Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.
Discover the wildlife centres currently welcoming visitors in Scotland.
Get up close to amazing creatures, from the magnificent Amur tiger to cheeky otters, and learn all about the fantastic work done by the people working at the wildlife centres and parks throughout Scotland. Wildlife centres provide a vital role in preserving our wildlife; endangered species rely on breeding programs and conservation efforts, so heading to the zoo or wildlife park can be a great way to support these causes while enjoying a fun holiday.
Zoos are essential for research and education, and can spark a life-long interest in ecology and biology for youngsters and adults alike - learn more by getting up close with amazing animals, starting with these excellent parks for family days out.
Pick out a wonderful holiday retreat that you can use as a base while meeting the fantastic creatures living in Scotland's wildlife centres. Start planning your trip by browsing our collection of holiday cottages in Scotland.
Deep Sea World, set in a fantastic location in North Queensferry in the shadow of the mighty Forth Rail Bridge, is an exciting and informative trip for all ages. A fantastic variety of tanks takes you from the depths of the ocean to the rugged shorelines of Scotland and the humid jungles of the Amazon.
Education and inspiration for all ages is the name of the game here, and the exhibitions show the amazing habitats and lives of creatures in oceans around the world. The talks, feeds and diver sessions allow fantastic interaction and you can ask the knowledgeable team any questions you may have. So, whether you’d rather an encounter with a bearded dragon or cobra, watch the seals roll, swim and jump to get some exercise, learn about the rainforest animals such as piranhas and the alligator snapping turtle in the swamp, or witness shark feeding time, there is definitely something for everyone!
The pièce de résistance is the underwater tunnel, the longest in Europe – walk through a magical land as hundreds of fish swarm all around you and look out for the sharks which are prolific as this aquarium has one of the largest collections in Europe. Hear how the marine life is kept in conditions resembling their natural habitat using mineral-rich seawater from the Firth of Forth, and how the aquarium tackles conservation, a major aim of the park, with projects from breeding programmes to housing endangered species.
You can opt for an Access All Areas tour which is definitely a highlight of any visit, as it really lets the visitors discover more about how the aquarium is run and gives you a really eye-opening experience of life behind-the-scenes. There is always something new to see and enjoy. Pick up a souvenir at the gift shop, and a cake and coffee at the cafe… just perhaps not straight after the feeding frenzies!
For a large family or group, check out Holeburn House in Dollar. A big, spacious and bright open-plan house, the decks and balconies provide lovely views and a private place to enjoy the sunshine.
On rainy days and late evening, enjoy the fantastic bar area, complete with fridges, a counter and a dartboard. The bedrooms are warm and welcoming, the bathrooms modern and stylish and the public space light and beautiful, with two sitting rooms and two dining areas! A place for a truly sociable holiday.
Situated near the banks of Loch Morlich in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, and a mere 8 miles from Aviemore, The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre is a must-do trip.
Re-introduced in 1952 with two bulls and five cows, and with an injection of 18 others in the following years, the herd today stands at a mighty 150, with approximately 50 of them ranging the Cairngorm Mountains and the remainder on the Glenlivet Estate, the locations being some 30 miles apart. The split makes management of breeding and prevention of disease transmission much simpler.
The centre is open from the February half-term holidays right through the year to early January. A visit to the centre offers up a shop and close-by paddocks, and from March onwards, daily guided Hill Trips to see the reindeer on the slopes of the mountain itself are available.
During the winter, the trip may be dependent on whether the herd can be found: remember they are free-ranging! One of the experienced reindeer herders guides visitors on a 20-minute walk in the summer and a 30-minute walk in the winter (it can be up to 45 minutes if the reindeer are further afield) potentially over rough, snowy and icy terrain so being well equipped with appropriate clothing and footwear is a good idea! The pace is relaxed, so it’s suitable for all ages and abilities, and the views as you ascend are spectacular. When you arrive, you will be right in amongst the reindeer herd and able to walk amongst them freely with opportunity to hand feed them, stroke and take as many photos as you can manage. The whole trip usually lasts around one and a half hours, depending on the reindeer and the weather!
Luckily, for those unable to make the Hill Trip, the paddocks and exhibition in Glenmore offer an alternative, easier way to see the reindeer. From Easter to New Year’s Eve a small group of reindeer are cared for down at the Reindeer Centre in Glenmore, alternated regularly with the reindeer on the hill and chosen carefully so the reindeer in the paddock are those who may benefit from a slightly easier life off the hill. They are wheelchair and pushchair accessible and, as well as being able to see the reindeer, there is lots of information about every aspect of reindeer in the centre.
There is also a quiz for the kids, a play area in the elves’ house and the chance to visit Santa’s bothy. The Reindeer Centre is welcoming, informative and super friendly, and getting to be so near to these gentle and beautiful animals is unmissable.
Sleeps 6, pet friendly
Located nearby in Kingussie, why not book for a week at the charming Brier Grove? This traditional Scottish stone villa is set in an acre of private garden and has all the charm of the Victorian era whilst enjoying modern interiors, allowing for a stylish and comfortable stay. Set in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park on the edge of the highland village of Kingussie and surrounded by rolling hills and mountains, Brier Grove is ideally situated for enjoying both the local amenities of the town and the rural delights of the Highlands of Scotland.
Located on a perfectly flat 120-acre estate just outside Stirling, Blair Drummond is a wonderfully exciting family visitor attraction in Central Scotland and the perfect place for a family day out where visitors of all ages will enjoy what’s on offer.
From accessible enclosures to built-up adventure play areas there is ample entertainment for the whole day. The site is divided into four wildlife reserves full of exotic animals adding a true safari experience: keep a lookout for rhinos, zebras, lions, camels and antelope to name a few.
Be sure not to miss the famous Barbary macaque drive-through where the cheeky monkeys may clamber all over the bonnet. It is optional though, just in case you don’t want to risk damage to your wheels! The adventurous activities are endless - once your legs get tired why not take a boat trip around Chimp Island? From the boat, you’ll have a great view of the chimpanzee troop scaling great heights on their climbing frame or foraging for a tasty snack. Your boat’s skipper will be keen to answer any questions, so get them ready.
There are also numerous keeper presentations, with free informative talks at animal enclosures offered to visitors daily. These talks introduce you to the animals and discuss how the species has adapted to survive in its environment and highlights the conservation concerns, as well as welcoming any questions.
The sea lions' presentation is a must-see and allows the keepers to show off how the animals are trained for exercise and vet checks by making everything into an enjoyable game, with lots of fish as the reward.
Make time for youngsters to enjoy the wooden pirate ship found in the sandpit, the wooden fort, the five-seater boat and the flying fox. The restaurant, café and snack bars will keep all family well fed and watered, and all the food is locally sourced. The education resources are also fantastic, from learning how we can reduce our environmental impact to touch-tables - a collection of rare artefacts that offer an exciting multi-sensory experience - and there are a variety of workshops, talks and guided walks. There is an impressive range of conservation projects and lots of information about them and how you can get involved.
In short, this is a fantastic day out, that will leave you talking about it long after it’s over. The huge variety of fascinating and exotic animals, from a round-up of the African greats (including lions, giraffe and rhinoceros) to the two humped Bactrian camel, the majestic fallow deer, Humboldt penguins and Siberian tigers, will leave you in awe.
Located close by in Dunblane in perfect seclusion and an enviable rural position, you can find Cauldhame House - a spacious, light and modern house that sleeps 13 people. From the modern kitchen, complete with Aga and double electric oven, to the elegant dining room and busy games room with full-sized snooker table, there is something for everyone to enjoy. The large drawing room on the first floor looks out over the gardens and to the hills beyond.
If you want to really make an occasion of it, you can also book Stable Cottage and Barn Cottage too - both are also available separately. Stable Cottage is a traditional cottage with stylish kitchen and bathroom, sleeping four guests in two spacious bedrooms. Barn Cottage provides contemporary and stylish accommodation and sleeps four in two double bedrooms, with wonderful oak flooring throughout. Cosy and quirky, a stay here is memorable indeed!
The Five Sisters Zoo was officially established in 2005 with just a small collection of rabbits, guinea pigs, goats, and pigs. Since then the zoo has grown into an exciting collection of over 130 different species of mammals, birds and reptiles from all around the world.
They are now BIAZA and Balai accredited, for which they have to maintain very high standards of animal care and welfare. The layout of the zoo is such that it is really compact with viewing areas accessible for everybody from little tots to people in wheelchairs, and many new walk-through areas. It’s just a great opportunity to get up close to the animals.
There is a daily programme of free keeper talks throughout the day, giving an opportunity to learn more about the amazing animals such as the otters, the meerkats, the porcupines, the bears, the arctic wolves, the lynx. You can also feed the brown and ring-tailed lemurs throughout the day at various times which is a really special experience. Both adults and children enjoy the keeper experiences that are offered at the zoo: it’s a chance to shadow a keeper and really engage with the animals.
There are three daily public handling sessions at the zoo and they happen in the education centre. Lasting about 30 minutes, they provide fantastic opportunities to learn more about some of the smaller reptiles and mammals and a chance to touch them – check their website for up-to-date times.
The facilities are set up to cater for an entire day out, with a large picnic area and large outdoor play area at the centre of the zoo. The Leaping Lemurs Restaurant offers the perfect place for a bite to eat too. Five Sisters is a family-run friendly zoo that lets you get up close to the wide variety of animals that they look after and care for – it’s a great day out for everyone all year round!
Sleeps 4, pet friendly
Located in a charming location in a small hamlet in the hills in the Upper Tweed Valley between Peebles and Biggar, you will find The School - a delightful holiday home that is at the same time both traditional and quirky. From here you can walk for miles along the ‘Thieves Road’ and enjoy the beautiful Borders views all day. Sleeping four in two bedrooms this is perfect for a family getaway. The large open-plan kitchen/dining/sitting room forms the bottom floor, complete with wood burner for cosy evenings.
This wonderful day out is located in the village of Luggiebank, on the outskirts of Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire. For a day out like no other, head to World of Wings, an attraction which is home to a fantastic and extensive collection of birds of prey. Hawks, eagles, owls and falcons are but a few of the majestic birds that you can see here.
In the summer months, the entry ticket includes two daily flying displays – each lasting approximately 1 hour depending on birds and weather, and featuring two different teams of birds. Check the website for accurate timings.
Witness the fantastic team of birds show you their skill in the air - whether that’s an owl swooping low over your head, watching a falcon stoop to the lure or watching a vulture gracefully soar above, it’s an unmissable experience. It’s all accompanied by a fascinating commentary from the knowledgeable falconers.
The centre has a variety of experiences that can be tailored to your needs: from photography days to private tuition (where you can learn the skills you need to keep and fly your own bird of prey!). The handling and flying sessions are some of the most popular events, with everyone from the littlest to the biggest fully enjoying getting up close and personal with the magnificent birds of prey.
Why not allow yourself to experience the thrill of having one of the majestic birds flying straight onto your glove? The friendly and informative staff will make your day a success and the introduction display is very well presented. The café is a pleasant place to eat and relax, with a range of hot and cold food, filled rolls, homemade soup, sandwiches, full Scottish breakfasts, baked potatoes and plenty more. And make sure you try a deluxe hot chocolate!
Wildlife parks in Scotland
So, there you have it: a wonderful array of wildlife centres in Scotland which are bound to fill you with joy when fitting them into your holiday schedule. For those of you who live in Scotland already, we hope this was useful and you get to some of these attractions on the occasional weekend - we know we will be working our way around them.
Don’t miss a chance to get up close to a range of magnificent animals that live in Scotland’s wildlife centres. To find your perfect holiday home in Scotland, visit our website today and discover all the hidden gems in our collection of Scottish holiday accommodation.