Marwell Wildlife is a 140-acre zoo located in Winchester, Hampshire. Since opening in 1972, the park is now home to over 170 different species of animals, many of which endangered.
Upon entering the park, you will be greeted by friendly staff, happy to give you a map, point you in the right direction or answer any questions. There’s also a conveniently located picnic area and toilets, ideal after a long car ride.
If you’d like to get an overview of the sights and beautiful surroundings, your first stop should be on the Rail Train. Taking you on an enjoyable fifteen-minute ride around the zoo, get your cameras ready for the Flamingos, Rhinos, Capybaras and Pygmy Hippos. It costs an additional £2 between November and March, and £2.50 from April to October. You can also take a free ride on the Road Train, which stops at several points around the zoo in tractor-drawn-carriages.
Penguin Cove is a great place to see the charismatic birds up close in the underwater viewing area. There’s a talk each day at 3:30pm, where you can watch them getting fed. Here you may be shocked to discover that they actually dine on herrings rather than penguin biscuits.
Another highlight is the Into Africa area, where you can see Monkeys, Congo Buffalo, Bongo and friendly Giraffes, who feast on highly-placed hay. There is also a viewing platform to view the majestic animals outside, along with zebras and ostriches in the African Valley. You can also explore the Savannah Tracks features a walkway to try and spot an elusive Cheetah.
Tropical World is an indoor rainforest, home to exotic plants, insects, lizards, piranha and a dwarf crocodile. You can also see leaf-cutter Ants at work in a run of plastic tubes, courtesy of the tiny CCTV Ant Cam. Additional lizards, snakes and birds can be found in the Fur, Feathers and Scales exhibit.
If you’ve never had the chance to visit down under, then you’ll enjoy the Australian Bush Walk, which includes both the Bennett’s and Parma species of Wallaby.
Café Graze offers a great selection of cooked meals, in addition to sandwiches, snacks, cakes and ice cream. With plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, it also features toilets, baby changing facilities and even a microwave to warm up baby food. On your way out, don’t miss the Meerkats, which are a family favourite and thankfully didn’t try to flog any insurance!
Energetic kids will also love the Adventure playgrounds, complete with slides, climbing frames and bridges. Parents can relax in the nearby seating area with a refreshing drink or snack.
If you ever wondered what 16th and 17th century gardens were like (I haven’t) then the knot, kitchen and parterre gardens behind Marwell Hall are for you. While pleasant, they are also rather dull compared to being up close and impersonal with a massive giraffe.
No visit to Marwell Wildlife would be complete without a browse in the inventively titled Ark Gift Shop. There is a plethora of soft toys, animal play sets and branded merchandise on display, plus books, locally-made food, prints, and decorations for the home.
As a registered conservation charity, you are encouraged to provide an optional small donation when buying an entrance ticket. They can also claim an additional 25% back from the ticket and any donation from the Government if you Gift Aid it. Ticket prices vary slightly dependent on the season, with summer being the most expensive (£17.26 for adults and £13.62 for children). Thankfully, under 3’s can enter for free. The zoo is conveniently open every single day from 10am, with the only exception being Christmas and Boxing Day when it’s closed.
In addition to a day pass, you can also purchase an annual membership. For adults, it costs £58 which works out as less than £5 a month. However, if you have a large family, £38 per child might work out to be too expensive, dependent on your budget. That said, if you live locally, it’s a useful location for kids to let off steam. It also provides a discount in shops and cafes. The annual pass also allows you to make a single yearly visit to several other zoos around the UK, including Bristol, Chester, Colchester, Edinburgh, Highland Wildlife Park, Paignton, Newquay and Twycross.
Marwell also has its own hotel on location, with a safari lodge theme. A single night seems rather pricy at £199, but that does include dinner, bed and breakfast for 2 adults and 2 children, in addition to entrance into the park. Excluding the tickets, that works out at £137.24 for 4 people, which isn’t bad at all for 2 meals and a room. You can also get a 2 night Wildlife Break for £349, but you can easily see and do everything there in a day.
Between 23rd May and 2nd September, Marwell Wildlife is running a Rise of the Dinosaurs attraction, featuring giant animatronic monsters, a fossil dig, daily shows, face-painting and selfie opportunity with a Tyrannosaurus Rex!
Other seasonal attractions such as the Sunset Party in the Park (5th July), Halloween Festival (25th October -2nd November) and Christmas with Santa in Marwell Hall (22nd November – 24th December) are sure to be a lot of fun too.
Marwell Wildlife is fun and educational family destination all year round, which also does a great deal for animal conservation. Unlike some zoos, it also offers the animals a spacious environment in which to live, rather than cramming everything into tiny cages. While there may not be any lions, sharks or elephants, there are plenty of other species not native to the UK to discover and learn about. We’ve returned there many times over the years and so should you!
Review by: Sarah O'Connell
Review Date: 27th June 2014
Marwell Wildlife Review
Rating out of 5:
Photos ©2014 Marwell Wildlife and Jason Brown Photography.