Reviewed by Sarah Hicks
Just come back from a fantastic full on day at Bristol Zoo Gardens today. What a place – where to start? Well I suppose when you’re planning to visit this sort of attraction, the 1st place anyone looks is the website – same here! The site has good information on planning your day, a site map, info on prices with discounts offered for advance online ticket sales – all good. Certainly whets your appetite.
We arrived around 10.30 on a Saturday morning, and ended up driving past the entrance 1st of all heading for one of the clearly marked car parks – unfortunately although it was still showing has having spaces when we got to the entrance we found a queue of cars along the road and we could see very little spaces. I am always conscious of parking wherever we travel as I drive a very large car/minibus so need a BIG space! We were able to turn around very easily and headed towards the “overflow” car park but again unfortunately due to where another car had parked on the road I could not get my “bus” through the tight entrance gate. We carried on a little and found on street parking very easily (and for free!), parking in an official car park is only £3 for the whole day though, so very reasonable.
By the time we got around to the Zoo’s entrance there were a few people waiting to enter but after very little time we were welcomed into the site by a team of very busy and efficient Zoo staff – our experience at the front desk was a friendly one and all the till staff were well presented and wearing smiles!
The Zoo gardens themselves are set in a beautiful 5 hectare site in the Clifton area of Bristol and there has been a Zoo on the site open to the public since 1836. Some the buildings on site today date back to the 1920’s – others are obviously more modern – including the more recent addition of a Meerkat enclosure and the redevelopment of the existing Gorilla House – now giving visitors a 360 degree view of the Gorilla’s indoor environment.
We visited the Bristol Zoo Gardens as a family of 6 – Mum, Dad, Lily – 6, Sid – 5 and my twin boys Sonny & Stan who have just turned 3 – so the children are all quite young and were very excited to see all the animals – often leading them to rush around looking for the next thing and the next thing! The hardest thing was getting them to slow down and appreciate what they were seeing and to try and feed them appropriate information about the animals for their age. We managed to keep them still long enough to listen to the talk about the resident lions – which was quite a feat seeing as the Lions themselves were absent. One thing we did learn from the talk was that lions sleep for around 20 hours a day – no wonder they were still in bed at 11am – who could blame them! – armed with this information we kept calling back at their enclosure whenever we were wondering around – and it did eventually lead to success – at around 5pm – they decided to get up – well, we found them dozing on the roof of their hideaway, such beautiful animals to be able to witness up close, such a privilege.
Other animal “highlights” for the children (and grown-ups!) would have to be the crocodiles – my children thought they weren’t real when we first saw them – they have an amazing ability to stay very still, but we were very luck to see one yawn up close – big mouth, big teeth – cue lots of talk of being eaten by one, and who would have the tastiest leg!! The gorillas were one of my personal favourites – and with the improvements made to the gorilla house it now means there are more viewing opportunities to see these very popular, powerful animals that are such close relations to our own species.
The one big highlight for my elder 2 children (and myself) was ZooRopia, an assault course consisting of 17 different sections to challenge you – all based approx 20 feet up which weaves its way around the Zoo site giving some unique views of the gorillas and gibbons – not that was foremost in my mind when going around, not falling off was top of the list!! Sid (who actually only just “qualified” to go on this attraction both in age and height) went first, and was off. He loved every single bit, the boy had no fear and it was only the people in front of him that slowed him down at all! Lily on the other hand desperately wanted to do the course (especially as her younger brother was up for the challenge!) and was excitedly waiting for her turn and it was only as she went up the ramp to attempt the first challenge that she froze! (there is no going back with this one!) I was behind her and was somewhat successful in encouraging her along, but as I wasn’t actually allowed to join her on the ropes my impact was limited. We didn’t have to wait long for help – one instructor gave verbal assistance from the ground and the next time I looked across to Lily another instructor had joined her 20ft up and was physically helping her with foot placement and confidence (quite where this instructor came from is still a mystery to be honest, she just seemed to appear?) The instructor stayed with Lily the whole way round the course, helping her right to the end, for which I’m really grateful. The course finishes with a fast zip wire ride onto the Zoo’s lawned area – a fantastic end to this whole experience (can you tell I’d love to do it again!!).
All in all we had a great day out – and it was a whole day out – we walked round for a final time at around 5pm and still saw things that we’d missed before. We took a picnic lunch for us to enjoy and were able to sit under a large semi covered area outside the main eatery – food is obviously available to buy on site if you would prefer – salads and sandwiches were priced around £4.50 – £5.00 and seemed to be enjoyed by quite a few visitors. There was also a “pop up” Pizzeria which I noticed was very popular, but on going back to that area outside of normal “lunch” hours, this was no longer open, so something to keep in mind if you want to eat later.
I’m also currently potty training my twins at the moment – so think we must have visited every toilet on the site! – all were clean and tidy and baby changing facilities were also available.
I’d give Bristol Zoo Gardens a 4.5 out of 5 as a day out. The only reason I mark it down slightly was because of the extra’s that you have to pay for once inside the site – a bouncy castle / slide and merry-go-round were all extra’s that with 4 children do add up. The ZooRopia challenge was also an extra you have to pay for – but I think that’s more justifiable as it’s not something everyone would want to do during their visit, and costs cover the specifically trained staff and safety equipment needed to complete it. All in all a great family day out, a complete “Zoo” experience but with lots more on top! As a foot note, we did take a pushchair with us and the whole site is wheelchair / pushchair friendly – great for a site that was originally opened nearing 200 years ago!
Tickets cost from £6.81 to £15.95 (save 10% if booking online). Children under 2 go FREE.
For more information or to book tickets visit www.bristolzoo.org.uk.
Bristol Zoo Gardens, Clifton, Bristol BS8 3HA | 0117 974 7399