There’s nothing quite like a day out involving making friends with all creatures great and small. Excepting for birds! (I have a crazy bird phobia, long story for another day). There is plenty of emerging evidence to suggest that spending time and interacting with animals can increase your sense of well-being. Having the chance to stop and witness them in their habitats and possibly even interact through feeding or stroking them, helps you to relax and feel more positive – which is why animal attractions are great places to visit to achieve this.
And that sense of happiness doesn’t just come from the animals. Nowadays safari parks, farms, country parks etc are offering such a variety of entertainment and attractions to easily fill a whole day with family fun.
With this in mind, here are 5 great animal attractions days out which I highly recommend in the South of England:
Set on 160 acres of Oxfordshire parkland, Cotswold Wildlife Park exists purely for the love of animals and it shows. Here you will find all manners of wonderful wildlife from Belle, the park’s first hand-reared white rhino to the Crowned Sifaka, an iconic and rare lemur species and the first to be born in Great Britain. The park made history last year when it successfully bred a Chinese crocodile lizard – a critically endangered reptile on the verge of extinction.
I always recommend heading to the viewing platform in the giraffe enclosure. Getting to see one of my favourite animals face to face, feels like a real treat.
Apart from the Madagascar exhibit – where buggies are not allowed – the park is fully accessible for all.
It’s also the only large zoological collection that welcomes your canine chums. So you really can bring all of the family here!
For £1 per person (under 3’s ride free) board the train which takes a circuit around the park. The train is a great way to see what’s there and help you decide where you want to visit first. Compared to some other ‘in-park’ trains, this is a fairly long ride that covers a good distance of ground for your money.
Feeling hungry? There is an onsite restaurant and an ice-cream kiosk. You are able to take in your own food and drink if preferred. If it’s raining there are sheltered picnic areas.
Cotswold Wildlife Park is particularly good for families with really young children. As mentioned it’s easy to navigate round with a buggy. It’s not so large that children will become exhausted and you’ll need to leave before you’ve covered everything.
When my children were toddlers, they loved the children’s farmyard. You can get really close to the farm animals and in some cases pet and stroke. What better way to delight a 2-year-old? Older children aren’t forgotten either, an outdoor adventure playground awaits!
Don’t forget to make a note to include some of the daily activities on offer too – such as the lemur and penguin feeding.
Want to find out more and plan your visit?Visit: Cotswold Wildlife Park for further details
Set with a challenge by two of my friends to find a day out that would cater for all of our children ranging from 1-11, for me Mead Open Farm was a no-brainer. You really are spoilt for choice at this child-friendly farm in Bedfordshire. Plus everything (apart from the animal feed) is included in your entrance price.
Climbing walls, sand play, jumping pillows, go-karts, tractor rides, high-wires and that’s before you even enter the massive, recently refurbished soft-play (which includes a sectioned-off under-3 area). How many attractions include all of these activities in the entrance price? Mead is great value for money.
But let’s talk about the animals, as after all Mead is a farm! Buy your bags of animal feed for £1 on entry and head to feed the numerous farm-animals here. At set times you can help to bottle feed the lambs, groom the ponies, meet and hold the chickens. Personally speaking though, the best part is ‘Bunny hop’. Three times-a-day, the resident bunnies and guinea pigs are allowed out of their homes to run freely on special bunny hop tables, allowing you to gently stroke them. Through-out the farm areas there are lots of opportunities to interact and learn about the animals, certain to keep kids (and grown ups) of all ages happy.
Picnics are welcomed, however I didn’t notice any under cover areas. Food is served in the play barn and there is also a kiosk selling drinks and snacks.
Whenever we’ve visited Mead there are additional activities on offer. Our last visit involved me dressing up as a carrot and navigating an obstacle course, much to the amusement of my friends and family! They hold special events at Halloween and Christmas too and are open everyday apart from 3 days a year.
Want to find out more and plan your visit? Visit Mead Open Farm for further details
We always have lots of fun at the Berkshire based Wellington Country Park. The site is quite large, but welcomes children’s scooters, which makes navigating the troops to each activity very easy.
At the far end of the park resides the Animal farm. Home to Shetland ponies, donkeys, sheep and all the usual farmyard suspects. Petting sessions are also scheduled here. Be prepared to queue at busier times, but it’s worth the slight wait to interact with the animals.
Wellington offers you the opportunity to discover some wildlife in their natural habitat via 4 different woodland nature trails. The trails cover up to 2.19km in distance. You can spot birds, butterflies, hopefully a squirrel or two and also see the park’s Red and Fallow deer. A casual wander through nature definitely helps to reduce the stress levels.
We always start our visit by following the green trail, this keeps the kids really happy as our first stop is one of the multiple playgrounds dotted around the site. If the playgrounds are too mature for your toddler, head in the opposite direction to the dedicated toddler’s play area and follow the trail round from there.
Dinosaur mad children will love discovering the massive dinosaur statues and any budding fairy finder will enjoy spotting the fairy doors within the enchanted forrest.
We’ve always been blessed with good weather on our visits to Wellington, so have always taken picnics. There are picnic benches dotted around the Park and numerous grassed areas for you to sit on a blanket and watch the world go by. However, if you don’t wish to bring your own food and drink there are 3 onsite cafe’s.
If the kids have any energy left in the tank (and if the weather is on your side!) there’s an outdoor splash-park, jumping pillows and a rather long zip-wire. For the under-2’s only there is a small indoor soft-play.
And if you want to extend your time here, there are camping and caravanning pitches available in the surrounding woodlands.
Want to find out more and plan your visit? Visit Wellington Country Park for further details.
Every time I have ever been to Woburn (in typical British fashion) it has poured down and yet we’ve still had a good time, which is why I had to include it here!
The start of your visit will almost certainly involve driving the road safari. You could skip this bit, but in my opinion it’s the main reason to visit the safari park. See bison, zebras, wolves, lions, bears, giraffes, you name it, from the relative safety of your car. They really have been known to come up very close! I always enjoy a drive through the monkey enclosure, but be warned you do risk damage to your vehicle. They jump on and off the cars with confidence, which is fantastic to see. However, if you’d prefer not to risk it you can easily bypass.
Good to know The car safari is really enjoyable and as such can take a reasonably long amount of time, especially if you’re waiting your turn to get a good photograph. Make sure to visit the toilets if needed – situated just before the ticket booths of the park. You don’t want to get caught short in the Lion enclosure!
The road safari leads you round to the parts of the park you can explore on foot, but don’t worry your animal encounters don’t stop here! Discover penguins, sealions, lemurs, capybaras, you name it. I personally recommend you attend the elephant meet and greet (daily at 1.30pm but at weekends only from Nov to Feb) The keepers educate you on all things elephant. Plus there is opportunity at the end for a quick but gentle pat of these magnificent animals.
The Discovery Zone showcases all types of reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. At certain points during the day, the keepers will choose an animal to take out of it’s habitat so you can really see it up close and maybe even touch.
Although I avoided it – I refer to my opening statement! – my children and friends (who I am very grateful to!) enjoyed Rainbow Landing – an indoor exhibit where the parrots fly around inside freely. We purchased little pots of nectar (for around £1) at the exhibit’s entrance and the children got to feed these brightly coloured birds.
If, like for us, it happens to rain whilst you’re there, Sea Lion Cove is undercover and runs daily sea lion shows.
Another break from the rain (or just a good excuse to let the kids go wild themselves) can be found in the Mammoth Play Ark soft-play. There is also a small cafe here should you wish to grab something whilst the kids play.
A visit to Woburn in Bedfordshire is a full day out so ensure to arrive early to get the most value from your entry ticket.
Want to find out more and plan your visit? Visit Woburn Safari Park for further details.
My first visit to Monkey World in Dorset was over a decade ago – I loved it. In fact I ‘adopted’ a baby orang-utan named Gordon – today Gordan is grown and it’s just fantastic to have caught up on his journey.
Monkey World is first and foremost a rescue centre for refugees of illegal primate smuggling as well as those who have suffered abuse or neglect. But there is a happy ending. Here they are rehabilitated into natural living groups. How loved and cared for these wonderful animals are is evident throughout the centre.
All the Apes are housed in very large enclosures and have lots to keep them busy and amused. I need to be clear, this is not a zoo. The animals are the main priority of the centre and so their habitats are arranged to be of optimal benefit for the apes, not for the amusement of the visitors. Therefore be prepared to be patient when trying to get a glimpse of one of these wonderful creatures. However, when you do, so much time can be absorbed just watching them play, interact and even tease each other.
To learn even more and get even closer, attend one of the numerous talks given throughout the day. It’s clear how passionate and knowledgeable the keepers are, plus you’ll learn so much about the stories and personalities of the residents. The talks are really entertaining for all ages.
If the kids would like to ‘monkey’ around, there are play areas with a good play park suitable to keep them occupied for an extended amount of time.
Aside from the apes, you can encounter other wildlife on the woodland walk or get inches away from the lovable lemurs in their walk-through enclosure.
Food-wise, either eat in the restaurant or make use of one of the multiple picnic tables.
Good to know: If you decide to ‘adopt’ one of the residents, not only will you be helping to support the work of the rescue centre, you’ll also earn yourself free re-admission to the park for a whole year!
Open everyday apart from Christmas day – If you’re holidaying in Dorset, make this high up on your agenda.
Want to find out more and plan your visit or become an ‘adoptive parent’: Visit Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre for further details.
Looking for other Happy Days out? Check out: Days Out: Cadbury World
Aren’t animals great with lifting our spirits! Have you been to any of the animal attractions I’ve included? What are your favourite animal attractions? Do you have a favourite animal that makes you smile? Mine has to be giraffes and apes! Get in touch by leaving a comment in the box below, I always love to hear from you!
Some of the images are provided with the kind permission of the wonderful centres mentioned and as such, have been displayed with an appropriate credit. Please do not copy these images without seeking the express permission of the centres first. All other images belong to Living.Pretty.Happy.