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I’ve been using Trusted House Sitters for years in my travels, and some of my favorite memories have been from pet sitting my four-legged friends. If you want to spend less traveling the world, don’t mind settling a bit more in one spot, and love animals, house sitting is the perfect opportunity for you.

What is House Sitting

House sitting is the arrangement of looking after the home and (usually) pets of another when they go on vacation. The benefits to the host are possibly even greater than those of the petsitter. Taking your pet with you when you travel can be ridiculously expensive, but so can hiring a sitter or putting your pet in a kennel. It’s a lot better to leave the pet at home in familiar surroundings. Having a guest in the house will also help to deter thieves. I read that in Canada, some insurance companies won’t cover the house if it’s been vacant for more than 4 days!

For the house sitter, the main benefits are two-fold. First, they have a place to stay and, on rare occasions, food provided. Second, they get to have the company of animals!

Selfie with Dog on the Isle of Skye

The disadvantage is your freedom of movement can be a bit limited. You’ll need to be available usually at least two times a day to feed the animals, although sometimes you can make arrangements (with the approval or help of your host) to have a neighbor feed the animals, or you might be taking care of something that doesn’t need daily attention (like a reptile or a cat with an automatic feeding tray).

It might be something as simple as a single dog or cat. It might be a handful of either or a combination of both. You might be looking after chickens, geese or donkeys. Some have snakes, others have fish, and a lucky few have horses. There is even a small handful just looking for people to water the plants.

Joining Trusted House Sitters

Trusted House Sitters (or TrustedHouseSitters as the company spells it as one word) is a website you can join in order to housesit for people who have animals they plan to leave behind while they take a vacation. Membership is $119 for a year, which gives you unlimited applications for house sits.

Trusted House Sitters launched in 2010 in Brighton, England where the average pet sitter charges $60 a day for looking after just one dog. The site very quickly built up, and now there are usually about 2,000 house sits available worldwide, about a third of which are in the United Kingdom…except when international travel is shut down. Some countries only have one or two opportunities, which means they’re probably in high demand.

Pets at House Sit on the Isle of Skye

Along with Couchsurfing and Workaway or Worldpackers, Trusted House Sitters makes up the Holy Trinity for unique and wonderful websites that budget travelers can use to help with accommodations. Each has its benefits. As much as I love meeting locals on Couchsurfing, or volunteering for my bed and board on Workaway or WorldpackersTrusted House Sitters just might be my favorite, and for a very simple reason. You get to pet sit! You have to love animals if you want to housesit; I know I sure do!

Finding a Good House Sit

House sits are posted several months in advance in some cases, but others are posted last-minute. Some get dozens of applications, while others might not have any. As with any application site, you just have to send your requests and hope for the best.

In my first three months using Trusted House Sitters, I sent out nine requests and had five responses, two of which accepted me and three who had just accepted someone else. That’s much better odds than I had on other sites.

There are a few tricks I’ve used to improve my chances of getting a host. Applying for a job several months away is a good idea if you plan that far out. Many backpackers, such as myself, prefer to stick to last-minute planning. The house sits that are months away tend to have fewer applicants, at least until you get closer to the dates. Hopefully, the host takes taken down the house sit when they find a sitter so you don’t apply for something that isn’t available.

Very last-minute hosts are the best, especially if you’re already in the area or can get there fast. Unless you’re in a big city like London or Paris, chances are they’ll have only 0-3 applicants (Trusted House Sitters shows the number in ranges like this). If there are more than about 10 applicants, I won’t usually bother applying unless I have particular skills needed for that house sit (working with horses, etc) and it’s in an area I really want to travel to.

Walking the Dogs

The length of the house sit will also make a big difference in how many people have already applied. Shorter house sits generally have more applicants by backpackers who are just going to be in the area for a few days and are hoping to find accommodations through the site while having a pet to take care of. There are also a handful of travelers who use Trusted House Sitters almost year-round and try to find long-term sits for weeks or months at a time. There are fewer travelers in the latter category, so you have a better chance to find a host offering a place for a week or longer.

Lastly, the more remote the location, the fewer the applicants. I often find that house sits in the heart of Edinburgh have dozens of applicants. On the contrary, hosts in the Highlands or on the Scottish Islands will usually only have 0-3 applicants. If you’re able to get out to these locations, your chances of finding a house sit will improve greatly.

Dundee Trusted House Sitters View

Some Tricks To Improving Your Chances of Getting a House Sit

Know How to Take Care of Animals

This one should be a no-brainer, but some people do try to use the platform only to get free accommodations, and taking care of the pet is almost an afterthought. Having extra experience with animals and how to deal with problems they can encounter will go a long way to improve your chances of getting a house sit. You can always specialize in a species, whether canine, feline, avian, etc. Most hosts will have a strict regiment to follow with their pets, but it’s good to know what to look out for with the animals so you can notify the host or vet of anything that needs attention.

If you really want to have some fun with house sitting, learn how to take care of horses, donkeys or other less common domestic animals. I’m eternally grateful to my five weeks on a horsemanship training farm in Sweden and all the other work I’ve done to take care of horses over the years.

Selfie Training Horse #4

Have a Vehicle

There are plenty of urban house sits which are well connected to public transportation. If the house sit is more rural, you’ll probably need a car. There’s a tiny chance your host will have a vehicle you can use, but that’s pretty rare. Just like with Workaway or Worldpackers, it’s always good to pay attention to the exact location of the house sit, what kind of publication transportation goes to it, and where nearby shops and other services are.

Have a Very Thorough Profile

As with other memberships sites, the best way to improve your chances of landing a good house sit is to have a complete profile. Don’t just say how much you love animals (that should definitely be part of it), but also include all the experience you have housesitting, any training you have had with taking care of animals, pets you’ve had, etc. Also give details on any dietary restrictions, if you have a vehicle, what your travel plans are, etc. The more, the better.

Acquire Recommendations

After each house sit you complete, try to get a recommendation from your host. Some hosts don’t really care if you have recommendations or not, and they probably won’t bother to leave a recommendation themselves, but it helps to get more of them if you can.

Be Willing to Accept Full Responsibility for the Pets and Home

House sits are quite often more than just taking care of animals. You might get asked to water the plants, receive parcels, or do other weekly activities (I once had to report solar panel readings regularly to the city officials). It should be a given to keep the house immaculate. I try to leave the house better than I found it, although there have been a handful of times when arrived into a rather shoddy situation.

Some of My Experiences With House Sitting

Two-Week House Sit in Dundee

My first house sit was in the Scottish countryside outside Dundee for the first two weeks of August. My host was leaving down to London for volunteer work and needed someone to take care of her two old dogs. One was a Jack Russell and the other was a Bearded Collie. They were nearing the end of their lifespan, and my host even commented that it wouldn’t be unexpected if the Beardie wasn’t around when she got back. What was truly unexpected was the level of exchange I received from her. I don’t want to set any false standards here for house sitting, but suffice to say, some hosts really take care of you!

The dogs weren’t up to taking walks in the countryside, but I explored the many trails myself – although I had injured my feet just before arriving. I also got to go down to St. Andrews with the vehicle she left for me to see the oldest golf course in the world, and make a couple trips down to Dundee, where I was dealing with various medical problems. Mostly I just stayed at the house, which was absolutely gorgeous!

Trusted House Sitters

Three Days in Rural England

Then at the end of September, I was accepted at a house sit in central England less than an hour away from Luton airport, where I picked my dad up for the beginning of his own international adventures. We only stayed four days at this location, but watching the year-and-a-half-old Terrier was an absolute joy. The dog, Holly, had unlimited energy. She just couldn’t get enough of retrieving the tennis ball in the backyard or going for walks in the surrounding fields where Alpaca grazed.

By far the best part of that house sit was in the evening. Holly would wait outside my bedroom door until I was comfy in bed, and the quietly push it open. She’d come to the side of the bed, lightly jump up, crawl under the covers and snuggle on my arm!

House Sitting Holly

Five Weeks in Brighton, England

After a couple more short house sits, I had my first long-term stay in Brighton, my favorite city in England. The only problem was that the house was five miles away from the city center and the beach. Well, another problem was that the kitchen and pantry were overstocked with food I was allowed to use, but most of it was several years out of date and my host had no intention of letting anything be thrown out, no matter how spoiled it was.

Selfie Walking Dogs in Brighton

I was taking care of two Staffordshire Bull Terriers (known as Staffies). They were young, and absolutely determined to chew on everything in sight, usually to the point of complete destruction of the object. I had to ensure the door to my room was kept closed at all times. Despite a lot of rain, I was able to make a few trips out to the beach, although it was a hard choice between walking the 10-mile round-trip or spending several dollars on a day bus ticket.

Six Weeks on the Isle of Skye

I went directly from my long-term sit in Brighton to an even longer sit on the Isle of Skye – my favorite place in the world! For six weeks, I took care of a Springer Spaniel dog, two cats, four ducks and eight chickens. Aside from taking the dog on a walk each day (with one of the cats sometimes accompanying us), I also had to collect all the chicken and duck eggs, clean out their coop, and feed all the animals every day. It was a lot of work, but more than worth it.

View from House Sit on the Isle of Skye

The location was absolutely stunning, overlooking a bay with the most gorgeous sunsets. The house was a four-bedroom B&B with a massive kitchen and even bigger living room. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my own transportation for most of my stay, so I spent my days hitchhiking to my favorite spots around the island.

Selfie with Housesit Dog at Old Man of Storr

A Week at the Lanark Estate

A really interesting house sit was the week I spent on the Lanrick Estate in Scotland, not far from Doune Castle where they filmed Monty Python and Outlander. Lanrick Castle, as it was told to me, was built using the drug money that was acquired by the Scottish men who owned Hong Kong and used the territory to conduct opium runs from China to the West. The castle was torn down a few years ago after it went to ruin, but the Lanrick Estate is still gorgeous with the River Teith running through the center of the property.

Dog on Lanrick Estate

Where the castle was is now just a flat field, but you can still explore the ruins of the stables, the laundry house, the chapel and many other buildings. Fishermen are invited to rent the two fishing huts and spend the weekend in the river. The estate is also the perfect location for filming, but that’s a story for another article.

Lanrick Estate Ruins

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House Sitting Pin

Further Reading

I believe that giving back in your travels is a huge plus, and I’ll always spend a few months out of every year doing volunteer jobs. Here are some more articles that cover volunteering, the pros and cons, and some of the experiences I’ve had.

Volunteering

House Sitting

I’ve just spent the past two weeks house sitting in Appleby, England. Between two wonderful purebred Spanish Water Dogs, snowstorms and getting locked out of the van, it was quite an adventure.

My First Impression of Hilton

Before I went to Appleby, I told a few people about my upcoming housesit. Many were shocked and for good reason. Appleby had just been flooded by Storm Ciara. Most of the businesses, including the local supermarket, were closed.

Thankfully, the house sit was actually in the tiny village of Hilton a couple miles uphill from Appleby. Hilton only has a couple dozen houses, most of which were built centuries ago. My house sit happened to be the one new house in the village, built only 30 years ago, which mainly meant that it had great insulation.

I arrived at night so didn’t see much of the countryside on the way to the house, but I could tell it was beautiful. I passed through Appleby where the water had resided and saw it was a quintessential English village. Hilton is the location of an old lead mine from the 19th century, although some of the churches in the area date back several centuries.

Beautiful Winter Weather

As my housesit was at the end of February, I was expecting some cold, wet weather. What I wasn’t expecting was to wake up one morning and look out the window to find everything white. It was one of the first days of my stay. It continued to snow every day for the next week, although it didn’t last as long as it did the first day. Still, there was snow on the surrounding hills when I left. It just couldn’t have been more beautiful.

Appleby with Snow

Although it snowed (or rained a little) every day, it was also sunny for a few hours most days, long enough to take the dogs for a good walk. The house is next to a large Ministry of Defense firing range which often had the red flags flying, preventing me from accessing the trails during part of the days. As soon as the flags dropped, I was trudging up the trails, trying not to get too muddy in all the puddles and bogs. It certainly wasn’t easy with only a pair of sneakers.

Laura Walking Dogs at House Sit in Appleby

Getting Locked Out of the Van

The reason I only had my running shoes and not hiking boots was that I couldn’t get into the van. Talk about an absolute nightmare! My hosts had generously offered to let me use any of their extensive tools in their sheds so I could work on the van conversion. On the first day of the house sit, I was moving everything out of the van so I could lay down the insulation. Somehow, between two of my trips to unload, the doors of the van (all but the driver’s door) locked and wouldn’t unlock no matter how much I tried.

I immediately resorted to Google, searching for possible causes and fixes. I checked the fuse, disassembled the door and checked the lock and wires, and even tried bypassing the door locks through the electrical system, all to no avail. I brought the van into the local garage who sent me to a Ford garage a few miles away. Neither knew what the problem was or how to fix it. I ordered a new central locking unit off eBay, but this didn’t resolve the problem either.

To make matters worse, I had secured the bulkhead back in place in the van, so there was nothing I could do to get to my stuff in the back. The van is specifically designed to prevent access or theft when the doors are locked (double-locked it’s called). So for the rest of the housesit, I only had the few bags I had brought in at the beginning, which didn’t include boots or several other essentials.

My Host to the Rescue

When my hosts got back from their trip and heard my story, Jack immediately started tackling the problem. It couldn’t have been more fortuitous to discover that Jack’s profession (before he retired) was as a master electrician. Not only did he immediately find out what the problem was, he had the equipment to resolve it. It turns out the Ford van has two batteries (something three different garages didn’t know about even though they made references to failing electrical systems) and the secondary battery powered the locks, among other things.

Within minutes of diagnosing the problem, Jack had his jumpstarters out and less than a minute later I was into the back of the van! Thankfully, my possessions were far less saturated than I thought they would be. I’m still getting the insulation and vapor seal installed, and sometimes a lot of water condenses on the ceiling. As it was, only the bedding was a little damp and everything else was fine.

Unfortunately, no amount of charging could salvage the battery (it won’t hold a charge), and we’ll need to get a new one in short order. But my hosts’ help didn’t stop there. They offered to let me stay a bit longer so I could get the work done on the van which I had hoped to complete while they were gone. The next day, I was able to get all the insulation cut and ready to mount to the floor of the van. Now I just need a warm enough day to throw a coat of anti-rust paint down and I can have the floor of the van all ready to go.

Van Floor Insulation

Throughout my stay, my hosts were more than accommodating. They had a delicious roast and soup ready for me when I arrived, and then cooked more meals for me when they returned. They were also very pleased with my famous scalloped potatoes I got to cook for them. Best of all, I just had the most amazing conversations with my hosts every day. It was a real struggle to finally move on to my next destination…which happens to be a massive estate in Scotland looking after a Labrador puppy.

Join Trusted Housesitters Today

Trusted House Sitters is a website you can join in order to house sit for people who have animals they plan to leave behind while they take a vacation. Membership is $119 for a year, which gives you unlimited applications for house sits.

Along with Couchsurfing and WorldpackersTrusted House Sitters makes up the Holy Trinity for unique and wonderful accommodations suitable for budget travelers. Each has its benefits. As much as I love meeting locals on Couchsurfing, or exchanging for my bed and board on WorkawayTrusted House Sitters just might be my favorite, and for a very simple reason.

You get to pet sit!

It might be something as simple as a single dog or cat. It might be a handful of either, or a combination of both. You might be looking after chickens, geese or donkeys. Some have snakes, others have fish. On the best ones, you get to look after horses! There is even a small handful just looking for people to water the plants. Basically there is one major requirement for using Trusted House Sitters, other than flexibility with location and schedules:

You have to love animals. I know I sure do!

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House Sitting in Appleby Pin

Further Reading

I believe that giving back in your travels is a huge plus, and I’ll always spend a few months out of every year doing volunteer jobs. Here are some more articles that cover volunteering, the pros and cons, and some of the experiences I’ve had.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

The Highland Wildlife Park in the Cairngorm National Park of Scotland is the second attraction managed by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS). It’s where they breed and house those animals needing a wilder setting than a zoo in Edinburgh.

Driving to the Highland Wildlife Sanctuary

The Highland Wildlife Park is located 130 miles north of Edinburgh, halfway up the Cairngorm National Park on the way to Inverness. If you want to go by public transportation from Edinburgh, you can take a bus or train to Perth and then another bus or train to Aviemore. From there, take the 32 or 35 bus to the park. Just know that this route takes about four and a half hours! Better is to rent a car. The drive takes about two and a half hours, depending on traffic. Either way, the scenery on the way up is stunning. This is Scotland after all.

Another option is to spend the night closer to the park. Inverness is an hour to the north and Pitlochry is an hour to the south. Pitlochry is a small, quintessential Scottish town and has a backpackers hostel, but it fills up in the summer. There are also plenty of B&Bs across the Scottish countryside.

If you do choose to drive, make sure you follow Google Maps closely. You have to get off the highway a couple miles before the park. Otherwise, it’s a few miles before you can turn around. You definitely want to bring your own vehicle, not just because they have free parking but so you can drive through the Main Reserve.

Lunchtime for the Amur Tiger

We got to the park a bit later than we should have and just missed the talk on the snow leopards. Thankfully we were on time for the tiger feeding and headed there first. This was so much different than the tiger attractions in Thailand. Dominika is the park’s resident tiger, and she’s a beauty!

Amur Tiger at the Highland Wildlife Park

I learned some really interesting facts about this breed of tigers. First of all, it was formerly called a Siberian tiger but they’re believed to be extinct in Siberia and only extant in the far east of Russia, a little into China, and possibly in North Korea. The Amur River runs through the center of their remaining habitat, which is why they were named after it. Dominika was born at the Highland Wildlife Park in May of 2009. On May 28, 2013, she gave birth to two male cubs which later were sent to other breeding programs in Europe.

We arrived at the enclosure just minutes before feeding time began. Instead of some spectacle of trainers throwing food at the tiger, Dominika had to search around her large enclosure to find where the keepers had hidden large chunks of meat, simulating a more natural environment. While this was going on, the keeper gave a talk about this majestic animal. Sadly, we missed Dominika’s mate by a couple months. He passed away from some medical problems unrelated to a dental surgery he was getting.

Adorable Arctic Foxes

Near the Amur tiger are the Arctic foxes. A male and female named Bard and May gave birth to a litter of 10 cubs in May this year. They are now nearly as big as their parents. We missed the talk but some of the foxes were quite active and fun to watch…probably because it was around their feeding time too. The little cubs were just adorable running around and wanting to discover everything in their enclosure. They certainly weren’t afraid of people either, and mostly just ignored us as they went about doing their own thing.

Arctic Fox at the Highland Wildlife Park

The Arctic fox has been extinct in Scotland since the last ice age, but the breed is flourishing in other places. I’m personally curious if they have plans to reintroduce the fox into the British Isles. I don’t know how it would affect the current ecosystem, but after seeing how adorable those cubs were, I’d hope to see them running around the Scottish countryside someday in the future. Well, there are other fox breeds running around the UK; we saw one just a couple days ago driving across Scotland.

Scotland’s First Snow Leopard Cubs

By far the highlight of our trip was the snow leopard enclosure at the top of the hill. In the first couple weeks of August 2019, the female snow leopard Animesh gave birth to three cubs. As far as I can tell, these were the first snow leopards born in Scotland. Snow leopards are listed as vulnerable, a threatened category but not as bad as endangered. There are about 4,500 to 7,300 in the wild throughout central Asia.

Snow leopards are solitary creatures so the male and female are kept separate at the Highland Wildlife Park, although the enclosures are next to each other which allows the male to keep an eye on things. There was a gaggle of photographers keeping an eye on things too. Apparently they had been there every day since the cubs were made known to the public. I could easily see why. We must have spent half an hour there. Two of the cubs were already asleep, but one was quite boisterous. For easily half an hour, we stood there watching him frolic about, tease his mom and try to climb a wooden log to a higher portion of the enclosure before his mom could swat him off.

Snow Leopard Cub at the Highland Wildlife Park

By far the funniest part was when the cub came up to the glass to find out what we were about. After a minute or so, his mom called him back. When he reached her, she smacked him in the head, and then repeatedly did so several more times before dragging him back to the den for a nap. My partner caught everything on video! After all, striking a child is illegal in Scotland.

Driving Through the Main Reserve

Half an hour before the park closes is the last chance you get to drive through the Main Reserve. This is where they keep the animals that have no problem interacting with humans as they drive past. Przewalski’s horses (another endangered species at the park), vicuna (similar to a llama), red deer, Bukhara deer, European elk and European bison are the animals walking about. Most were happy to graze by the side of the road. It took about 20 minutes to complete the circuit, although the car behind us took longer as the bison decided to finish their meal in the center of the road.

Bison in the Main Reserve at the Highland Wildlife Park

The entrance of the park is another drive-through where you can see Bactrian camels, yaks, white-lipped deer and Mishmi takin (an endangered goat-antelope from northern India). You’re not allowed to get out of your car or feed the animals in either of the drive-throughs, but you can have the windows down and the animals might come right up to the car.

Returning for More

The other attraction we really enjoyed was the polar bear enclosure. Victoria, the female polar bear, gave birth to a cub in December 2017. By now, he was almost her size, although still considerably smaller than the two male polar bears which are kept in a separate enclosure by the Main Reserve. They all were doing their usual activity of napping while we watched, but it was still nice to see them in person. The polar bear is classified as vulnerable rather than endangered, but the park is still doing its part in the breeding program.

Polar Bears at the Highland Wildlife Park

There were more than a dozen other animals throughout the park. Similar to the Edinburgh Zoo, this isn’t a display of captured animals but rather a conservation and breeding program. A big difference to the Edinburgh Zoo is that the animals at the Highland Wildlife Park are much more active. At the zoo, most of the animals I saw were sleeping. At the park, it was only the polar bears and red pandas that were napping.

Linx at the Highland WIldlife Park

The park is open from 10 a.m. until 4 to 6 p.m. (depending on the month) every day of the year except for Christmas Day. While the park isn’t particularly big, there are talks throughout the day for many of the animals, and you can drive through the Main Reserve as many times as you want. Nevertheless, it’s the kind of place I’d love to return to many times. If I do end up spending more time in Scotland in the next year, I’ll definitely have to get my RZSS membership for the Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park, which also gets me free access to 13 other zoos in the UK and Europe. Besides, I need to hear the rest of the talks at the Highland Wildlife Park and see those adorable snow leopards again before they’re sent off to other breeding programs.

Quick Facts

  • Location: Kincraig, Kingussie PH21 1NL Scotland
  • Hours: July-Aug – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; April-Oct – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Nov-Mar – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m
  • Price: Adult – £17.95 ($22.95); Child – £9.95 ($12.25) Save 10% when booking online!
  • Website: Highland Wildlife Park
  • What to bring: Walking shoes, a poncho if it’s raining, and your camera.

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Highland Wildlife Park Pin

Further Reading

Don’t fancy going to the Highland Wildlife Park? Here are some other places to eat at, and activities to partake in around Edinburgh.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

I love animals, so I can’t figure out why it took me so long to get to the zoo in Edinburgh. The Royal Zoological Society and Botanical Societies of Scotland are on the leading edge of conservation for the plants and animals of our planet, such as their work with the pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo.

Visiting the Edinburgh Zoo with My Dad

I have some very pleasant memories as a child of riding on my dad’s shoulders around the Los Angeles Zoo. Thus it couldn’t have been more fortuitous that I was invited to the Edinburgh Zoo on my birthday, coincident to my dad coming down to visit. I managed to keep it a secret from him until the moment we arrived at the entrance. The wonderful grin he had when he saw where I’d taken him was the perfect birthday present.

Dad at the Edinburgh Zoo

The zoo is built on Corstorphine Hill, which could have ended our activity before it even began considering it’s almost impossible for my dad to go up inclines at his age. However, upon our arrival and before I could even request it, the zoo staff offered us the mobility vehicle. At several points in the zoo, you can call a number and have the van come pick you up and take you to any of the other points. Since the zoo is on a hill, we were brought to the top so we could walk downhill for the rest of the day.

On the way up, our guide gave us all kinds of information about the zoo, including the names of the animals, different upgrades the zoo is doing and his recommendation for where to eat. We even had a treat of getting driven through an otherwise closed-off section of the zoo, which is where they’re building the new giraffe exhibit. Giraffes were introduced into the Edinburgh Zoo back in the 30s but left a little over 15 years ago. Now they’re constructing a much larger exhibit complete with a viewing platform where the giraffes will be able to interact with the viewers.

One thing that was made really clear to me is how the zoo is not just an exhibit but a wildlife sanctuary, a series of conservation programs and a breeding center for endangered species. The Edinburgh Zoo is the only zoo in the UK with a royal charter and employs up to around 400 zoologists. They also have dozens of conservation programs they’re working on all around the world to help with endangered species and other zoological researches.

A New Home for the Pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo

One of the biggest projects the Edinburgh Zoo is working on is a breeding program for pandas. Currently there are only 27 zoos around the world that have panda bears; the Edinburgh Zoo has two. It received its pandas from China on a 10-year contract in 2011 with the intention of breeding them. So far, they have failed to produce a cub, but efforts are still being made.

Just a few weeks ago, a new enclosure for the pandas opened up. Well, not just an enclosure – it’s two identical but isolated areas for both pandas. They would never interact with each other in the wild outside breeding season, so the zoo caters to this. The pandas have their own indoor facility with different rooms, one of which has a private pool. Only one room is visible to the public, so the pandas can choose to be on display or not. In fact, there are a lot of people who have visited the zoo and never had a chance to see either panda. I was lucky enough to see the male, although he was just sleeping on a perch in his room.

Pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo

Pandas sleep at least 16 hours a day, but you just might get the chance to see them munching on some bamboo (almost the entirety of their diet) or possibly even playing in their large outdoor areas which have trees and other climbing apparatus for them to use.

March of the Penguins

The Edinburgh Zoo was originally opened in 1913. Not only was it the first zoo in the world to house and breed penguins, but it was also the first time penguins were seen outside the South Atlantic! The Edinburgh Zoo currently has three different penguin species – gentoo, king, and rockhopper. The kings are the big ones and the rockhoppers have that little tuft of yellow hair on their head.

In 1952, the gatekeeper of the penguin pool left the door open and several penguins followed him out. He quickly turned it into an exhibition, walking around the zoo with the penguins tailing along behind him. Thus the penguin parade tradition was born. Every day since then, the penguins are given a chance to leave the pool for a few minutes (under close supervision) and parade in front of a crowd before going back to the pool. It’s a completely voluntary activity for the penguins and sometimes only one comes out, but often it’s many more. They can have up to 25 on parade, depending on how many zookeepers are on hand to help out. The day I went, we got to see a dozen penguins waddling by.

You don’t have to wait for the penguin parade at 2:15 p.m. to enjoy them. The zoo has 130 penguins and they are a lively bunch. At Penguins’ Rock, you can get right up to them and watch them waddle about, leap out of the water and squawk for food. I think this was actually my favorite part of the zoo. I certainly spent the most amount of time there watching them all play about.

Penguins Playing at the Edinburgh Zoo

The Conservation Works of the Edinburgh Zoo

Despite the Edinburgh Zoo being a top city attraction, I didn’t get the sense that it was just a place for the animals to be on display. Every animal is at the zoo for breeding or research purposes, and they’re looked after very well. For example, the lioness recently gave birth to three cubs. Instead of putting them immediately on display, as many places would have done, the zoo closed off her enclosure to the public so she could have privacy while nurturing her young.

Another huge project of the zoo is the Budongo Trail, named after the Budongo Forest in Uganda. The Budongo Trail is the world’s premier chimpanzee research facility. Able to house up to 40 chimpanzees at a time, the huge indoor and outdoor facility provides some of the best living conditions in the world for these primates, especially considering the number of dangers they face in their homeland. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) also works closely with the Budongo conservation efforts in Uganda.

Budongo Trail at the Edinburgh Zoo

As the zoo is primarily a research and conservation facility, the animals aren’t always on display or active. I got to see some activity with the rhinos, meerkats, zebras and a few others. On the other hand, the tiger, chimpanzees, hippos, koalas and others were sleeping, while some of the cages like the Monkey House appeared to be empty. Many of these animals naturally sleep for a good portion of the day, so you might want to visit more than once if you’re interested in seeing them all in action.

Returning for More

I certainly want to visit again myself so I can see the animals when they’re not sleeping. Hopefully I can even catch the pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo playing in their outdoor activity center. As I was with my dad, we moved a bit slowly and I missed most of the shows and talks, except for the penguin parade. I intend to see those too someday. Besides, Corstorphine Hill is just a really nice setting and a good place to wander around, even without all the animals about.

For anyone who’s in Edinburgh for a full year at a time, I’d definitely recommend the annual zoo pass. I might even consider getting it myself, even though I’m out of town most of the time.

The RZSS also operates the Highland Wildlife Park in the Cairngorm National Park. They have another 22 animals, plus a main reserve you can drive through to see some of the animals up close. I plan to get up there in the next few weeks before the Scottish weather gets too wet.

Quick Facts

  • Location: 134 Corstorphine Rd, Edinburgh EH12 6TS
  • Hours: Apr-Sept – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Oct & Mar – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Nov-Feb – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m
  • Price: Adult – £19.95 ($24.50); Child – £9.95 ($12.25) Save 10% when booking online!
  • Website: Edinburgh Zoo
  • What to bring: Walking shoes, a poncho if it’s raining, and your camera.

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Pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo Pin

Further Reading

Don’t fancy going to the zoo? Here are some other places to eat at, and activities to partake in around Edinburgh.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.