Day Out at Slimbridge Wetland Centre

Living in Bristol means we're spoilt for choice when it comes to family days out. Not only are there loads of attractions right on our doorstep, but there's also plenty of great places to visit in the surrounding areas.

Rural Gloucestershire is just a short drive up the motorway from us and is home to Slimbridge Wetland Centre. It's somewhere I have vague memories of visiting when I was little and I was keen to experience it again through the boys' eyes, so a couple of weeks ago we decided to take a day trip there.

We arrived to find large car parks with plenty of spaces available. It's not far to walk from the car parks to the main entrance which meant that Finley could see where we were going and was able to lead the way.

The admission fees are fairly reasonable - with Gift Aid it's £14 for adults, £8 for children aged 4-16 and under 4s are free! I booked online in advance which not only made our tickets even cheaper but also made for a tantrum-free arrival since we didn't have to wait around (always a bonus!)

On arrival we were handed a map of the centre and Finley was given the very important job of Chief Map Reader. He was very excited about this and took his new role very seriously... Until we came across another desk in the foyer which sold grain for visitors to feed to the birds. At this point, Finley swiftly ditched the map in favour of a bag of bird seed (and I was promoted to Chief Map Reader!) The bags of grain are just £1 each and, since feeding the birds made Finley so happy, we agreed that buying one really added to the whole experience throughout the day.

Our first port of call was the Sloane Observation Tower, which gives a stunning 360° panoramic view of the whole site. The tower is accessible via stairs or a lift and once you're at the top, there are small plastic steps for children to stand on to get a better look out of the windows. Unfortunately the skies were quite grey on the day we visited but the view was still just as impressive and we were able to see for miles. Finley was full of questions and wanted to know what everything was but luckily the view was labelled so we could answer almost every "What's that?" and point things out to him to spark a conversation. It was a great way to get our bearings and seeing the whole site at once really helped to get Finley excited about the day ahead.

We'd arrived a lot later than originally planned (it's impossible to get all 4 of us out the door on time these days!) so by this point it was lunchtime. There are plenty of picnic areas dotted around the Wetland Centre but we decided to stop for a quick bite to eat in the Kingfisher Kitchen before venturing out into the main part of the site. Being lunchtime meant that it was fairly busy in the restaurant so we were anxious about having to wait for our food (and, like most 3 year olds, Finley's not great at waiting!) But we really didn't need to worry as we still received great service despite the queues. The staff at the counter were super friendly and served us really quickly. In fact, the only thing that took a while was deciding what to eat as there was so much choice! In the end we opted for chunky, freshly prepared sandwiches (which were delicious!) and Finley had a selection of yummy snacks from the kids' meal deal. So, with happy tummies we set off to explore the rest of Slimbridge.

The walkway leading out of the Visitor Centre took us directly over 'Swan Lake' and allowed us to get up close to some of the birds in and around the water. Finley was eager to put his bag of bird seed to good use and set about feeding as many ducks and swans as he could find (he insisted that they were all hungry!) This meant that we made slow progress around the site but we were happy to go at Finley's pace and let him take it all in. Jacob also seemed to enjoy going at a slower pace as it gave him the chance to soak up all the sights and sounds, gaze at the wildlife and giggle at the trees!

Although Finley's not quite old enough to understand every element of the Wetland Centre yet, he showed a real interest in the wildlife around us. He especially enjoyed identifying the names, colours and sizes of the birds and trying to decide whether they were mummies, daddies or babies!

As well as exploring, feeding birds and learning about all the wildlife, there are plenty of other things for kids to do at the centre. One of our favourite parts of Slimbridge was 'Welly Boot Land' - a splash park with playground equipment, water mills, a picnic area and a refreshment kiosk. Finley absolutely loved it there and it was great to watch him running around barefoot, making friends with other children and splashing around in the water.

I'm not normally the organised type but for once I'd actually planned ahead and packed Finley's swim shorts for him to wear at the splash park which meant he was able to get stuck in and enjoy the water play. I'd definitely recommend doing the same if the weather's nice but if not then, as the name suggests, wellies are essential. Either way, make sure you stop at Welly Boot Land if you're visiting Slimbridge with kids - you won't be disappointed!

As well as a splash park, there's also a large play area at the other end of the site, with swings, climbing frames, a tower, a sandpit, another refreshment kiosk and even more picnic areas. Both play areas are suitable for children of all ages but obviously Jacob is still a bit too small to enjoy them (he did seem to like dipping his toes in the water and the sandpit though!) 

I wore Jacob in a carrier the whole time we were at Slimbridge and not only did this let him experience everything at eye level, it also meant that we didn't have to drag a buggy around with us. Despite not using one, we did notice that the site was very buggy friendly - there were hardly any steps and the few places that did have them also had ramps and/ or lifts available. All of the paths and walkways were very wide too, making the whole centre easily accessible for both buggies and wheelchairs.

The site itself was much bigger than I remembered (thank goodness for that map!) and we were really impressed with how much there was to see and do in all the different areas. Obviously this is great as it means you can easily spend a whole day exploring all of it. The only downside to the size of the site is that it can get a bit too much for little legs (and that short walk across the car park seemed a LOT longer on the way back!) so after a few hours of running around Finley was exhausted and begging to be carried back. 

The route back to the car led us through the gift shop (always a tricky place to navigate on the way out!) We had promised Finley a small treat on this occasion though, so we stopped for a quick look and he chose a little cuddly flamingo toy to remind him of his favourite birds that day. As well as toys, we noticed that there was a good selection of souvenirs in the shop with lots of books and games, practical things like clothing and wellies, as well as locally sourced food and drink. Basically, not your usual bog standard tourist tat! 

Overall, we felt it was a great place for all the family. Finley loved our day at Slimbridge and for Jacob it was a fantastic outdoor sensory experience. There were plenty of areas that we didn't get the chance to explore though and with guided tours, scheduled talks and seasonal kids' activities, we've already agreed that we'll keep going back again and again to allow the boys to take in more of the site as they grow.

We're already looking forward to visiting again and when asked about his favourite part of our day at Slimbridge, Finley said "Throwing the seed to the ducks!" so we'll definitely be buying some more bird seed when we go back!

Have you been to Slimbridge before? What was your favourite part?