If you find yourself in the UK with a day to kill, then check out Longleat House and Safari Park. Longleat ticks so many boxes; probably the best example of Elizabethan architecture in Britain, amazing animals in the world’s first drive through safari park outside Africa and a whole host of other family-friendly attractions.
Longleat is in Wiltshire in the south of England and is open most of the year, although do check the opening times before you visit. Longleat Safari Park can get incredibly busy, especially on weekends and holidays and Easter Sunday proved a popular day to visit! We arrived to find the safari park was closed until 2pm, although fortunately there is so much to see and do before you head to the safari park.
Longleat House, which is widely regarded as one of the best examples of high Elizabethan architecture in Britain, is well worth a visit. Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful stately homes open to the public, Longleat House is now the home of the 7th Marquess of Bath. The house was completed by 1580 and is set in 900 acres of carefully landscaped parkland. There are also a further 8,000 acres of woodland, lakes and farmland.
The history of Longleat is pretty impressive too; in the late 13th Century there was a priory on the site which couldn’t support itself financially and was first handed to monks then following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the priory was bought by 25 year old John Thynne in 1541 for just £53 (82 USD)! He then set about building Longleat House although when he died in 1580 the house still wasn’t complete. The house has hosted many senior royal visitors over the years and is still used as a private residence by the Thynne family descendant, Alexander George Thynn, the 7th Marquess of Bath.
Today the house tour can be completed in about an hour and there are so many treasures to discover including the Elizabethan Great Hall, complete with a minstrels' gallery, the ante-library, with a magnificent Venetian painting on the ceiling and the Red Library, which displays many of the 40,000 books in the house. There is also the Grand Staircase, Prince of Wales Bedroom, Music Room and Chinese Bedroom to explore.
Before we grabbed some lunch and headed to the safari park, we also checked out the other Longleat attractions. A passport ticket gives access to all the other attractions including the Safari Boats (including a glimpse of a real gorilla on an island complete with TV!), Hedge Maze, Railway and the Grounds and Gardens. There is so much to see and do to keep all visitors entertained, including some free attractions.
Of course the highlight of the visit to Longleat was the Safari Park where you can get up close to lions, tigers and wolves and was featured in the BBC Animal Park series. Back in 1966 Longleat became the very first drive-through Safari Park outside Africa. Armed with the provided safari park CD we headed into the park. Journey through the East African Game Reserve and spot Rothschild Giraffe, Grants Zebra, llamas and camels. Drive through Flamingo Valley and Vulture Venue. Next stop should be Monkey Jungle, which unfortunately has been closed for some time now due to a monkey virus but a new drive past Monkey Jungle is due to be introduced later this year. Great news, although I will miss watching the monkeys tugging at car windscreen wipers and hanging off the wing mirrors!
We continued on into the Big Game Park to spot the Southern White Rhinoceros herd, the rare Père David’s Deer and Scimitar Horned Oryx. Next up is the deer park which is also the only enclosure at Longleat where you can buy food to feed the deer. Cruise by the Pelican Pond and then you’re into the most popular areas (judging by the number of cars queued up) including the impressive Tiger Territory, the world renowned Lion Country with two enclosures and finally Wolf Wood where you could get the opportunity to listen the eerie howling from the wolves!
With regular events, news and podcasts check out the Longleat website and start planning your trip!