MadeForMums reviews are independent and based on expertise and testing. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission, but this never influences our product choices.

Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park, Kent review for families

Our rating 
4.7 out of 5 star rating 4.7
User rating
Port Lympne safari park

In a nutshell

A breeding sanctuary for rare and endangered animals and home to more than 900 animals, this family-friendly wildlife park in Kent offers as close to an authentic safari experience as possible in the UK
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
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Family friendliness
5.0 out of 5 rating 5.0
Pros: Feels like a proper safari experience, animal welfare is top priority, lots to explore, plenty of food and drink options, no queues
Cons: Additional animal encounters or experiences cost extra, a lot of walking involved, no guarantee of seeing animals on the safari

COVID-19 safety update

There may be additional safety rules or pre-booking requirements. Please check Port Lymphne Reserve’s website before travelling or booking.

Visited by:

Laura, an editor, visited with her husband and their sons Odhran age 6 and Reuben age 4, on a sunny Sunday at the end of May.

Advertisement

Mum of two Maxine also visited Port Lympne Reserve for our review, joined by her sons Ellis age 4 and Theo age 3, and their dad, during peak season in the summer holidays on a grey and partly rainy weekend.

What age is Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park, Kent best for?

  • Best for: Adults and children aged 3+
  • Still good fun for: Toddlers

How much does it cost in 2022?

Ticket prices are the same year-round and cost £27 for an adult (£29 including a donation, unless you unselect before entering payment details), £24 for a child aged 3-15 years (£26 with donation) and under 3s are free. So, the cost for a family of four with two children aged 3 and over would be £102 or £110 with donation. It’s advised that you book online in advance, and you can do that here.

Are there any discounts or cheap tickets available for Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park?

  • Port Lympne Reserve occasionally does flash sales so it’s worth keeping an eye on the website and its social media. And if you pick up a leaflet (you usually find them in tourist board stands) they offer a £3 discount for walk-up on the day entry.
  • You can use your Tesco Clubcard vouchers to buy Port Lympne Safari Park day tickets – every 50p in vouchers turns into £1.50 to use towards the ticket price. Just make sure you give yourself at least one week for the tickets to arrive.
  • Check website like Kids Pass and Picniq for any special offers.
  • If you’re considering staying overnight, look for deals combining accommodation and safari tickets on Holiday Extras.

Do safari rides and animal encounters cost extra at Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park?

You can choose to upgrade your experience at Port Lympne Reserve, at a cost – which can include anything from a baboon scatter feed at £15 per person, to a ‘meet the gorillas’ experience at £150 per person.

The standard truck safari is included in the park entry cost. But there are also a number of paid-for safaris on offer at prices ranging from £45 to £95 per person. These allow more scope for going off-road and driving within closer proximity to specific animals and include a close-up feeding session with the giraffes, rhinos or both.

It’s worth noting that some of the experiences have a minimum age of 7+. We enjoyed the giraffe encounter, which was suitable for all ages and cost £75 per person.

Are there any other additional charges once I’m there?

  • If you bring your own picnic with you, it is possible to get away with just spending the cost of the entrance fee. Fellow reviewer Maxine says: “I’d say this would be unlikely as you’re probably still at the very least going to want to buy a drink (£3.30 for a cappuccino) or a snack, and the food is quite pricey.” I agree. After the truck safari, we popped to the café by basecamp and spent £7.20 on two Smarties ice-creams and a regular hot chocolate.
  • There are guidebooks you can buy, although the various talks and audio on the safari mean this isn’t necessary, unless you’d like one as a souvenir.
  • Dodging the gift shop, however, is impossible as you have to go through it to get in and out of the park. Maxine says: “The boys started picking up toys the second we walked in, but I managed to distract them. So, you may want to factor this in and budget for an extra treat. There were some very cute animal soft toys, although steer them away from the big ones which cost over £100, unless you’re feeling flush.”

How long will we spend at Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park, Kent?

The Reserve’s website recommends 4-5 hours to fully enjoy the park, but we arrived at 10.15am and didn’t leave until close to 6pm.

After the safari truck, the kids played in the park by the café, then a ranger took us out for our 30-minute giraffe encounter. After that, we had afternoon tea in the Mansion, which was followed by an opportunity to watch the gorillas being fed. We then wandered around the dinosaur forest and finished up the day relaxing with a drink in the Mansion terrace and enjoyed the gardens and fish in the fountains.

Fellow reviewer Maxine also spent a lot of time here, and says: “We intended to get to Port Lympne when the gates opened but with various toilet stops along route it was closer to 11am when we arrived and, had we not been staying overnight, we wouldn’t have had time to see everything.”

Do you drive your own car around the Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park?

No. It’s important to note that you don’t drive around this safari park in your car. You park up before entering the park, and then take the safari truck from basecamp.

You could choose to just walk around the park, but certain parts of it are inaccessible by foot, so it’s advisable to jump on board the safari truck.

What does Port Lympne offer for families?

Working with Port Lympne Reserve and its sister park Howletts, The Aspinall Foundation is a charity, working to promote wildlife conservation. It creates and supports programmes to protect and reintroduce animals born in the UK or held in captivity abroad back into the wild. So, a trip here is a great opportunity to talk to children about animal conservation.

Maxine says: “We thought it was a really interesting family day out, as my two little boys got to learn about different animals as well as see them interact close up on the safari experience.”

Family days out can sometimes be a bit hectic and all-go, but this was one of the most relaxing days out I’ve ever experienced. It’s not like a zoo, as you get the chance to see the animals in a more natural habitat, and everything is spaced out so you can enjoy wandering for hours.

There are play areas and beautiful landscaped gardens. The Mansion is stunning, and Odhran and Reuben spent ages just running around and watching the fish in the fountains in the gardens out front.

The truck safari (included in the entry price) kicked the day off to a great start and Odhran and Reuben were jiggling about in their seats and making little sounds of excitement before we’d even set off.

The rangers and guides at Port Lympne Reserve clearly love what they do and feel passionate about the animals. The ranger on our giraffe encounter shared lots of really interesting facts and it was an educational (but in a fun way!) experience for the kids (and adults!).

Is there a map or app you can use to find your way around?

We were handed a printed map at the entrance and found it easy to navigate our way around using that. There is an app, however fellow reviewer, Maxine, didn’t find it especially user-friendly or helpful.

What are the queues like at Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park?

The introduction of pre-booked safari slots means long queues are no longer an issue – we were straight in and straight on the truck. Port Lympne Reserve is so sprawling, I can’t imagine it’s a place that ever feels too busy.

What do you need to know about the safari truck ride at Port Lympne?

When you book your entry tickets, you must select a time to go on the safari truck, and if the safari is missed alternative times will not be offered. We chose to go on it as soon as we arrive – but keep in mind, the Reserve’s website recommends arriving to the park 60 minutes prior to the safari time. The safari loading area, at basecamp, is about a 15-minute walk from the entrance, and we hadn’t considered the distance from there to the truck boarding point so ended up running to make it in time.

The safari truck takes about 45 minutes, so you’ll probably want to make sure little kids have been to the toilet before you board. And another tip for the truck safari – try to sit on the left-hand side. It does a loop around and doesn’t turn back on itself. But most of the animals are to the left-hand side so you’ll get a better view and be able to take better pictures/videos from that side.

Is it worth paying for the additional animal encounters at Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park?

The animal encounters and experiences are pricey – the giraffe encounter we went on costs £75 per person. But it’s a magical experience and worth the money. Odhran fed a giraffe at Chessington a few years ago, and while that was enjoyable and cost a lot less, it wasn’t as special as this experience at Port Lympne Reserve.

A ranger took nine of us out in a truck to meet the giraffes. The website says the encounter will last 30 minutes, but we were out for more than an hour. The giraffes came over straight away and it was a thrilling experience to watch their long necks leaning down for the maple branches in our hands. Seeing their faces right up close was incredible. My boys were particularly fond of Gary the giraffe and have mentioned him several times since!

It’s a memorable experience, so, if you can afford it, or if you’re looking to make a birthday or other occasion feel extra special, then I’d highly recommend. One of the women on my truck had returned to enjoy the encounter for a second time, having first been just two months earlier. I can definitely see us returning for another encounter, either to feed the giraffes again or to get up close to one of the other animals.

What shouldn’t be missed?

Highlights for us were:

  • The safari truck. “The boys were totally mesmerised,” says Maxine. “We were on a dusk safari and saw all sorts of animals eating and playing, including rhino. And some giraffe walked right next to our truck, which was pretty special.”
  • The dedicated animal talks and events, which run throughout the day. Keep an eye on noticeboards around the park and at the Mansion reception to make sure you don’t miss out on anything. We had so much packed into our day that we only had time for the gorilla talk, where you can watch them being fed and listen to a member of staff tell you all about them – we all loved this.
  • A walk around the dinosaur forest, where you can come face to face with some incredible life-sized dinosaur models, is sure to be a hit with young children.
  • The Mansion and the landscaped gardens are an attraction in themselves, so, it’s worth taking time to enjoy this part of what Port Lympne Reserve has to offer too. We relaxed at the end of the day with a drink on the terrace. The sun was shining, and it couldn’t have felt more peaceful and relaxing.

Are there any attractions or activities for rainy days at Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park?

Unfortunately, not really. Port Lympne Reserve is all about seeing the animals and if it’s raining, you’ll need to bring waterproofs as everything is outdoors apart from the restaurants and a few of the food outlets.

They do however have a ‘rainy day guarantee’ for all visitors who have booked in advance – if you visit before 31 December 2022 and it rains continuously for 2 or more hours between 10.30am – 5pm, you can return to the Reserve free of charge within 30 days of your original booking. To claim your rainy-day tickets, you must show your online booking confirmation to a member of gatehouse staff before you leave.

Maxine says: “The park is open year-round but as it’s all outdoors it would be better to visit on a day when the sun’s out.” We were lucky to visit on a hot, sunny day.

Does the safari park have any unusual animals to see?

Port Lympne is home to over 900 animals including critically endangered species. You can see Kent’s only Rothschild giraffe, spectacled bear, western lowland gorillas, black rhino, Barbary lions (these have been extinct in the wild since the 1940s), tigers, clouded leopard, drill (one of the most endangered African primates) and various other rare animals.

What was the Dinosaur Forest like at Port Lympne?

The dinosaur forest is a lovely addition to the Reserve and adds that something extra for the kids.

If your child is dinosaur crazy, they’ll undoubtably love this part of Port Lympne. Though, as a parent who has done the rounds of dinosaur experiences, I felt the dinosaur forest wasn’t a patch on the animatronic dinosaur experience at Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire.

Maxine, who visited on a day when there was a special show on, says: “The dinosaur forest was much bigger than I expected. I never realised just how many different dinosaurs there were, each dinosaur had a sign with some info about them. Theo, 3 years, can be quite sensitive and we were a bit unsure as to how he might react to the huge dinosaur statues, but he was fine with them, even venturing up close. He didn’t fare quite so well with the animatronic T-Rex dinosaur we saw on our second day and got upset by it. Ellis, 4 years, noticed a man’s feet sticking out of the bottom, so understood it was just a costume and he was fine.”

How do you get around the park?

Port Lympne Reserve sprawls over 600 acres and is spread out, with parts that are a little steep and hilly. You can’t drive your car inside the park, you have to leave it in the car park and go on foot.

There are four key zones in the park: Basecamp, Carnivore Territory, Dinosaur Forest and Primate Trail. The park is then split into different areas. The South American/South African and Asian experiences are only accessible by safari truck, and some areas are only accessible by golf buggy, which are available to overnight guests staying in certain accommodation, and there is one section of the park that’s only accessible on foot.

We went on the safari truck as soon as we arrived at the Reserve, so this gave us a good overview. Later, we walked from the Mansion to see the gorillas, up to the dinosaur forest, then back to the Mansion. My 4-year-old ended up on his dad’s shoulders, while I trailed behind coaxing my tired 6-year-old along with the promise of a lemonade. Fellow reviewer Maxine’s boys also grew weary of all the walking.

Bikes and scooters (except mobility scooter) are not permitted.

Does Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park cater well to children of all ages?

Yes, as there are lots of different animals for them to see and learn about conservation, making it interesting for children and adults of all ages.

What to bring:

  • For younger children, you’ll need a buggy. There are designated buggy parks/areas as you can’t take the buggies on the safari trucks.
  • If there’s any chance of rain, it’s worth bringing wellies and waterproofs, as everything is outside. If it’s a sunny day, be sure to bring sun block and hats.
  • Make sure you wear comfortable footwear. I was tempted to wear my nice sparkly sandals but was so glad I’d opted for my comfy trainers as there is a lot of walking involved.
  • There are various food outlets including a couple of restaurants, but you may want to bring your own picnic/snacks for either lunch or dinner to save money and give you more time to see everything.

What to watch out for?

  • Spotting all kinds of animals on the truck safari isn’t necessarily guaranteed. “Just because you’re visiting a wildlife park doesn’t guarantee you’ll actually see all of the animals,” adds Maxine. “At Port Lympne they try to keep the environment as natural as possible, so it really does depend on the animals as to whether they’re out and about. We stayed the night at Bear Lodge and sadly didn’t see any bears while we were there.”
  • You don’t want to miss your safari truck experience so make sure you’re at the Reserve in plenty of time before the set-off time you have selected. They run roughly every 15 minutes and last around 45 minutes, and it’s worth planning your day around this.
  • While there are various baby changing facilities across the park none of the toilets are adapted for children, so you may want to bring a potty with you.
  • In your hurry to get to basecamp and the main part of the park, make sure you don’t accidentally miss out on seeing the tigers and lions, located in the top part near the main entrance and Pine Lodge café.
  • Despite pictures on the website and at the car park, it’s worth noting there are no elephants at Port Lympne – these are instead at the sister park, Howletts.

What are the food and drink facilities like at Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park, Kent?

What I liked about the food options at Port Lympne is that there’s plenty on offer whether you’re after family favourites or something a little bit more special.

Maxine agreed that there are good food and drink options at Port Lympne Reserve. These include: the beautifully restored Garden Room (originally the Mansion’s stable yard) – perfect for special occasions or a Sunday roast; afternoon tea at Port Lympne Hotel; Mansion Bar & Terrace; Babydoll’s Wood-Fired Pizza; Bear Lodge Restaurant; Pinewood Café; Basecamp Café and Meerkat Shack. None of them are especially cheap, but it is worth bearing in mind that the Aspinall Foundation that runs Port Lympne is a charity.

We enjoyed afternoon at the Mansion, with a view out over the terrace. This will set you back £40pp but includes the park entry cost, so if you take that into consideration, the afternoon tea is really only costing you £13pp. But, slightly complicating things, that doesn’t include the truck safari (normally inclusive of entry cost). If you’d like to do that too, then the afternoon tea will cost you £45pp. The surroundings were lovely and relaxing, and the afternoon tea added another experience to make our day special. The food was lovely and fresh and filled our tummies.

They were able to accommodate my veggie needs and they tailored afternoon teas to children – the boys’ sandwiches were cut into the shape of Mickey Mouse heads and there dessert were more child-friendly, including a rocky road and cupcake with sprinkles.

We both visited the base camp café and found it similarly priced. I bought two Smarties ice-creams and a hot chocolate for £7.20. Later in the day, I visited the Mansion Bar & Terrace, where I bought a bottle of beer, a medium glass of wine, two lime and sodas and some nuts, costing nearly £20.

Maxine added, “We had lunch at the Baby Doll’s Wood Fired Pizza restaurant which is just next to the Dinosaur Forest. I’d overheard people complaining about a 45-minute wait the previous day, so we made sure we were there at 12pm. We were easily able to get a table, either inside or you can sit outside, and the service was fairly quick. So, you may want to get there early to avoid any queues. Both the kids (£7 for a tomato and mozzarella) and adult (ranging from £12 for a tomato and mozzarella to the one we had with red onion chutney, goat’s cheese, rocket and parmesan at £16) were massive so you might want to share or ask them to box up any leftovers and take them with you. And if you’re not in the mood for pizza they also have pasta and salad dishes on the menu.”

Can you take a picnic?

Yes, you can bring your own food – and this would certainly help to keep costs down. There are picnic tables scattered throughout the park and we saw plenty of people sat at the tables by basecamp.

Maxine says: “We decided to eat our picnic lunch by the Pinewood Café near the main entrance – handy as we could also grab a coffee before starting off on our adventure.”

What are the toilets like?

We used the toilets in the Mansion house, and they were clean and quite fancy, with nice hand products (and plenty of hand sanitiser).

Maxine says: “Although there were baby changing facilities in the toilets, none of them were adapted for children. We brought a potty with us so if you do have small children, it may be an idea to do the same. There are some toilets by the entrance/exit but there wasn’t much space in the ladies’ loos and the baby changer was right in front of where the door opens into so it would be very tricky to change a nappy in there as every time I went in there was always a queue of people in front of it.”

How well does Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park cater for disabled visitors?

  • While there are paths in the walking sections, some of these are steep and hilly – because of this, there are selected routes suitable for wheelchair users. Howletts Wild Animal Park, 30 minutes for Port Lympne, might be a better option for wheelchair users, as it’s a smaller site and entirely flat.
  • The entrance to Port Lympne is via a ramped footbridge and there is a designated disabled parking area in the car park at the base of it. Disabled toilets are available throughout the park.
  • Manual wheelchairs are available on site at no extra charge. The park has a wheelchair-accessible truck for the inclusive safari, but it’s advisable for those requiring a wheelchair to book in advance so the necessary arrangements can be made.
  • Unfortunately, because of the nature of the park, dogs of any kind – including guide dogs – are not permitted. And there are no British Sign Language guides or braille signs available.
  • With so much space there are lots of spots you can find that are less busy if someone is in need of a bit of quiet time.

Is the safari park pushchair friendly?

All of the walking sections of the site are suitable for pushchairs – but as we mentioned before they can get steep in places. Buggies cannot be taken on safari trucks, but there are areas to park pushchairs.

What to do before you go to Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park, Kent?

Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and pack up waterproofs if you think there’s a chance of rain.

I didn’t tell the boys much about what we were going to experience as I didn’t want to build up their expectations too much, fearing maybe the giraffes wouldn’t play ball when it came to feeding (note: the giraffes came straight over. But if not, rangers will patiently wait until you get the most from your experience).

Maxine took a different approach. She says: “Before we went, I checked out the website and showed the boys pictures of some of the animals they might see to get them excited.”

If you plan on visiting the dinosaur forest (well worth it) download the virtual reality app which will bring the dinosaurs to life.

Opening dates and times:

Port Lympne is open year-round with the exception of Christmas Day. In the winter season (29 October – 31 March) it’s open 9.30am – 5pm (and 9.30am – 2pm on Christmas Eve). From 1 April – 28 October it’s open 9.30am – 6.30pm.

How to get to Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park:

  • The safari park is in Kent and the address is Port Lympne Reserve, Aldington Road, Lympne, Hythe CT21 4LR. The postcode should be used for your Satnav if driving. It’s on the B2067, 5 minutes from J11 of the M20.
  • Catch the train to Ashford International station and take a bus or taxi from the domestic station side to the park.
  • The Stagecoach East Kent number 10 bus runs between Ashford and Folkestone via the Reserve. Please check the Stagecoach website for bus timetables.

Is there free parking?

There is lots of free parking by the main entrance to Port Lympne. Maxine stayed overnight at Bear Lodge and it has its own separate car park for guests. But she notes: “You can’t check in till 4pm and then you have to leave by 10am so if you do want to go to the park again the morning you check out you have to drive back round to the main car park.”

Worth a long car journey?

Yes. This is a unique day out and we all had a fantastic time. The boys were super excited on the safari truck and during the giraffe encounter. We’ll be back, and I hope to visit their sister park Howletts sometime soon.

Maxine agreed, commenting: “Ellis and Theo have been saying for ages that they wanted to go on a safari, and they were utterly enthralled by all the animals. I’m lucky enough to have been on safari in Kenya and, although I didn’t manage to see all the animals in Port Lympne as close as I did there, it was still a pretty amazing experience for the whole family, especially when some giraffes walked literally right next to us. It was a long car journey for us, over 2 hours, but without a doubt it was worth it.”

Which hotels or holiday accommodation are near Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park?

  • Port Lympne has multiple options to stay on site, including the elegant Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve plus luxurious and unique accommodation like Lion Lodge (giving guests the chance to sleep with lions right by their window, but at the cost of £1,650+ a night) and the Treehouse Hotel
  • More affordable options – although still from £199 a night – are the glamping accommodation such as Pinewood
  • To find off-site hotels near to the Safari Park, check Booking.com.
  • For self-catering cottages close to Port Lympne, visit Holiday Cottages.
  • For family-friendly home away from home ideas, look on Vrbo and  Airbnb.

Nearby attractions for a longer day out:

Port Lympne Reserve is a whole day out in itself, but if you have longer in the area, it’s sister park Howletts is nearby, and you might want to make the most of its proximity to the coastline, with a trip to Sandgate beach. There’s the Kent Downs AONB for scenic family walks, and Leeds Castle is about a 30-minute drive away. About a 50-minute drive north is Diggerland Kent.

MFM verdict

I’m keen to take Odhran and Reuben on a real African safari but as they’re probably still a bit too young to fully enjoy it, not to mention the flights and huge cost, I think Port Lympne Reserve is a great alternative, offering a wonderful opportunity to get up close to rare animals. We all loved it and, strangely after a busy day out, we all came back feeling relaxed and refreshed. It’s a day that you can tailor so suit you needs and budget, whether you pay the standard entrance fee and bring a picnic, or budget allowing, bump it up to a luxury family day out or special short stay.

Maxine says: “Ellis and Theo haven’t stopped talking about their trip to Port Lympne. They love learning about animals and were filled with questions after our day out. What’s great about the experience is that children of all ages can see animals they otherwise might not get he opportunity to and we found it a really informative day. And the animals all appeared to have lots of space to be able to roam around.”

Visit Port Lympne Safari Park, Kent, website.

Advertisement

See more reviews of Port Lympne Reserve Safari Park on TripAdvisor.