Edinburgh Zoo is a family day out in central Edinburgh, Scotland. This sprawling city zoo is built upon the side of a hill, so expect steep walks up and down and a full day of exercise. Despite this, we visited with a stroller and a 15 month old who is walking, but not in a reliable fashion, and found it physically taxing, but definitely doable. We visited on a hot and sunny day in July, when loose clothing and light layers was essential, with sunscreen needing to be applied every 2 hours. Whatever time of year you visit, comfortable footwear is an absolute must for this day out, as well as snacks, drinks and a camera!
Edinburgh Zoo Packing Essentials:
- Appropriate clothing for an active day depending on the weather
- Comfortable and reliable footwear
- Plenty of drinks and snacks
- Packed lunch if you don’t want to eat in the cafe
- Camera to capture all the animals
Edinburgh Zoo – Location and Parking
Edinburgh Zoo is a city zoo, putting it within easy access of hotels and accommodation, with bus stops outside or a 30 minute walk from Haymarket Train Station. Car parking on site is £4 (£2 for members) and is just a few minutes walk from the zoo. If you’re a member (or a partner member – we used our Bristol Zoo membership passes) then there is also a skip the queue entrance direct from the car park which is excellent. The car park is fairly small and when we arrived at 10am it was already starting to fill up quite quickly. I’d advise traveling in the morning as you’ll be searching for local street parking otherwise.
The parking isn’t clearly marked on Google Maps, it is located behind the Holiday Inn and the entrance you use is the same one to access the hotel, but it is very clearly signposted, so putting Edinburgh Zoo into your postcode will take you right next to the car park.
Edinburgh Zoo Review
Our visit was part of our 10 day tour of Scotland with a 15 month old, which gave us an amazing overview of Edinburgh and the Highlands, including other attractions such as Edinburgh Castle, the Red Deer Encounter at Highland Safaris, Highland Wildlife Park, the Cairngorm Mountain Funicular Railway and Cruising on Loch Ness. It was a packed trip!
Edinburgh Zoo usually costs between £10 – £20 (see website for up to date details), with children under three being free. We accessed the park for free using our annual Bristol Zoo passes, which is a partner zoo. We arrived at 10am and left around 3pm and could definitely have spent more time there so it really is a full day out. Although zoos can be a bit expensive for the whole family, in my opinion they do offer excellent value for money when you consider how much time you can spend there and how unique the experience is.
Animals at Edinburgh Zoo
As an avid visitor of zoos both in the UK and around the world, and someone who has worked with exotic animals (primarily reptiles and small mammals) for over a decade, I’d rate Edinburgh Zoo as one of the best. Despite being on awkward terrain, with a lot of steep hills to be tackled, Edinburgh Zoo manages to very efficiently use the space, with large enclosures. The range of species is impressive, with the crowning glory of the pair of Giant Pandas Tian Tian (Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine). These two beauties are housed in large separate enclosures with both indoor and outside viewing areas for visitors and Edinburgh Zoo is the only location in the UK you will be able to see Giant Pandas. When we visited they were both easily visible, with the female being very active and touring her enclosure whilst the male sat in full view outside in a patch of sunlight eating bamboo, but it is quite hard to get photos or close as these are the most popular exhibits and it was a busy day. At one point Edinburgh Zoo was doing timed tickets to see the pandas which would avoid this, but this wasn’t in operation when we visited and you could just see them whenever you wanted. This meant you could always go back later. I just hope they are successful breeding these in the future!
Seeing koalas was also a real treat, along with the African Hunting Dogs and the Margay being firm favourites with our family. Whatever you like seeing there’s bound to be something that makes you smile at Edinburgh Zoo though, with chimpanzees, squirrel monkeys, king, gentoo and rockhopper penguins, a walk-through aviary, a walk through wallaby encounter, sun bears, lions, zebra, rhino and loads more.
We really felt that this zoo offered a really good balance between animals we’d seen before and rare and unusual species. It seemed like there was a great level of conservation and education going on that is always amazing to see and support.
Children’s Activities at Edinburgh Zoo
There were two good sized play parks that had something to offer for the very little ones like my 15 month old who has just realized he can run (and fall) and climbing ropes and apparatus for older children too. There seemed like lots of educational and interactive information around the park and aside from the steepness of the park, it was very pushchair friendly, with ramps everywhere you could want them. The only downside is that the land train wasn’t running, despite it being a Saturday in the summer holidays and that would have made it a lot easier for the families with young children to see the whole park. As it is quite a large site with a lot of steep hills I think families with young children could struggle to see everything, especially those who are too big for pushchairs but too young for the stamina you need for a full day out.
One of the massive bonuses of having a membership to Edinburgh Zoo or to a partner zoo like we have with Bristol Zoo is that you never feel too pressured to rush around and see everything or get the best value out of your tickets. I’ve found since we get unlimited entry to so many zoos, we’re much more likely to relax and take our time.
Facilities at Edinburgh Zoo
Despite it being a Saturday in the summer holidays, I did notice that most of the kiosks around the park seemed to be closed. It was absolutely baking, and I wasn’t really sure why there were so few places you could buy drinks and snacks. The toilets are also spread out quite a lot and if you get caught short whilst in the far-away or steepest parts of the site it is quite a big walk. Although Edinburgh Zoo scored out of this world on animal care and variety, I did feel it lacked a bit in the facility department. Queues for the bathrooms were all long.
On the plus side, the price of food at the kiosk we did find open near the main cafe was very reasonable, with amazing Mackies ice cream – two massive scoops in a tub for £3, yum yum! We took a packed lunch so can’t comment on the food in the main cafe, but will say the queues looked long. There are plenty of picnic sites around the park so taking a packed lunch will save money and time if you can manage it and we bought Tesco meal deals before heading in and enjoyed them sitting on a shaded bench within view of the penguins, perfect!
Edinburgh Zoo Review Rating
- Great variety of species
- Rare animals you won’t see elsewhere such as the Giant Pandas and Koalas
- Large enclosures and great animal care
- Educational and interactive opportunities galore
- Good play parks for children
- Full day out so good value – plenty to do!
- Fantastic entrance for members
- Fairly small car park
- Very steep location
- Lots of food / drink kiosks closed on our summer holidays visit
- Not enough toilets
- Land train wasn’t running
- Not many indoor locations should the weather be dire