With around one million animal and plant species threatened with extinction, it’s never been more vital to support the conservation efforts of zoos, safari, and wildlife parks in the UK.
From the chilly Highlands of Scotland down to the balmy micro-climate of the Isle of Wight, the UK is spoilt for choice when it comes to zoos. In this guide we’ll visit many of the best to give you an insight into what’s on offer for your next motorhome safari!
So, get your motorhome insurance sorted, your entrance tickets booked and head out to visit some of the best zoos around the UK.
Best zoos in East Anglia
First opened back in 1963, Colchester Zoo in Essex has a little bit of everything. It’s set in 60 acres of beautiful parkland and lakes and home to over 200 rare and endangered species from all over the world. Its long list of beautiful enclosures include ‘Kingdom of the Wild’, ‘Otter Creek’ and ‘Lion Rock’.
But what about if you want to focus on a single continent? Well, how about a spot of Africa in Suffolk? That’s right! Just two miles south of Lowestoft you can visit Africa Alive! and see over 1,000 animals all living within 60 acres of stunning countryside!
At this award-winning family attraction, you can get up close to some of Africa’s wildest stars. You’ll obviously see lions, cheetahs, rhino, and giraffes; but also keep an eye out for lesser-known stars such as the bat-eared fox and the red river hog.
To witness the wonders of Asia, head over to Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens where you’ll find a pair of critically endangered Sumatran tigers, elusive snow leopards, a band of noisy gibbons, and the infamous saltwater crocodiles. Are you brave enough to cross the bridge over the crocodile infested waters? We’re not!
Best zoos in the South East
Do you love spotting monkeys, penguins, snakes? Of course you do! Well, at the small but perfectly-formed Drusillas Park you’ll be able to see these and a whole lot more. Located on a small 10-acre plot near Alfriston in East Sussex it’s the perfect spot for families to get up close to these wonderful creatures.
Be sure to visit all the walk-through exhibits where you can get within touching distance of lemurs, sloths and parrots.
But animals are only half the fun here. If you’re looking for a theme park adventure then Get Wet! splash park, Amazon Adventure, Mungo's Adventure Maze and the Hello Kitty Secret Garden are brilliant.
A visit to the Cotswold Wildlife Park & Gardens in Oxfordshire is a great way to explore the sheer diversity of species in the world. Take to the ever-popular Giraffe Walkway to get eye to eye with the Earth’s tallest animal inhabitants, stroll around the park to visit the Asiatic lions, and watch the penguins at feeding time.
Once you’ve had your fill of exotic animals (if that’s even possible!) be sure to explore the stunning gardens. What a perfectly relaxing end to a wild day out!
Often found in lists of top UK zoos, Marwell Zoo in the heart of Hampshire on the south coast has hundreds of animals living in its 140-acre park. Located just eight miles from Winchester you’ll need a good four hours if it’s your first time visiting.
While there are plenty of giraffes, tigers, leopards, hippos, meerkats, penguins, and capybara to see, look out for one of the zoo’s most recent additions. Recently, lucky visitors managed to see the birth of a rare Grevy’s zebra foal at the zoo.
And when it’s time for your own little animals to be let loose, there are five adventure playgrounds on offer! Be sure to take along your own picnic to make a day of it.
Head to the beautiful Sandown Beach on the Isle of Wight to visit the Wildheart Animal Sanctuary. Previously known as the Isle of Wight Zoo, the zoo became a charity in 2017 and focuses principally on rescued big cats and Madagascan animals.
Built on the site of an old Victorian fort, it has a wonderfully unique setting, perfect for exploring the coast around the area either before or after visiting. A whole variety of animals call the sanctuary home but it does have a particular speciality in tigers and lemurs. There are also farm animals, bees, birds, Eurasian lynx, lions, reptiles and amphibians and many more.
Best zoos in the South West
One of the south west’s most popular attractions, Paignton Zoo is a leafy, shady gem of a zoo in this popular seaside resort town. It was one of the very first places in the UK to combine both zoological and botanical gardens.
It now boasts around 2,000 animals representing nearly 300 species, and around 1,600 plant species. Watch out for recent arrivals including endangered Lake Titicaca water frogs, three tiny Kirk’s dik-dik antelopes, a zebra foal and some roadrunner chicks. Let’s hope a certain Wile E. Coyote is not being housed nearby!
Thought to be the fifth oldest zoo in the world still in existence, Bristol Zoo Gardens is currently found at a modest 12-acre site in the city of Bristol. It’s home to over 450 species, but there are big plans afoot to close it in 2022 and move it to the zoo’s 50-acre sister site Wild Place Project. The new zoo is scheduled to open in 2024.
Driving through animal enclosures and watching beautiful wild creatures from the comfort of your motorhome is the perfect way to enjoy Longleat Safari and Adventure Park in Wiltshire.
You’ll love passing through Big Game Park, Lion Country, Cheetah Kingdom, Tiger Territory and Wolf Wood on your motorhome tour. What’s that? What about the zoo’s troop of cheeky macaque monkeys? If you value your precious home on wheels then that is an enclosure well worth avoiding. You’ve been warned!
If you’re looking for a more stress-free visit then why not park up and hop on board the double-decker Safari Bus instead? That way you can enjoy the mayhem the monkeys unleash on other visitors’ vehicles without having to worry about losing your windscreen wipers!
Best zoos in the Midlands
Exploring the rugged landscape of the Peak District is a popular choice for many motorhome or campervan enthusiasts. If you’re visiting this idyllic area then be sure to visit the Peak Wildlife Park near Leek in Staffordshire for a great family-friendly day out.
Come rain or shine it’s fun to stroll along the unique animal walkthroughs to meet the resident penguins, giant rabbits, lemurs, wallabies, and (new for 2021) red squirrels – you can even have a go at feeding them. There are also indoor and outdoor play areas for the kids to burn off some extra energy before heading back to your campsite.
If monkeys and apes are your animal obsession then the lovely Twycross Zoo, in Atherstone, Warwickshire is the place to visit. Billed as ‘The World Primate Centre’, the zoo houses the largest collection of monkeys and apes in the western world.
Conservation is at the heart of everything they do at the zoo and you’ll find out all about it as you move around the attraction. Creatures come in all shapes and sizes at the zoo, which cares for around 500 animals of almost 100 species, not to mention countless creepy crawlies, too.
It’s also the only zoo in the UK where you can see all the varieties of great ape, including gorilla, orangutan, chimpanzee and bonobo.
Best zoos in Wales
Regularly voted one of the most popular visitor attractions in Wales, Pembrokeshire’s Folly Farm is a magnet for families and animal lovers visiting the area. Indeed, with its petting farm, fairground and themed adventure play areas it’s got so much on offer that sometimes the amazing zoo is overlooked! But that would be a big mistake.
Folly Farm houses the only giraffes in Wales and over 100 unusual animal species, including bongo, fossa, turaco, Nile lechwe and capybara. Make time to visit Glyndŵr, the first Eastern black rhino born in Wales, and a newly upgraded sloth retirement centre (yes, really!).
A great reason for visiting a zoo is so you can be certain of spotting all the animals you want. However, sometimes there’s nothing better than observing a creature out in the wild in its natural habitat.
While you’re in Pembrokeshire, why not take a trip to the wonderful Skomer Island, one of the world’s most important and unique sites for seabirds and other native Welsh wildlife. Read our guide to spotting wildlife in the UK and find out more about this and many other special sites.
Heading north in your motorhome you’ll find the largest aquarium in Wales at Anglesey Sea Zoo. With over 40 huge tanks, this unique zoo features over 150 marine species native to the British coast. From rare British long-snouted seahorses and mesmerising moon jellyfish to Atlantic wolffish and sharks, the Anglesey Sea Zoo highlights the incredible diversity of wildlife living all around us.
The zoo is also actively involved in a variety of conservation programmes, including the Crawfish Research Programme and the Lobster Hatchery of Wales.
Best zoos in the North
Considered one of the greatest zoos in the world, and with around two million visitors every year, Chester Zoo in Cheshire has a huge amount to offer. You can marvel at over 20,000 animals from every corner of the globe, including bears, elephants, orangutans, cheetahs and buffalo.
Chester Zoo also boasts 128 acres of beautiful zoological gardens. If your interests are more botanical, then highlights include national plant collections for orchids, cacti and nepenthes. Not to mention the Enrichment Garden, which grows plants to keep the animals at the zoo happy.
Opened in 2009, the award-winning Yorkshire Wildlife Park near Doncaster is the UK’s No. 1 walk-through wildlife adventure. There’s really no better way to gain an insight into the world of wild animals than to spend a day outdoors learning about them.
From polar bears and sea lions to endangered African painted dogs and Bactrian camels, all can be seen roaming freely through their own carefully designed reserves. Be sure to visit the spectacular Leopard Heights facility, which lets you get eye-to-eye (almost) with the most endangered big cat in the world. For those looking for even more access, take a behind-the-scenes VIP tour, too.
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Best zoo in Scotland
If you want to see an iconic giant panda then you’d better hurry up and get over to Edinburgh Zoo. The zoo’s pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian are set to return to China in 2022 as the lease agreement with the Chinese government comes to an end. But if you do miss them then don’t despair, there are still plenty of koalas, tigers, penguins, monkeys and many more animals to make up for the loss. Take the opportunity to walk among wallabies at Wallaby Outback, meet three different species of penguin at Penguins Rock and learn about those cute Koalas at Koala Territory.
Best zoo in Northern Ireland
Owned by Belfast City Council, the 55-acre Belfast Zoo takes great care of more than 120 different species, many of which are endangered or extinct in the wild. And it’s not just high-profile exotic species they’re interested in – the zoo also helps in breeding several native ones, too. Indeed, the zoo takes part in over 90 European and international breeding programmes to protect many threatened species.
Protect your vehicle with motorhome insurance
Wild animals are well known for their unplanned antics, so if you’re visiting a zoo, it’s well worth checking your motorhome insurance is in place before you leave. Just in case of any close encounters!
At Motorhome Protect our specialist team will search out the best cover for you from our panel of insurers. Benefits of motorhome insurance through us can include:
- Cover for camping personal effects up to £3,500
- Discounts for motorhome club members
- Cover for vehicles up to £120,000
- Unlimited cover across all EU countries
Call Motorhome Protect to get a quote for campervan insurance.
Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.