We take our children on a family day out to Peak Wildlife Park
Peak Wildlife Park
What is it?
A small zoo with exotic and endangered animals from three continents including wallabies, lemurs and penguins.
It specialises in walk-through experiences.
Where is it?
Peak Wildlife Park is in Winkhill, Leek in the Staffordshire Peak District.
What did we think?
We had a lovely time here, it’s a nice size attraction to explore, not too big to tire out little legs.
Being able to walk among some of the animals, without enclosures, is fantastic.
You can walk among the lemurs, who entertained us with their playing and swinging, especially a cute baby lemur.
You’re allowed go gently stroke the wallabies, which resemble small kangaroos.
The penguins can be seen from three different vantage points, including through a window to watch them swim under water. You can also get right up close to them and they may even cross a path in front of you.
There are different play areas including an indoor soft play which is free to use. Outdoors is a bouncy castle, sandpit and more traditional play equipment.
An outdoor play area at Peak Wildlife Park
*Don’t miss any of the site
We thought we had explored everywhere but when we were near the exit, discovered an extra bit with more animals and play areas past the cafe.
You can pre-order food and drink from your smart phone and collect at a time that suits you by following this link.
We hadn’t done this so ordered, in person, a pizza to share and used the 20-minute wait time while it cooked to explore more. Staff give you a buzzer to carry which alerts you to when your food is ready if you don’t go too far out of range.
If you want go get even closer to the animals or it’s a special occasion, you can buy an Animal Experience.
Where did we stay?
We stayed at a beautiful five-star, spa hotel, the Buxton Crescent, read our full review of it next.
Peak Wildlife Park information
*The Courtyard Cafe serves stone baked pizzas, sandwiches, crisps, cakes and ice creams. There are gluten-free and vegan options.
*There are outside picnic areas and a family room you can eat in.
*Another area serves ice cream.
Opening hours: Peak Wildlife Park opens at 10am. It closes at 6pm in the Spring/Summer season and at 5pm in the Autumn/Winter season.
Cost: Adults aged 17 to 64 pay £12.95.
Children aged two to 16 are £10.95. Under-twos are free.
Concessions – senior citizens from aged 65 and students with valid card photo IDs pay £10.95.
Carers are free.
Annual pass: Peak Wildlife Park offers an annual pass which entitles you to visit as many times as you want for a year.
It costs £35.99 for adults (aged 17 to 64), £29.99 for children aged two to 16 and also for concessions (senior citizens from 65 and students with valid ID cards).
Best for: All ages who like animals but especially two to 10-year-olds.
Time needed: Two to four hours.
Access and restrictions: The park is fully accessible and wheelchairs are available to borrow for free. The paths are wide enough for mobility scooters.
There are disabled toilets.
Baby changing facilities: Baby change facilities are in the ladies toilets, disabled toilets and baby change rooms next to the family room.
Are dogs allowed?: No, dogs are not allowed at Peak Wildlife Park. Foxtwood Kennels, situated 10 minutes from the park, is happy to take dogs for the day, you can call them on 01538 266 667 to make a booking.
Address: Peak Wildlife Park, Winkhill, Leek, ST13 7QR.
The wildlife park is two miles south of Burford on the A361 on the southern edge of the Cotswolds, in Oxfordshire.
What did we think?
It is a cross between a traditional zoo and a visit to a National Trust-style stately home and gardens. There are lots of interesting animals for children to see, but adults can also enjoy strolling around the lovely gardens.
Watch our video below before reading our highlights, top tips and essential information!
*There are good views of the animals, even for little ones thanks to cleverly designed fences and slopes.
*You can get face-to-face with the giraffes as there is a high viewing point called the Giraffe Walkway.
*The adventure playground and skymaze is a fantastic play area for children, even those older and more daring.
The adventure playground
*The fabulous gardens – beautiful to walk through on the sunny day we were there.
*The range of animals include red pandas, giraffes, rhinos, penguins, lions, wolves, tropical birds, meercats, zebras, tapirs, camels, otters, lemurs, monkeys, snakes and crocodiles. In case you have an elephant-lover, note that there are no elephants at this zoo.
*There is a farmyard section where you can pet goats in an open field.
Our top tips
*We asked a member of staff for the best route to walk around the park and as we had arrived first thing she recommended we visit the walled garden first of all. See the penguin feeding at 11am and the lemurs feeding at 12pm in the Madagascar area, then head around the park either clockwise or anti-clockwise. That brings you into the grounds in time for a picnic.
A meerkat relaxes
*There is a little train which takes you around the park and which is worth doing to rest tired legs at only £1 per person (under 3s are free). It runs from April to October, weather permitting. There isn’t an organised queuing system though so make sure you don’t miss your turn to get on board. The train ride lasts around 10 minutes and departs from near the walled garden and playground. There is a place to leave pushchairs and wheelchairs next to the platform and there is room for two wheelchairs on the train.
*The lemur collection in the Madagascan Walkthrough, is only open for part of the day so check opening times if you are keen to do this.
*A guide book and map costs £2.50. If you just need a map there are boards around the site. Just snap one on your phone and take it round with you! Or click here for an online map.
*Dogs can be taken here as long as they are kept on a lead. There are some areas with free ranging animals that they aren’t allowed into including the Bat Belfry, Reptile House, Children’s Farmyard.
Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens information
Food: Picnics are allowed and there are plenty of nice spots and benches to eat them.
There is a restaurant – the Oak Tree Restaurant – behind the manor house. And seasonal (only open on busy days) kiosks selling hot drinks, ice creams and snacks.
Opening hours: Daily 10am to 6pm April to October, 10am to 5pm November to March. Last admission two hours before closing time.
Cost: Adults £16.00, children aged three to 16 £10.50, under 3s free. E-tickets booked online in advance are £14.00 and £9.50.
There are no disabled concessions but there is a discount for groups of six or more disabled people and their carers.
Best for: All ages but it is a large site so under 5s might get tired without a buggy.
Time needed: At least three hours, potentially all day if you take your time.
Access and restrictions: This is a flat site with good paths throughout so great for wheelchairs prams and buggies. There are disabled toilets in every toilet block as well as a Changing Places toilet near to the gift shop with a bed, ceiling hoist and shower (ask in the gift shop for the security code to get in).
There are wheelchairs available to hire for free. Mobility scooters can be hired for a charge and must be booked in advance.
Address: Cotswold Wildlife Park, Bradwell Grove, Burford, OX18 4JP
We take our children to explore this big zoo in the south of England
What is it?
Marwell Zoo is a 140-acre zoo with more than 1,200 animals from 135 species. It opened in 1972 and is owned by conservation charity Marwell Wildlife.
Where is it?
It is in Owslebury, just eight miles from Winchester in Hampshire, signposted from the M3 and M27.
It is also 10 miles from Southampton, 16 miles from the New Forest, 19 miles from Portsmouth and 40 miles from Bournemouth.
What did we think?
This is a lovely zoo with great staff interaction and talks. It is really spread out over a large area so if you have young children and are wondering whether to take a buggy or pushchair, don’t hesitate – it is a lot of walking for little legs.
*There is a good view of the animals, including giraffes, penguins, tigers, meerkat, rhinos and snow leopards.
The train at Marwell Zoo
*The train is fun but don’t miss it, there is only one station near the entrance, next to the gift shop. Expect a long wait to get going while they sort out tickets etc as the system isn’t a fast one but feels authentic with a proper ticket inspector.
*There is also a free land train which stops at several points.
*The hippo – you don’t get to see these as often as other animals so it is exciting to see one here.
*Staff are friendly with lots of useful information to impart as you move around the sections.
*My son loved interactive screens in places like the Tropical House.
*There are great adventure play areas for the children – in fact we found it hard to get them away from these to see the animals
A play area at Marwell Zoo
*As it is spacious, a busy August day when we visited didn’t feel too crowded.
* Most of the animals seem to be in nice big enclosures.
Our top tips
*Buy tickets online to save time
*The land train is free and stops at different destinations to give tired legs a rest. The little rail train only stops at one station near the entrance. It is £2.50 for a 15-minute ride and fun.
*Take a picnic if you can. There are loads of picnic areas but the queue at the cafe we visited was long.
*The information cabin has all the times for the animal talks.
Marwell Zoo information
Food: There are cafes, kiosks and picnic areas.
Opening hours: Open daily from 10am apart from Christmas day and Boxing day.
Cost: Children aged two and under are free. Peak times including a donation – child £17, adults £21, family £72. Includes optional donation.
Best for: All ages.
Time needed: At least four or five hours, preferably a whole day or until children get too tired.
Access and restrictions: Accessibility good. One free carer admitted with each guest with accessibility needs. Some free wheelchairs available to hire.
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).
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.
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.
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.
There used to be a monorail to speed up the process and give weary little feet a break – but that is no longer available.
The former monorail
Favourite picnic spots
There are loads of places to picnic and plenty of quiet corners away from the busy eating areas.
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.
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.
*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.