ZSL Whipsnade Zoo Days Out Review
In a nutshell
A wonderfully educational, exciting and fun day out for big and small animal-lovers of all ages at the UK’s biggest zoo. Home to over 3,500 animals, set in 600 acres of stunning grounds, this zoo and safari park will have everyone smiling from ear-to-ear
What we tested
- Fun for kids
5.0A star rating of 5.0 out of 5.
- Fun for parents
5.0A star rating of 5.0 out of 5.
- Worth the money
5.0A star rating of 5.0 out of 5.
5.0A star rating of 5.0 out of 5.
- Family friendliness
5.0A star rating of 5.0 out of 5.
- Fantastic and fun day out for all the family, educational, suitable for children of all ages
- Can be an expensive day out, open-air so day can be limited in poor weather
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 Whipsnade Zoo's website before travelling or booking.
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When we visited:
We visited midweek during the last week of the summer holidays in August.
What’s ZSL Whipsnade Zoo like since Covid-19?
- All paying visitors need to pre-book tickets online. You can arrive at any time after the time shown on your ticket
- Indoor enclosures have reopened, but visitors are asked to wear a face mask
- Visitors will continue to be encouraged to wear masks when inside retail and catering spaces, and indoor exhibits
- To keep the animals in the walkthrough exhibits as safe as possible (the areas where visitors share the same space as the animals) visitors aged over 11yrs, without exemptions, will be asked to wear facemasks
- Indoor dining is available at the Base Camp restaurant and River Cottage
- The Hullabazoo indoor play area has reopened, as well as the steam train
- The brand new outdoor play area is also open
- The regular talks programme isn't running, to keep visitors and staff safe by avoiding people gathering in groups in one area. Check the Experiences pages for the latest information about what's running and availability
- At regular stops around the Zoo there are hand sanitizer and handwash stations
- Visitors are asked to use contactless payments
What age is ZSL Whipsnade Zoo suitable for:
Best for: All ages
How much does ZSL Whipsnade Zoo cost?
- Standard Adults £30
- Standard Children: 3-15 years £19.50
- Under 3s: Free
Prices include a voluntary 10% donation to help fund the zoo’s wildlife conservation work.
Car entry is an additional £25, allowing you to drive through the zoo’s Asian area where some animals roam freely.
Are there discounts or cheap tickets available for ZSL Whipsnade Zoo?
Yes – at the time publication Picniq was offering up to 20% off tickets. You can become an ZSL member for unlimited entry into ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo plus various perks – packages start from £82.50 for 1 year for a child, and £123.75 for adults.
Can you use your Tesco Clubcard to get a discount?
Yes, you can use Tesco Clubcard vouchers – if you spend £0.50 in vouchers, you get £1.50 towards entry.
Is it good value?
Although a day here is expensive, it’s definitely worth the cost as a special treat. Also, much of your entry cost goes towards conserving animals at the zoo and their active conservation projects in 50 countries around the world.
Any extra charges once I’m there?
There are additional costs for the Jumbo Express train (adults £4.50, child £2). For a family of 4 without membership or car entry you would need to budget for around £100 for the day.
There is a giftshop at the entrance and exit but you do not have to walk right through the middle of it.
However, there are some lovely toys, clothes and other animal merchandise on offer, so it might be worth budgeting a small amount of each child to spend as a treat.
How long will we spend at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo?
This is a full day out and we recommend that you arrive at 10am to make the most of your day. There is plenty to do here so you could visit many, many times and never see the same thing twice!
What does ZSL Whipsnade Zoo offer for families?
ZSL is a charity, with conservation projects in 50 countries around the world – so there’s a feel-good factor included in your ticket price.
As the UK’s largest zoo and one of Europe’s largest wildlife conservation parks, Whipsnade is home to 3,500 animals.
Most are kept in large enclosures, whilst a handful roam freely in the park. This is a real family attraction, where you can see everything from giraffes, elephants, rhinos, cheetahs, lions and tigers, through to chimps, sea lions and penguins.
What shouldn’t be missed?
Highlights for us were:
Wallabies giraffes and elephants
The red-necked wallabies roaming freely around the park, much to my children’s delight!
The kids loved the gentle giraffes and elephants, who roam freely in their enclosures, quite close to the visitors.
These animals really are awesome and not being in a position to go on safari and see them in the wild, this felt like the next best thing.
On the day we visited, we were lucky enough to see the ‘tiger cam’ where 4 super-cute newborn tiger pups were being nursed by their mum.
The Butterfly House, where hundreds of butterflies fly freely, was also another massive hit and my two girls loved seeing the different species and were keen for one to land on them!
At the end was an interactive Metamorphosis Zone, where you can study every stage of the caterpillar-butterfly life-cycle.
My 6 year old was fascinated by this, while the 3 year old loved the massive cockroach enclosure next to it! Much to the children’s disappointment (apart from mine!) the tarantula was hiding that day.
My younger child adored the hands-on Hullabazoo Farm, which houses miniature donkeys, pygmy goats, pigs and piglets, sheep and lambs, rabbits, guinea pigs and chicks.
Next to the farm is a fantastic adventure playground, which includes 6 towers for kids to climb, with cargo nets, rope bridges and slides, as well as a zip wire, monkey bars and balances beams.
There’s a special area for younger visitors with swings, slides and a roundabout. We visited on a beautiful sunny day and practically had to drag the girls kicking and screaming to see the animals but they easily would’ve spent a few hours here.
The Jumbo Express steam engine weaves through part of the park. The kids loved the magic of the whistle, steam and waving at onlookers as we passed!
This is subject to weather conditions and ticket availability – book your tickets early.
Birds Of The World
The Birds of the World display was informative, interesting and the free-flying birds swopping low over our heads was a delight.
Is there anywhere to hide in case of a shower?
Head for the Hullabazoo Indoor Play soft play, outdoor play area, suitable for children up to the age of 10. Sessions are free here but are booked on a first come, first served basis, so we recommended you book early.
This makes an excellent wet weather option and there is a tea, coffee and snack station next door for weary mums, dads and carers!
Much of the zoo is in the open air, so your day can be limited if the weather is bad (and you don’t come with the right gear).
Was ZSL Whipsnade Zoo easy to navigate?
Yes, the zoo is easy to navigate with clear signs, plenty of maps and a free bus, whizzing around it.
What you need to know before you go:
Plan your day and check timings for animal experiences
We printed out maps for our girls to plan which animals they wanted to go and see
There’s a handy tab on the very helpful website to plan your day, including details of the daily animal shows.
As you enter the zoo there’s a clear sign about the daily free talks, starting at 10.30am, to help you plan your day.
There are also a series of experiences you can book, including:
- Meet the Animal experiences
- photography workshops
- Keeper for the Day
- Zoo Explorers (a 21-day course for children, aged 5 to 7)
- Junior Zoo Academy (a 2-day course for children, aged 8-10)
My 6 year old is desperate to book the Lookout Lodge, an overnight experience to see what the animals get up to after dark.
Be aware of what you can and can't take with you in terms of scooters, bikes and other 'wheels'
Children are allowed scooters under parental supervision, and there are also micro-trikes here available to hire, which looked pretty nippy and fun.
Bicycles, roller-skates and skateboards are not allowed.
Will we see all the animals the zoo has?
As with most zoos, some days the animals will be out and very visible and sometimes asleep and hidden, but spotting the animals is all part of the zoo fun!
What to bring?
We found it useful to bring our girls’ scooters, so they could get around the zoo quicker than walking.
Our 3 year old doesn’t use her buggy regularly but this was useful for when her little legs got too tired for the scooter or walking.
Was it pushchair friendly?
It was very pushchair-friendly and there are pavements and flat paths throughout the zoo.
Did it cater well for different aged children?
Yes, the zoo really is ideal for children (and adults) of all ages. Toddlers and younger children will enjoy seeing the smaller, petting animals in the Hullabazoo Farm, which is conveniently located next to the soft play area and adventure playground.
Older children will love the talks, displays and array of educational fun on offer. There are so many animals, from lions, giraffes, rhinos and cheetahs, through to the delightful butterfly house – whatever your child’s interests, they will find something to see.
It is big (over 600 acres), so can be tiring for younger children on foot, though there is an option to drive and a free bus.
What are the food and drink facilities like at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo:
There are plenty of places to eat dotted throughout the zoo, so you are never too far from some sustenance!
- Base Camp restaurant - which has an electronic ordering system for ease and sells a range of family-friendly fare
- Base Camp Pizzeria
- Visitor Centre Café
- Station Store Picnic Shop
- Africa Outpost
We bought sandwiches and children’s picnic items at the Hullabazoo Kids Café (5 for £5). It was fine – a drink, sandwich and choice of crisps, jelly, fruity snacks - but we would’ve liked a vegetable option.
River Cottage Kitchen and Deli
The most recent addition is the River Cottage Kitchen and Deli, opened in partnership with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Located opposite the white rhinos, the view on the far side of the restaurant of the Chiltern Hills is stunning.
What about coffees and ice cream?
We stopped at the deli for a delicious Jude’s Ice Cream (£2.50 for one scoop). The food here uses seasonal quality ingredients and is more expensive than the other eateries, so has more of a destination feel about it.
We also came across a handful of ice cream and drinks vans on our travels, so there are always options available.
Can you take a picnic?
If you want to prepare a picnic there are lots and lots of picturesque spots to stop and enjoy it. I’d also recommend taking plenty of water and snacks as the food costs can quickly add up.
It would’ve been good to have more picnic benches by the children’s playground, as these got filled very quickly when we were there, but there are many places to stop.
What are the toilets like?
There are lots of toilets, clearly signposted and marked throughout the zoo. We used many different ones throughout the day and there was never much of a queue and they were all clean with lots of soap and loo roll.
Some had lower basins for children. I saw many disabled loos and baby changing facilities.
How well does it cater for disabled visitors?
The zoo is considered reasonably wheelchair-friendly, and there is free entry for 1 carer or free car entry into the zoo per paying disabled adult visitor.
There’s ramp access to a number of animal houses, arena and restaurants. There are also clearly-marked disabled toilets.
Non-motorised wheelchairs are available to hire on a first-come, first-served basis.
Assistance dogs are not currently permitted in the zoo, though they hope to be able to welcome certain dogs to the zoo in the near future
For more information visit ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s accessibility page
Opening dates and times:
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is open every day of the year, apart from Christmas Day. It opens at 10am and closing times vary, depending on the time of the year.
Best time to visit:
It is busiest Saturday-Monday, and quietest Tuesday-Thursday
How to get to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo:
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is 20 minutes from the M25 and signposted from the M1. The postcode for your SatNav is LU6 2LF.
It’s also relatively near local public transport – Luton and Hemel Hempstead are the nearest train stations, 10 minutes away.
The zoo is also served by Centrebus route 34/35 but there are no buses on a Sunday.
Do you have to pay for parking?
No - there is free parking opposite the zoo.
Worth a long car journey?
The zoo is in Dunstable in Bedfordshire and is such a fantastic day out and it’s definitely worth a long car journey to get here.
If you are local or live nearby, even better – the membership benefits are wonderful.
Which hotels or holiday accommodation are near ZSL Whipsnade Zoo?
Being close to Luton means there are plenty of accommodation options nearby, including:
- Holiday Inn Express Dunstable has family rooms a mere 9-minute drive from the zoo
- The Linton Hotel Luton has a choice of family rooms, and some nice extras like a tennis court and fitness centre
- For a home-away-from-home feel, look for deals on HomeAway.co.uk and Sykes Cottages
- Find family-friendly hotel deals near ZSL Whipsnade Zoo on Booking.com
Nearby attractions for a longer day out:
For more family fun, Gulliver’s Land in Milton Keynes is just 35 minutes in the car, but if you want the kids to burn off some energy before getting back in the car, cool off at Snozone Milton Keynes. Or, if you want more animals, you could visit Woburn Safari Park.
We simply loved Whipsnade Zoo and would visit every weekend if we were nearer (and had membership!).
From graceful giraffe and wizened elephants lumbering just metres away, through to stroking miniature ponies, pygmy goats and rabbits, we were all were thrilled, excited and delighted in equal measures with the array of wonderful wildlife here.
As well as the visual delights, there is so much to learn and do, you would never ever get bored.
The daily shows are brilliant and so interesting and the guides who wander around are very knowledgeable and helpful. A wonderful day out.
Visit the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo website
See more reviews of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo on TripAdvisor
Intro to you:
We visited midweek during the last week of the summer holidays in August but the zoo is so big that is never felt busy. My family consist of myself, husband and our 2 daughters aged 3 and 6
Georgina is a writer, editor and journalist with over 20 years in the industry. She regularly contributes to the likes of Family Traveller, Metro and other titles, writing about parenting and travel.