I'm a working mum writing about life in Edinburgh (and anywhere else we go) with two curious, adventurous, and imaginative children. Visit my blog at www.linzertortes.blogspot.co.uk. Follow me on Twitter: @LinzerLaw
Published November 1st 2013
Join the Penguin Parade
Here's something I need to say right at the start of a review of Edinburgh Zoo. It's expensive. It's not a cheap family day out, and because of that it's not one that you should rush.
There are loads of free, high-quality family activities across Edinburgh, or even cheaper animal options like Gorgie Farm. However, the Zoo is one of those outings that all children ask for at some point, especially now there are famous, possibly pregnant, pandas on display.
A trip to the zoo for a family of four (no concessions) is £45, or £49.50 if you choose the slightly pricier ticket that includes donation to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. You can also purchase membership of the Zoo, which costs around £155 for a family of four. That means you can get unlimited zoo trips (including the pandas!) for a whole year. This is probably a good option if you have a child, for example, who is obsessed with tigers. If you live on the West of Edinburgh, I'd definitely recommend it. You also get entry to the Highland Wildlife Park. We haven't been to the Wildlife Park, but I've heard it is a great day out.
So, all of the expense out of the way, how does the Zoo itself shape up?
The best way to approach the Zoo is to plan your route round it at the start. Like all attractions of this type, you can pick up a map at reception, and although there are signposts everywhere, it is easy to find that you miss a section because it's so large. My advice is to catch the Hilltop Safari to the top of the Zoo and work down from there. You catch it just as you come through the doors. On sunny days it is very busy and there will be a long queue, but while someone holds your spot the others can look at the sea lions who occupy the pond just at the entrance.
Once you're up at the top, you'll find zebras, camels, and other herd animals. If you're lucky, you'll also be able to spot some wolves. From there, it's very easy to make your way back down the hill, taking in the big cats. I've been to the zoo at various times of day, and I've found that the best time to see the cats is in the morning. They get fed, and will come out and prowl around their meat. If you leave it until later on, especially in the summer, then they'll probably be tucked away somewhere having a sleep. In the morning trip when I took these pictures, we saw every single kind of cat, which I've never had the pleasure of before.
A hungry leopard looks warily out at his audience.
There are a few other draws in this area. The koalas are currently having their habitat remodelled, so they weren't open when I went, but they should be now. I feel a bit sorry for them, because they used to be the big draw before the pandas, but they don't seem to mind. All of the enclosures have detailed placards with interesting information about the animals, which makes the Zoo educational as well as fun.
One of the animal guides on an enclosure, although this one is for a bird.
If you get bored of animal watching, or none of them are coming out to play, then there are a number of play parks across the zoo that you can stop off in for a break. There are also picnic benches, if you've brought your own lunch, or you can try out one of the two restaurants. These are fairly standard café food that you would expect: baked potatoes, macaroni cheese, hotdogs, and a packed lunch box for children.
After lunch, make sure to head down to Penguin Rock. At around 14:00 the keepers open the gates of the penguin enclosure and the birds come out for a walk. It's entirely voluntary, so you might only see one or two little penguins, or you might get a full parade of Emperors. The Penguin Parade is famous, and very popular, so make sure you get there early to bag a good spot on the route. It's right next to a small play park, if you are with children this is handy to stop them getting bored.
The Zoo is better on a sunny day so do check the weather forecast, or make sure you take wellies, umbrellas and waterproofs. The Zoo is even open on Christmas Day, which could make for a very unusual present for the family, especially if you combined it with one of the Zoo's options to adopt an animal.
While there's a lot of walking, there's also a lot to see. It is a relatively expensive day out, but it is a good one that children love and will ask to go back to again and again.
Visitor numbers have shot up since the pandas arrived.