Paignton Zoo is probably my children’s all-time favourite day out in Paignton. They love every part of it, from the fantastic animal exhibits to the great indoor and outdoor play areas. If you’re feeling tired on the way around there’s a jungle express train to save little legs because it’s a huge place. It has over 2000 animals including many of the big names, like the Tigers, Lions, Orangutans and Elephants. My children love all these but it’s often the smaller exhibits which fascinate for longest. They love the Amphibian Ark where they learn about the life cycle and conservation of amphibians and look at the tadpole nursery and frog hospital. The Baboons at the famous Baboon Rock constantly entertain with their fascinating social dynamics. There are always collective aahhhs when people see the cute babies clinging to their mother’s tummies. Another guaranteed winner is Crocodile Swamp which is fascinating as well as spine-tingling.
National Marine Aquarium
The National Marine Aquarium at Plymouth is a fantastic place. The Aquarium works so well because of its outstanding layout. Your visit starts by discovering the local sealife of Plymouth Sound. Then your journey widens out, discovering the sealife around the coasts of Britain, through the Atlantic and Pacific, and ending with tropical waters. Families can also pause halfway around to visit an excellent learning zone where helpful staff are always on hand to answer my children’s (seemingly endless) questions. The Aquarium hosts sharks, turtles, jellyfish and sea horses as well as the many different species of fish. It also has an excellent deep sea exhibit as well as the largest fish tank in the UK, with 2.5 million litres of water. It’s a great day out with surprises and fascinating sea-creatures at every turn.
Miniature Pony Centre
The beautiful ponies at the Miniature Pony Centre, Newton Abbot are always a huge draw for children. People can wander freely among the ponies in the paddocks and the barns, and stroke and pet the ponies to their heart’s content. For an additional £2 on top of the entrance fee, children between the ages of 3 and 10 can even ride them. Alongside the ponies there is a great petting-area, a zip-wire, a trampoline, two superb outdoor play areas and two indoor play areas.
Shaldon Wildlife Park
For half the price of a larger zoo, people can visit Shaldon Wildlife Park in the small village of Shaldon, near Teignmouth. For small children, larger zoos can be overwhelming, so a visit to somewhere small, quiet and friendly like this can make a perfect day out. The zoo is housed in an attractive woodland garden and specialises in small mammals and primates. On the day we visited, the small primates in particular were non-stop active and entertaining - we spent a long time watching the Squirrel Monkeys. My children also particularly liked the quiet and darkness of the Nocturnal House where we spent a long and peaceful time watching the fantastically cute Slow Lorises.
Dartmoor Zoo was the inspiration behind the book and film ‘We Bought a Zoo’. It doesn’t have the animal range of a big zoo, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm and accessibility. We really enjoyed our day at Dartmoor Zoo and what made it particularly special were the many ‘meet and greet’ experiences with the animals. The zoo had a few wow moments as well, particularly the Siberian Lynx, the Wolves, the Jaguar and the Tiger.