It’s ages since I’d visited Edinburgh Zoo – the last time being a trip in sixth year, if I remember correctly (and the less said about how long ago that was, the better). I remember many younger visits too – wondering how the giraffes slept, feeling scared of the lions prowling the hills, excitedly awaiting the penguin parade. I remember the hilliness of its terrain, the sometimes-smelliness in Summer, its windy microclimate, sheer size (quite the walk for little legs) and marvelling at the views across the capital from the zoo’s Corstorphine vantage-point. It was always an adventure – the definition of A Good Day Out.
When I was invited to Zoo Nights a few weeks ago, I wondered at first if I could ever recapture this magic. But Edinburgh Zoo is one of those places that, while evolving and keeping up with the latest research as a conservation zoo, stays comfortingly familiar. I was transported back in time, filled with excitement to learn and just a little bit of childish wonder at the spectacle of it all. I had invited along my zoo-loving pal Pippa and she was the best companion with her extensive knowledge of the animal kingdom; it was fun to spend the evening being big kids at Zoo Nights’ grown-up playground.
London does the ‘lates’ thing at its museums and attractions and happily for us locals, Edinburgh is catching on. There’s something really magical about visiting these places after hours, like you’re in on a secret (okay, a big secret as the event is a popular one!) in this case the rare chance to see what the animals get up to in the evenings (interesting when you consider the nocturnal/ shy ones!). The atmosphere is relaxed, with entertainment, street food, pop-up bars and more (silent disco anyone?). Zoo Keepers and volunteers were on hand to tell us all about the animals throughout too – educational as well as fun!
After making a beeline for the flamingos (my favourite) and face painting (Pippa was transformed into a tiger, sadly I’m allergic!) we got exploring. The tigers were incredibly majestic and I had a soft spot for the wallabies and sleepy koalas. Pippa’s favourite is the ant eater, who was very sweet. We were also keen to check out the ‘Dinosaurs Return’ exhibition in the Lost World enclosure, as this was a new addition since my last visit. The most disconcerting thing about the life-sized animatronic dinosaurs was the eyes – they seemed to follow you Mona Lisa style… The Dinosaur Keepers were on hand to answer questions, and sadly we were too busy cooing over the penguins that we missed the paleontology talk!
You had to watch out for the Lost World’s inhabitants spraying water at you too – I would imagine if it had been darker it would have been quite disconcerting… After making a pitstop for burgers from Dino Bites (the veggie burgers were delicious) and taking in those spectacular views (with a beautiful and timely double rainbow to boot) we made our way to the penguins – my absolute, all-time favourite! (I hear they like rhubarb and ginger Edinburgh gin too).
We had timed our visit well, managing to catch the penguins’ evening feed, and the cutest penguin chasing after the zoo keeper when he took the fish away at the end! I have fond memories of watching the penguins swimming underwater, and happily this bit of their habitat remains unchanged. The most amazing part was seeing the recently-hatched penguin chicks up close.
The penguin parents were proudly protecting their young (including fending off a rather cheeky neighbour that was trying to steal stones from their nest!) and we waited for what felt like ages for the chicks to emerge – cue a chorus of awwing when they finally did! I’m not sure of the species of this grey penguin – or whether perhaps it was albino – but it was guarding the most gorgeous, fluffy wee chicks which it proceeded to feed. I have definitely refilled my cuteness stores with these pictures and they will tide me over for some time.
Reluctantly we moved on to allow others a turn at the viewing point, and as we made our last wander round, the sun began to set over the city. I had been worried that people might disturb the animals (it being late and there being alcohol) but the zoo’s occupants seemed to be going about their business quite happily – try to spot them in my pictures below… It was an incredibly memorable evening with great company – both human and animal! – and such a different and fun way to spend a Summer night; one that I would definitely recommend.
Have you been to Edinburgh Zoo? Would you like to visit Zoo Nights?
I received two complimentary tickets to Zoo Nights for the purposes of review. As ever, thoughts are entirely my own (and Pippa’s, who also loved it!)