Top Ten Zoos To Visit - Dec 2022
Zoo Trips guide to the top ten zoos to visit in 2023
1: Manor House Wildlife Park - Manor Wildlife Park, Tenby, Wales
I'm sure to many it will be a shock inclusion, and more of a shock to many to see it in at number one, but like it's sister park Peak Wildlife Park, when the park was taken over in 2008 by Anna Ryder-Richardson and her then husband, it was a shadow of the collection we see before our eyes now.
Ryder-Richardson, who was rumoured to have left the zoo in 2018, is still very much involved in the Pembrokeshire based Zoo, and since she took over at the helm, there has been a massive push towards conservation.
I guess that those who make animal decisions for both parks are keen to focus on exhibiting the animals the best they can, as despite being at quite large locations, there is not a huge amount of animals, but instead large state of the art exhibits given excellent views of the animals, in purpose built exhibits.
For all Peak has smaller more domesticated animals and a few niceties along the way, it is the way that Manor has developed and grown and continued to house more exotic species that makes it my favourite zoo in the UK.
I really feel that Manor does everything right, and when you look at my top ten zoos, you will see a focus on places that offer the animals sizable exhibits, but also allow the visitor to see them. But also enrich their animals and care for them well.
Manor doesn't just house small animals, they house Southern White Rhino, Sumatran Tiger, Siamang, Red Panda, Przewalski's Horse, Brazilian Tapir and other exotic animals.
The entrance brings you out into a walkthrough Wallaby exhibit where you can purchase pellets to feed them, and in an exhibit which is spacious, the Palma and Bennetts are happy to come up close.
Next you come to what I feel is probably the best Red Panda exhibit in the UK. It is massive, offers loads of platforms and high tree's and allows the visitor to walk on a raised platform around it, so you can see them at all levels and I've always found the Red Panda's to be rather active in this exhibit and they have tonnes of enrichment.
As you head out on to the main pathway round the zoo, you are greeted by Przewalski's Horses, and Camels who share an exhibit, before encountering one of the biggest Rhino Paddocks I've come across which reminds me much of the set up at the Cotswold Wildlife Park, only that it has three different stabling areas for the Ostrich, Oryx and Zebra who share this large plains setting. The Rhino have their house down the bottom, but also have a large wallow and shelter to boot. It's a cracking exhibit offering plenty of sit down benches, and informative signage looking out on the picturesque views of Pembrokeshire. A photographers dream with exceptional backdrops, this exhibit alone captures your heart and is further testament to a job very well done at Manor.
One of my favourite exhibits is next upon you, the Gibbon Island, which has a trio of Siamang, who have an inside section as well as their island they can explore, climb high and gives the visitor another view without bars, something that appeals to me as a photographer and also as someone who doesn't particularly like to see animals in cages.
More island exhibits follow for Saki Monkeys and Squirrel Monkeys, before you come across a plains paddock and pond. Home to Rhea and Brazilian Tapir, the exhibit is of large size and I have always seen them playing out in the pond which is great to see.
As you turn back right, you are faces with the large fence exhibits which house Visayan Warty Pigs and also the highlight of the zoo Sumatran Tigers.
The Tiger exhibit which has rocks, mounds, loads of foliage and water offers great photo opportunities and it splits into two large pens meaning should the pair ever breed and have cubs, they have ample outside room to give both sets good on show facilities.
Even the Warty Pigs have a fine exhibit which is well burrowed with lots of enrichment and once again it feels like every exhibit is well planned and thought out with the animals in mind.
They even have a big paddock for goats next to the Warty-Pigs.
In the centre of the collection is Manor House, and part of it has been transformed into a kitchen which is mainly a Pizzeria, but serves Ice Creams, hot and cold drinks, sandwiches and a few other choices. It's good and fresh and the food is very tasty and also well priced.
At this stage, you have completed what would be most of the exotic animals, but opposite the house, you have a large play area and then two more interesting exhibits. A large Lemur walkthrough which houses, Black & White Ruffed Lemur, Ring-Tailed Lemur, and Red Bellied Lemur. You can get quite close to them and see them feed at keeper talks and its a lovely well spaced out walkthrough exhibit.
Leaving the exhibit you come into another with Cameroon Sheep and African Pygmy Goats who often like to come up lose for a scratch and snuggle.
Meerkats and Large Flemish Bunnies add to other exhibits around this area and the bunnies are always very friendly.
With lots of visitor interaction with the right animals and opportunities to see rarer and more exotic species up close, Manor Wildlife Park has its eyes firmly on what is right for the animals but also what makes a great day out.
Informative signage around the zoo, will tell you not only about the species but the individual animals as well, and every exhibit is a photographers dream.
Conservation is clearly at the centre of this little known but impressive collection and it is certainly a place that has struck the right chord with me.
They offer experiences which are well priced and with interactions around the zoo with certain animals it promises to be a great day out.
For quite a nice sized site, it is a rather flat walk with great accessibility options and it truly is a most enjoyable visit.
There are a couple more exhibits tucked away around the site with surprises, but perhaps one of the more unique ones is the Black Howler Monkeys who have a walkway through the trees with no bars and can be seen regularly out playing since arriving from Bristol Zoo last year.
Manor is great value, does everything right, has great catering and facilities, plenty for the family and enough to keep zoo enthusiasts and photographers enthralled.
With brilliant keeper talks and much to do and see, it makes either great full day visit, or half day visit twinned with Folly Farm which is up the road, but not as enjoyable a collection in my eyes.
Entry to Manor Wildlife Park costs £17.95 Adult, £15.95 Concession, £15.95 Child, £14.95 Child Concession. At £44.95 for an annual pass, you would only need to go three times in one year to make it pay for itself. Registered carers visit free.
I hope you have enjoyed my top ten zoos to visit in my eyes and I hope you can see why Manor Wildlife Park ranks at the very top for me.
If you haven't been before, do make sure to visit in 2023, because you'll love it.
2: Longleat - Longleat Safari Park, Warminster - Wiltshire
Anyone who has followed me on Instagram and Facebook this year will have noticed many a Longleat posts often with a tag, "Just another Longleat Sunday". That should have given clues that Longleat was one of the most regular visits for me. It's not just that it's relatively local but also because it is the best Safari Park in the UK and is very close to being my favourite collection.
If it wasn't for me not visiting during school holidays because the Safari turns into a bit of a Car Park, it would be my favourite collection.
Even if you're not a fan of drive-through zoos, Longleat offers so much more and for me, has one of the best foot safari's around.
Koala Creek which has Hazel, the first Southern Koala born outside Australia, Ellie, the only Hairy Nosed Wombat in Europe, and also Brush Tailed Bettong's (Midley) and Long Nosed Potoroo is an exhibit I could spend an eternity in, and for me whilst Hazel is cute, she has nothing on Ellie, who I have a massive soft spot for.
The foot safari also houses 2 Red Panda exhibits and the birth of two cubs this summer was exciting, before their sad deaths earlier this month.
With Jungle Kingdom holding Tamarins, Kinkajou, Prehensile-Tailed Porcupine, Brazilian Tree Porcupine, Striped Skunk, Fennec Fox, Two-Tied Sloth, Marmosets, Red Squirrels, Giant Otters and Cuban Crocodiles, you have a great range of species on show, and the you have Animal Adventure with Binturong, Meerkats, Cape Porcupine, Giant Anteater, Dik-Dik and Aardvarks, before the Jungle Cruise where you get to see California Sea Lions sharing half mile pond with Common Hippo, Gorillas and Colobus monkeys.
Longleat has so much to offer, and open all year round on selective days.
Lots of activities to keep the children happy, the park also has encounter sessions daily where you can meet a number of small animals or reptiles.
This is all before you get to the Safari Drive, which has two prides of Lions, Tigers, Cheetah, Hyena, Eurasian Wolves, African Elephant, Southern White Rhino, Camel, Giraffe, Tapir, Capybara, Zebra, Wildebeest, Ostrich, Roan Antelope, Oryx, Bongo and Eland amongst many more animals and is one of the longest Safari drives.
There is also the African Village where you can stop off for refreshments, see the goats, go in the Lemur walkthrough, head down and meet "Big Pig" the Warthog and stand up hill and look a Giraffe eye to eye.
Okay on a busy day it can be slow and a bit tedious, but thats why I like to go on Monday's when it is nice and quiet and you can stop and watch the animals.
Everything is included in the admission fee and annual membership at £100 is great value for money when you get 10% of food and 10% the gift shop, all before saving 20% on VIP experiences.
I have saved more money than my annual membership cost and it is in my opinion the best value annual membership around.
At £39.95 per adult, and £29.95 per child, it is easily one of the most expensive zoos to visit in the UK and whilst their is no concessions, carers of disabled visitors do get to visit for free.
Staff are exceptional and always happy to chat about the animals and tell you all about them, and I like that the core staff have been the same for quite some time, showing it is clearly a good place to work.
I have been lucky to get to know a couple of the keepers and chat to them and find out about the animals and the passion that comes across from them really hits home and to me this brings Longleat closer to my heart.
I could happily spend from opening to closure at the park and its more than just a zoo.
The exhibits are of good standard, great for photos and the safari is an amazing experience and with much to do outside of animals on the foot safari, it truly is a great day out.
With annual membership, 3 visits more than covers your membership and with the money off offers attached you can make great savings.
A lot of the food kiosks are basic, but there is a nice café under the house when its open and the Orangery Restaurant is very good, although it has not been open for a while.
The Pizza café and Watering Hole also offer decent food, and it is not overpriced for what you get.
Longleat appeases the zoo enthusiast, animal lover, family and is very much a ticks all boxes department.
The Jungle Cruise adds humour to a visit, and animal encounters in the Jungle Kingdom is light hearted fun for all the family with an educational touch.
Very much one of my favourite collections to visit and the best value for money annual memberships around.
Having done the Koala Creek Experience, Silver VIP, Bronze VIP, Red Panda Experience and soon to do Gold VIP Longleat offers great value on its VIP experiences, which are never rushed and gets you close to the animals and gives you an amazing experience at a reasonable price, which with 20% member discount makes it great value for money.
I am happy to say I love Longleat and it is very close to being my favourite zoo in the UK, but it's not a zoo it's a Safari Park, and if it wasn't for not really being able to go in the summer due to massive queues frustrating me, it would be my favourite collection and day out in the UK.
3: Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve - Port Lympne, Folkestone - Kent
Often a zoo will spark discussion for the wrong reasons and not really regarding how it is as a zoo. Take Damian Aspinall away from the parks in Kent and I personally think they would be a lot more supported.
I've had my own personal online run ins with Mr Aspinall, he blocked me on Instagram when I asked him a question after he posted a video of him cuddled up to Lions. He stated "animals don't belong in zoos, they belong in the wild, like this". Instead of answering my question which was not rude, he chose to block me from his social media channel.
It was until that time, I was a supporter of the Aspinall Foundation. I donated monthly to them, and wanted to do lots more with them. I will state happily that I think the Aspinall Foundation is a fantastic charity who do so much for wildlife conservation, the national parks they have purchased and protected, the reintroduction programs they have done and endangered species they have helped save. For this and this alone, the foundation and its chair Mr Aspinall have to be commended and I doubt any animal lover would not say that the Aspinall Foundation and Damian have been an asset to conservation and have earned huge respect in doing so.
I don't know why, when I wanted to work with the Aspinall Foundation and its parks, happily donated and wanted to help support their work and zoos, why their fundraising team and marketing team chose to ignore me, and always say they would come back to me and that valued my support taking my money each month, but never actually remotely looked or tried to build a business relationship which is something I really wanted to do. I never closed the door, but when a team decide not to reply, not to contact and not work with someone who wants to help them generate money for their fantastic conservation projects, then they should not be surprised that, that person decided to take their support elsewhere.
People may now question, how did Port Lympne make its way to number 3, when I clearly felt let down or messed around by a collection and was blocked by its chairman for asking a valid question, but the fact is, whilst I wanted to support the Foundation and help showcase the amazing work that they do, I am not a bitter person and I don't judge a collection just because people within it chose to ignore, block or alienate you.
I personally feel that Port Lympne is one of the finest animal collections in the UK. It's ranger driven Safari's are fantastic. Whilst the one included in admission doesn't get you as close as you may like, the actual ranger run ones which are very affordable bring you very close and for the photographer in me, this means you can get photos you are happy and proud of. I also loved doing a sunset Safari in the summer as well.
As my top 20 experiences in 2022 will show at the end of the week, the Kent parks offer fantastic encounters, safaris and experiences which sees 6 of those offered in the top 20 alone. At present if you book before the end of 2022, you can get 50% off experiences up until the end of March 23. I have always said that they are excellent value for money, at full price, let alone when you get 50% off.
Port Lympne does offer keeper talks which are most informative and enjoyable and offers the best chance to see the Gorilla's feeding, whilst its exhibits are most spectacular with acres of space given to animals and allows the most amazing photos.
An outdoor exhibit for Malayan Tapirs which impresses, and a fantastic Bear Woodland are all enjoyable, before you come to the largest Lion exhibit outside of a Safari Park in the Uk and possibly in Europe.
Although the park will test the legs of even to most nimble and agile of walkers, it has an amazing range of species and of the two parks they have, I do prefer Port Lympne over Howletts, which was also close to getting inside my top 10.
But what Port Lympne has, is a Safari for animals which is not like a car park Safari you can get at most Safari Parks, but a Safari you experience and enjoy from either the large ranger vehicles or smaller more small group tours which get you so close to the animals.
Seeing Zebra, Rhino, Giraffe, Lechwe, Wildebeest and many other animals all in unison out on the plains, is very much like being out on Safari in Africa, yet you are in the Kent sunshine!
I have had some of my most enjoyable days at Port Lympne, and nowhere offers fine dining quite like it in a zoo.
The Garden Room in the Mansion, has a menu fit for any high quality restaurant and even the Italian restaurant Babydolls serves up food second to none in any zoo.
I wouldn't even say either are over pricey as you get what you pay for.
Port Lympne is an experience, even if you are not staying in one of the lodges which a normal working man or woman, could rarely afford, but as a collection of animals it is fantastic and well done.
It is an enjoyable day out, that offers some of the best VIP experiences in the UK.
Port Lympne is probably in my opinion, one of the most underrated collections in the UK, possibly the most underrated, but that is often because of people's views of Damian Aspinall and not the park itself. I have, more than most been on the negative end of this treatment, and I was supporting the Foundation and looking to do so much more, without ever asking for anything in return, yet I can still overlook what I was very upset and hurt by, to judge the collection as it should be judged. My door to support the Foundation was never closed, but it was down to the Foundation, to understand when people want to work with somewhere it has to be two way and not take take take and ignoring people in return, that's not how business relationships work.
I feel Zoo Trips could and would be a massive asset to the Foundation and its parks, and could help show the amazing work they do and generate help and funding, sadly the Foundation chose otherwise and ignored me and treated me with zero respect.
This doesn't put me off what a fantastic collection Port Lympne is, far from it and I am booked to stay there again and do more experiences next year.
Would I still support the Foundation and its parks? Of course, but the days of me chasing them to help them are over.
Port Lympne costs £29.00 per adult, and £26 per child, there appears to be no reduction for concessions, and tickets can be cheaper if booked in advance. Each ticket includes a truck safari pass.
Port Lympne is open all year round, except for Xmas day.
4: Lakeland Wildlife Oasis - Lakeland Wildlife Oasis - Milnthorpe, Lancashire
Situated around 7 miles off of junction 35 of the M6 sits a small collection that most may never have heard of.
In my opinion it is the best small zoo in the UK and warrants its place in my top ten list.
Lakeland Wildlife Oasis is probably no bigger than 3 or 4 acres in size and it can be questioned whether you could make a day of a visit, but what it does, it does well and it doesn’t house the usual small zoo animals.
Housing Fossa long before the film Madagascar brought them to most people’s attention, the small zoo near Morecombe will always be the place I first saw a slow worm!
I stumbled upon Lakeland back in 2014 when living in Lancashire and it’s charm and character made it appeal so much.
Even back then mini encounters were offered for £15 and whilst many zoos go up market and price people put, Lakeland continue to offer mini encounters with the Meerkats, Monkeys, Reptiles and Lemurs which are done properly and affordable and still only at £15.
The keeper for a day experience is excellently priced at £80 per person as well, or £140 for two people. This doesn’t involve the carnivores which costs £100 per person and includes the Fossa, Snow Leopard and Meerkats.
Lakeland has two sides, an inside section which adjoins a tropical house, butterfly house and a step through time aquarium and a relaxed feel outdoor area which has 8/9 nicely built modern exhibits housing Lemurs, Meerkats, Dik-Dik, Fossa, Scottish Wildcat, Palma Wallaby, Tamarins and their largest exhibit that is home to a successful breeding pair of Snow Leopards.
Lakeland has recently transformed its former Red Squirrel exhibit into a new home for Snowy Owls, whilst their African Aviary with Roller, Hornbill, Superb Starling and Turaco clearly led the way which places such as Fife and Dartmoor designed theirs.
There is something so magical about Lakeland Wildlife Oasis which has an emphasis on education, but also it is clear family is key.
When I used to visit the cafe was run by the Bennett’s and produced amazing home cooked food and cakes and whilst the cafe has changed hands, and got a little more expensive, they have tried to maintain the quality it has always had. I’m not convinced the food is the amazing standard it was in the days it was when run by the Bennett’s but it still offers a decent choice and most stuff is home cooked.
Keeper talks have decreased since Covid, although they still 2 or 3 daily.
It is a collection I find families and zoo enthusiasts will enjoy alike.
The tropical house has free hanging Fruit Bats, and Potoroos and Armadillos, whilst a collection of cool rodents includes Spiny Mouse, Harvest Mice, Swinhoe Squirrels, Chinchilla, Degu, Gundi and Gambian Pouched Rat.
A refreshed looking reptile house also pleases and with experiences relatively well priced, those looking to get closer to the animals can do so, with a format where you get to decide on what sorts of animals you want to see tailored to
A collection that likes to refresh, still has free roaming Cranes (although that may have changed with AI) and whilst the former free roaming Mara have left the collection, it does have a charm of small mammals, reptiles and birds.
Lakeland Wildlife Oasis is certainly one of the hidden gem zoos in the Uk and is very much a collection I am fond of.
If the Bennett’s still ran the cafe with their delicious home cooked food, it may have even made top three 🙂
At £10.95 an adult, £9.35 concession, and £8.25 a child it is very well priced and is open 10am to 5pm all year round expect for Xmas Day and Boxing Day.
5: Chester Zoo - Chester Zoo, Upton, Chester
For most people Chester Zoo will normally score higher and be the number one Zoo to visit in the UK and I get that, I don’t necessarily disagree with them, but for all it’s a great zoo, it is a zoo which for me needs 2/3 days of visiting to be seen for all its beauty and range of species and it really isn’t just a day trip.
They still hold animal talks which change daily, but given the size of the site it is impossible to take them all in on one day and the push towards an App whilst suitable for many, feels not quite what I want I want to see from a zoo, where the elderly and maybe the less techy out there are pushed into a non comfort zone. I know my parents don’t use a smartphone and they like an old fashioned paper map, as do I for a fact, and whilst maps are erected around the zoo, I do find it a shame paper maps have disappeared for such a large zoo.
With over 140,000 members Chester is one of the wealthiest zoos in the world let alone the UK and it’s impressive range of species and exhibits is their to be seen.
You would struggle to find an animal without a good exhibit and whilst AI has seen some bird walkthroughs closed, the zoo still offers some interactive indoor exhibits such as the Tropical Realm, Monsoon Forest and Realm Of The Red Ape.
With large indoor exhibits there are plenty of places to go on wet days and Chester is a photographers dream with huge exhibits with often wide mesh, clear glass or stand off areas with no bars.
Species at the heart of massive conservation pushes, Chester plays its part in education with signage around the zoo and with its own nature reserve outside, the focus on native wildlife is apparent as shown by the Bee Hotels down by the Spirit Of The Jaguar.
A fully focussed Keeper For A Day program offers insightful opportunities to experience what it’s like to be at the heart of Chester and understand more about its incredible range of species, whilst offering encounters to get you closer to the animals as well.
In terms of range of species, Chester leads the way in the Uk, and whilst some catering outlets are poor, a smart restaurant and Junes Food Hall offer a multitude of better options, albeit much pricier even with a members discount.
Chester is the Uks biggest zoo, probably the Uks second most famous Zoo after
ZSL and it is a great day out and firmly holds its place in a must visit attraction.
But a large number of its more exotic species are offshow and you may be able to read about them, but not see them and whilst Heart Of Africa is being developed more animals have been taken off show, so don’t expect to see Meerkats, Aardvarks, Zebra, Bongo, Roan Antelope, Sitatunga, Warthog or Hyrax if you visit the collection in 2023.
You can’t help but love Chester, but it’s too big to see in a day and that’s why I feel it’s a collection that annual membership at £90 when paid by direct debit offers the best value.
Adult entry is £28, concessions £26, and Children are priced at £21. Whilst disabled caters visit free with proof.
At just over 3x entry fee for membership, I feel this is where the value is, especially with 10% off food and the gift shop and free entry to many other zoos in the UK with your Chester Zoo membership.
6: Exmoor Zoo - Exmoor Zoo, Near Barnstaple Devon
For a lover of all things unusual, Exmoor Zoo is a must visit zoo for any animal lover and zoo enthusiast and its progressive collection has always been carnivore top heavy, with over 30 species of carnivores and probably the biggest collection of carnivores in the UK, if not Europe.
A fine display of Wetland birds, an exciting Lake walkthrough to view Scarlet Ibis, Flamingos and Pelican's as well as other wetland birds will open in 2023, and whilst the hand was forced by AI and outbreaks in areas close to the zoo, the developments are coming along nicely and make for an impressive site once completed, and will mirror the similar Flamingo exhibit seen at Chester Zoo, only with you able to walk through the heart of it.
Exmoor is still the only holder of New Guinea Singing Dogs in UK, as well as Sand Cats, Fanaloka, a Shoebill Stork and remains one of only two collections with Cacomistle, so the emphasis on uniqueness and rarities is there for all to see.
Exmoor has to work with a landlocked site, meaning there are only one set of toilets near the café and whilst this is not totally ideal, it is the situation they are faced with and it is not by choice or design.
A café which has ample sit down area, serves hot and cold food daily and a good range of pastries and cakes for those looking for quicker snacks.
In the summer, a second kiosk opens outside by the picnic area and with an education room and encounter zone, as well as a children's play area, Exmoor is keen to address visitor needs.
Ample informative animal talks take place daily by the expert education team and cover everything from natural habitats, species information, to characteristics of the animals held by the zoo.
Exmoor may not have the biggest species, nor does it have some of the biggest exhibits, but its ample for what it holds and has probably one of the best Sitatunga exhibits in the UK, on a natural marshland hill, and is a very picturesque zoo.
With Red Panda's joining from Bristol Zoo in 2022, the list of carnivores continues to increase, and for all the loss of Polecat, Tayra, Melanistic Leopard and Fishing Cat from the collection in 2022 is a shame, the anticipated arrival of Hyena's and Snow Leopards in 2023 will be welcome additions and the zoo still remains focussed on getting some sort of cat either Leopard or Jaguar to continue its "Beast Of Exmoor" trademark, once the current exhibit has been renovated. Plans to also bring in new Fishing Cats mean the collection should not be without those species for too long, and plans are afoot to replace to passed away Tayra with another new carnivore species to the collection.
Gambian Pouched Rats and Brush Tailed Bettong's have arrived from Bristol Zoo and will also hopefully be on show in 2023, meaning there is plenty to be excited by, for a collection which as ever continues to flourish.
Zoo Trips has even layed its flag on the mast by sponsoring the Red Panda exhibit for 2023 and we look to work with Exmoor in planning bespoke VIP experiences in the future, and hopefully member days in the future.
As far as Exmoor goes, its a collection that makes a great family day out, offers excellent value admission / annual member fees and has staff who are always happy to chat and show professionalism at what is probably one of the best zoo enthusiasts zoos in the UK.
With so much exciting developments planned for 2023, Exmoor very much is a zoo worthy of visiting.
Entry to Exmoor Zoo costs £13.95 per adult, £12.45 concession, and £10.95 per child. Half price entry for carer with disabled visitors and annual membership costs £46.50 per adult. It is cheaper to visit Exmoor in the winter by paying on the door prices, rather than the online prices. In the summer months entry fees are a couple of pounds higher.
Exmoor Zoo is open 10am - 4pm in the winter, and 0am to 5pm in the summer, and is open every day except 24th, 25th and 26th December.
They offer a range of affordable experiences, including 1 hour or 2 hour Carnivore Experiences, one of the better Keeper For A Day Experiences in the UK and a Walk On The Wild Side Experience which lasts for 3 hours and can be booked for as many as 5 people from one household.
7: Africa Alive Zoological Reserve - Africa Alive, Kessingland, Norfolk
With 2 collections to its name, the Zoological Society Of East Anglia has the more well known Banham Zoo, and also Africa Alive on the outskirts of Lowestoft.
Banham Zoo nearly crept its way into my top ten, but for all it is an enjoyable collection and I really do enjoy the amazing animals show, I find the better collection is the African themed collection in Kessingland.
I never knew the place when it was Kessingland Zoo, but Africa Alive has a large number of African Species in very decent exhibits, fabulous keeper talks throughout the day and some large inviting exhibits which show the animals really well.
With 2/3 catering options which offer a good range of food from Pizza and Pasta to Sandwiches and Pasties, I like that there are plenty of areas to sit down and observe the animals in good exhibits.
I enjoyed the Goat walkthrough and for me a number of well priced experiences are available to learn more about the animals and get close to them.
A mixed paddock of Blesbok, Giraffe, Rhino and Zebra is one of my favourites and there is a lot of land to expand into as well, should the zoo ever consider going down the Hippo/Gorilla/Elephant route which would make it a very much top draw attraction.
It's a pleasant walk around, with exhibits well spaced out and nicely themed, not just including the most well known African animals, but some of the lesser known ones as well.
A Lemur walkthrough for Ring-Tailed Lemurs allows you to see them up close, before the more rarer and endangered species are on the Lemur island.
Work is being done to improve the Cheetah exhibit and I've always found the exhibits make for excellent photo's and allow you to feel up close to the animals.
They are largely successful in breeding endangered species and I feel there is enough big draw animals to attract visitors and some more unusual types to attract the zoo enthusiast.
I do hope the park expands and they often offer reduced priced tickets which shows they are considering the local community at a time many people are struggling.
At £18.50 an adult, £13.60 a child, £16 a concession, with carers free, I feel it is rather fairly priced for a large connection which includes many ABC animals and whilst fees are higher than this in the peak season, in school holidays the society is not adverse to making special offers including £10 entry, or £25 for the whole holiday entry.
What I like most, is its a laid back feel, loads of places to stop and relax and take in the animals around you and and the animals all look happy.
For me it feels less commercial than Banham and more idyllic and I have had many an enjoyable days walking the whole site and taking it in at my own leisure.
There is a childrens play area down the bottom end near the Aardvarks and Meerkats, whilst out by the antelopes, lemurs and hoofstock is more of a relaxed walk round.
With houses accessible to look round on poor weather days for most animals, there shouldn't be a day you can't see the animals and with some very well priced experiences, I feel Africa Alive is an underappreciated collection and for me the more enjoyable of the two ZSEA collections.
If you love African animals and seeing them in large exhibits, and up close, informative talks and seeing some lesser known African species, then Africa Alive is very much worth a visit and for me is the better of the two ZSEA collections.
8: Hamerton Zoo - Hamerton Zoo Park - Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
A zoo that I would be very surprised if it didn't make most zoo enthusiasts top ten and for variety in species and rare species it is among the best in the UK.
I have always enjoyed a visit to Hamerton, but its often you'll see everything or quite often you'll see nothing.
What was rapid growth some 3/4 years ago, seems to have slowed in recent years, but with a new Tortoise House, Meerkat Exhibit and Desert House planned for 2023, as well as the possible Possum/Nocturnal House (by the old Cheetah house), 2023 could be an exciting year for a collection which has always housed the weird and unusual.
Malayan Tigers, Syrian Bears, Oncilla, Sumatran Civet, Cacomistle, Dingo, Greater Grison & four species of elusive Possums give it appeal and the recent additions of Lesser Spot Nose Guenon's have added more intriguing species to a rather exciting collection.
Hamerton is very much a walk round slowly or you'll miss it, and if you've been around once, you need to go around again.
A small reptile house with unusual species, and a number of bird aviaries in the middle which house far from your normal birds, has the animal enthusiast enthralled by a collection full of charm and rarities.
A nice sized play area keeps kids happy, and one of the things I like, is the road train has now moved out the way of the main zoo to go around the dinosaur valley, meaning those adult visitors who came to see the animals don't have to have "steam train, steam train" ringing in their ears as they drive home.
An outback aviary (current closed due to AI) brings your close to birds from Australia, as well as housing the only common wombats in the Uk and its well pathed flat zoo, meaning it is very accessible friendly.
The slight downside is only one set of toilets and a café which really needs improving. Burgers which feel like service station Rustlers, or Rollover Hotdogs are your best choices, or there are Panini's as well. It's not over pricey but its far from great and its something which I am sure the zoo know they need to work on, and someday I suspect it is part of their plan. It has got bigger and better from what it was 3/4 years ago, but it could still be better still.
At £18 an adult, £18 disabled adult, £17 senior or £13 child (carer free, with proof they are a registered carer, blue badges don't count), it is not overly expensive, but at only £54 for an annual pass, you only need to visit three times in a year to make it pay for itself, so for me this is where the value is.
Open 10am - 4pm in the winter, and 10am to 5pm in the summer, the zoo is open every day except Xmas Day and Boxing Day and takes about 60-90 minutes to walk all the way round.
I have never done any of the experiences, as they don't strike me as great value for what they are, and the one I wanted to do, the keeper for a day, was discontinued in 2019.
Public Transport can be an issue for this collection, but if you want to see rare animals and species you wont see anywhere else in the Uk, it is most definitely worth the visit.
I like it at Hamerton for those reasons and whilst some exhibits do make photography tough, I am quite excited for what lays ahead next year with the building work currently underway.
Hamerton is definitely a Zoo Nerds Zoo, more than a family zoo, but being as someone who loves the rare, weird and wonderful, Hamerton is right up my street.
9: Beale Wildlife Park - Beale Wildlife Park - Reading, Berkshire
I feel there is always a collection or two that come out of left field when you least expect it and there is one collection which is progressing rapidly in the right direction.
Just 6 miles off junction 12 of the M4 sits Beale Wildlife Park, a zoo which felt much more of a kids after school afternoon play centre with a few animals until it has started to make rapid progression the last 12 months.
You'll find no ABC animals at Beale, with Guanaco and Zebra the largest inhabitants, but for a small collection which is beautiful and sits on one of the largest plots of land owned by a Zoo, there is definitely feel that this is very much a diamond in the rough that is starting to blossom into a shining stone.
You get the impression that with some refreshing exhibit design and ample exhibits for its animals that this collection which is moving away from domestics, and birds of prey might suddenly bring about more exciting species in the years to come.
I think this is very much a watch, wait and see collection, but with staff happy to talk openly about its animals and be warm and welcoming, I feel the Beale of the past, is very different to the Beale of the future.
Having recently seen Tayra, Lynx, Binturong and a new Nocturnal House exhibits come to light, its clear to see this is a collection that is growing and starting to show some more unusual species.
Tomistoma another intriguing addition not seen in many zoos, I thoroughly enjoy the semi aquatic exhibits that house Capybara and Tapir.
They have outsourced the café which does decent food (albeit rather pricey) but remain focussed on building a collection which will appeal to not only families but also the zoo enthusiast.
One of only a few collections to hold Chacoan Mara in the Uk, they have turned a lot of old birds of prey area into an impressive Lynx display which is easily one of the best in the UK.
There is still the farm area, and the train remains in working condition, which is included in the entry fee.
Former aviaries are now being redeveloped, and with informative signage and easy to see exhibits with a mixture of dark mesh and glass, photographers are able to get usual shots.
I have always enjoyed the Raccoon, Coati, Meerkat, Prairie Dog and Banded Mongoose Exhibits behind the train tracks and each exhibit is well designed and of adequate size, and I have a good feel for the collection and the way its progressing.
Given the space to expand, I would not be surprised to see ABC animals in the future, but the one thing I really like is their low end price for Meerkat and Lemur experiences, with an entry age level of 6 years. Charging just £16.50 per person, I feel this is reflective of a good price and allows people to experience something for 15 minutes at a reasonable price, which is something I wish more zoos would take note of. Meet the Tapirs & Capybara's is priced at £60, or for £45 you can have a 30 minute reptile encounter.
Beale has reasonable admission fees of £16 per adult, £14 seniors and £13 per child and offer free admission to carers of a disabled visitor. I feel their annual pass at £73 is pricey meaning you need to visit 6 times a year to get your monies worth, but on the whole, the daily admission fee of £58 for a family pass is still reasonable.
Beale is certainly a collection which has lots of areas to sit down, lovely activities for the kids and a good collection of animals which is definitely growing in the right direction.
It doesn't have the animals, you will find at major city zoos, but it has charm and appeal and everything is done well. The way it has progressed in the last 12 months, suggests the next 12 months could be equally exciting and is very much a collection that is starting to gather traction and appeal.
I would certainly advise a visit in 2023.
10: Dartmoor Zoological Society - Dartmoor Zoo, Plymouth - Devon
Prior to 2011 many people may have never even heard of Dartmoor Zoo, nestled away in the back streets of Plymouth on the most narrow of roads as you weave through Sparkwell, but when Cameron Crowe directed "We Bought A Zoo" I feel we all found "20 seconds of insane courage" and I have to say something good has come of it.
It's been 11 years since Rosemoor Animal Park was thrusted on to the silver screen, and whilst the film may not tell a fully truthful story of Benjamin Mee and his acquisition of Dartmoor Zoo, it has enabled many of its visitors to relate to wildlife and animals in a different light.
In 2018, I had the privilege and honour thanks to a member of the maintenance team called Tim (who is still there to this very day) to meet Mr Mee, and I purchased a "We Bought A Zoo Tour" where I got to walk around the Zoo with Benjamin and hear the story first hand and learn all about him and the animals.
Big plans have always been in the head of Benjamin Mee, a successful journalist, animal loving family man, but he struck me back then as a super bloke.
From that day I always felt a connection to this collection in the heart of Devon and now run by the Dartmoor Zoological Society Charity, the Zoo has conservation at its forefront.
Plans to house Amur Leopard's, an endangered species, follow the arrival of Scottish Wildcats and with more projects in the future, Dartmoor is looking to put its name on the map for more than just a Hollywood Blockbuster.
In fact in many ways, the Zoo has looked to move away from the film which gave it a footing but for me, it will always be the film which opened my heart to such a collection.
With the largest collection of big cat species in the South West, a Zoo that houses, Jaguar, Tiger, Lion and soon to add Amur Leopards, also has Iberian Wolves, Cheetah and Scottish Wildcat in its carnivore sector.
To meet Mr Pickles the Fallow Deer in the walkthrough meadow, another highlight of many visitors before enjoying the African Aviary that is a lovely summer viewpoint.
A Hedgehog Hospital shows the native support of animals, and those looking for more unusual species will be pleased to see Luzon Cloud Rats.
Despite a few empty exhibits, the zoo which is now aiming more towards education and conservation, has turned exhibits once used to hold Brown Bears, into more suitable habitats for Geladas and they have an informative and educational Reptile house and keep educational focus with a team who carry out all the keeper talks daily.
A stiff hill up to the parks main area is the most daunting part of a visit, but graced with rolling hills, with Tapir & Capybara on one side and Zebra and Ostrich on the other, Dartmoor Zoo is in beautiful surroundings and offers great photographic opportunities.
For me, one of the best aspects of a visit to Dartmoor Zoo has been the Jaguar Restaurant which over time has maintained a high standard of fresh homemade food, licensed bar and a great range of options and comfortable seating which overlooks the Meerkat exhibit.
In 2019 they constructed a fully wooden play area which was out of the way of the animals and used signs and bug hotels to educate youngsters on native wildlife and its clear the Zoo has visitor interaction on its mind with daily keeper talks, an enjoyable Wallaby, Goat and Mr Pickles walkthrough, whilst offering a view of Jaguar and Tiger without bars.
The story of Dartmoor Zoo goes way beyond that of a Hollywood Movie and in recent months I have found myself keen to support, by sponsoring the Amur Leopard exhibit and helping towards the zoos funding for such exhibit.
Dartmoor Zoo may not be a whole day visit, but its a good visit. It has a great range of species, and by listening to keeper talks and speaking to staff who will happily chat to you, you can feel beneficial needs from Zoo to customer and know that everything being done is for the good of the animals and conservation.
With probably the best restaurant/café in any UK zoo, I never feel the need to bring a packed lunch, and whilst many serve over priced Rollover Hotdogs, Dartmoor off a fresh homecooked menu, which is of quality standard.
If you loved the film, you would love the zoo. The stories may be loosely based, but if anything it helps add appeal to a collection which is progressing in the right way, doing things the right way and offers excellent value for money.
Accessibility can't be questioned when disabled visitors can park inside the zoo and to coin a phrase of Mr Mee!
Why should anyone want to visit Dartmoor Zoo? Why Not
Dartmoor Zoo costs £17.30 per adult and £12.65 per child with concessions at £15.00 for Disabled visitors, Seniors and students. Carers for disabled visitors enter for free.
Family Pass costs £52.00 (2 adults, 2 children) and the Zoo is open all year round except Christmas Day & Boxing Day 10am - 4pm.
Prices are inclusive of gift aid donation.
Those wishing to take part in a "We Bought A Zoo Tour" with Benjamin Mee and hear the true story, can book an afternoon tour, which includes stories and meeting some of the animals including Mr Pickles for £495 for 2 people, and he'll happily sign a "We Bought A Zoo" book for you.
If you are yet to visit Dartmoor Zoo, I can highly recommend it.