We’ve just released our “Top 10 things to do in Chester” guide for hotel guests and right up at number 2 is our family favourite Chester Zoo! To make sure we know all the secret tips, I (Victoria Cornwell – Marketing) took a trip over to the zoo to investigate. Read below to hear about my experience, or skip to the bottom for my top reasons to visit and good to know pointers!“So, I visited the zoo on a Saturday, it was fabulous weather and the schools had only broken up for summer a few weeks earlier. I was looking forward to the day ahead, but apprehensive about the inevitable queues and crowding. As it turned out I had little to be concerned about! The zoo is VAST (125 acres, 11 miles of pathway to be precise!) so vast that despite the large numbers coming through the gates, we could still walk the exhibits at our own pace with good viewing opportunities in all exhibits bar one, but I’ll get to that later….
I took the trip with my fiancé Joe and his brother Tom. We arrived just before 11am, successfully missing the morning entrance rush, but having to park a minutes’ walk away from the entrance. We were greeted upon arrival with a free map, which despite Toms self-proclaimed “expert” knowledge of the zoo, was definitely still worth having, even if only for the indication of kiosks and toilets.
One of the first exhibits on our journey was the butterfly house. A beautiful oasis with a variety of butterflies from South America and Asia. My personal favourite was the giant Blue Morpho measuring an impressive 130mm, however Joe managed to a find a friend in an Owl butterfly who hitchhiked a lift as we toured the greenhouse. Whilst in the butterfly house we were also given a brief insight into the species by the knowledgeable zookeeper Carol which was a nice unexpected bonus. After touring the orange zone of our map, meeting the Giraffes, Jaguars and Red Apes, we decided to stop for a bite to eat. To avoid the tourist price tags, we opted to bring our own picnic with us and it was easy to find a nice shaded spot to lay out our blanket. Being a bit of a wimp, I was happy to see the addition of wasp houses in the trees. I’m not sure how they worked, but they kept the winged pests at bay so we could eat our sandwiches in peace!
After lunch, we decided to try and spot the new Binturong (we hadn’t a clue what it was, but we were intrigued!) We must have spent a good 5 minutes searching for the elusive creature, before a very helpful employee volunteered that we try the other side of the enclosure where his favourite sleeping spot was. Unfortunately, we still couldn’t find him, but we appreciated the friendly advice nonetheless and we still got to learn more from the information boards.
Heading on through the yellow zone we came across something I definitely didn’t expect… A wedding car! As it turns out we were at Oakfield house; a Victorian mansion originally built by the Mayor of Chester over 100 years ago. The stunning building is now used to host weddings with all proceeds going to Chester Zoos conservation efforts.
We decided to end our trip with the new islands section and all I can say is WOW! They have really gone to town with the décor in this area. Crossing the bridge and entering the islands was alike to crossing the road and ending up in East Asia! The good weather undoubtedly added to the experience, but it really was hard to believe we were still in our historical British city of Chester. Waterways run throughout the Islands with driverless boats transporting visitors around the exhibits. We didn’t try this ourselves as we we’re time limited, but if we had more time to spare, we would have definitely given this a go!
Now I mentioned earlier that there was one instance of crowding during our day at the zoo and this took place for us at the Islands. Specifically, the Tiger enclosure. Fortunately, I believe this was due to circumstance more than anything else. The pesky tigers had gathered in a small spot that could only be witnessed via one window within a cave walkway and being a new addition to the zoo, everyone was queuing to take their turn in front of the glass. We lined up for a good few minutes before making the decision to catch them next time, as we are had already started planning our return!”
Top reasons to visit:
1. The exhibits provide plenty of space and the care that goes into their wellbeing, is evident not only by the numerous education boards highlighting their conservation efforts, but also by the condition and relaxed behaviour of the animals themselves. You certainly won’t see any bars or cages at Chester Zoo!
2. Get your daily steps in without even realising! The size of the zoo is incredible and its easily a full day walking, but do you know what? I don’t notice! What’s great about Chester Zoo though is that they also cater for those who may struggle on their feet all day. There are electric scooters, wheelchairs and buggy’s available to hire at the entrance and you can hop on a waterway or overhead monorail tour should your feet need to take a few minutes rest.
3. With over 500 species, Chester Zoo has all the big exhibits (Lions, Elephants, Leopards, Rhinos, Penguins, Bears, Giraffes, Orangutans etc) with the addition of lesser known endangered species such as the Okapi, Binturong, Anoa, Pudu and Babirusa.
4. Interactive and walk through exhibits such as the bat house, butterfly house and bird aviaries.
5. Loads of fun stuff for kids (above and beyond the exhibits!) Including: face painting, mini golf and 5 play areas!
6. Beautiful landscaped gardens.
7. Friendly and knowledgeable zoo keepers who are happy to answer questions! A lot of their staff are volunteers and you can tell how important the welfare of the animals is to them.
Good to know:
· There is only one cash machine, near the entrance.
· Chester Zoo operates a no smoking policy. Smoking is allowed however in designated areas.
· You can take your own food and drink, with indoor and outdoor picnic areas.
· Tickets can be expensive, but trust us it’s worth it! Chester Zoo is also a charity and all proceeds go to looking after the animals and various global conservation projects. Book with them online for a 10% discount
· You need a full day if you want to see everything!
· There are lots of tours available including a conservation, early morning, expert guide, encounters and even a Segway tour, but you need to book in advance.
· The zoo opens at 10am and there’s free car parking.
· Storage lockers are available at a cost.