Cardiff is just 50-60 minutes (depending on traffic) drive from Bristol Zoo, so it’s an easily accessible day trip from South Wales. I went to Bristol Zoo a lot as a child and teenager, so wanted to see how it had changed over the years. Bristol Zoo is an urban zoo, of which there aren’t really a lot in the UK. City real estate is big bucks, so I doubt we’ll ever see any new inner city zoos in the future and with animals needing large enclosures and so much more knowledge being gained over the years about enrichment and exotic care, zoos are better suited to sprawling sites in the countryside. As I’ve worked with exotic animals hands on for the last 17 years, I was super curious to see how I felt about Bristol Zoo going back now as an adult with a lot of animal experience behind me.
We plan to go to a lot of zoos this year with William. I want him to have a broad experience of animals as young as possible, and you might have seen on my Instagram how as a baby he’s already become quite accustomed to living with snakes and lizards. Zoos can offer a great experience for children – entertainment and education hand in hand and since both my husband I both work with exotics and enjoy going to most zoos, we have a few on the cards for this year already. When checking out advance ticket prices (always cheaper for zoos plus you can usually cut any queues with pre-booked tickets) I noticed that Bristol’s Annual Membership was actually incredibly good value for us, because it includes entry into quite a few different zoos around the country.
Our Day Trip to Bristol Zoo
We looked at the list and realized that 3 of the zoos we plan to visit – Woburn Safari Park in April, Edinburgh Zoo in July and Chester Zoo in August all have free entry with the Bristol Annual Pass. At £85 for a joint adult membership, it was cheaper for us to buy the annual pass than individual tickets to the 4 zoos we intended to visit! That made it a complete no-brainer. So now we can go back to Bristol whenever we please – but if we don’t end up visiting again, we still saved money on the year because of the scheme that includes other zoos. Definitely worth checking out! They took our photos and had us set up with membership cards in just a few minutes.
For a small zoo it packs a lot in and a great deal of it is indoors. With a reptile house, twilight house, aquarium, butterfly house, bug world and indoor sections in the tunnels underneath the seal and penguins exhibit, as well as indoor activity and education centers, there is a ton of stuff to do here if it’s raining. So don’t be put off by rubbish weather if you’re thinking of hitting Bristol Zoo. It doesn’t have the larger animals that you get from safari parks, but it does have a lot of small and interesting exhibits.
William’s favourite exhibit was the Kea which is a large species of parrot from New Zealand. Whilst not that impressive in looks, the birds were very active, strutting on the ground right where he could watch them, rooting and digging for fruit and quite frankly, showing off! They’re an intelligent and curious breed – as are a lot of parrots, and they seemed genuinely interested in the people watching them and I think that captivated him. His second favourite was the flamingos, which are in a walk-in netted aviary at the very start of the zoo. It seems like I have a little bird-lover on my hands. After those two, he enjoyed the reptile house (although more for the warm temperature and the leaves he could touch than the animals I think!) and he loved the Aquarium, which has quite a few very large tanks where young children can get right up at eye level with the fish.
I work with small exotics – primarily reptiles. I originally started working with snakes, but now work with a wide range of reptiles, amphibians, tortoises, creepy crawlies like tarantulas and scorpions and some small exotic mammals. I can be quite critical of some zoos where the reptile house in particular can be sadly lacking. Scaly animals don’t quite draw the crowds as much as lions and tigers and bears, oh my, but I’m happy to report that in Bristol’s case I was quite impressed with their small, but well maintained collection of reptiles. I was particularly interested in the Shinisaurus crocodilurus (Chinese Crocodile Lizard) which I haven’t seen in captivity before and is quite an interesting, rare and unique species. I hope they have success with breeding their group, as with less than 1,000 left in the wild it’s captive breeding programs such as zoos that can be critical to a species survival.
Somehow we managed to meet two customers from Cardiff whilst at the zoo who recognized us and one even came up to ask questions about the equipment that Bristol Zoo uses to heat their reptile enclosures (that we also use back at home). If you’re thinking about keeping a reptile as a pet, I’ve written about whether reptiles are suitable pets for children in the past.
Facilities and Food
The zoo is entirely stroller (and wheelchair) friendly with loads of toilets and baby changing facilities dotted around. There is one restaurant, which as you’d anticipate with a captive audience is pretty expensive. This used to be a basic cafeteria style place, but has recently been transformed into “The Hide”, a service restaurant. The service was fast and the waitstaff friendly, but it was very busy (noon on a Saturday) and they didn’t have enough highchairs, so William had to eat sitting in his stroller. This was pretty inconvenient and you’d think that a Zoo could rustle up enough highchairs in April. Hopefully they will have more in come the summer holidays. It cost £13.50 for a cheeseburger, fries and a can’s worth of diet coke, with kids meals being around the £5 mark so for that sort of sit-down restaurant price I do expect that my son can actually eat comfortably in a highchair. My husband had sausages, mash and gravy. The food was perfectly tasty and the service was super fast, but the menu was rather limited. Bonus, if you’re a zoo member, you get 10% off in the restaurant.
If you don’t fancy full food service, there are kiosks selling lighter food options, hot and cold drinks. There are several picnic tables under cover dotted around the park, as well as some grassy areas you could sit on. Perhaps being a cold, overcast and showery April day is what led to the restaurant being so busy. I’m sure in the summer it will be a lovely environment to sit outside and eat your own packed lunch and if we’re here when the weather is nice I will definitely pack sandwiches.
Despite being a small urban zoo, Bristol Zoo manages to pack in plenty to keep you busy. It took us 4 hours to walk around the park at a pretty slow pace with a 1 year old, including sit down lunch at the restaurant, so if you’re low on time you could fit a visit into a morning or afternoon. If you want to make a full day of it, there are plenty of talks and activities we didn’t attend, as well as Zooropia, a rope climbing obstacle cost (with extra charge) that would challenge and entertain older children. We thought the annual pass was ridiculously good value if you intend to visit any other zoos that are included, or live local enough to make visiting a regular occurrence. Since we can now visit as many times as we want in the next year, I have no doubt we’ll be back there again soon.
No zoo visit is complete for us without a visit to the gift shop, where we bought a parrot stuffed toy for William (well, it was his birthday!) and our traditional zoo visit fridge magnet to add to our collection. We don’t usually buy two even if we visit the same zoo twice, but the previous one from Bristol Zoo on our fridge was almost 10 years ago now, so we bought a lovely carved wooden magnet with a flamingo on it to commemorate William’s first visit.
If you’re a particular fan of Zoos and Animal Attractions, check out my Zoo Reviews and Visits list!