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5 Of The Best Petting Zoos In Essex

By Katie Byrne – 14th December 2020

If you’re currently caught in the grips of #tiertwolife and are looking for out-and-about places where you can keep your kids (and yourself) entertained, as well as – gasp – possibly meet up with other people in an appropriately safe fashion, farms and petting zoos could well hold the answer.

With the perfect combination of largely outdoor settings and the excitement of getting to meet everything from farmyard animals to creatures that are a tad more exotic, petting zoos are a great way to encourage a love of animals in your kids and support the work of local organisations all at the same time.

Why visit a children’s farm or petting zoo?

  • They’re a great way to get outdoors: if you’re all feeling cooped up and want an opportunity to get some fresh air – and perhaps even a coffee from a farmshop cafe in the process – there’s no better idea. In our current tier two status, they can also offer an opportunity to socialise outdoors, as well (adhering to the latest government guidance in the process, of course).
  • They present an ideal opportunity to teach littl’uns about animals: what better way to learn about everything from farmyard friends to tropical beasts than by meeting them face-to-face? With everything from cart horses to meerkats, Essex’s child-friendly farms are home to a huge range of amazing creatures.
  • They provide an opportunity to support local farms and charities: because your patronage is vital during these ‘unprecedented times’ that we all keep harking on about, after all.


BTW: a quick disclaimer before I go any further. I, like many of us, watched Tiger King when it came out back in early lockdown, which feels like, oh, about five years ago at this point in time – anyone else?

I was horrified, by everything (I’m having flashbacks now: the animal cruelty, the weird Carole Baskin TikTok ‘thing’, the hairstyles… Ugh. Let’s repress that memory, please.). So can I just quickly state that none of the places that I’m about to mention here are manned by a Joe Exotic-esque figure who is keen to make a quick buck or two. Rather, the people behind these places are passionate about the creatures in their care and all of the animals in the various establishments I mention are looked after in nothing but an exemplary fashion, with many rescued from dire circumstances before beginning their new lives in sunny Essex.

There’s nothing shady or strange going on from what I can make out, and I don’t imagine Netflix will be sniffin’ round Essex anytime soon to try and make a docu-series about one of its petting zoos.

Anyway. Disclaimer done. Let’s get on with the fun bit!

Please note: due to ever-changing restrictions and visitor demand, it’s advisable to check whether booking in advance is required for the places mentioned below.

Colchester Zoo’s ‘Familiar Friends’, Colchester

Colchester Zoo is a globally renowned institution, as much for the animals it’s home to as it is for the incredible conservation work it does to help animals in the wild. Whacked hard by lockdown, it’s currently open on a need-to-book basis. So why not make a day of it?

The Familiar Friends area is home to everything from donkeys and llamas to wallabies and pigs (and more! So much more), with visitors given the opportunity to purchase special food that can be handfed to the animals.

Of course, the zoo doesn’t end there. As well as Familiar Friends, it’s also host to a jaw-dropping array of beautiful creatures from around the globe. Get there early to make the most of it (especially if you’re planning a winter visit) and make sure everyone’s wearing comfortable shoes – there’s going to be a lot of walking involved!


Marsh Farm, South Woodham Ferrers

Open from 10am every day, Marsh Farm is the place to go to meet farmyard animals up close and personal. As well as playing host to a range of seasonal events – check out their website for more info, the farm is also the place to go for a brilliant family day out.

Home to a range of farmyard friends, it’s got both indoor and outdoor animal experience areas. You and your family can also enjoy crazy golf, adventure play and a bouncy castle – and if you’re feeling peckish, be sure to head to the Playbarn Restaurant for some hearty grub.


Old Macdonald’s Farm & Fun Park, Brentwood

Old Macdonald had a farm… And boy oh boy, are there a lot of animals on it. Head to Brentwood for your chance to meet everything from otters and owls to goats and Shetland ponies – as well as tortoises, wallabies, reindeer, cows, sheep and more.

As well as offering an irresistible opportunity to get up close and personal with these beautiful creatures, little ones can also enjoy a range of rides and shows, as well as the chance to play in a frankly incredible looking adventure playground. Ee, aye, ee, aye, oh, indeed.


White Elm Petting Farm, Bicknacre

Okay, answer me this: who doesn’t love a garden centre? There’s something about the heady combination of flowers and homeware that appeals to, oh, everyone, with the alluring prospect of a wedge of cake at the end the ultimate dangled carrot. White Elm, in Chelmsford, takes things one step further by hosting its very own petting farm, to boot!

Tickets must be pre-booked and there are two time slots available each day. Home to over 100 animals, you can meet miniature donkeys, pygmy goats, miniature ponies, wallabies, guinea pigs, rabbits, ducks, alpacas, deer… The list goes on. And on. All animals can be interacted with bar the nip-prone pigs. Keep your eyes peeled for the special seasonal events White Elm hosts, which run from March to October.


Maldon Promenade Zoo, Maldon

A bit of a hidden gem hidden in the middle of Maldon Park, this Zoo is the perfect place to bring animal-loving youngsters to learn about some of their favourite animals. With passionate staff on-hand to share facts about the animals and their personalities, it’s a chance to get up close and personal with everything from reindeer to meerkats. And as shown above – they’ve even got dinosaurs…!


Wherever you go – have a fabulous time and let me know what you think!

Katie x

Top image via Colchester Zoo (Facebook).


This is a Girl About recommendation. This means that it was not gifted in return for a review. We only recommend places we absolutely love, and places that we know you’ll love too!

Katie Byrne Essex
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