ZSL London Zoo review

Our rating 
4.1 out of 5 star rating 4.1
zsl-london-zoo_208242

In a nutshell

The Zoological Society of London has been wowing families for almost 2 centuries. Kids of all ages will love exploring the distinct kingdoms as well as daily talks and the chance to wander through some of the zoo’s enclosures where the animals roam free
Fun for kids
4.5 out of 5 rating 4.5
Fun for parents
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Worth the money
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Facilities
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Family friendliness
4.0 out of 5 rating 4.0
Pros: Plenty of animals to see, up-close experiences areas with some creatures, lots of picnic spaces, fantastic aquarium.
Cons: Only 1 drinking fountain for the whole zoo, animals may be sleeping or hidden from view in wet weather

When we visited:

We visited on a very hot July Saturday in the summer 2018 school holidays

Advertisement

What age is ZSL London Zoo suitable for:

Best for: Babies and children up to 12 years

Still good fun for: Children age 13+ years

How much does it cost in 2018?

  • Gate prices: Adults 27.04, children 3-15 £20, under 3s free
  • Online prices: Adults £24.30, children 3-15 £18, under 3s free
  • Family saver tickets: Family of 4 £75.80
  • Fast track tickets available – family of 4 £95.80
  • If you visit with friends you could get a group discount and bring the cost down to £70.56 for a family of 4

Are there discounts or cheap tickets available for ZSL London Zoo?

Yes – at the time of publication Picniq was offering discounts of up to 19% on tickets. If you shop at Tesco you can use Clubcard vouchers towards the cost. ZSL London Zoo is also part of the National Rail 2 for 1 offer so if you travel by train that day you can get 2 adults in for the price of 1, or 1 child free with a paying adult.

Is it good value?

It’s in the special treat category but is genuinely a whole day out with so much to see. The aquarium alone is one of the largest in the UK with a huge amount to see and a fraction of the crowds compared to, for example, the Sea Life London Aquarium.

zsl-london-zoo_k

Any extra charges once I’m there?

Visitors exit through the gift shop as expected, but I was impressed with the range of goods on offer – there were cheap souvenir pens, pencils and toys for only £1 and a good selection of half-price gifts in the sale section. We bought our children a soft toy squirrel monkey and a baby penguin that were reasonably priced at two for £4.

Much of the site is included in the entry fee, with only a bouncy inflatable slide and a carousel costing extra and attracting our girls’ attention. There is so much to see without paying for those that our children were soon persuaded to give them a miss.

The zoo is well set up for families bringing their own picnics as we did, but you might want to set aside an extra £10 or so to spend on ice creams on a hot day (cones start at £2.60).

How long will we spend at ZSL London Zoo?

We spent the whole day at the zoo, from 10am when it opened until 6pm when it closed, and we still didn’t have time to go around all the exhibits. Both children (and us as parents!) would happily find more to explore on a repeat visit.

What does ZSL London Zoo offer for families?

The Zoological Society of London was founded in 1826 so it’s fair to say it’s experienced at catering for visitors. The zoo is one of London’s most popular days out and I think it earns its place as one of the top 10 family attractions. There are so many exhibits to view and creatures to encounter that it would be nigh on impossible to find a visitor – young or old – who’s not thrilled by at least a few of the animals.

What shouldn’t be missed?

Highlights for us were:

  • Catherine and Hannah both absolutely loved the enclosures where visitors can get right up to the animals
  • The Butterfly Paradise is filled with an astonishing number of beautiful butterflies and it was magical to watch the children’s faces as some of the biggest butterflies fluttered by and even landed on people’s heads
  • Matt and Hannah also enjoyed ‘In With The Monkeys’, where a troupe of inquisitive Black-capped Squirrel Monkeys roamed through the trees and scampered right up to us as we walked by
  • Similarly the ‘In With The Lemurs’ enclosure prompted big smiles, especially when we sat quietly for a few minutes to allow the animals to come up close
  • Some of my favourite moments were seeing the biggest creatures, including a very close look at the magnificent Sumatran tigers
  • The graceful giraffes were completely gorgeous too, strolling in and out of their Grade II listed home with its 5-metre tall custom-built doors, designed and built by renowned architect Decimus Burton and used as a giraffe enclosure since 1835 
zsl-london-zoo_i

What you need to know before you go:

  • We visited on a very hot July Saturday in the summer holidays but never felt like it was overcrowded or too busy for us to see the animals easily. Our girls were always able to get right up to the glass or fence
  • There are talks and chats throughout the day as well as the chance to watch the animals being fed but we chose to avoid those in favour of a more relaxed visit without the need to watch the clock
  • We walked past a large number of people watching the penguins at their 1.30pm talk but preferred going to Penguin Beach later in the day when the whole area was much quieter
  • It is definitely worth pre-booking tickets to save money – and if you think you are likely to visit at least 3 times in a year then it would be worth buying an annual membership
  • The website is huge and filled with photos which will get your little ones excited about what they’re going to see
  • There’s a good app to help you plan your trip – it’s split into Before and During sections, with information on what’s on, how to get there, and then an interactive zoo map to help you navigate round that day
  • Visitors get a well-designed paper map at the entrance too which was colourfully laid out with words and pictures, allowing younger visitors to point at which creature they want to find

Does ZSL London Zoo run any seasonal/school-holiday activities for children?

Yes. Over the summer holiday there was a special Super Hero Academy for kids – designed to showcase the amazing super powers creatures use in the natural world and aimed at around primary school-aged children.

Younger children can enjoy the hands-on activities while older ones absorb the super hero animal facts. Catherine and Hannah liked decorating the super hero masks and Hannah kept hers on for most of the afternoon, and they happily dressed up in capes too. The staff were overwhelmingly enthusiastic and really great interacting with the kids as they handed out a simple worksheet filled with crosswords and quiz questions.

zsl-london-zoo_g

Any bits of the zoo that some children might find scary?

I was very proud of the arachnophobes in our family when we went to the B.U.G.S. pavilion – and went in with the spiders! Huge golden orb spiders roam free and we wound our way through the exhibit, past vast metre-wide webs and spiders dangling down. BUGS stands for Biodiversity Underpinning Global Survival and is designed to highlight how vital bugs, insects and mini beasts are to our planet. It’s a good reminder that ZSL undertake a massive amount of scientific research.

Read our MadeForMums family review of sister attraction ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Did ZSL London Zoo cater well for a range of ages?

Yes. It has 18,000 residents – everything from the tiniest ants to the tallest giraffes – and that means there really is something for every member of the family to enjoy. The site is very pushchair friendly for smaller babies with lots of sheltered seating available to feed hungry newborns on the way round. Primary school-aged children will get a good workout dashing between the enclosures.

Teenagers and adults will discover a vast array of facts and figures on everything from animals, conservation, habitat and the history of the zoo, a real A to Z! Information boards are easy to read without being dumbed-down.

However, older visitors like grandparents who struggle to walk long distances, will get tired walking around as the site is enormous.

Was it pushchair friendly?

ZSL London Zoo is very pushchair friendly and I’d recommend bringing one even for older pre-schoolers who will tire by the end of the day. Visitors can also hire pushchairs on a first come first served basis, costing £7 for a single and £10 for a double buggy.

Although parents with younger children may want to lift them up and out of the buggy for a closer look at the animals.

What are the food and drink facilities like at ZSL London Zoo?

The Terrace Restaurant seats up to 800 guests and offers a wide variety of snacks, salads and main meals. We went by at noon and spotted plenty of vacant tables, and there are other food kiosks dotted around the zoo for more takeaway style food. Main meals were between £8-£12 for adults and the kids’ menu was around £5 for a main meal.

What about snacks and ice creams?

I thought £1.85 for a can of 7UP from a kiosk near the lions seemed a bit steep, but it was refreshingly ice-cold and much-needed in 28-degree heat. We also had an ice cream cone each for £2.60 which contained a very generous portion of Ben& Jerry’s.

ZSL removed all single use plastic water bottles from their shelves in 2016 as part of the campaign to protect our oceans from the terrible impacts of plastic pollution, which is a brilliant move and one they are rightly proud of.

We took our reusable water bottle (and the zoo sells their own too) but unfortunately there is currently only 1 water fountain for the whole site, tucked in a corner by Penguin Beach. Although there are many toilets dotted around the zoo, our litre-sized bottle would not fit under the taps, many of which only ran warm anyway.

There are plans to install 2 new water fountains very soon, but I’d also like to see accessible cold drinking-water taps in every toilet facility.

Can you take a picnic?

We chose to take a picnic and were impressed at how many benches were available all around the zoo, including many in shaded areas. This was much appreciated on a very hot day, and they’d also provide shelter on a rainy trip.

zsl-london-zoo_d

What are the toilets like?

There are toilet blocks dotted all around the site and plenty of them – we didn’t have to queue for the loo at any point in the day, and even at 6pm there was plenty of paper left. There are baby-changing facilities in all of them and the sinks and soap were low enough that our 5 year old could wash her hands by herself.

How well does it cater for disabled visitors?

ZSL London Zoo is very wheelchair friendly, especially when you consider that the site is more than 170 years old, and filled with old buildings:

  • There are free wheelchairs available on a first come, first served basis
  • The paths are wide so it’s relatively easy to manoeuvre through busier areas
  • There are accessible toilets throughout, including one with a changing hoist
  • Unfortunately assistance dogs are not allowed inside because some of the animals react negatively, but the zoo is working with Guide Dogs UK in an effort to allow them into some areas of the zoo in the future
  • For more information visit ZSL London Zoo’s accessibility page

Opening dates and times:

ZSL London Zoo opens daily at 10am and shuts at 6pm in the summer months. It closes at 5.30pm in September/October, 5pm in October half term, and 4pm in the winter months.

How to get to ZSL London Zoo:

ZSL London Zoo is set within London’s Regent’s Park, postcode NW1 4RY

  • It’s very well served by buses and London Underground tube trains such as Camden Town and Regents Park
  • Designated visitor parking is close by but I’d recommend leaving the car at home unless you really love driving through Central London traffic
  • There’s only 1 entrance to the zoo itself on the Outer Circle Road of Regent’s Park so have a good look at a map or you may find yourself with a long walk circumnavigating much of the larger park

Worth a long car journey?

This is definitely worth a long car or train journey. We left our house at 8am to catch the train and returned home at 9pm with 2 sleeping children, worn out with all the fun!

Which hotels or holiday accommodation are near ZSL London Zoo?

The central London location means there are plenty of accommodation options nearby, including:

Nearby attractions for a longer day out:

Madame Tussauds is a 25-minute walk away on the other side of the park, along with the Sherlock Holmes Museum in the next street. The marvellous British Museum is around 30 minutes away on the Tube, while the Science Museum, V&A Museum and Natural History Museum are a 45-minute journey.

MFM verdict:

Our day at the zoo was absolutely awesome – one of our best days out ever! There was so much to see and so many ‘wow’ moments. It may seem a splurge because it’s a lot of money for one day, but it’s excellent value because of the sheer volume of exhibits. If I lived locally I’d definitely look into an annual membership.

The staff were amazingly enthusiastic, engaging with the children to spark a passion for our natural world. My eldest was especially keen to see the Reptile House and the Aquarium, and the youngest is super-interested in insects so both were very happy to spot their favourites. We were all thrilled to see the Sumatran tigers up close after so many storybook encounters – The Tiger Who Came to Tea seems a lot more real now!

Visit the ZSL London Zoo website

See more reviews of ZSL London Zoo on TripAdvisor

Advertisement

Intro to me:

We visited on a very hot and sunny Saturday in the school summer holidays with children aged 5 and 7