England, UK, Wanderlust

11 tips for visiting London Zoo with kids

The world’s oldest scientific zoo, London Zoo is still one of the city’s biggest attractions – for kids and adults – more than 170 years after it opened. Once home to the bear that inspired Winnie the Pooh, the only living quagga ever photographed and one of the world’s most famous giant pandas, there’s almost as much history as animals to tempt.

Penguin stands by the edge of the pool at London zoo waiting for feeding time - my top tips for visiting London Zoo with kids
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And while the larger animals are now housed at sister site ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, the UK’s biggest zoo, there’s more than enough to keep everyone entertained on a day out in London. My daughter’s first visit was on a school trip, but we’ve seen it together on a chilly winter day and most recently on a sunny summer day after lockdown.

If you’ve got kids who love animals, you’ll hardly need any more tempting. But spread across 14 hectares, we usually spend at least half a day exploring and run out of time (or energy!) before we run out of animals to see – so if you’re planning a visit, here are my tips for visiting London Zoo with kids.

Read on for 2020 post-lockdown updates…

Pick your day carefully

Whether you go in the chill of midwinter or midsummer, there’ll still be animals to spot… but try to avoid the rain if possible, as the inhabitants prefer to hide away (and walking around for hours in the rain is a lot less fun for visitors as well).

The zoo does have a mix of indoor and outdoor enclosures though, so don’t be completely put off by the weather. Winter days also mean smaller crowds, although inevitably it’s quieter during term time and out of peak season.

For now, there are limited numbers too, which makes it even easier to enjoy the animals.

*2020 update* The zoo has introduced three coloured one-way routes for visitors to follow, after reopening post-lockdown. You can follow the routes in any order, and they are different lengths (blue is shortest) if you have limited time.

The pink route leads through the African village (giraffes/zebra/meerkats), the blue route goes past the gorillas, tigers and reptile house (among others) and the orange route includes the lions and penguins.

Collage showing a map at London Zoo with colour-coded routes to follow post-lockdown and my daughter following a huge pink arrow showing the pink route at London zoo, one of the post-lockdown changes at London Zoo

Plan your food

*2020 update* The Terrace restaurant is open with distanced seating, but not the indoor tables. There are also food and drink kiosks dotted around for takeaway and plenty of picnic tables.

There is one main restaurant and a string of smaller kiosks and spots to buy food around the zoo, but even on a quiet winter day there were long queues. Tickets don’t allow you to leave and return again, so it’s worth planning your food in advance.

There are outdoor picnic benches not far from the pelicans, as well as other benches dotted around the site, if you pack your own.

Stay for the talks

*2020 update* Talks are currently cancelled although you may see keepers feeding the animals as you explore.

Pick up a list of talks and feeding times as you arrive at the zoo (along with a map), and you’ll discover far more about the animals you’re seeing – who knew one particular species of monkey twines its tail with its mate’s as they snuggle up on a branch at night. Cute!

It’s worth getting to the most popular events, such as the penguin feeding, in advance if you want a seat or a good view but we managed to catch several talks just by listening out for the announcements.

If you don’t beat the crowds, do hang around afterwards – everyone floods out of the penguin pool once official feeding time was over, which meant we got a fantastic view of the inquisitive birds zooming through the water.

Check out the upgrades

London Zoo has been around for a while… and at times, it shows. The newest areas, including the Land of the Lions and Tiger Territory are fantastic, with different viewpoints, information and activities for kids along the way.

A few of the older areas are starting to show their age – the London zoo aquarium closed in 2019, with some creatures relocated to a planned new area. Top trivia: the first aquarium on site was also the world’s first public aquarium.

My daughter walks past brightly painted signs into the Land of the Lions at London Zoo

But there are plenty of updated additions, with a new exhibit planned for Into Africa.

With a recreated section of Amazon rainforest, complete with mist to keep it humid, plus a lemur enclosure you can walk through and other cleverly designed sections, it’s far from out of date though.

Be prepared for the unexpected

Wild animals are just that… you never know when they’ll decide to come out and stroll around, or hide away.

We spotted a nocturnal tamandua – a species of anteater – climbing trees in the Rainforest Life area quite happily in mid-afternoon, while the cheeky tamarins which live there were scampering happily around the viewing platform as well as in the trees.

One more tip from the keepers for this section… they have worked out that buggies often contain food, so keep an eye on your picnic and snacks when they’re in reach of thieving furry paws!

It also means you might see, as we did, a puff adder steadily devouring a rat, blood running down the fur as it gobbled up its prey.

Grimly fascinating to the adults, my daughter was a lot less convinced. Puff adders apparently need to go vegetarian to be back in her good books!

Warm up inside

Unless you’re visiting on a gloriously sunny day, you’re likely to get chilly at some point wandering around outside for hours. So apart from wrapping up warm, there are a few places to aim for if you can’t feel your toes.

Butterfly Paradise is tropically humid, while Rainforest Life is also deliciously warm, but the Reptile House is good if you’re on the opposite side of the zoo.

*2020 update* You do need to wear a face covering inside – including children aged three and over, unless exempt – including the walkthrough sections, with staff on hand to check.

Look out for the extras

With so many animals to see, there’s no chance you’ll get bored. But check ahead of time and you can also find special events during the  year, including lights at Christmas, and some evening events during the summer (although the regular London Zoo Lates were stopped a few years ago).

You can also spot ‘wild art’ – street art in the tunnel linking the main site with the smaller section beyond the Outer Circle road, while Harry Potter fans should head to the Reptile House to see the section which appears in the first film.

For more Harry Potter filming locations in London, check out this post

Sign by one of the tanks in the reptile house which featured in the first Harry Potter film - one of my tips for visiting London Zoo with kids

Save smaller legs

You can hire buggies at London Zoo if you haven’t brought your own (currently unavailable) and children’s scooters are allowed as long as they are supervised by an adult (unlike bikes or anything else with wheels).

It’s worth knowing that although you can hire trikes at Whipsnade Zoo, they don’t have those at the London site.

Get a discount on London Zoo tickets

Unlike a lot of other attractions, you don’t see a London Zoo discount code very often, but there are a few ways to save money on tickets.

*2020 update* Currently all tickets must be booked in advance for entry after lockdown and are only available direct from London Zoo. There are no discounts available at present – click here for more information

Book in advance to avoid the queues, they’ll be scanned at main entrance. Under-threes are also free but still need a ticket in order to manage numbers.

You can also show electronic versions rather than printing tickets as long as you’ve booked directly with ZSL – click here to buy tickets.

Members get free entry to London Zoo with their annual pass, although you currently need to book a time slot.

EDIT: None of the following are currently available because of visiting restrictions but keep an eye out for when the London Zoo discounts are restarted in future.

If you’ve bought a London pass, you can also get into ZSL London Zoo for free. (Temporarily suspended)

Otherwise, the best way to save money on London zoo tickets is with National Rail’s 241 offer, if you visit by train. (Temporarily suspended) You need to bring train tickets valid on the day of your visit, plus a printed copy of the discount voucher, and one adult or child goes free for each full-price adult.

You can also use Tesco Clubcard points but you need to redeem those with the supermarket in advance, which sends out a QR code (you can print or show it on your phone). The points are then deducted from the total cost and you pay any remaining balance – you can’t use this for online tickets, membership or parking. (Temporarily suspended)

Male lion prowls in its enclosure watched by a female - my tips for visiting London Zoo with kids

What’s the best way to get to London Zoo?

The London Zoo entrance is on the north side of the site, on the Outer Circle (parallel to Prince Albert Road). In normal times, it’s better to travel by public transport as London Zoo parking is scarce although for now there’s a reasonable chance of a space in the limited (paid) parking on the roads around.

There is also a car park nearby, priced £14.50 per day (although it’s currently got reduced spaces available). Although you do need to drive in central London, you can avoid the congestion charge zone.

Otherwise, the nearest stations to London Zoo are Camden Town and Regent’s Park if you’re coming on the tube – both around a 15-20 minute walk away (across the park, if you’re coming from Regent’s Park).

The number 274 bus also stops very close to the entrance. The route runs from Angel Islington to Lancaster Gate, and also stops at Baker Street

Get there early

The zoo opens at 10am year-round (except Christmas Day, when it’s closed) but closing times vary throughout the year. Last entry is an hour before closing time and some animal exhibits close 30 minutes before closing time.

*2020 update* Prebooked tickets for summer 2020 currently have two entry slots – 10am-2pm or 2pm-6pm (last entry at 5pm).

You can enter at any point during the morning or afternoon window and stay as long as you want, but to manage numbers, visitors are asked to take a common sense approach – if everyone in the morning slot turned up at 1.55pm, it’s not going to help social distancing!

In winter, last entry is at 3pm, closing at 4pm so it’s worth arriving early to make the most of the reduced opening hours and also to skip some of the queues. For the complete London Zoo opening times, click here.

For more tips on visiting London with kids, check out my top things to do in London with toddlers and preschoolers as well as places to visit in London with kids who love animals. While London Zoo is easily the best zoo in London, younger kids will also love Battersea Park Children’s Zoo and you can also find a free zoo in London

PIN FOR LATER: TIPS FOR VISITING LONDON ZOO WITH KIDS

My top tips for visiting London Zoo with kids - how to make the most of a day at the UK's oldest zoo, the best way to get discounts on tickets to London Zoo, where to eat, what to do and how to get to London Zoo. #londonwithkids #familylondon #londonzoo #mummytravels

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