London with kids: ZSL London Zoo
Father-Hood.co.uk’s guide to the best things to do with your kids in London continues with our review of ZSL London Zoo.
Where is it?
ZSL London Zoo is located at the north end of Regent’s Park. You can get there by car, bike, tube, train, bus and waterbus. As ever with attractions in the centre of big cities, each option has positives and negatives (e.g. car parking can be expensive, nearest tube is a 15-minute walk away), so make sure you research the route that works best for you before the kids start singing, “We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo.”
How much does it cost?
You might want to sit down for this bit. If you pay at the gate, adults cost £29.75 each and children aged between 3 and 15 cost £22 each. The (very slim) silver lining is two-fold. First, kids under three are free. Second, the ‘at the gate’ prices come down to £24.30 for adults and £18 for children if you buy your tickets in advance online. There is also an online-only family deal that costs £75.80 for two adults and two children*.
Note: if you are planning on visiting the zoo regularly, then it makes financial sense to look into the ZSL’s yearly membership offers. In addition to letting you visit both London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo an unlimited amount of times every year, these memberships give you 10% off food, fairground rides and gift shop items.
What are the best things about it?
The animals are clearly the zoo’s main draw – where else in London (aside from the sewer system) can you see so many exotic beasts in one day? But parents will also love the free-to-use kids’ play area, and the fact that the whole facility is pretty much step-free, so you can take prams and buggies just about anywhere.
And the worst?
The crowds of people and prams can make it pretty slow going around the gorillas, tigers and lions at weekends. And the fact that it costs £2 (£1.50 for members) for your kid to spend six minutes on a bouncy castle, when you have already shelled out so much to get it in is extremely disappointing.
Is the food any good?
Yes and no. Adults and older kids can chow down on everything from Asian street food and pizzas to hearty British favourites, but the options for babies and toddlers are somewhat limited. Cost-wise, the prices are fairly similar to other London attractions (i.e. expensive), so if you’re looking to save cash bring your own grub.
What are the toilets/baby changes like?
Excellent. I’m serious. If I had to pick one London attraction to change a nappy or take a toddler to the toilet in, it would be ZSL London Zoo. Not only are the facilities well signposted and spacious, they are also cleaned regularly.
Special insider tips
It might not be as high profile as the Land of the Lions, Gorilla Kingdom or Penguin Beach, but the Rainforest Life indoor exhibit is well worth checking out, as it features monkeys, sloth, bats and other animals. Also, make sure you visit the ‘In With The Lemurs’ walk-through exhibit. The look on your little one’s face when they realise the zoo’s ring-tail lemurs are behind, above, beside and in front of them will be (just about) worth the admission price.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did…
Mistake one: the first time I went to London Zoo, my son was less than a year old, so I took him in the pram. This was great until… we realised that the vast majority of the animals could only been seen over fences and walls that were situated well above his eyeline. This meant I needed to carry him (see top pic), and this left me wishing that I’d packed our Baby Bjorn baby carrier (other brands of sling are available).
Mistake two: the last time I went to London Zoo, my son was two-and-a-half. This meant he wanted to stroll, run and jump around the place, which was great until… he decided that he’d had enough of walking. This meant he spent the rest of the day on my shoulders, and this left me wishing that I’d brought his scooter.
The bottom line
The price stings, but where else in London are you going to see komodo dragons? Or hippos? Or giraffes?
*information correct as of September 2018.