Marwell Zoo, Hampshire review for families
In a nutshell
A fun-packed zoo set in a 140-acre park, home to hundreds of animals and 5 adventure playgrounds
What we tested
- Fun for kids
4.2A star rating of 4.2 out of 5.
- Fun for parents
4.0A star rating of 4.0 out of 5.
- Worth the money
4.4A star rating of 4.4 out of 5.
4.3A star rating of 4.3 out of 5.
- Family friendliness
5.0A star rating of 5.0 out of 5.
- Lots of info about the different animals, interactive exhibits, train ride to help tired little (or big) legs
- 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
COVID-19 safety update
Some facilities and attractions may be closed or restricted this year, due to COVID-19 – and there may be extra safety rules, pre-booking requirements or one-way systems in place. Please check Marwell Zoo's website before travelling or booking.
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When we visited:
Maxine visited with her two little boys, Ellis, 3.5 years and Theo, 2.5 years, and their dad. They went on a sunny Sunday, the weekend after the schools started back for the new school year.
MadeForMums Consumer & Reviews Editor Christy visited with her husband and children aged 2, 7 and 8 on a hot bank holiday in June.
What’s Marwell Zoo like since Covid-19?
- Visitors must book their timed entry online
- Marwell Zoo is limiting numbers each day to ensure guests can keep a safe distance
- All guests will need to book online before arrival, including members, under threes and carers. Tickets will be released seven days ahead
- Guests will need to choose a session time to visit, 10am - 3pm, 10.30am - 3.30pm or 11.am - 4pm.
- All payments are by card only and guests are encouraged to use contactless
- Guests are advised to scan the QR codes at admissions and other buildings
- Guests are asked to consider wearing a face covering in all indoor areas, as recommended by government guidelines.
- Guests are asked to keep their distance from other guests
- There are plenty of hand sanitising and hand washing stations around the park
- Staff will be cleaning a lot more, and guests are asked to help by avoiding touching fences, windows, signs and exhibits
- Guests are asked to not stay too long at one enclosure so everyone can see the animals. Guests must keep left on the wider paths and follow the one-way routes on narrow paths and through some animal buildings
- Playgrounds are open
- Café Graze and the Coffee Shop are open to dine in or takeaway and the outdoor catering outlets are open for takeaway service. The picnic huts are also open
- Guests are asked to consider wearing a face covering inside the gift shop
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 to visit Marwell Zoo in 2022?
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:
- £22.48 per adult
- £18.88 for kids aged 3-16 years
- £20.23 for adults over 60 and students
- Infants under 3 go free
Are there any discounts or cheap tickets available for Marwell Zoo?
Unfortunately not, and you can’t use Tesco Clubcard vouchers or any other kind of coupons to get a discount.
However, it's worth keeping an eye out for offers on sites such as Kidspass. And if you're thinking of making a mini break out of your visit, look out for accommodation + ticket offers on website such as Holiday Extras.
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.
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, 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.
The tour features various facts about different animals and gives times of feeds, updated daily.
If you want to find out more about the animals, the zoo sells guide books.
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.
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.
Looking for more things to do in the New Forest? Take a look at our roundup of the best family days out in the New Forest.
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.
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 and covered picnic areas.
What shouldn’t be missed?
Highlights for us included:
- 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
- Watching the 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"!)
- Giraffes can also be viewed in a large, covered space, giving excellent opportunity to see them up close as they wander by. Christy says: “Seeing the giraffes was one of our favourite moments of the day, we got really close to 2 of them as they stopped to graze. My 7 year old was nervous at first but then kept asking to go back!”
- The Wild Explorers Exhibit 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
- 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 pygmy hippos can be elusive, but are well worth waiting for on the (slightly stinky) indoor viewing platform closely overlooking their pool. “They were very cute and our girls thought it hilarious each time they emerged blowing farty bubbles in the water,” says Christy
- The zoo’s new BRICKOSAURS! Evolution display, a ‘herd’ of toy-brick dinos dotted around the park, is a great way to keep little ones focused as you explore. “Our girls enjoyed filling in the worksheet, answering the questions using information found with each dinosaur, and our toddler just enjoyed spotting each “di-sore!”,” Christy adds.
What else is there to see/do apart from the zoo?
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.
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 Marwell Zoo offer any VIP experiences?
Yes, you can book the exclusive Basecamp Upgrade package for your family between May and September for £295. You’ll be given a key to the secret garden in the heart of the zoo, with access to your own private safari-style tent complete with a luxurious breakfast hamper.
“From the moment we arrived to an empty carpark, enjoying early access to the zoo, to enjoying a discount in the gift shop before we left, we felt truly VIP,” says Christy. “We were greeted by our friendly host and driven through the park on a golf cart to our tent – this was a thrill in itself as the kids spotted rhinos, hippos and other animals without a person in sight!
“The peaceful walled garden was a haven in the hot weather, and we all thought the furnished tent was amazing. It was filled with games, animal masks, chairs and beanbags, but the best bit was the food and drink. Coffee, juices and an incredible hamper of fresh pastries, fruit and cereals. The pastries were deliciously fresh and my husband said it was the best yoghurt he’d ever tasted! After a bad night in a noisy hotel we’d arrived with 3 overtired kids, but the warm welcome and VIP amenities instantly smoothed our ruffled feathers and lifted our mood.”
Is it worth paying extra for an upgraded experience?
“It’s not cheap, but really worth considering for a special occasion, especially if you’re travelling with an early start,” says Christy.
“Our tent came with a cool box filled with fresh milk and ice packs, which you could also use to store a picnic lunch if you bring one. So you could have a VIP breakfast, view some of the animals and then enjoy a peaceful picnic away from the crowds at lunchtime.”
The package also includes discounts at the food and drink outlets and the gift shop. “When you take into account the fact that it includes up to 4 entry tickets as well as these discounts, we felt it was worth the money.”
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).
Christy agrees, adding: "There's so much to see, that even when my husband and I had to separate to deal with a nappy change or toddler tantrum, there was always a nearby playground or animal enclosure to entertain our older girls."
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. The park is very green and pleasant to walk around on a sunny day, but you’ll definitely want a stroller for babies, toddlers and even younger children who have recently dropped the buggy. Visitors with mobility issues should also be aware that’s potentially a lot of walking.
We brought our buggy 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 £2.90 or a tea for £2) and it’s open until 4.30pm.
There are various kiosks selling Marsfield ice cream, 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 jacket potato options and kids’ meals costing £5.95.
“Cafe Graze has plenty of tables but it was very busy when we arrived at 11.50am,” says Christy. “There was a very long queue for hot food and a shorter queue for drinks and sandwiches. We opted for Thai curry (£9.50), a jacket potato and standard kids' fare of chicken and chips, which all tasted fine and we thought the prices were pretty reasonable.”
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 or marinated chicken skewers or onion bhaji served in flatbread with salad.
It was much busier than the Graze Cafe on our visit, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, offers, facts and feed times to help you plan what 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 feeds or seeing some of the exhibits.
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 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:
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.
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 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.
Which hotels or holiday accommodations are near Marwell Zoo?
Marwell Zoo, Hampshire is in a well-placed spot on the edge of the of the South Downs National Park, near to the New Forest.
- The 3-star Marwell Hotel is right opposite the park entrance, and has family rooms, a pool and a sauna
- For a home-away-from-home feel, look for self-catering options on Airbnb and Vrbo
- Forest Holidays offers self-catering cottages in Blackwood Forest, a 30 minute drive from the zoo.
Marwell Zoo is a 25-minute minute drive from Southampton, where attractions include the Tudor House and Gardens and SeaCity Museum. It's also less than 20 minutes by car from Winchester. The nearby New Forest is full of family-friendly activities, such as Longdown Activity Farm and Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park (check for deals on Picniq).
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 but they got bored fairly easily.
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.
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.
Christy adds: "While our toddler enjoyed seeing the animals, it was our 7 and 8 year old who really enjoyed the day. They loved spotting the giraffes and hippos, the wide open spaces to run around in and the variety of playgrounds."