. There are plenty of picnic areas dotted throughout the zoo, all just off the main path. If the sun is out you can sit outside at one of the picnic tables, just watch out for the wasps.

There are also a couple of indoor picnic areas, one near the tigers and the one we stopped off at, the Wild Explorers Picnic Lodge not far from the hippos.

There was plenty of seating indoors and there were also 3 high chairs.

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What to watch out for:

  • Some of the playgrounds are pretty basic: for example, the one for younger children, by the penguins, is quite small, so don’t big it up to your kids as they might be disappointed. It’s fine for a 5-10 minute run around but not the kind of play area you’d spend any length of time at. We found the best playgrounds were the wooden one across from the Tropical House and the 2 playgrounds next to the picnic tables in the Fur, Feather & Scales section
  • We found some of the signage a little confusing and ended up going into some of the animal areas through the exit as opposed to the entrance, but it wasn’t the end of the world. It can be easy to miss a couple of the animal attractions, the otters and the Life Among The Trees with the primates if you stick to the main path
  • There’s only one main place to eat (the Graze Café) – other than smaller kiosks selling snacks – so you may want to combine a stop at the tigers and Tropical House with lunch there as that’s what it’s nearest to

What are the toilets like?

The zoo has 5 different sets of toilets spread out across the park:

  • the Graze café toilets
  • penguin toilets
  • tiger toilets
  • fur, feather & scales toilets
  • the snow leopard toilets

The penguin toilets are closest to the main entrance but you do have to go up a bit of a hill to get to them.

There were 8 cubicles and a baby change facility in the toilets but there were no toilets adapted for children or low-level sinks in it, although they did have these facilities in some of the other toilet blocks.

We didn’t have to queue for any of the toilets while we were there and there was plenty of loo roll.

All of the toilets have a disabled cubicle. The zoo also has a changing places toilet for people with greater needs, located at the snow leopard toilets, and is accessible with a radar key.

Pushchair/wheelchair access and special needs:

We brought our double buggy in the vain hope the boys might have a lunchtime nap but they were both far too excited to go to sleep.

We were really glad we brought it though as the animals are quite spread out across the zoo and the day involved a lot of walking.

So if you want to avoid any complaining about being tired I’d recommend bringing a pushchair with you.

There were a couple of hilly bits and we were all pretty tired by the end of the day but the hardest bit for us was convincing the boys to stay in the buggy.

And if you do find it too much you can always hop on the road train as there’s a compartment at the back for buggies.

Are there wheelchairs available?

Manual wheelchair hire is available at the entrance of the zoo if booked in advance (phone 01962777407).

It’s free but there’s a £20 cash refundable deposit. Most of the raised wooden walkways are suitable for wheelchairs but use an anti-slip surface that may make it a bit bumpy for them.

It’s also worth noting that the indoor picnic areas, formal gardens, a couple of the enclosures and the Fur, Feather & Scales toilets are accessible via gravel.

Also at the Fur, Feathers & Scales area there’s an interactive map that you touch but it’s set at standing height so may be inaccessible to wheelchair users. The gift shop has wide aisles for wheelchair access.

What about hearing loops?

Hearing loops are available at the admissions area, reception and in the gift shop. There are also mobile hearing loops available for the daily talks but you need to let staff know on arrival you’d like to use this service.

Do carers go free?

Yes – one free carer is admitted with one paying guest with accessibility needs. You can bring guide dogs into the zoo but access is restricted in a few areas due to the sensitive nature of some of the animals.

When you arrive you can get a map showing you the places guide dogs aren’t allowed to go.

For guests that may be visually impaired the zoo recommends downloading its new sensory trail.

Marwell Zoo has also won a Makaton friendly award and some signing can be included in daily talks.

What to do before you go to Marwell Zoo:

We downloaded the Marwell Zoo app before our visit, it has a map of the park and an audio tour as well as times of the daily talks to help you plan what and when you want to see.

Because the zoo covers a fairly big area I’d recommend checking out the map and planning in advance some of the things you don’t want to miss, eg the animal talks and feeds or seeing some of the exhibits.

While, as already mentioned, there’s no discount for buying tickets in advance online (and they’re non-transferable and non-refundable) if you do pre-book it’ll save you having to stand in a long queue if it’s super busy as you can use the fast track lane.

Whatever you do, avoid singing the “We’re Going to the Zoo” song to small children before you go. They may insist, as my two toddlers did, in playing it on repeat in the car for the entire journey there.

Opening dates and times:

Marwell Zoo is open all year round with the exception of Christmas Day and Boxing Day. It opens at 10am and last entry is 90 minutes before the zoo closes at 5pm.

Is a visit worth a long car journey?

While we did have a fun day out, for us personally as a family I’m not sure it was worth a 7am start and nearly 2-hour drive to get to Marwell Zoo.

The boys were very excited and loved seeing the animals but I think at 3.5 years and 2.5 years they were still a bit too small to fully appreciate it and did have moments where they were getting bored and just wanted to run around.

They preferred to ride on the road train/ tractor and I think they’d have been equally as happy going to a farm closer to home.

If you live closer, are already in the area, or your children are a bit older then I’d definitely recommend a visit.

How to get to Marwell Zoo:

By car:

We drove to Marwell Zoo from Kent via the M25 and M3 using the venue’s postcode SO211JH.

We had a pretty early start so we broke up the nearly 2-hour drive by stopping for breakfast at Cobham services.

The zoo has a free car park, located by the main entrance, with plenty of space to leave your car.

By bus:

There are two buses that run Mon-Sat, Stagecoach 69 and Xelabus X9, but the zoo doesn’t recommend you taking either of these as it’s a bit of a trek to get there from the closest bus stop – it’s a 20-minute walk along an unpaved road with busy traffic.

The M1 Eastleigh to Marwell bus service is due to resume again in 2019. If you do brave the bus you get a 10% discount when you show your ticket at the entrance.

By train:

The nearest train stations are Southampton Airport Parkway (7 miles), Eastleigh (5 miles) and Winchester (8 miles).

Is there free parking?

The zoo has free parking and there was plenty of space. Accessible parking spaces are available closer to the entrance at no extra charge.

MFM verdict:

As a family of 4 with 2 young toddlers we had a fun-packed day at Marwell Zoo. The boys loved seeing a whole variety of animals and enjoyed watching the giraffes at feeding time but they got bored fairly easily and were most excited by travelling on the tractor road train.

So they may well have been equally as content spending the day at a farm more local to us and going on a tractor ride.

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If you have slightly older children then it’s definitely more worth making the journey to visit as the exhibits are interesting and educational and they would be able to appreciate the animals more.