Location: ZSL London Zoo, Regents Park, London, NW1 4RY; UK
Ticket Prices: From £24.25 (Adults), £17.60 (Children) Under 3’s go FREE, Annual Passes from £63.
Opening Hours: 10:00am-6:00pm (From 25th March 2016), 10:00am-5:30pm (From 5th September 2016).
Going to the zoo is a rite of passage in any kids life, and you never really forget the first time you go. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of the zoo to kids, after all, this is where they get to be up close to the animals they’ve read about in books, or seen in movies. There was a book when I was a child called ’Dear Zoo’ by Rod Campbell; in it were various animals you could find at a zoo, which you revealed by lifting the flaps, and I recall my mum reading it to me throughout my childhood, and, in particular, one night before I visited ZSL London Zoo.
I must have been about 2 years old when my mum took me to London Zoo for the very first time, but whilst it was a long time ago, I still recall that first visit vividly; certain images pop out like the reptile house, the aquarium and the penguin pool – all areas which were around before I was born, and still exist to this day!
Earlier this month we got the opportunity to visit the zoo with our own kids, Jacob (2) and Amelia (6). We took Amelia to London Zoo for her very first birthday back in 2011, but Jacob had never been before, so it was a rather momentous occasion – especially seeing as he was the exact same age I was when I first went. It was also perfect timing as the new ‘Land Of The Lions’ attraction had just opened! More on this in a bit!
We arrived at around 11am, and headed straight to the ‘Reptile House‘, as Amelia had seen it featured in a Harry Potter movie and wanted to find the Burmese Python! Snakes are creatures that most kids seem to have a natural fear of, and being able to get up close really helps disperse any fears that they are going to eat them – well…apart from the Anaconda! 🙂
After the ‘Reptile House‘, we then headed over to the ‘Aquarium‘, which was right next door. There was such a large variety of fish and tank sizes. From tiny little windows displaying mind-blowing multicoloured coral, to huge windows with some truly big fish. Fans of Finding Dory will find a tank with a number of the blue tang species that she is part of.
By this point the kids were keen to see a “big, wild animal”, so just around the corner was the ‘Tiger Territory’ – a large attraction with bridges and viewpoints to see the endangered Sumatran tigers. We hung around for about 10 minutes but couldn’t see them anywhere. We also revisited this attraction at several points throughout the day with no luck, but then found out that the reason we couldn’t see them was because back in June the tigers had twin cubs! This meant that the tigers were chilling out in their den.
As we missed out seeing the tigers, it was only right we all visited London Zoo’s newest and most exciting attraction; ‘Land Of The Lions’. This new area is so big that there are actually three walkways which cover the 2,500sqm exhibit! There are some really cool themed areas within the attraction, including a temple, a train station, and a high street, complete with authentic street food.
Such is the attention to detail here that you genuinely feel like you are in India – the smells in the air, the aesthetics – right down to the architecture and window dressings, all make you feel immersed into the experience. There are viewpoints all around ‘Land Of The Lions‘, so that no matter where the lions are, you should always be able to find them. Perhaps the most impressive area was the amphitheatre style viewing area, where you are literally a few feet away from the lions!
There are plenty of areas for the lions to enjoy, including high climb points, a river and a secluded den, and the ZSL team have worked hard to recreate the lions natural environment of the deciduous Gir Forest. No only have they covered surrounding buildings in naturalistic textures and features, but the horticultural team have worked hard to include plants that are natural to the lions environment.
We found the den area, and although the lions weren’t there, you could see their giant paw prints in the sand, which was a stark reminder of just how big and powerful these creatures can be. We eventually found the lions lounging about near the trees to the far right of their enclosure. They actually spent the entire duration of our visit here, so they were clearly comfortable!
Whilst the zoo is always evolving, it felt like ‘Land Of The Lions’ was a particularly bold and game-changing addition. Having been to the San Diego Zoo – arguably one of the biggest and most-popular Zoo’s in the world – ‘Land Of The Lions‘ felt like the start of something special for London Zoo that has it brushing shoulders with its American counterpart.
Tummies were rumbling and we decided to have lunch at the Terrace Restaurant, located near the Zoo Shop and exit. There are various places you can eat at London Zoo, but this is the main restaurant, which has a fantastic selection of reasonably priced food. If you are a fan of cookies, we HIGHLY recommend their chocolate chip cookies! If you get thirstily throughout the day, this is also a great place to get some complimentary water from the dispensers.
It is worth noting that throughout the day there are various events you can watch and take part in, from animal displays to talks from the ZSL staff, allowing you to get to know London Zoo‘s inhabitants a little better.
With the kids (and us) re-energised, we headed over to ‘Butterfly Paradise’ – a giant caterpillar which opens out to a tropical environment of plants and trees as different species of butterflies fly around you. This was a truly mesmerising experience for all of us, and we couldn’t believe the size and colours of some of the butterflies!
Also nearby was ‘B.U.G.S’ (Biodiversity Underpinning Global Survival) – London Zoo’s cutting edge biodiversity and Conservation exhibit. Here we saw spiders, cockroaches, stick insects and snakes (to name just a few). There was also a fantastic area with leaf-cutter ants, walking over ropes, carrying leaves (many times their own body weight). What made it even more amazing was that it was in open air, meaning you can get right up close to them.
We then moved onto the ‘Meet The Monkeys’ area, where it really does live up its name. As you enter through the protective chainlink curtain, you are surrouded by trees and plants, with squirrel monkeys jumping and climbing around you. All of a sudden you will be looking at one of the monkeys, and one will appear from right behind you – literally inches away from you! We couldn’t believe just how close we got, and whilst there was a temptation to reach out and touch them (due to their adorably cute faces), we were advised that they bite!
The kids wanted to see the penguins at ‘Penguin Beach’ so as we left the monkeys, we quickly swung by the ‘Animal Adventure’ area where they wanted to check out the meerkats. There was also a place called the ’Touch Zone’ where kids can groom and feed goats and sheep. As we left ‘Animal Adventure’ I noticed the old Penguin Pool from when I came as a child. This was where the penguins used to be housed and it brought back a flood of memories. It’s nice that it still exists!
Having arrived at ‘Penguin Beach‘, it was clear that it was a huge upgrade to the pool! Here the penguins have a massive space to splash around, with deep and shallow areas, as well as beach areas to laze about in the sun. For visitors there are glass windows to clearly view the penguins underwater, as well as a bowed viewing bowl which kids can crawl into and actually see the penguins swimming around them.
Before we headed through the underpass to the second section of the zoo, we stopped by ‘Gorilla Kingdon’ where I found out they had a gorilla who arrived at London Zoo just a couple of years after I first visited in 1982! There was also opportunity to meet their latest addition in the form of Gernot, who was only born in November of 2015!
As we mentioned, the zoo is split up over 2 sections; the main section, which you enter through the main entrance, and the riverside section, accessible through the underpass. Here, there are 7 areas of interest; ‘Into Africa’, ‘In with the Lemurs’, ‘Nightlife’, ‘Rainforest Life’, ‘Happy Families’, ‘Snowdon Aviary’ and the ‘Schools’ Education Centre’. Due to the size of the zoo, we weren’t able to get around to everything in one day, but whilst we were here we managed to check out a few of them.
‘Into Africa’ gave the kids a chance to see the Giraffe’s (as well as Zebras, African Hunting Dogs and Okapis). There are two viewpoints for the giraffes; one which is accessible via the pathway nearest to the underpass, and the other is by the riverside where the main giraffe pens are – it is here where you can get up-close with them. You may have to wait a while as they come in to eat from time to time.
Our next stop was ‘Nightlife’ where we got to see bats! You make your way down some steps and through a very dark tunnel which opens out to some rooms where you can view bush babies and other nocturnal animals. As you walk through, you feel like you’re in an underground burrow. To the far wall is where the bats are, and we managed to capture some slow-motion video as they flew around in their cave-like habitat. The kids couldn’t believe how fast they were, and it was only thanks to the slow-mo that we actually saw them properly.
Next door to ‘Nightlife’ is ‘Rainforest Life’ – a tropical environment with a miniature rainforest in the centre. Here you can be within close proximity to tamarin monkeys, sloths and birds, who live in the custom rainforest.
At this point it was almost 5pm and we had to head home, but not before visiting the fantastic gift shop, which had a truly spectacular selection of zoo-themed merchandise. If your kids have a favourite animal from their day at the zoo, there is more than likely a soft toy they can take home as a special memento. Amelia still has the Giraffe we got her from her first visit!
London Zoo is not only a great day out for the whole family, but an important one. No matter how old you are, you will always learn something new on each visit, and there is always something new to see or do. It was so good to witness first-hand, the evolution of the zoo, but it was perhaps just as good to see how it acknowledges and protects its past, too.