Wild Wonder: A Fun-Filled Family Visit to Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo is one of those rare attractions that is as enjoyable for adults as it is for children. We have been every couple of years since Georgia and Eva were toddlers, and each visit they take away something new. When we first took Georgia and Eva as pre-schoolers, it was very much about the novelty of seeing the animals. Now the girls are a bit older, the trips have become much more engaging and educational with them learning about the habits and habitats of these amazing creatures. A family visit to Chester Zoo is always a treat.

We do believe that the best place to see animals is in the wild, but the sad fact is with the constant erosion of habitat there are simply not enough wild places left. For many species, zoos are a last refuge, and without their protection, many of these beautiful creatures would become extinct.  Chester Zoo does not try and sugar coat the truth and is very open in its exhibits about the challenges (man-made or otherwise) animals face in the wild.

Unlike so many other zoos we have visited, Chester Zoo feels like it exists for the betterment of the animals, not to entertain the visitors. All the enclosures are spacious, with natural foliage and room for the animals to get away from the crowds if they want to. This makes the visit a much more enjoyable experience, and the animals all look happy and healthy.

Spencer Family Visit to Chester Zoo

Now, the most important question:

Kids, Did You Enjoy Chester Zoo?

Eva: Yes!
Georgia: Yes yes!

What was your favourite bit?

Eva: Flamingos and Shark exhibition with the massive skull.
Georgia: Red panda as he was super cute.
Kirsty: The amazing volunteers were so helpful and friendly! They had lots of information about the animals. Fave animals were the flamingo chicks and the Limas jumping.
Adrian: Penguins for sheer giddiness and orangutans because they are awesome.

Eva getting up close to the penguins

Getting There, Getting In, and Getting Around

As you would expect from such a major attraction, getting to Chester Zoo by car is straightforward. Head to Chester on the M56, then it is about 10 mins drive when you leave the motorway. It has a large, well-managed car park, free parking, and we have never queued to get in. 

If you are coming by train, then there are two stations you can get to, either Chester or Bache. Both are connected by bus service, which takes 20 – 30 mins depending on the time of day. 

The tickets cost £116 for the 4 of us (£33 per adult, £25 per child), and you are supporting important conservation work by visiting. They do offer an annual family pass for £330, which, if you live close enough, feels like it would be great value. The pass also gets you access to other zoos and a discount on food and drinks.

We could not find any current discount vouchers for entry although Kellogs have run BOGOF offers in the past so keep an eye out.

The Zoo is easily accessible for prams or wheelchairs. There is plenty of seating to take rests, and they have designated quiet hours for some exhibits as well.

A lot of the enclosures are undercover but the majority of the zoo is open to the elements, so be sure to check the forecast before you go as the weather could spoil a visit. 

There are plenty of toilet facilities, and the baby change facilities tend to be in their own room rather than the lady’s or gent’s loos. 

My family and other animals….

Things to See and Do on a Family Visit to Chester Zoo.

Chester Zoo is well worth a full day to experience, with plenty to keep your little ones informed and entertained.

As you enter the zoo, the herd of Asian elephants are immediately on your left.  They are invariably out in the middle of their vast enclosure consuming fresh branches or playing in the waterfall.  This is a great first impression and always a crowd-pleaser. Viewing spaces are a bit limited to you may have to wait a moment for your children to get close enough to see.

There are so many meandering paths between the enclosures that it quickly disperses the crowds. Even on a busy Saturday in August, it doesn’t seem too overwhelming. 

As of 2020, Chester Zoo is home to over 35,000 animals (imagine the mucking out!) (and the feed bill!) so you can easily fill your visit heading from one enclosure to the next enjoying watching these amazing creatures. 

The animals are also grouped into global areas with themed habitats with different species housed together as they would be in the wild.  A couple of examples of this are the brown antlered deer picking at the same grass as the one-horned rhino or the camels and the onagers.

There are a number of ‘walk through’ areas, which really enable you to get up close to the animals.  The effort that has gone into making the habitats as natural as possible is really evident in these spaces.  The Tropical realm is a new addition since our last visit and was a great place to see a variety of bird species roaming free around you.  The spacious aviary is full of trees, plants and water features, which emulate the bird’s natural surroundings.

The butterfly house also has an authentic feel; as we walked through the entrance we really felt like we had been transported back to Costa Rica! The noise from the waterfall and the constant calls from the tiny frogs that inhabit this area, coupled with humidity and the beautiful species of butterflies all around, left us feeling like we were on the hunt for howler monkeys again. 

We didn’t visit the bat house on this occasion but have fond memories of the girl’s squeaks of excitement as the bats flutter past you.  Another new addition since our last visit was the Madagascan Lemur enclosure.  This gave us a second opportunity to see the adorable lemurs.  In the walk-through enclosure, there were five different species of lemurs, each with a designated habitat area.  We were lucky enough to see the beady-eyed, red-ruffed lemurs having a chill only a couple of meters in front of us which was amazing.

The Caribbean Flamingos area has also had a major upgrade since our last visit with a new bridge that takes you close to their island. To help breeding, keepers have historically swapped flamingo eggs for wooden ones so the real ones could be incubated. In 2022, the zoo keepers chose to allow nature to run its course and leave the real eggs in place to hatch naturally. Happily, the flamingo parents hatched 12 healthy chics last year and are already up to 9 this year with more expected soon!  It was great to see fluffy little chics, just days old practising their one-legged, energy-saving stance!

Wobbly flamingos are our new favourite thing.,

There is even a natural bee area keeping the local residents happy and healthy.  There are huge long verges full of wildflowers and hives for various bee species which was great to see especially as there were plenty of facts and information plaques highlighting the importance of these amazing little troopers.

The new 2023 ‘out of water’ shark experience was also a highlight.  We weren’t too sure what to expect but were mesmerised when we walked into the floor-to-ceiling screens with underwater footage from all over the world.  The video was spectacular and informative about one of the world’s oldest predators. There were also life-sized models of some well-known breeds of sharks which put their size into perspective!

The last part of the shark exhibit is an area dedicated to plastic waste in our oceans. This really helped cement some of what the girls have learned at school in a very visual way and brought home just how much rubbish we are dumping into these diverse ecosystems.

We are going to need a bigger boat.

The chimpanzees have a prime spot in the zoo and didn’t fail to entertain us with their argey-bargy and playful antics each time we walk past.  They are obviously very at home with their centre stage and could be seen spending time in the different areas of their enclosure to suit their mood at the time.

If you want something a bit more structured, there are talks all through the day by the enthusiastic staff on just about every animal so if there are any you are especially interested in then it is worth planning ahead. There are also animal experiences you can book for an up-close encounter! Sadly, most of these are not suitable for those under 12, and the really interesting ones are not available for those under 18, but Penguin Cove and the Chameleon Experience are available for those over 8. 

It is worth mentioning that Chester Zoo has made some incredible scientific contributions as well. It has been instrumental in developing the EEHV vaccine, which is currently being used to combat a lethal virus that poses a threat to baby elephants in India and Asia. They have also been a big part of ongoing breeding programs for highly endangered animals such as the West African chimpanzee, Eastern bongo calf, and Sumatran orangutan.  

Another breakthrough came when the keepers at Chester Zoo were the first to discover that female Komodo dragons have venomous glands in their mouths which act as an anticoagulant, meaning that if they break the skin of their prey with their bite, the prey will bleed out.  It is not as many (including ourselves up until a very informative chat with one of the keepers!) believe, the bacteria inside the Komodo dragon’s mouth that kills the prey.

Food and Drink

Chester Zoo welcomes people bringing in their own food, and there are plenty of picnic spots where you can eat lunch while watching the animals. Most picnic benches are in the open, so if the weather is not favourable, you may have to wait until one of the covered ones becomes available. Also, it is quite a walk back to the car park if you don’t want to carry your food around all day.

If you want to buy food at the Zoo, it is reasonably priced. We paid £7.50 for a buttermilk chicken ciabatta, and they also had kid’s ham and cheese ciabattas for £5.95.  The only food that felt overpriced was the ice creams – £3.50 for a Magnum. I suspect the ice creams are expensive because you can’t bring them yourself!

Nap time.

Do you have to leave through the gift shop?

It is rare not to be ushered through the tat emporium on your way back to the car when everyone is tired and slightly cranky! We have lost count of the number of times we have ended up with yet another stuffed toy as we have lost the moral fortitude to reject their pleas! However, going through the gift shop is totally optional – well done and thank you, Chester Zoo for this!  Having said that, the gift shop is one of the better ones, with a huge range of educational books and toys available alongside all the usual teddy bears and tat you see at these places, so if you are looking for a little keepsake from your day, it is worth a look.   

See you in a few years!

Overall, we had a brilliant day at Chester Zoo, probably our best visit yet.  With the girls being that bit older, they were able to keep going all day, whereas in the past they have tired before we felt that we had seen everything.  Their interest in wildlife, preservation and natural habitats was great to see.  They really appreciated the conservation efforts that the zoo makes to protect the animals not only in captivity but also the huge steps that they take across the world, ensuring so many species have a future in the wild.

We spoke to so many enthusiastic and knowledgeable keepers in nearly every area and learnt so many facts about the animals both in their care and also as species overall.  All the animals we saw looked happy and well cared for, which for us is such a huge thing.  Yes, there were some animals that we didn’t see. However, we appreciate the fact that the animals are free to keep away from the visitors should they wish.  We saw so many other amazing animals that the girls barely noticed the few that didn’t make an appearance.

We can’t help but wonder what the girls will learn on their next visit!

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About the authors

Our lives have been intertwined with a passion for exploration and a shared love for travel. Our adventures began long before we met, as we individually embarked on daring expeditions across the globe. Our paths finally converged, and we soon realized that our adventures were much more meaningful when shared!

After a brief hiatus to start a family, we eagerly embarked on a new chapter of our travel saga. Determined to instil in Georgia and Eva the values of discovery and open-mindedness, our goal is to embark on exciting escapades and explore breathtaking landscapes, bustling cities, and remote corners of the world. From hiking through mist-laden forests to snorkelling in turquoise seas, every adventure is an opportunity to create lasting memories as a family.

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