Summer seems like yesterday, but Santa’s here today! Yes, it’s finally December. The twinkle-y lights are all up, wreathes on doors, and the spirit is filling the air. Christmas time is here; and Christmas with young believing children means Santa is on his way. Hertfordshire is a big stop on Santa’s map. There are many, many grottos about this time of year; and families have many opportunities to meet the merry, red-suited, bearded man. Santa can be spotted in malls, busy town centres, and seasonal Christmas markets; but there is only one place Santa stops with his REAL REINDEER and that is at our very own local Whipsnade Zoo (though technically in Bedfordshire).

Whipsnade Christmas (c)ZSL (11)

Our family is already a big fan of Whipsnade, the setting, the type of animals, the talks,  the indoor and outdoor play areas, and especially their hot chocolates. So, for us, getting asked to experience and review a visit with Father Christmas at the zoo was a no-brainer. The Whipsnade folks do such a nice job on so many other aspects within the zoo that we shared the same positive expectation for seeing Santa. Our expectations were delightfully exceeded this year. Santa’s Grotto is now situated within the lovely Lookout Lodge setting overlooking some beautiful landscape and gives the feeling of truly entering a warm, wooded world where Santa and his merry little elves are staying.  There are also REAL, well-fed reindeer (and educational reindeer talks) located in their own pen outside the grotto clearly resting-up for the big night. Whipsnade Christmas (c)ZSL (13)

Within the village itself, each lodge is festively decorated and functions, as you would imagine, as the Elves’ bedrooms, shop (where you can purchase gifts), and kitchen (where you can warm-up with a hot chocolate or mulled wine) and of course Santa’s cosy quarters.  There are also a couple lodges set-up for the kiddos to create some Christmas crafts while awaiting the big moment. It’s a lovely set-up to  wander around and they’ve also intelligently limited the number of families allowed within the grotto to enhance the overall experience. Whipsnade Christmas (c)ZSL (9)

The last thing you want during a visit with Santa is a crowded space or children fighting over seats at the craft table. Whipsnade really thought this one out and planned the overall experience quite well.

Well, the moment arrived, our family’s name was called. It was time to tell the big man in red what we wanted for Christmas.  An elf greeted us and we began our annual tradition. In our case, the tradition is our children slightly on edge and not quite convinced of this jolly old soul bellowing Ho-Ho-Ho’s and asking if they’ve been naughty or nice. Despite my children’s perceptions, Santa was friendly, chatted easily, and gave a nice little gift. We also had our family picture taken for keepsake (for an extra fee, which we purchased) and we were on our way.

Whipsnade Christmas (c)ZSL (14)

The things I really liked about the Whipsnade Meet Santa experience is that we didn’t feel rushed, cramped, hurried, or stressed. So much about Christmas can be slightly traumatic and this set-up is relaxing, decorated, and designed with thoughtful detail for the whole family.  Plus, you can combine the visit with all the benefits the rest of the zoo environment offers.  It’s a winner any way you look at it.

Meet Santa experience

Meet Santa will run from  10:15am – 3:45pm at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo on weekends from 22 November and then daily from 19 – 24 December.

  • 22-23 November
  • 29-30 November
  • 6-7 December
  • 13-14 December
  • Daily 19-24 December


Tickets are available to book online in advance. Tickets for Meet Santa are included as part of the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo admission price for children. Adults will gain entry to the experience for free with their general zoo entry ticket.

  • Child ticket including zoo admission (3-10 years): £24.18
  • Under 3s: £8
  • ZSL Child Member: £8

For more details on how to book a session with Whipsnade Santa, click here:


  1. Reblogged this on mumsnet local hertfordshire and commented:

    Our family visited Father Christmas at Whipsnade again this past weekend. The attached review is from 2014, but is absolutely consistent with the experience we had this 2015 season. The Santa was jolly, the gifts were fun, and the reindeer were REAL! Highly recommend!


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