IT'S beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Dudley Zoo and Castle where Santa has been welcomed back after a two-year absence due to the Covid pandemic.

The festive figure and his elves have set up a grotto in the 11th century castle grounds to spread Christmas cheer for the first time since 2019.

To mark the occasion, singer and actress Zoe Birkett, who is starring in Aladdin at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, visited the Castle Hill attraction to officially open the zoo’s Christmas grotto and meet Santa and his reindeer.

Stourbridge News: Singer and actress Zoe Birkett meets Santa at Dudley Zoo and Castle. Pic - DZCSinger and actress Zoe Birkett meets Santa at Dudley Zoo and Castle. Pic - DZC (Image: Dudley Zoo and Castle)

Andrea Hales, marketing manager at the zoo, said: “It’s fantastic to be able to welcome Father Christmas back to his Dudley Zoo grotto this year after a two-year absence due to covid.

“His elves have been busy over the last few weeks transforming the 11th century castle into ‘The Chronicles of Dudley Zoo’ which looks fantastic and as the local partner of the Grand Theatre’s pantomime, we were delighted Zoe was able to take time out of her busy schedule of Aladdin rehearsals to come and help us launch our Christmas festivities.”

Up until Christmas Eve, the attraction is set to welcome thousands of families to meet Santa and visit his reindeer in their paddock, which has also been decorated for the festive season.

More than 60 real Norway spruce evergreen trees have been added around the zoo and after Christmas the zoo’s gardeners will chip the trees to use as an inexpensive floor covering across the site or they’ll be given whole to some of the animals as seasonal enrichment.

Tickets to see Santa include a trip to the grotto on the Santa Express land train and a gift and include admission to the zoo.

All Santa’s grotto tickets must be booked in advance by visiting or calling 01384 215313.