Bristol Zoo Gardens

Review and visiting tips for Bristol Zoo Gardens following our family day out in January.

In the heart of a city that is home to just under half a million people you can find a centre of conservation, a place of education and a great day out for the family all rolled into one Zoo.

A short history of Bristol Zoo

Bristol Zoo Gardens is the fifth oldest zoo in the world having opened its doors way back in 1836. It was founded by prominent Bristolian Henry Riley and its early shareholders included Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The zoo was founded with education in mind and specifically the study of form, habitat and structure of the animal kingdom and carried out with an element of entertainment and recreation.

Over the course of the last 181 years Bristol Zoo has played a part in saving 175 species from extinction through breeding programmes and the establishment of conservation and research projects all over the world. Bristol Zoo has also provided education opportunities to over 40 million school children and seen more than 90 million people pass through its doors.

More on the history of Bristol Zoo

Our visit to Bristol Zoo

As soon as we stepped through the entrance we were greeted with a flock of pink flamingos singing (screeching) their hearts out demanding our attention. We wandered over and took our time watching them eating and ducking their heads under the water all while squaking at each other.

From here we went to see the king of the Pride Lands – the lion. While his space looked a bit small to us he looked in good condition and very impressive. Strong and proud as he strolled around. We were all captivated and Champ couldn’t help but try his hand at being a lion and give a roar or two.

When we eventually teared ourselves away from the lion we visited the nocturnal animals, red pandas and giant tortoises before entering the reptile house. Unfortunately, Poppet wasn’t interested so just Champ and I went in. In the reptile house was a small but interesting collection of snakes, lizards and even a croc (dwarf croc).

Once outside the reptile house and back with the girls we tried out the reaction test to see if we were as fast as a snake. We weren't!

Next we went into the aquarium. This was inside and underneath a grand looking building from the time the zoo was first constructed. There were plenty of big tanks, a walk through tunnel and best of all a wide variety of fish. One of the most interesting exhibits in the Bristol Zoo aquarium were the mud skippers. It was fun watching them skip along a stretch of beach moving in and out of the wet sand. Unfortunately, the tank they were in was quite steamed up so I wasn't able to get a photo. But, to give you an idea of what these interesting creature are I've included a short video from the BBC.

David Attenborough and the BBC on Mudskippers.

Once out of the aquarium it was time for lunch and we ate in the Hide Café Restaurant and more on that later.

After lunch we took our little monkeys to see theirs in the Monkey Jungle. We then crossed the water into Gorilla island. We’ve seen a few silver back Gorillas and they always look impressive and the one at Bristol Zoo was no exception. He stood tall and strong with a steely glare. He owned his domain and everyone knew it. Sadly, just like the mud skippers I wasn't able to get a good photo. So, I've got another video. This time of the Silverback and other gorillas at Bristol Zoo.

We crossed back to the mainland and next we went to the penguins and seals. Despite the cold we walked through slowly taking tons of photos of the playful birds. We tried our best to capture the seals but as they swam at fast speed around their pen unfortunately they all turned out a bit blurred.
More pictures of Penguins

Following the penguins, we warmed up in the pygmy hippo pen and braved the smell while staring at the backsides of two hippos. Once we warmed up and realised they weren’t going to turn around we returned to the cold outside and the Zona Brazil area.

Next on our trek were the Meerkats who were in playful mood to rival the penguins. Digging, watching, running and looking distinctly like they were having fun.

More pictures of the Bristol Zoo Meerkats

Around the corner from the Meerkats was a chance for the kids to get warm by testing their speed on the cheetah running track. They really enjoyed this activity and seeing their time get faster with each run.

The cold was really starting to get to us at this point so we skipped the aviary and butterfly tunnel and made our way to the children’s play area. As the children played I got some rather weak decaf coffee from the Hide Restaurant Café. While the coffee wasn’t great the play area was pretty good and the kids enjoyed jumping around, climbing and playing in the sand area.

Once the coffee was done we made our way to the gift shop but not before spending another fifteen minutes with the lion and then seeing if I could stand on one leg for as long as a flamingo. After about a minute I got bored!

Top tips for visiting Bristol Zoo

Top tips for visiting Bristol Zoo

  1. Get there early to ensure you have somewhere to park and can enjoy a full day at the zoo.
  2. Take your time with the animals and exhibits. The zoo is wonderfully compact and so can be enjoyed at a relaxed pace (the Travelbetter way).
  3. Bring warm and waterproof clothes as you will spend the majority of your time outside and well, it is Britain, so expect rain.
  4. Kit out the kids in hardy clothes for when they get to the playground and zip line.
  5. Eat early or late in the restaurant to avoid the crowds.
  6. Use an inset day (teacher training day) to avoid peak times and save money on your tickets.

Do the animals have enough room at Bristol Zoo?

Given the location of the zoo in the middle of Bristol we did wonder if the animals kept there would have enough room. On the whole yes and we didn’t doubt for a second that the animals were well cared for at the Bristol Zoo. Our only concern was the lion.

While he had one of the biggest enclosures in the zoo when we compared it to his size it looked small. But, it did also have an inside area away from the zoo guests that we couldn’t see.

Being honest we have no idea what a lion needs (Google results say around 1,500 sq metres) so it is difficult to judge and for the most part he seemed relaxed and comfortable.

What is the food like at Bristol Zoo?

Due to it being the off season at the zoo the food options were limited to the Hide Café Restaurant that served both snacks and sit down meals (with table service). The options were varied and served in a fun way on tin trays. I enjoyed a BBQ chicken burger, Charlie had the falafel burger, Poppet had chicken and Champ went for battered fish. The kid’s mains were served in plain bowls which was a bit boring but then their puddings were a lot of fun with a flower pot of sweets, bowl of ice cream and best of all popping candy. I looked on with a tinge of jealously.

The restaurant itself was a large open room decorated in different habitat styles with simple table and chairs. While our two don’t need them anymore we did see plenty of baby chairs around the café and in fact Bristol Zoo looked to be a favourite spot of those lucky enough to be on parental leave.

How much does a visit to Bristol Zoo cost?

Our trip to Bristol Zoo Gardens cost

  • £40 for tickets (£5 per child and £10 per adult)
  • £35 for lunch
  • £12 in the gift shop

Coming to a total of £87 for a family of four for a day

As we were visiting on a Friday during school time (it was an inset day) we were able to get Super-Saver Tickets and saved money buying our tickets in advance rather than at the gate. The three ticket types are:

  • Bristol Zoo Super-Saver Tickets – Adult £10, Child £5 and Concession £9 and can only be used on Super-Saver days (blue)
  • Bristol Zoo Flexi Tickets – Adult £15, Child £9 and Concession £13 and can be used on both Super-Saver (blue) and yellow days
  • Bristol Zoo Premium Tickets – Adult £19, Child £13 and Concession £17 and can be used on any green, yellow or blue day

Is Bristol Zoo family friendly?

Bristol Zoo Gardens is very family friendly with plenty of activities laid on for kids, space for pushchairs and a zip line course for bigger kids.

How to get to Bristol Zoo

While you are encouraged to use public transport to reach Bristol Zoo the easiest way is by car via the M4 and M5 motorways. There is a car park at the zoo and it cost £3 for the day or alterntivately on street parking is available near-by starting from £5 for the day.

The address of Bristol Zoo is Bristol Zoo Gardens, Clifton, Bristol BS8 3HA

Though the car is the easiest way to reach Bristol Zoo it can still be reached by public transport by taking a train to Bristol-Temple Meads and then catching the number 8 bus. Or you can park at the Wessex Bristol 505 Park and Ride. Plus, if you do go via public transport you can save money on your ticket.

More information on the eligibility for the public transport discount.

Where to stay when visiting Bristol Zoo

For our visit to Bristol we stayed in the Aztec Hotel & Spa which is a 20 minute drive from Bristol Zoo. The Aztec Hotel is very family friendly with good size rooms and a large swimming pool.

Alternatively, it you want to stay close to the animals then you can stay on site at the Bristol Zoo Gardens Lodge.

Other options to stay near Bristol Zoo are:

Bristol Zoo - Overall

Overall, Bristol Zoo is a great family day out for a cost of roughly £90. It has a wide variety of animals on display with the addition of fun, informative and interactive exhibits.

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