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Paignton Zoo, Devon review for families

Our rating 
4.6 out of 5 star rating 4.6
User rating
Flamingos at Paignton Zoo

In a nutshell

Great Devonshire attraction for adults and kids of all ages with more than 2,000 animals - from giraffes to teeny-tiny bugs, across an 80-acre site in Paignton
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
4.0 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: Friendly staff, wide variety of animals, and big enclosures, health and happiness of the animals feels like top priority
Cons: Big site, some paths in need of repair, some building work underway, not all exhibits open

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 Paignton Zoo’s website before travelling or booking.

Visited by:

Professional journalist Laura visited the zoo along with her partner and their 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter, as part of a short break to Devon. They visited on an overcast but warm (20 degrees) weekday at the end of June.

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What’s the zoo like since Covid19?

Pre-booking your visit online is advisable because the zoo limits visitor numbers by using timed ticketing to manage visitor capacity, and some staff wear personal protective equipment.

Protective screening is in place at contact points, and card payments are preferred where possible.

There are also hand sanitiser points around the zoo. There were also QR codes you could scan on the animal exhibits to get a virtual talk from a keeper about each animal.

Due to the growing number of Avian Flu cases in the UK, there are footbaths outside the Tropical Trails and Arid Lands bird enclosures. All visitors will be required to use these upon entering and exiting these areas.

What age is Paignton Zoo best for?

Best for: Children aged 2-12 years

Still good fun for: Children aged 13+ years

How much does it cost?

Prices vary depending on whether you’d like to include Gift Aid and if you book in advance and buy online. Online prices are adults from £18.55, children from £13.90, under 3s go free. Full details can be found on the website.

 A time slot must be booked for every visitor including under 3s and students need to provide a valid student card.

Are there discounts or cheap tickets available for Paignton Zoo?

Not that I’ve found and you can’t use Tesco Clubcard vouchers towards the cost of your ticket. However, it’s worth having a look on sites such as Kidspass and Picniq before you book to see if they’ve got any special offers on. And if you’re going to visit as part of a mini break, look out for accommodation and ticket offers on Holiday Extras.

Membership allows you unlimited zoo entry for 12 months and one free entry to Marwell Zoo, Chester Zoo, Colchester Zoo, Edinburgh Zoo, Dublin Zoo, Twycross Zoo, Highland Wildlife Park and Fota Wildlife Park.

You also get two free visits to their sister zoo, Newquay Zoo. Look out for competitions and special offers on their website too.

Is it good value?

The money from the entry fee goes to the Wild Planet Trust, which they can claim Gift Aid on. The entry fee seems standard for a zoo entry and cheaper and more educational than most theme parks.

Any extra charges once I’m there?

Parking is free, but on the way in and out of the zoo, there is a large gift shop – this did cause problems for us, as the 3-year-old instantly threw a tantrum because we wouldn’t buy her a stuffed toy.  

There is a restaurant, food kiosks, and talking telescopes offering information and advice while getting a close-up view of some of the animals for £1 a pop.

How long will we spend at Paignton Zoo?

This will depend on the age of your children and their attention span. Our 3-year-old decided that she was scared of the big cats, so we quickly swished past them. However, we spent a lot of time in the Crocodile Swamp, with the giraffes (primarily because one did a ‘big yellow wee’ and we had to wait and see if any others were going to do the same) and the exotic birds.  

There are also a few play areas and picnic areas to spend some time in.  You could probably do the whole thing in a few hours, but you could easily spend most of the day there.

What’s it like for families?

The good thing about zoos is that they’re more or less equal interest to everyone. There are no long queues; there’s no being left to guard the bags while everyone else goes on a ride, and you’re bound to find at least one animal you fall in love with (hello, marmosets!) or be impressed by.

It’s hard not to be amazed by the beauty of animals you probably wouldn’t get to see elsewhere. Be aware that some free-roaming peacocks are on-site and a fairly impressive seagull population – particularly around feeding time.

As well as outside play areas, there is a soft play area which our little one enjoyed.

What shouldn’t be missed?

Highlights for us were:

  • Crocodile Swamp – we were all fascinated by this. It’s a great exhibit where you can see the crocs, plus it’s indoors and nice and warm.
  • The Sketch Aquarium. It’s in the soft play area and your little one colours in a sea creature of their choosing, scans it and appears in a wall-sized, digital aquarium.
  • The food: There are some cabins and kiosks on the site, and we were happily surprised by the price and quality of the food available.
  • Roaming peacocks – after initially being a bit scared of them, our daughter decided they were pretty cool and got cross if they wouldn’t put on a display.
  • Enclosures were a good size, and the animals all seemed very healthy and happy.
  • Large selection of animal species to see and learn about.
  • The Wobbly Bridge.

Is it easy to navigate Paignton Zoo?

There is some signage, but a couple of times, the exhibits we were looking for vanished from the signposts mid-way through our journey there. Visitors were given a map, but it was very simplified, and there was no clear route to follow.

There were arrows painted on the pathways – possibly a remnant from a Covid19-implemented one-way system rather than a suggested route to follow, but they had mainly worn away.

What you need to know before you go to Paignton Zoo:

  • The zoo’s website is updated frequently with information about closed exhibits, work being undertaken on the site, and safety issues – some birds were in lockdown as a result of Avian Flu, for example.
  • The majority of the attraction is outside.
  • Booking in advance is advised for school holidays and Bank Holidays
  • Visitors are strongly advised to book online to secure a choice of date and best price.
  • Online prices are not available at the tills.
  • Some animals are a little elusive – as is their prerogative.

What to bring:

  • Most exhibits and animals are outside, so dress appropriately for the weather.
  • Make sure you have a water bottle with you.
  • There are plenty of picnic spots around the site if you want to bring your own food.
  • You’ll need some comfy shoes – leave the stilettos at home.

How busy does Paignton Zoo get?

We went outside the school holiday period, mid-week, and the other visitors were a school trip, families with pre-schoolers and older people. Bank holidays and school holidays are likely to be much busier.

Did it cater well for different-aged children?

Yes. As well as the animals and bugs to see, there is a 10-minute nature trail, although this isn’t suitable for buggies or wheelchair users.

There are 4 outdoor play areas near most of the kiosks, meaning that you can enjoy relative peace and quiet while necking a coffee. The Jungle Fun soft play area is divided into three play zones for different age groups: under 2s, 2-5 years and 5 – 12 years.

Was it pushchair friendly?

Paignton Zoo is based in a natural environmental park and is considered reasonably wheelchair and pushchair friendly. Some hills are relatively steep, so if you’re pushing a buggy, expect to feel the burn occasionally. Luckily, there is plenty of seating around the site.

There were a few joins between pathways that had a small kerb – a couple of times, the buggy came to an abrupt stop as we tried to negotiate them, and we also spotted a wheelchair user needing some help to get over a similar join.

What are the food and drink facilities like at Paignton Zoo?

The Island Restaurant is in the heart of the zoo, overlooking a lake. It offers a varied menu, including salads, wraps, hot meals, children’s picnic boxes, and hot and cold drinks.  

There’s also a range of takeaway kiosks scattered across the site. The day we were there though, only one or two were open at any one time, and a sign in The Island Restaurant explained that they were short-staffed and asked patrons for patience.

Where can I buy coffee and snacks?

The Kiosks are probably your best bet – the Great Griller Burger Shack offers a range of burgers, fries and hot/cold drinks.

The Hangout sells drinks, hot and cold snacks and ice cream and the Lakeside cabin serves freshly ground coffee and Marshfield Farm ice cream.

Can I bring a picnic to Paignton Zoo?

Yes. There are plenty of outdoor eating spaces at  the zoo, ranging from grass lawns for sunny days to undercover picnic areas where you can avoid the rain (or scorching sun if you get lucky with the weather.)

What are the toilets like?

There are five toilet blocks across the site, with disabled facilities, changing rooms and nursing rooms for breastfeeding mums who may like a little privacy. The toilets were clean, child-friendly and had appropriately zoologically-themed doors, too.

What’s Paignton Zoo like for children with special educational needs (SEN)?

  • The zoo might be challenging at busier times, particularly for children who struggle with crowds.
  • The wide paths, spacious eating areas and outdoor spaces should stop feelings of overwhelming anxiety when busy.
  • The botanical gardens are a lovely place to relax and escape the crowds.

How well does it cater for disabled visitors?

  • Wheelchair access to most of their exhibits, shops, and restaurant. Path slopes are pretty gentle, with gradients less than 1 in 12.
  • Free entry for carers or personal assistants provided they are above the age of 12 and the person with a disability has a Blue Badge, disability living allowance letter or P.I.P. award documentation.
  • Fully trained assistance dogs welcome
  • Accessible toilet facilities, with the zoo registered with Changing Places, the accessible toilet campaignDedicated parking spaces for visitors with a Blue Badge or disabled parking permit
  • Wheelchair and scooter hire
  • Paignton Zoo has worked hard to make the site as accessible as possible and has created a map to show the best routes around Paignton Zoo, you can find the Accessibility Map here and full accessibility details on the website

Opening dates and times:

Paignton Zoo is open to guests from 10 am every day (apart from Christmas Day), with last admissions at 4.30 pm and closing time 6pm. Closing time varies according to season.

Best time to visit:

The zoo is generally quietest after lunch. During peak periods, you can expect crowds due to the attraction’s popularity. If you prefer a more peaceful experience, perhaps visit outside the summer.

How to get to Paignton Zoo:

It is located on the A3022 Totnes Road, 1 mile from Paignton town centre.

  • Set your Sat Nav for TQ4 7EU. Paignton Zoo is located on the A3022 Totnes Road, one mile from Paignton town centre.
  • Take the direction to Paignton from the A380 following the brown tourist signs marked with an elephant (- fun fact, they do not have elephants at Paignton Zoo).
  • The zoo is right next to a Morrisons supermarket.
  • If arriving by bus, routes 22, 66 and Stagecoach Gold all stop right by the zoo. For more information please visit stagecoachbus.com.
  • Paignton train station is located in the town centre and can be reached from Exeter and Plymouth stations within an hour. Onward travel to Paignton Zoo is by bus (the Paignton bus station is right opposite the train station) or a 20 minute walk along Totnes Road.
  • There’s a free secure bike rack behind the main entrance – please ask staff at the Information Desk where to store bikes safely and they will be happy to help.

Do you have to pay for parking?

No, parking is free.

Worth a long car journey?

Yes. We’ve visited two other zoos this year, and Paignton Zoo has been my favourite. There was a great selection of animals, plenty of open space, reasonably priced food and friendly staff.

Which hotels or holiday accommodations are near Paignton Zoo?

As a seaside town, you’ve got plenty of choices for staying in Paignton. Booking.com has a wide choice of accommodation. Or, if you fancy a self-catering cottage with a sea view, Holiday Cottages UK have some stunning options.

I like the look of Channel View, Park View Rooms, the P&M Paignton Residence and the Palace Hotel.

Nearby attractions for a long day out:

There’s lots of things to see and do in the area. Check out Paignton Beach or Goodrington Sands to feel some wind in your hair and sand on your toes. The Splashdown Waterpark is worth a trip, but it’s an outdoor park, so you’ll need decent weather. Plymouth Aquarium is a good indoor option.

Other places worth a look are the underground caverns, model village, 800-year-old Torre Abbey, historic pier or Agatha Christie’s famous riverside residence.

MFM verdict:

We had a good day at Paignton Zoo, and I was impressed by the facilities, the friendliness of the staff and the excellent value it represented. 

Our 3-year-old had been pretty cranky on the other excursions in Devon, so it was nice to see her relax, engage with and learn about the animals she was seeing. Free parking was a bonus, and we spent much longer at the zoo than I had expected, with the little one wanting to go back and see some of the animals repeatedly.

Visit The Paignton Zoo Website

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