You can’t beat a good zoo visit for a family day out. H has always loved animals and being interested in learning more about them, so zoos are high on his list of places that he wants to visit. We’d never been before, but I’d heard Edinburgh Zoo was a good one and of course, they have giant pandas. There are very few places where you can get to see giant pandas. In fact, there are only 47 in zoos outside China, so if you want to see a giant panda Edinburgh Zoo really is the place to go and they have two of them too.
One of the first things we did when we arrived at the zoo was start wandering towards the giant pandas’ area because we had a timed slot to see them. We learnt a bit about the pandas before we went in to see them. The pandas are in Edinburgh on a 10 year loan from China. They have a female called Tian Tian and a male called Yang Guang. Pandas mostly eat bamboo, but they are omnivores and will eat other foods if they are available. When we went last week, the state of play was that Tian Tian might be pregnant, so she doesn’t have to come out into the area the public can see unless she chooses to, because they want her to be comfortable and for the pregnancy to succeed. Sadly we didn’t get to see Tian Tian because of it, but we did see Yang Guang. Pandas spend a lot of their day either eating or sleeping and when we had our slot Yang Guang was having a nap. This is just luck of the draw. We didn’t see the pandas moving around, but because Yang Guang was asleep, it was easy to take photos of him.
Edinburgh Zoo is on quite a big site, so there’s room for lots of different types of animal. As you come into the zoo there’s a meerkat colony and it’s fun to watch the meerkats. There always seems to be one on lookout duty while the others play, feed or sleep.
From the meerkats we walked around the zoo in a loop. It’s set on a hill, but whether you loop around clockwise or anti-clockwise, you will get uphill part done first.
Highlights for us included:
- the enormous greater one-horned rhinos – these are big powerful beasts.
- the monkeys and apes – loads of these to see from very small squirrel and capuchin monkeys to gibbons and chimpanzees. You can get a good view of the chimps in the Budongo Trail enclosure, which has lots of information and interactive exhibits so you can learn more about these wonderful creatures.
- the lemurs – everyone loves a ring tailed lemur and H couldn’t resist bursting into song: I like to move it, move it. The lemurs are such fun to watch as they love to leap around and play.
- the big cats and the smaller ones like the Scottish wild cat.
- the zebras – we found it very easy to get a good view of the zebras on the African Plains area.
- the koalas – the only ones in the UK and very cute.
Last, but by no means least, there were the penguins at Penguin Rock. Edinburgh have a large enclosure and pool area with a lot of penguins. They have colonies of king, gentoo and rockhopper penguins for you to see. Once a day there is a penguin parade which is well worth a visit. In fact, through the day there are a number of special talks and animal encounters, which you can find detailed on the map you get given with your tickets.
The zoo is on a busy bus route from the city and buses seemed pretty regular the day we were there. They stop right outside too, so that makes things easy. It’s £4 to park in the car park, but we managed to find some free on road car parking nearby.
As you’d expect for a big zoo, there are a range of catering outlets available and you can get a good selection of food. Taking a picnic is easy too and there are plenty of picnic spots and tables. The top of the site by Vicuna has great views of the city and the surrounding hills, so it’s a nice place for picnicking with a playground nearby too. There is a drinks kiosk here, but if you want food you’ll need to get it elsewhere.
Playgrounds are scattered through the site which is great as it provides a bit of a change of pace at times. The play facilities are interesting and in good condition.
Book your panda slot ahead of time as they tend to get booked up. It’s included in the regular ticket price, but you do need to reserve a place.
Obviously, a zoo visit is best in dry weather, but there are quite a few covered areas for taking shelter on a showery day.
You can easily spend the whole day at Edinburgh Zoo and I don’t think you could really see it all in less than 4 hours.