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How to guarantee a fun day out for children at the UK’s most popular zoo

Chester Zoo is the UK’s most visited zoo and one of the country’s largest. It is a favourite of ours and is home to 21,000 animals and 500 different species. Here are our top tips to get the most out of a day at Chester Zoo.

Get there early

Chester Zoo is the most popular attraction outside London and has nearly two million visitors a year, so can get busy really quickly.

To maximise your time, arrive about 20 minutes before it opens (it opens at 10am, so arrive at 9.45am at the latest).

That way you can park nearer to the entrance in the main car park rather than being ushered further away into a field. You can then hit the gates as soon as they open.

(Alternatively, if you want a short visit, you could get there two hours before closing, for the late entry discount).

painted dogs eat meat at Chester Zoo

The painted dogs enclosure at the edge of the zoo is one of the quieter areas to explore

Walk to the furthest point first

As everyone else heads straight to the elephants which are directly inside the entrance, you need to keep walking and walking.

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Either turn right and head towards the rhinos and the Islands or turn left, over the bridge and towards the chimpanzee section.

Ignore everything you see until you get to the further reaches of the zoo, then work your way BACK towards the start.

If you do this you will get around 90 minutes – even on the busiest days – when it feels like your own private zoo.

The Islands boat ride

The queues can be long at peak times and your chances of actually seeing half of the animals lurking around the waters are mixed at best.

Either head straight for the Islands as soon as the zoo opens or give it a miss until nearer the end of the day.

You can easily waste an hour queuing and doing the boat ride at busy times when you would be better off seeing other attractions.

A boat at the centre of the islands development at Chester Zoo - a recreation of a tropical coastal area

The Islands at Chester Zoo

Think of the zoo as two halves

On the map, split the zoo in two using the public footpath. Do one half at the start of the day and the other after lunch if you are making a full day of it.

Use the monorail to speed up the process and give weary little feet a break – a single ride is a quick way of skipping to another part of the zoo in double quick time. And it’s fun to see everything from above.

The monorail at Chester Zoo

Use a single monorail journey to save time

Favourite picnic spots

There are loads of places to picnic and plenty of quiet corners away from the busy eating areas.

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Our favourites include the benches next to the giraffes (especially when they are outside feeding), by the painted dogs enclosure at the far right corner of the zoo next to the antelopes, in the sunken garden and in the Islands section – although seating here is a bit limited for picnics.

What if it rains?

Most of the zoo is outside so it isn’t an ideal wet weather location but there are several good areas, which will take at least an hour or two to complete. The elephant enclosure and the monkey house near the entrance are good first or last stops.

The area with most undercover sections is on the far side of the zoo around the Realm of the Red Ape, which has orang-utans and snakes indoors.

It is also close to the small aquarium near the penguin enclosure, the Tropical Realm with birds and small crocodiles and the Spirit of the Jaguar.

Another good way of staying dry and seeing the zoo is to do the monorail, you can stay on and do a lap of the park. The Islands boat ride is also an undercover ride.

Chester Zoo membership

If you pay to be a member of Chester Zoo, you can visit as often as you like for free, plus you get other benefits. Children under three are free.

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In conclusion

Our children love Chester Zoo and it always feels clean and spacious for the animals. But it is an expensive day out so maximise your time and take a picnic.

Top tip

*Head for the farthest point of the zoo as soon as you get in and work backwards. There are fewer crowds and more time to see the animals up close.

Chester Zoo Information

Address: Chester Zoo, Moston Rd, Upton-by-Chester, Upton, Chester CH2 1EU.

Opening hours: Open daily except Christmas Day and Boxing Day from 10am. Closing depends on the time of year, 4pm in winter and 6pm in summer holidays.

Cost: On the gate, adult £26, child (3-17) £22. It is cheaper to buy online in advance with a family saving for three or more people.

Best for: Ages 2-10

Time needed: It takes a full day to see the whole zoo. Minimum time to see a good selection of animals is 2 hours.

Note: All pictures in this article are courtesy of Chester Zoo.

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