Top Tips For A Family Day Out At ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
Many people are divided on the subject of zoos. We get that. We MUCH prefer to see animals in the wild but we make an exception for Whipsnade Zoo. They have done amazing work with their Conservation Breeding and Reintroduction Programme and the animals have over 600 acres to call their home.
We’re not alone in holding Whipsnade in high regard as it is one of the most popular days out for families in the UK. We have been ZSL Whipsnade Zoo members since the kids were babies and it never fails to impress. It’s the largest zoo in the UK and with over 3500 animals, we never get tired of visiting as there’s always something new to see, including adorable babies if you time your visit right.
Where is Whipsnade Zoo?
Whipsnade Zoo is located in the countryside of Bedfordshire between Hemel Hempstead and Luton. It’s about 35 miles north of central London and the drive should take around one hour.
The zoo sits on a ridge of the Chiltern Hills and is quite exposed to the elements. One thing to bear in mind is that the Whipsnade weather can be quite different to the surrounding area so we always bring an extra layer with us.
How to get to Whipsnade Zoo
The best way to access Whipsnade Zoo is by car, especially if you want to do the Whipsnade Zoo drive through safari. The nearest train station is Luton and then it’s around 9 miles from Luton to Whipsnade Zoo. Hemel Hempstead station is about 11 miles from Whipsnade so you would need to take a bus or a taxi from either station.
Whipsnade Zoo parking
There is a large (free) car park at Whipsnade and we have never had an issue finding a parking spot, but the car park does fill up and if you don’t get there early, you will have quite a walk just to get to the entrance of the zoo.
Whipsnade Zoo tickets
Due to current restrictions, tickets will NOT be sold on the gate. All tickets must be purchased online in advance.
As all indoor areas are currently closed, Whipsnade Zoo prices have been changed to take this into account. The current prices for Whipsnade Zoo tickets (including a 10% voluntary donation) are:
Child: £19.10 (children under 3 are free)
Car entry: £25 (£12.50 for members)
Under normal circumstances, tickets can be bought on the gate.
Whipsnade Zoo vouchers
If you are collecting Tesco vouchers, we recommend using Whipsnade Zoo Tesco vouchers to bring the cost of your visit down. **Note that Whipsnade is not currently accepting Tesco vouchers due to the current visiting restrictions**
Whilst you may normally be able to find Whipsnade Zoo discounts, there aren’t any at the moment due to the current restrictions. We will update this when the situation changes. Discounts can usually be found on Picniq so it’s worth checking in case they have re-introduced them.
Whipsnade Zoo membership
With a ticket for a family of 4 coming out at nearly £100 for the day, you may want to consider a Whipsnade Zoo annual pass if you think you’ll visit more than once in a year. A family Silver Membership starts at £198 and gives you unlimited access for a year to ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoo if you pay by Direct Debit. This rises to £247.50 if you pay by card.
If you pay a little extra for Gold Membership, you’ll receive discounts on things like the Jumbo Express train, gift shop items and parking at ZSL London.
Here is a complete list of the benefits for Gold and Silver members.
Whipsnade Zoo opening times
Whipsnade opens at 10 am every day and closing time depends on the time of year. During the summer months (15th June to 6th September) the zoo closes at 6 pm with last entry at 5 pm. From 7th September to 24th October, the zoo will close at 5 pm with last entry at 4 pm. During the winter months (25th October to 12th February) the zoo closes at 4 pm with last entry at 3 pm.
NOTE: Current opening times remain the same BUT you need to pre-book your tickets for a morning (10 am to 2 pm) or an afternoon session (2 pm to 6 pm).
Getting around Whipsnade Zoo
Whipsnade Zoo is enormous. It is split into four main sections; Africa, Europe, Asia and Base Camp which makes navigation quite easy and everywhere is well signposted. The animals can be found in the area they originate from. Note that the elephants are found in Asia and there are no African elephants at Whipsnade. Base camp is where you’ll find the Entrance, Visitor Centre, Hullabazoo Farm and play area, Jumbo Express train station and the Butterfly House.
We recommend taking a look at the Whipsnade map to plan what you really want to see. If you’re driving, you will be able to see most things, if not everything but if you’re walking, you will really need to plan your day before you go. When the animal experiences and keeper talks are up and running again, you can check the timings for these online and use this to help plan your day.
There are various options for getting around Whipsnade to minimise walking and make it easier for kids.
For an additional cost (see above under ticket prices) you can bring your car into the zoo and have a Whipsnade Zoo safari experience. There is a one way system around the zoo and you can park on the side of the road at the animal enclosures you want to visit. There are also a couple of car parks around the zoo too. The Whipsnade safari experience by car is great to do in winter when it can get bitterly cold there or on rainy days.
Whipsnade Zoo shuttle bus
There’s a free safari bus that drives around if you want to see the enclosures further away. It stops at various points around the zoo and runs every 30 minutes.
There is a Whipsnade Zoo train for an additional charge called The Jumbo Express. The steam train runs around the perimeter of the zoo and you will see the elephants, rhino, camel and many more animals. Prices for the train are:
**The Great Whipsnade Railway is not currently running**
If you are planning to walk, we recommend bringing scooters as the terrain is great for scooting and this will save little legs. There are pedestrian paths but in some places the kids will need to scoot on the road. The roads are wide and there’s plenty of space for cars to pass, but you do need to be aware that there will be cars. Note that bikes, skateboards and rollerskates are not allowed.
Just a word of caution – the Hulabazoo soft play area can get really busy and everyone using it will park their scooters outside. With so many scooters in one place, it is a good idea to have something distinguishing tied to yours to avoid it being taken by mistake. The same goes for outside the butterfly house.
Micro Trikes for hire
The micro trikes are a new addition to Whipsnade. You can hire them – although they are not currently available for hire.
Whipsnade Zoo animals
In case you’re wondering whether to visit Whipsnade or London Zoo, you might want to take a look at the Whipsnade Zoo animals list and compare it to London Zoo to help you decide. Whipsnade has an enormous amount of space and so it houses the larger animals like elephants and rhinos.
Under normal circumstances, you’ll be able to learn all about the animals by going along to animal talks by the keepers and attending animal experiences. They are really informative and a great way to get kids interested in the animals. The talks are animated, interesting and interactive. The keepers clearly love the animals and their jobs. The talks and experiences aren’t happening right now but we will update when they re-commence.
Our favourite animals at Whipsnade are:
Whipsnade Zoo elephants
The elephants are a big draw for many people to Whipsnade. They have a large herd of Asian elephants housed in the Asia section. Every day they take the elephants for a walk around the zoo. It’s so lovely to see the parade of whipsnade elephants walking along trunk to tail.
Whipsnade Zoo Butterfly House
The Butterfly House has recently been upgraded and houses a huge range of butterflies as well as some small reptiles and bugs. It’s really warm in there and if you can get the kids to stay still, they might just have a beautiful butterfly land on them!
It’s really fun visiting the leamurs during the leamur talk with their keeper because they jump around and across the walkway and may even land on you.
The lions themselves are usually pretty inactive but the keeper talk is really interesting.
We’ve been lucky enough to visit when there was a baby giraffe. You can climb up steps to get a giraffe’s eye view and they may come over to you to get a closer look too.
There’s plenty to see just walking around too. We love the Patagonian Mara and wallabies who run freely around the grounds.
**Animal experiences and keeper talks are not currently running**
Whipsnade Zoo experiences
Whipsnade Zoo lodges
Whipsnade Zoo has a number of lodges (Lookout Lodges) which can be booked for an overnight stay at Whipsnade Zoo. It really is an experience because your overnight stay includes a 3 after-hours tours (sunset, after dark and morning), dinner and breakfast.
Your entry to Whipsnade is included in the price of your stay. The lodges accommodate 2 adults and up to 1 child.
Whipsnade keeper for a day
This experience is not currently available but when it’s up and running again, it’s a once in a lifetime experience. Being a keeper for a day means working with a zoo keeper and finding out all about the care of the animals including rhinos, elephant and giraffe.
The animals you will work with depends on the time of year. We haven’t done it ourselves but we know friends who have and they rave about it. Here’s a little taster of what it is like.
Whipsnade Zoo Facilities
Cafés – there are a number of cafés on site. Visitor Centre Café is in the main entrance. Base Camp Restaurant is found by the train station. There’s also a more upmarket River Cottage Kitchen and Deli with amazing views on the way to the Africa section.
Whipsnade Zoo shop – this is located by the main entrance / exit. They have some lovely animal themed gifts but if you don’t want to be drawn into pleas from the kids to buy something at the end of the day, you can bypass it and go straight to the exit.
Play areas – there are indoor and outdoor play areas. The indoor area gets very busy when the weather isn’t great. There are sessions throughout the day that can be booked. We would suggest heading here first to book a session if you think the kids will want a play. The outdoor play area is enormous and has play equipment for all ages. Our boys love the forts connected by aerial walkways and the curly slides.
Accommodation near Whipsnade Zoo
If you’re not staying overnight at Whipsnade zoo but are looking for accommodation, here are a few suggestions.
Hotels near Whipsnade zoo
Camping near Whipsnade Zoo
Pubs in Whipsnade
The Old Hunters Lodge Whipsnade is a lovely place to have lunch if you are just planning a morning at the zoo or if you want to pop out and come back in. It’s just a few hundred metres from the zoo and has some lovely country pub food.
Tips for visiting Whipsnade
If you’re visiting in winter, it will be cold as Whipsnade Zoo sits on a bluff and is very exposed. Also check to see which animals are available to see. Some of them will be hibernating or shut away for the winter.
Take a picnic and enjoy the beautiful views from near the penguin enclosure or in the Asia section past the rhinos.
Not spending the whole day there? You might like to head to neighbouring Dunstable Downs and Whipsnade Estate or check out the Natural History Museum in Tring. Maybe take a walk in Ashridge Estate, where you’ll find one of the best bluebell woods in the country and the best bluebell woods in Hertfordshire if you are visiting in the Spring.