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Chester Zoo – our top tips to save you time and money on a family day at this hugely popular attraction for families

Chester Zoo – our top tips to save you time and money on a family day at this hugely popular attraction for families

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.

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.

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 monorail at Chester Zoo

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.

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: 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.

The six steps you should follow to find the cheapest hotel deals for your family

The six steps you should follow to find the cheapest hotel deals for your family

Our top tips guarantee you always get the best hotel rate

Step 1 – Website search

There are so many sites out there it’s hard to know where to start. Here’s what we do.

Use a multiple search site. We usually use Trivago to benchmark all the prices as we find it the easiest and quickest website to get an idea of the price.

We also think Booking.com has a good range of available accommodation and like Expedia for the quality of its pictures and information. TripAdvisor is obviously a favourite for its customer reviews.

Step 2 – Breakfast

Find the two or three cheapest options and check which include breakfast then compare accordingly. An included breakfast can save you time and money plus can be easier when travelling with children, unless there are nice cafes or bakeries nearby you are keen to try. 

Step 3 – Cashback

Check the situation with cashback websites like our favourites TopCashback and Quidco.

You can save up to 12 per cent off the price of a hotel by signing up to a cashback site, clicking its link to the company you are booking through and then booking.

Euros and a bank card

It also works for package holidays, even a two per cent saving on a £3,000 package is worth £60 – enough for a meal out or airport lounge passes.

Step 4 – Direct booking

Check the hotel’s own website and contact them, most want you to book directly through them as they don’t have to pay commission so may match or beat your best online price.

They may have a special deal for those who book direct such as three nights for the price of two. Or you could ask them to include breakfast for you.

Step 5 – Secret hotel

See if the hotel is on a secret deal with Lastminute.com.

It offers top secret hotels at a serious discount – the catch is you don’t know which hotels they are.

However, you can usually work out which hotel is being offered with a bit of research.

Copy and paste the description they use into Google – it often matches the hotel’s own website. Or it may be very similar to the description used on other websites where the hotel is named.

Step 6 – Credit card

Okay this won’t get you money off, but it may just save you a fortune. The recent Monarch demise, of which we were one of the victims, showed the value of using a credit card to pay for travel.

The card gives you protection so that you will get your money back if the airline or hotel goes bust.

Package holidays are generally covered under the ATOL scheme but if you have sorted everything yourself – the DIY route – always use a credit card.

We had for our cancelled Monarch flights and American Express was brilliant, refunding the £350 almost immediately.

One example – how we got a peak season hotel in Florence for £50 a night

We were looking for a hotel in Florence in peak season.

Trivago’s best price was £65 a night, cashback from TopCashback brought that down to £60.

But this hotel was on a Lastminute Top Secret list for £56.75.

We then got 11 per cent back via TopCashback, which made it £50.50 for a family room. Read the review of the hotel here, it was perfectly fine for the money.

For more advice check out this guide from MoneySavingExpert.com.

Have you got any tips to share? We’d love to hear them.