Getting Twitchy: A Day Out at Slimbridge Wetland Centre

Beautiful autumn foliage at Slimbridge

Like many families, we love getting out and about.  We try to find as many outdoor activities as we can and we especially love interacting with and learning about animals.

But if you live in the UK, our chilly, damp winters can often make you reluctant to leave the warmth of home.  It can be tempting to curl up at home and hibernate until spring!  However, if you know where to look, winter can sometimes surprise you. 

Swan Lake Slimbridge
Swan Lake at the entrance to Slimbridge

Wrap up warm and visit the right place and a winter day out can be (almost!) as fun as a summer day.

Walking at Slimbridge Wetland Centre
Smiles all round; when the kids are happy, everyone’s happy!

Slimbridge Wetland Centre is ideal for a winter visit; as many as 30,000 birds migrate here for the winter providing a beautiful natural spectacle.

About Slimbridge Wetland Centre

Flamingos and ducks at Slimbridge
Flamingos and ducks at Slimbridge Wetland Centre

Slimbridge is one of 9 wetland centres administered by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.  The WWT is a charity set up to preserve and promote Britain’s wetlands which are a haven for wildlife, especially migratory birds.  Slimbridge is located on the banks of the River Severn’s estuary, in Gloucestershire.

There’s more than just birds here.  Slimbridge is also an important habitat for amphibians and you can find these in Toad Hall where there’s a wealth of information about their threatened status.  Some of Britain’s endangered mammals make their home here, including otters and a beaver.

Beautiful autumn foliage at Slimbridge
Beautiful autumn foliage

Plenty of activities are centred around families; there’s a welly boot walk, canoeing, and seasonal offerings for children.  You’ll also find an educational centre which runs scheduled pre-school activities.   There is, of course, the obligatory playground for the kids to monkey about in.

Our visit

Meeting swans at Slimbridge
Bird and Bee warily eyeing one another!

Bolstered by reinforcements in the form of my parents, Kids and Compass visited Slimbridge on a grey day in November.  The kids immediately got stuck into the thick of things, coming face to beak with some huge swans who were patrolling by the exit from the visitor centre.  Beady eyes searched us for the bags of grains that you can buy with your tickets.  We paid our toll and the swans let us pass.

Geese at Slimbridge
The Cub with some geese

The reserve is set out with paths around a series of small lakes and ponds, as you’d expect at a wetland.  There are separate continent areas where non-native species can be found, but of course the migratory birds are free to roam wherever they like.

One of the boardwalks across the ponds at Slimbridge
One of the boardwalks across the ponds at Slimbridge
Boardwalk at Slimbridge
Peeking at the ducks

The kids loved the boardwalks over the ponds – peering through railings and feeding the ducks was great fun for them.  There’s a lot of open space here so they had lots of freedom to tear about which suited everyone.  When we visited, Slimbridge was displaying a series of large lego animals and so we had fun trying to find them all.

The Tundra area at Slimbridge
The Tundra area at Slimbridge

For adults, there are plenty of hides for the more serious bird-spotters amongst us. If, like me, you don’t know much about ducks other than that they go quack, there are some pretty birds here other than the ubiquitous mallard.

Lots of different species of ducks love the ponds at Slimbridge
Lots of different species of ducks love the ponds at Slimbridge

Flamingos and other exotic creatures

Caribbean flamingos near the cafe at Slimbridge
Caribbean flamingos near the cafe

Slimbridge is home to all six species of flamingo, much to the pink-loving Cub’s delight.  They are dotted all about the reserve, but you’ll find most of them at the far end, at the aptly-named Flamingo Lagoon.  You can get quite close here as there’s a large hide right down on the water’s edge.

Flamingos displaying at Flamingo Lagoon Slimbridge
Flamingos displaying at Flamingo Lagoon

Make sure you walk past the beaver’s lodge on the way – perhaps you’ll see him (we didn’t).  We did get a good look at the playful otters who live here, as well as some tiny and very cute harvest mice.  We also enjoyed peeking into the nearby tropical house to find some more amphibians and getting out of the chilly air.

The playful otter family at Slimbridge
The playful otter family

When Bee is bigger we will definitely book a canoe tour so we can get out onto some of the waterways.  If your kids are over 3 you can take them in the canoes.  In the summer months a Land Rover safari takes place so we’d also probably rest our legs for a few minutes on board!

A frog in the Tropical House at Slimbridge
A frog in the Tropical House

As usual we didn’t manage to see absolutely everything  Slimbridge has to offer – we missed going up the observation tower at the visitor centre as the kids were getting too tired to manage the steps.

Home to native species as well as more exotic animals, Slimbridge is ideal for a family day out.  And if you’re a birder, it’s heaven.

Know before you go

Slimbridge is well signposted from the M5 motorway.  Just follow the brown signs from exits 13 and 14.

Buy tickets online at the WWT website for best prices.

The cafe here serves some good food with hot options and plenty for fussy little ones.  There are lots of picnic areas if you’d like to bring your own food.

Bring wellies so you can join in the welly boot walk if you have young children.

Don’t forget to pre-book any seasonal activities, especially for half-term or school holiday specials.  Details on the WWT website as above.

Check the timings for otter feedings, Toad Hall talks and crane talks when you arrive to make the most of your day.

Read about more things to do in the Cotswolds with kids here.

Slimbridge Wetland Centre is ideal for a family day out in winter. Up to 30,000 birds migrate here for winter. A great day out especially for kids.

Slimbridge Wetland Centre is ideal for a family day out in winter. Up to 30,000 birds migrate here for winter. A great day out especially for kids.

49 thoughts on “Getting Twitchy: A Day Out at Slimbridge Wetland Centre

  1. fionarabbit2013 says:

    This definitely looks like a great place for a family’s day out 🙂 I bet the kids really love it! Great post! 🙂

  2. nicolelabargecm says:

    Wow this looks like a cool place to visit with kids. That swan is as tall as him! I wasn’t expecting the flamingos though. SO cool

    • Emily Cole says:

      The swans were huge and totally unfazed by people! We were more nervous of them as swans can be aggressive. But these guys were completely placid, they just wanted some grain!

  3. Livi Bee says:

    I’m glad your family found something interesting to do on a cold, winter day. I’m no bird watcher, but I would have loved to see the different species of birds, especially the flamingos. The stare down between the baby and the swan is hilarious!!

    • Emily Cole says:

      I’m not a bird watcher either but this place was lovely. The flamingos were my favourite, too. You don’t expect to see them in the UK. I thought the photo was funny but I’m biased as he’s my baby and you know what mums are like about their babies 😉

  4. fouronaworldtrip says:

    I totally feel you … it needs so much courage to get out when it’s freezing cold! But if you actually can find the motivation, it’s rewarding after all and the Wetland Center seems perfect for it!

  5. elisa says:

    Nice landscapes and wildlife by the pictures it looks like the perfect place to discover with kids. And the colors look more like Autumn time so lucky you . . .

    • Emily Cole says:

      Yes, it was perfect for kids. It was November when we went – I’m just so slow at getting things posted! My excuse is Christmas got in the way…

    • Emily Cole says:

      Yes we thought the wetlands made for a great family day out. It’s also interesting to see the variety of animals who live there.

  6. maniniexp says:

    There’s a park in my hometown in Ohio (USA) that looks just like this (minus the flamingos and exotic animals haha). Looks like you had a great adventure with your family!

    • Emily Cole says:

      Ha I didn’t think there would be so many flamingos – they’re not exactly indigenous! 😉 It was a lovely day, thanks.

  7. melissa says:

    I have never heard of Slimbridge or known about the wetlands. I do a LOT of travel myself but overseas. I want to discover more things on our doorstep and you are right its the weather that tends to put adults off. Children don’t care they will have a great time rain or shine. I love the flamingos. Thanks for this great article.

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