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Kumbuka Gorilla at ZSL London Zoo
ZSL London Zoo Kumbuka Gorilla at ZSL London Zoo

The best zoos in and around London

Spot all kinds of creatures, from pygmy hippos to Sumatran tigers, at these family-friendly zoos in and near London

By Lucy Lovell
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If the closest thing you’ve had to a wild encounter is dodging brazen urban foxes on your street, perhaps it’s time to book tickets to the zoo. London is lucky to have some marvellous zoos in and around the city. From the world’s oldest scientific zoo ZSL London to the epic 600-acre animal park in Whipsnade – there’s plenty for nature-lovers to get their teeth into.

More than just menageries, these zoos aim to promote the conservation of the animals they work with, and many of them raise funds for projects which they say can help repopulate species in their natural habitats.

From pygmy hippos to Sumatran tigers, there are some beautiful creatures in and around London beyond the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. Whether you’re entertaining kids or looking to learn about nature, you should plan a trip to one of these zoos in and around London, and take a walk on the wild side.

The best zoos near London

Indi, Asiatic Lioness at ZSL London Zoo
Indi, Asiatic Lioness at ZSL London Zoo
ZSL London Zoo

ZSL London Zoo

Attractions Regent’s Park

Best for Wild sleepovers with some scary residents

Situated in Regent’s Park, London Zoo has been entertaining visitors of all ages since 1828, but in the past couple of decades its offering has really been ramped up. Its latest innovation – which is not for the faint-hearted – is an overnight stay at a private lodge, based near the lion pen, where visitors can sleep over with some of the zoo’s resident Sumatran tigers. Yikes.  

As well as ensuring animal welfare and supporting conservation worldwide, the 36-acre park – which is home to everything from pygmy hippos to komodo dragons – also hosts regular interactive events. Keeper for a Day (£280 per person) offers animal lovers the chance to pitch in with the staff on their day-to-day duties, working with giraffes, penguins, coatis, meerkats and more. And Harry Potter fans won’t want to miss the Reptile House to try out their Parseltongue. Just don’t go releasing any snakes, yeah?

Anything else I should know? Some buildings are listed and therefore not accessible, but most of the zoo is wheelchair-accessible, including Land of the Lions and Tiger Territory. Check out the website for more info.

Prices Adults: £29.25 advance, £32.50 on the door; children aged 3-15: £19.01 advance, £21.12 on the door; child aged 2 and under: free; over 65: £26.32 advance, £29.95 on the door

Battersea Park Children's Zoo

Attractions Zoos and aquariums Battersea

Best for Family-friendly animal-watching with little monkeys 

Small but perfectly charming, this zoo was designed with children in mind, making it the perfect place to take little people. Living alongside the usual rabbits, goats, sheep and chickens are more exotic (some endangered) species such as meerkats, lemurs, Scottish wildcats, Asian short-clawed otters, turtles, monkeys, emus and tortoises. In the meerkats’ enclosure children can make their way down a tunnel to pop out on a level with the creatures. The zoo also has indoor and outdoor play areas, picnic tables and The Lemon Tree Café, which serves snacks, kids’ lunchboxes and a much-needed coffee for the grown-ups.

Anything else I should know? The meerkats tuck into their lunch at 11.15am daily, and the coatis get fed at 2pm. Arrive on the dot to watch them get stuck in.

Prices Adults: £9.95; child aged 2-15: £7.95; child aged 2 and under: free; over 60s: £8.95

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© ZSL

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Attractions Zoos and aquariums Bedfordshire

Best for Loping like cheetahs through huge open spaces.

Run by the team behind London Zoo and set in the picturesque Bedfordshire parkland, Whipsnade is home to a huge variety of animals including the favourites – chimps, lions, elephants, camels, zebras, hippos and giraffes. There’s also a must-see herd of endangered white rhinos and an enormous butterfly house.

The emphasis here is on learning about how the animals live in near-as-possible natural habitats. Viewing huts provide exceptional views through glass walls, and they help to minimise disruption to the animals. There are also daily shows where you can watch feeding time, and overnight events (£75 per person) where happy campers can pitch up tents alongside the creatures and wake up to the weird and wonderful noises of the wildlife. Beats your neighbour’s late-night karaoke sesh.

Anything else I should know? This is a big ol’ zoo – 600 acres to be precise – and you can take your car inside to drive around it. This costs an extra £25 from February 16 to October 31. Alternatively, free external parking is available opposite the entrance.

Prices Adults: £27 advance, £30 on the door; children aged 3-15: £17.55 advance, £19.50 on the door; children aged 2 and under: free; over 65: £24.30 advance, £27 on the door

Get there One hour 20 minute drive from central London

 

Marwell Zoo

Best for Spotting flamingos from the zoo’s mini train

From amur tigers to snow leopards, Marwell Zoo is home to one of the most varied and exotic ranges of species. There are also a whopping five adventure playgrounds for little people to explore, two trains, 140 acres of parkland and plenty of picnic areas. Make a beeline for the energetic penguins or learn about the graceful giraffes at the daily talk and feed. Most recently, Marwell revealed a very surprising new guest – a tyrannosaurus rex. She’s part of their new Brickosaurus interactive exhibition and made of Lego, of course.

Anything else I should know? Paying guests with accessibility needs can bring a carer with them for free – you’ll just need to bring proof of entitlement on entry. It’s also 10 percent off tickets if you leave the car and take the bus.

Prices Adult: £21; child aged 3-16: £17; child aged 2 and under: free; 60 years and over: £18.50

Get there One hour 45 minute drive from central London

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Howletts Wild Animal Park

Best for Meeting the largest herd of African elephants in the UK

Formerly a private zoo, Howletts was opened to the public in 1975, and since then it’s been offering a more stripped-back zoo experience to those who want to learn about the animals that reside there. That’s not to say there’s no fun to be had. The 90 acres of ancient parkland is home to 400 rare and endangered species, including African elephants, tigers, monkeys and gorillas. Guided walking tours allow you to get up close and personal with the animals from just £35, while The Treetop Challenge (from £7 per person) allows you to scale the branches and see the park from a monkey’s perspective.

Anything else I should know? There’s also a farm shop on site, where you can stock up on local eggs, bread and homemade jams.

Prices Adults: £18.35 online, £22.95 on the door; child aged 3-15: £15.95 online, 19.95 on the door; child aged 2 and under: free.

Get there One hour 45 minute drive from central London

Giraffe at Colchester Zoo
Giraffe at Colchester Zoo
jean.cuomo / Shutterstock.com

Colchester Zoo

Best for Watching sea lions frolic overhead

Colchester Zoo is packed with close encounters, its most spectacular being a 24-metre glass tunnel, over which Patagonian sea lions swim and play in 500,000 gallons of water. The action-packed park is also home to real-life dragons (of the komodo kind obvs), and two amur leopards – the most critically endangered big cats in the world, with an estimated 35 left in the wild. There are also a long list of feeding times, which visitors can use to ensure some close encounters are had with the animals – from the giraffe feed at 12.15 to the elephant feeding at 15.45. Perfectly timed to fit around your own feeding time.

Anything else I should know? Guide dogs are allowed in certain areas, and the zoo also has a sensory exploration route with a map that can be downloaded from their website.   

Prices Adults: £20.30 advance, £23.99 on the door; child aged 3-15: £14.44 advance, £16.99 on the door; child aged 2 and under: free; 60 years and over: £18.69 advance, £21.99 on the door.

Get there One hour 45 minute drive from central London

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