ZSL Whipsnade Zoo: Review (The Busy Papa)

Squiggle and I have been to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo many times; infact, when she was younger, we were members for several years. We love it there. However, Aaron and the two papalites had never been before… until recently, when they visited to explore the wonders of Whipsnade Zoo for the first time, including the new aquarium (recently opened in 2019). Here is the review…

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo: Review (The Busy Papa)

*Disclosure: We were given complimentary entry in exchange for review. As always, all thoughts and opinions are our own.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is ginormous. Seriously, it is so big! Before I visited, I was oblivious to this. Despite being informed beforehand; it just didn’t register how inherently large 600 acres actually is. However, Whipsnade does not suffer for its size. It might seem bold to launch with this, but the Bedfordshire based zoo is a newly discovered favourite of mine. One of the reasons for this is how it utilises its sheer size and how memorable the scenery is.

Whipsnade Zoo scenery

ZSL Whipsnade zoo, Bedfordshire scenery #whipsnade #zoo

A Few Things to Know

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is open every day of the year except Christmas day. Admissions start at 10am every day but closing varies from season to season, so be sure to visit their website for more information. Ticket prices vary and there is an additional charge of £12 (at the time of writing) if you opt to bring your car into the zoo itself. The membership options offer good value for money so check those out, especially if you might become a regular visitor. (The membership gives access to both ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and ZSL London Zoo, so worth noting this too!)

About Whipsnade Zoo

The actual site is split into four core areas. Europe, Africa, Asia and Base Camp. As you might guess, there is a continental theme to most of these. Animals are largely situated within the continent of their natural habitat with some minor exceptions.

Whipsnade Zoo map

I mentioned the size of the environment and to offset this Whipsnade has hireable toddler-friendly trikes, a regular bus service, various rest stops, a train (the Jumbo Express) that weaves through the different territories but finally you can pay to bring in your car and move about the areas in the comfort of your own vehicle. I would argue that the car is the best option for most. Especially families, those with disabilities and individuals who struggle to walk long distances, and even moreso if waiting for the (albeit regular) busses is likely to cause tension. For autumnal and winter visits (as I did), I would say a car greatly enhances the experience.

Whether you choose to enter with car or without; be sure to make a day of your visit. Arriving any later than 10:30/11am and you might struggle to see all of the excellent and amazing animals. We arrived at 11:45 and ended up missing the renowned sea lions on our visit. We will look forward to catching those next time though hopefully! (Katie pointed out this is another benefit to both membership and car entry; you can just focus on smaller sections of the zoo sometimes, rather than trying to see everything everytime).

Europe

When you opt to enter with your car, it naturally guides you around an anti-clockwise route with parking in each of the aforementioned territories. The logical order of visiting being Europe, Africa, Asia and then finishing up at Base Camp. Each was dedicated parking, some multiple sites. With the fringes of some territories essentially across the road from the outer boundaries of others though, it can be tempting to cross over and take a look early. Especially when you see some curious Bison loitering on the edges, seeming keen to make your acquaintance.

For the most part, we stuck with the almost recommended route (especially early on, less so later as time got on and the children didn’t want to risk missing certain animals before closing). In the Europe section, we spent some time with the lynx, boars and wolverines. Unfortunately, the brown bears weren’t out, I guess likely due to the time of year. The spacey habitats didn’t stop us getting a good view of each of these marvellous creatures.

Visiting the penguins on the outskirts of the Europe section was positively exhilarating. A highlight for sure. They were clumped up on the edges of their pools, close enough to touch almost (but don’t do this!) and happily talking amongst themselves.

Whipsnade Zoo penguin

Africa

Many of us have an extreme curiosity and appreciation of African wildlife, especially children. I think it comes down to the diversity and exoticness of much of it. I can honestly say that until my visit to ZSL Whipsnade, I have never stood so close to the magnificent white rhino. It is in the Africa territory where we blissfully spend most of our day.

Whipsnade zebra

Whipsnade ZSL giraffes

We got splashed by a hippo, watched some oryx sprint across their enclosure, stroked a zebra, and got face to face with some giraffes. The variety of species available and staggering amount of space were delights to behold. We did slip into the Base Camp territory without realising a few times though. Of course, I have to mention that the flamingos looked utterly fabulous (which we saw as driving to the next area).

Whipsnade zoo onyx

Asia

On our trip, the camels and sloth bears completely stole the show. Both were being very ‘showy’ and trying the get the attention of their guests. Some parts of this section are only experienced in the car or on the train; it is designed as a safari experience. The kids and I loved this, although I worry that some people might be a little disappointed if this stopped them seeing some of these inhabitants. However, as I mentioned, the train also covers this area well.

Whipsnade zoo family day out

Rhino Whipsnade zoo

Base Camp

While visiting Africa, some of the top-most residents of Base Camp were also visited. The otters and red pandas visited at this time were naturally adorable.

After visiting Africa, the rest of Base Camp got our attention. (Unfortunately, excluding the sea lions due to how busy the area was and time constraints; it was almost closing timing by now). The standout experiences here were Hullabazoo, the Aquarium and Butterfly House.

Whipsnade zoo petting farm

Hullabazoo is a section dedicated to farm animals, indoor play and a massive play area. This is where your children (hopefully) let off some steam. The farm allows the children to interact with guinea pigs, bunnies, pigs, donkeys, chicks, sheep and even pygmy goats. Obviously this section is a firm favourite with younger kids. It is actually an interesting contrast to the rest of the zoo to have found myself in this little area dedicated to chilling with some more culturally typical animal friends.

Whipsnade goats petting farm

It’s conservation that Alleviates the Guilt that comes with Visiting Many Zoos

These beauties of the natural world do not belong in small, confined dwellings. It is necessary though for conservation efforts to have places that bring in income, raise awareness and offer safe environments to help save the dwindling populations of worldwide wildlife. Whipsnade does a fantastic job of reassuring visitors like me who might lose sleep on such things.

Enclosures are wide open; the animals appear happy and have personal space to retreat to. Plus there is documentation and signage everywhere giving context as to each species’ situation. I guess I’m saying that I feel this is a zoo for true animal and nature enthusiasts.

The whole experience felt natural and to the benefit of the wide variety of animals based in this idyllic setting. What really drums this point home for me though is visiting their latest addition to the zoo; a specialised aquarium dedicated to the preservation and restoration of some of the world’s most critically endangered freshwater fish.

The Aquarium

The reason we were invited to visit ZSL Whipsnade in the first place was this fantastic new addition to their zoo. The recently opened aquarium is an interactive tour that takes the visitor on an aquatic journey from Vietnam to the Middle East. It is both a celebration of the rare and amazing species there and a stark reminder of why conservation efforts are so necessary.

ZSL aquarium whipsnade

Actually, one of the things that makes this so special is that there is a behind the scenes look at some of the work that goes into conservation of these species by the ZSL itself. Funnily enough, it reminded me of that scene in Jurassic Park where the audience got a live view of what the scientists were doing with the eggs. Albeit with fish tanks and a little less Hollywood. The sad fact being that much like the dinosaurs from the film, many of these species are now extinct in the wild too.

Whipsnade Aquarium conservation and protection

The aquarium has some fascinating species; the vulnerable spotted hillstream loach, the chocolate rhinoceros suckermouth catfish, the endangered pinstripe damba, the peculiar Norman’s headstander, the venomous white spotted river stingray and the puddle dwelling Sainthouse’s killifish are some. These are split across a variety of environments that include forests, streams, puddles, creeks, mangroves, caves and springs. We were guided through all this with signage, voice overs and the occasional video.

Whipsnade aquarium fish

It goes without saying that younger children won’t understand the nuance of what this area is actually about. Toddlers and younger kids will mainly just see this as a short diversion with pretty blue lighting and a few colourful and fascinating fish (the aquarium is quite small in comparison to other areas of the zoo). Most of the tanks are perfectly suitable for smaller ones but there are one or two that might require lifting them up to see. For older children and adults, this is very much a source of awareness, reflection and appreciation of the natural world.

Aquarium fish in action

The Butterfly House

Leading on directly from the aquarium is the butterfly house. It is an absolute delight. As well as a few reptiles, this is a tropical paradise of plants and butterflies. They are perched on leaves all over and flying about the place. ZSL claims to have over thirty species and I feel like we easily saw 20 or so. It truly was a sight to behold. I personally found the butterfly house both beautiful and calming.

Butterfly house whipsnade

Butterfly zsl whipsnade zoo

Conclusion

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is an awesome day out, with much to see and do. Their conservation and awareness efforts are not just admirable but inspiring. It can be an expensive day out if eating on site or taking the car in, but not more so than other zoos, and the money seems to be going to worthwhile causes. I see myself going again many times in the future. Great day out!

*Disclosure: We were given complimentary entry in exchange for review. As always, all thoughts and opinions are our own.

14 thoughts on “ZSL Whipsnade Zoo: Review (The Busy Papa)”

  1. Oh I do miss going to the zoo! I’ve not heard of Whipsnade Zoo before though. Looks lovely and oh those animals! Gorgeous photos

    Reply
  2. Such a lovely review and photographs. I haven’t been to Whipsnade for years. I remember the lovely days out with had though.

    Reply
  3. The last time I went to Whipsnade was before we had the kids. I loved it and don’t know why we haven’t returned with them. You are so right on the size and scenery it is a brilliant place with great enclosures for the animals.

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