We didn’t have the luxury of picking a warm day in June. Circumstances had us back in the UK for a bitterly cold February, but we still wanted to enjoy our time. Port Lympne Wildlife Park was along our road trip route through Kent, but we were skeptical about going in winter.
Online reviews warned of disappointment on the lack of visible animals in the winter. Understandable, it is an outdoor park after all. What animal wants to sit in the damp cold for our enjoyment? So, instead of flipping a coin, we let the weather decide for us.
Luckily, we woke up to a beautifully sunny morning. Still freezing, but nonetheless, a lovely day. Apparently, the animals at Port Lympne thought so too. Almost everyone came out to enjoy the sunshine. Plus, we didn’t have to deal with the summer crowds.
In this post we’ll go over some tips for enjoying Port Lympne Wildlife Park in winter, and the animals (with photos) we were able to see, despite the cold.
We are not sponsored by Port Lympne Wildlife Park, but enjoyed our visit and thought you would too.
Staying at Port Lympne Wildlife Park
Some of Port Lympne’s onsite accommodation, like the luxury tents, shut for the winter. However, winter is a great time to get a bargain. Plus, the unique rooms are more likely to be available. For instance, the popular rooms with views into the lion or tiger enclosures.
Staying onsite includes admission to the park, from the day of stay to close on the day of departure. This means you get to wander the park even after the day guests have left.
Other perks that typically come with the more expensive rooms include admission to nearby Howletts Wild Animal Park and/or a golf cart to tour the property. This is a huge perk as there’s a lot of walking, but you can’t rent the golf carts.
Little tip: The Pinewood Pods are one of the least expensive options within the park. They are right across from the lion enclosure. Though, you can probably hear the king’s roar throughout the park, these little cabins give a front row seat. Just note, some pods don’t have en-suites.
Staying Near Port Lympne Wildlife Park
Staying onsite can be pricey. Luckily, the park isn’t the only option. Port Lympne Wildlife Park is less than five-miles from the beachside town of Hythe.
Hythe Imperial Hotel, Spa & Golf – We stayed here for the fantastic waterfront location with great views. The room was fantastic. However, it only had one small elevator. This was fine for our winter weekend, but we imagine it would be painful if the hotel was busy. However, there were stairs.
Red Lion Inn – Good budget option in the center of Hythe. The attached pub is a popular spot for dinner.
What to Expect When Visiting Port Lympne Wildlife Park in Winter
We purchased tickets at the main entrance, but they were also available online. Tickets included the park and a one hour safari tour. Parking was free.
We had to choose our safari tour time when buying our tickets. Since the safari pick-up location was only five-minutes from the Main Entrance, we selected the next available tour. This worked well for winter, but in the busier months, late afternoon tours are less crowded.
Also, check the board in front of the Main Entrance for the Animal Talk & Feed times. This may influence when you want to do the safari ride, as you may miss a talk you want to see.
Port Lympne Wildlife Park is over 600 acres. Walking trails will get you to more than half of the animals. Though, it is a lot of walking to see them all. The other half live in the South American, Asian, and African enclosures and are only visible from the safari tours.
You can purchase several add-on experiences. These include feeding the animals, up close photography sessions, and Ranger Safaris, which give a more personal experience.
Note: Ticket prices include an added 10% donation to the park through Gift Aid. If you only want to pay the standard admission, you will need to ask them to remove the donation.
Tips for Enjoying the Safari Tour
After waiting 10-minutes, a large safari truck pulled up in front of us. Our host jumped down from the cab and gave us the run down.
Surprisingly, we were the only people booked for our time slot. We didn’t think 10:30 was early, but again, another perk of winter in the park. Later, we noticed the mid-day trucks were packed, but by late afternoon they were practically empty again.
Since we had our pick of the seats, our host advised us to sit in the middle or the back to avoid the truck fumes.
It was a rough ride, but she made plenty of stops for photos along the route. With an elevated view, we were able to capture most animals over the fencing. Some areas didn’t even have fencing.
Some animals were best viewed from one side of the truck or the other, but there wasn’t a “best side.”
The tour wound its way through South American, Asian, and African animal enclosures. Most animals in these enclosures cannot be seen via the walking routes.
Animals We Saw on the Safari Tour
One of the biggest complaints we read online was the visibility of the animals or only seeing deer.
All up, we saw at least 45 different species. Roughly 15-20 on the safari and the rest from walking the park.
Keep in mind, Port Lympne is less of a zoo and more of a wildlife park. Allowing tours and experiences help fund their conservation efforts.
Though there are cages on the property, most animals are in fields. This means, some animals are going to be far away. It’s similar to a real safari, except without the risk.
For those animals a little further out, Jeremy used binoculars. I had a Nikkor 80 – 400 mm lens on my DSLR, which gave me plenty of reach.
Though, not everything was far away. At one point we had to wait for a zebra to get out of the road.
Giraffes were another animal we saw up close. Giraffes don’t handle the cold very well. In winter, Port Lympne moves their enclosure to give them more protection. Luckily, as we came through, they were all outside enjoying a bit of sun and some large twigs hanging on a feeding post.
Of all the animals we saw, we found the peculiar painted dogs the most fascinating.
As we came through, the pack was busy working together to pull apart a carcass. The team work was interesting to watch and they were strangely beautiful, but also terrifying.
In the corner of their enclosure, we got a quick peak of four pups as they ran out of a little shack to beckon their mama.
Obviously, this post would be massive if we wrote about all the animals we saw. However, some other highlights of the safari included various types of deer, elands, Bactrian Camels, water buffalo, and European Bison. Plus, some South American favorites including vicuñas, capybaras, and tapirs.
Eating at Port Lympne
After the safari tour we were keen to head out on the walking paths, but first we were hungry. Luckily, Port Lympne had a few options open for winter.
We took a peek at the Basecamp Cafe, as this was right where the safari dropped us off. The menu was mostly cold sandwiches with outdoor seating, which wasn’t what we wanted.
Beautifully decorated in a Moroccan theme, the The Garden Room had a small but tasty menu. I went for the burger while Jeremy went for the Shepard’s Pie. Both came out quickly, were delicious, and reasonably priced considering it’s a restaurant within the park.
Later, on the other side of the park, we found Babydoll’s Wood-fired Pizza which looked good and had a mostly Italian menu. The nearby Meerkat Shack had drinks and a few snacks.
Pinewood Cafe was more of a coffee shop, with pastries and cold sandwiches.
Quick Note about the Mansion and Gardens
After our lunch, we took a short walk around the Mansion. This is also the 4-star hotel on the property.
Most of the garden paths and the hedge maze were closed. It was still a pretty area to wander around, but with most of the gardens dormant for winter, there wasn’t much to see. We moved on.
Animals We Saw on the Self-Guided Walking Trail
We started our tour with a walk through the wallaby enclosure. Most were too busy grooming themselves to pay us any mind.
Following the path past three paddocks of Black Rhinos, we made our way to Wayfinder Sign 13. The long uphill path led us clockwise around the property. This section of the park looked out over the fields we went through on the safari tour, except the animals were much further away.
If you are limited on time, start the path counterclockwise around the property. This will allow you to see the most animals first.
Though the safari tour took us past the lion enclosures, getting photos without the fencing was challenging. However, on the walking tour, an elevated section of walkway gave us good shots over the fencing. It was a large enclosure, so this obviously depends on where the lions are hanging out.
Though Port Lympne Wildlife Park has a variety of monkey species, most seemed unhappy with the cold. Not all monkeys stayed in their warm enclosures, but we could watch those that did through the viewing windows.
We did get to see the gorillas, but it was hard to get good photos with the bars.
To our surprise, the Brown European Bears weren’t hibernating. Again, the elevated walkways allowed for great unobstructed views.
Our favorite fellas, the meerkats, were out sunning themselves on the large mounds. Many of the smaller cats, like the lynx, were doing the same.
The most unique creatures we had never seen before were the Red River Hogs. Sporting a Fu Manchu beard, these fellas usually live in the forest regions of Central and Western Africa.
Tiger Feeding Time
As we came up to the tiger enclosure, we could see a small crowd gathering. Six guests purchased the tiger feeding experience and we were just in time to watch.
The trainer gave the guests gloves, masks, a large bucket of meat, and a pair of tongs. Each guest took turns feeding the giant fluffy murder kittens as the trainer gave the backstory on the brothers.
For those wondering, the trainer was very clear that despite being born and raised at the facility, the tigers were very wild. Handling them or entering the cage would be a death sentence.
Hopefully our winter experience at Port Lympne Wildlife Park eases your mind on just how many animals you can see. However, we do think going on a sunny day could make a difference. Most of the 45+ species we saw were out enjoying the sunshine.
Even though we lost out on the gardens, we didn’t have the summer crowds the UK is known for. At times, it felt like we had the entire park to ourselves. To us, this was a big win.
Though the Port Lympne Wildlife Park website says it takes 4 – 5 hours to visit, we spent 7 hours and could have easily stayed longer if it didn’t get dark early in winter.
Finally, as we focus on kid-free travel, we didn’t explore the Dinosaur Forest. However, if you are traveling with kiddos, you’ll likely find yourself in this area of the park.
Plan on spending more time in England? We use these guidebooks and find them invaluable when planning our trips.
- DK Eyewitness Great Britain – Best for inspiration through photos
- Lonely Planet’s Guide to England – Best for detailed info and hidden gems.
Or here are a few of our relevant posts you may be interested in.