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.
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: For up to date prices go to Chester Zoo tickets
Booking online saves you up to 10% off our gate prices but need to be booked before 9:30am on the day you visit.
Visitors with disabilities can have one carer free of charge when buying a full price adult or child ticket online – collect carer tickets from Ticket Sales windows when you get to the zoo.
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.
Read our pick of the best options to keep children entertained in the heart of the Lake District
The World of Beatrix Potter
This interactive attraction in the heart of Bowness is great for small children. It isn’t big and won’t take more than an hour but the models are great, there is a charm about it.
Our favourite parts of the World of Beatrix Potter are Peter Rabbit’s Garden and the Virtual Walk section.
The World of Beatrix Potter
Lakeland Motor Museum
This museum has only been open a few years on this site, a few miles from the foot of Windermere. It is really good with 30,000 exhibits including all types of car and motorcycle.
There is also a Bluebird exhibition next door – telling the story of the Campbell speed record-breaking family – which is fascinating. There is a good cafe on site. For more information visit the Lakeland Motor Museum website.
Aquarium and train
You can arrive at this spot at the southern tip of the lake via car or via boat with Windermere Lake Cruises. Lakes Aquarium gives a small but comprehensive look at all the creatures you can find in the Lakes – and some from further afield.
Our children were pleased to see crocodiles and monkeys as well as cod and jellyfish, during our last visit.
You can combine this with a train trip on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway – a fabulous steam engine which runs from March until October. A combination of lake cruise, aquarium and railway makes for a fun-filled day.
Fell Foot Park
This lovely National Trust spot at the foot of Windermere is one of our favourites.
There’s a good playground, benches for a scenic picnic, a cafe and boat hire if you want to get on the water. A really good, safe place to explore with children.
Fell Foot Park
Walk above Windermere
The scramble up to Orrest Head is one of the most accessible Lakeland walks. At 783 feet, it is a good first summit for three and four-year-olds to conquer. In fact, I (possibly foolishly) managed this one at eight months pregnant.
Park on the main road above Bowness near to Windermere Railway Station. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the summit where you are rewarded with incredible views across Windermere.
What are your family’s favourite activities around Windermere? Please comment below, we would love to hear from you.
Our five top activities for children on a family trip to London
This enormous big wheel is a great place to start any visit as it helps children get their bearings in the capital.
The queues can be long but you can book a timed entrance which is recommended in peak season. The ride takes half an hour. Tickets and information are available via the London Eye website
The London Eye
The south bank of the River Thames is popular for a family day out.
A child-friendly route along the Embankment between Westminster Bridge and Jubilee Bridge has carousels, mime artists, stalls and indoor attractions galore.
We went to the Sea Life Centre London which is a good rainy day option or, in our case, a welcome escape from the heat outside. The penguins and sharks were particular favourites.
A dose of green space is welcome on a visit to London. Our favourite city centre option was St James’s Park, a small but charming park near Buckingham Palace.
Our children also had lots of fun cooling off in Hyde Park, paddling through the Diana Memorial Fountain stream.
There are rowing boats and pedal boats to hire on the Serpentine Lido or you can take a ride on the UK’s first Solarshuttle, powered only by the sun (check opening months and times for all these activities first). The Lido Cafe Bar has tables outside by the water.
St James’s Park is one of London’s best green spaces
The famous exhibits at the Natural History Museum – or the Dinosaur Museum as our children call it – are eye-opening for children and interesting for adults too.
You can combine a visit with a trip to the more interactive Science Museum next door and entrance is free – although be prepared for long queues in peak season. For tickets and information go to the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum websites.
The Natural History Museum is free to enter
Boat trip on the River Thames
For a more daredevil adventure, try the Thames Rib Experience. Speed boats take you along the river on various routes, we tried one to Canary Wharf and back.
It all starts gently enough, with guided commentary, but when the James Bond music comes on, prepare for a thrilling, high speed ride. A great way to see London from a different perspective. The minimum weight is 15kg or three stone.
The Thames RIB Experience
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What are your favourite activities for children in London? Please comment below, we’d love to hear from you.
Note: Some pictures in this article are courtesy of VisitLondon.com
Read our review of all the best bits of the fabulous Tatton Park in Cheshire plus the costs for National Trust members
What is it?
Tatton Park is one of England’s largest historic estates – it has a stately home, 50 acres of landscaped gardens, 1,000 acres of parkland with deer and meres. There is also a working farm and large playground.
Where is it?
Tatton Park is near Knutsford in Cheshire a few miles from junction 19 of the M6 motorway.
What do we think?
There are so many options for children on a day out here, truly something for everyone. You can explore the parkland for just £6 a day for a family – or pay extra for the other attractions.
The park is vast with plenty of different areas to explore.
There are two large meres where sailing takes place, woodland walks with deer to spot and places to picnic.
The wide paths through the park for cars are also popular with cyclists and supervised children on bikes and scooters.
You can park at different points inside (it is £6 per car, there is no National Trust discount for parking).
The gardens cost extra (free for National Trust members) but can be a quieter, different and beautiful area to enjoy on busy days.
They begin with fruit and vegetable patches before expanding off a central path to some fabulous areas.
Our particular favourites are around the Japanese Gardens (you can only venture inside on a guided tour) and the bridges over the pools. There is quite a tricky maze, regular family trails to follow, a fun scarecrow hunt in February, Easter Egg hunts at Easter time and other activities all year round.
Note – you are not allowed picnics, bikes or scooters in the gardens.
The peaceful Japanese Garden at Tatton Park
A five-minute walk from the main car park is Tatton Park farm. Entry is £7 for adults, £5 for children (half price for NT members). It is a traditional 1930’s working farm with pigs, horses, donkey and chickens.
There are old tractors to sit on and Aunt Mary’s 1940’s cottage. In one barn you can ride on toy cars and tractors.
Next to the farm is a good adventure playground, picnic area and woodland trails.
Pigs are just one of the animals at Tatton’s working farm
Home to the Egerton family, the house contains a huge library and other artefacts.
The main interest for children is exploring the large servants’ kitchen and living quarters, which are nicely done. The mansion is used for events at Easter and Christmas geared to children.
There is a huge playground next to the main car park which is always very busy.
There is often a small train to take children from the playground to the farm (at a cost). Burger and ice cream vans are on site too.
In the main stables courtyard near the garden’s entrance there is often a couple of carousels (£2.50 a go). There are also two restaurants – a large self-service area and the smaller Gardeners’ Cottage.
Unlike most National Trust sites, National Trust members still have to pay to park at Tatton Park, which costs £6, unless you park in Knutsford and walk in, but it is quite a walk to the main part.
However, entry to the house and gardens is free to National Trust members and entry to the farm is half price.
Tatton Park is geared towards children – you can have fun here without entering any of the paid attractions but if you do choose – the farm and gardens are the best value.
Our top tips
*Enter Tatton Park from the smaller, less-used Knutsford entrance and you can drive through the park to get a feel for it and park next to Melchett Mere for a good picnic spot.
Tatton Park information
Food: Picnics are welcome, except in the gardens. There are two cafes/restaurants in the courtyard, near the garden’s entrance – a large self service area called the Stables Restaurant, perfect for children and the smaller and more formal Gardeners’ Cottage. There is also a shop selling ice creams.
Opening hours: It varies depending on the time of year and the farm is open at more limited times, check here for details.
Cost: Car parking costs £7 (even to National Trust members). A Totally Tatton family ticket to all attractions is £33. Adult ticket £7 per attraction, child (aged four to 15) £5. National Trust members – free entry to gardens and mansion, half-price entry to farm.
Best for: ages three to 10.
Time needed: Doing every attraction is a full day out. Visiting the park for a walk or bike ride can be done in 90 minutes.
Access and restrictions: All Tatton’s shops and the Stables Restaurant are fully accessible to wheelchair users. Electric buggies (gardens only) and manual wheelchairs are available for loan but can not be used to move between attractions and in the park. Book a wheelchair loan on 01625 374400.
Address: Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6QN.
Have you been to Tatton Park? Do you like it as much as we do? Let us know in the comments.
(Pictures in this article are courtesy of National Trust Images and Tatton Park).
All you need to know about Stonehenge in Wiltshire
What is it?
Stonehenge is one of the wonders of the world and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe.
It is a huge man-made circle of standing stones, built over hundreds of years. Nobody knows exactly why Stonehenge was built, but people probably gathered there for religious ceremonies.
Research shows that the site has continuously evolved over 10,000 years. The structure that we call Stonehenge was built between 5,000 and 4,000 years ago and was once part of a larger sacred landscape.
With over 10 million visitors a year, Stonehenge is one of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions
Where is it?
It stands on Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, England and its giant stones can be seen from miles around.
There is a £27 million visitor centre, 1.5 miles from the stones, which opened in 2013. There is plenty of free parking and it is very nicely done.
The entrance to Stonehenge Visitor Centre
Once you’ve got your tickets you can go into the new museum. Our children were encouraged to enter through a ‘magic door’ into a 360-degree video of Stonehenge in all weathers.
Our children loved pretending it was really snowing and it got them excited about the museum.
A 360-degree video of Stonehenge
A 5,500-year-old skeleton and a timeline of Stonehenge proved the other most interesting items for our seven and three-year-old children in this museum.
Outside there are examples of how hard it was to move the huge stones and recreations of Neolithic Houses. You can go inside them to see how some of the earliest settlers lived.
Reaching the stones
You can walk but it is 1.5 miles and would take a long time with small children. Stonehenge put on regular buses, every five minutes, shuttling from the visitors centre to the stones and back.
Our three-year-old loved the bus ride and it made the experience more exciting for her. You can stop off half way and walk up to the stones if you prefer but in February it was easier for us to take the bus all the way.
The bus to catch to the stones
Visitors are dropped off a few hundred yards away and then make their way up a wide path.
You can get within about 30 yards of the stones, there are a range of viewing points but on a busy day it can be a battle to find a clear spot to take a photo.
Part of the fun is seeing tourists from around the world posing for their snaps – we even found one American doing a handstand! There are information boards around the site, which are child-friendly.
What a pose
The facilities, which also include a shop and busy cafe, are good. The museum, although small, is thoughtfully done and the 4,500 year old stones inspired all ages.
At £50, it isn’t a cheap way to spend a couple of hours but this is a child-friendly attraction.
It costs £50 for a family ticket to Stonehenge but it is free to English Heritage and National Trust in England members (not National Trust Scotland members) if booked in advance.
If you take into account that family membership of either is around £100 per year (National Trust £114, English Heritage £96) it is worth joining before you visit.
If you are paying on the day, £50 is quite a lot for what will probably only take a couple of hours – unless you are going for a long walk in the woods on site.
Food: Picnics are welcome and there is a cafe near the shop in the visitor centre.
Opening hours: Varies depending on the time of year. Entrance through timed tickets.
Cost: Entry costs £49.40 for a family. Adult entry is £19.00, child (5-15) is £11.40. Free entry for National Trust in England (not Scotland) and English Heritage members if booked in advance.
Best for: ages eight to 15
Time needed: Two hours
Access and restrictions: The main areas are accessible by wheelchair.
Address: Stonehenge, near Amesbury, Wiltshire, SP4 7DE
Have you been? Tell us what you thought of Stonehenge below.
The best towns, beaches and attractions in the southern Netherlands for families
Wassenaar – the Dutch Windsor
This small town is one of the wealthiest in Holland and it shows in the shops and restaurants.
There are lots of places to eat, a lovely atmosphere and quiet cyclefriendly roads as you would expect. There is also a great beach.
Leiden and its canals
Leiden has an excellent park and ride service on the edge of the city.
Leiden and its canals are well worth exploring
You park and catch a free minibus which drops you in the city centre and then call them to pick you up when you’re finished.
The city has a lovely canalside market with Dutch poffertjes (a Dutch batter treat like a baby pancake) on sale, which are a hit with children. There is a small fort you can climb for views over the city.
Yes, Holland is famous for being a bicycle rider’s paradise but it isn’t until you use the system you realise how good it is.
Cylcing is safe and fun in South Holland
There are special lanes a good distance away from the road – the sort of thing which rarely exists in the UK.
If you ignore the wind and the chilly north sea, the sand on the Dutch beaches is a match for anywhere in Europe.
The beach at Wassenaar is golden and perfect for sandcastles and games.
There are plenty of amenities too, restaurants and cafes, toilets and loads of space to park a car or a bike. In good weather it’s a great spot.
Wassenaar beach is a match for any in Europe and
Luciano’s famous ice cream parlour in Wassenaar is very popular.
It is at the end of the main street, has been in the town since 1996 and has dozens of flavours to choose from.
There’s nice seating outside or take your ice cream and stroll through the town.
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