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Tips for visiting London Zoo with kids

The world’s oldest scientific zoo, visiting London Zoo with kids is still as tempting than ever, 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 discover.

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And while the larger animals are now housed at sister site Whipsnade Zoo, the UK’s biggest zoo, there’s more than enough to keep everyone entertained on a day out in London. I’ve been visiting with my daughter since she was little, and we’ve seen it together on everything from a chilly winter day to a sunny post-lockdown summer’s day.

One of the city’s biggest attractions (for children and adults), if you’ve got kids who love animals, you’ll hardly need any more persuasion. And with 14 hectares to discover, 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.

Pick your day carefully

Whether you go in the chill of midwinter or the heat of midsummer, there’ll still be animals to spot… try to avoid the rain if possible though, 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, and inevitably it’s quieter during term time and out of peak season. During the hottest days, you might find the animals are also lazing around out of sight in the shade so there can be more to see during spring and autumn.

The zoo introduced three colour-coded routes for visitors to follow during the pandemic. And while the one-way restrictions have been long since dropped, they’re still a helpful way to plan your day.

Each is a different length (blue is shortest) if you have limited time, and goes past the gorillas, tigers and reptile house (among others).

The pink route leads through the African village (giraffes/zebra/meerkats), while the orange route includes the lions and Penguin Beach.

The all start at the same point so you can follow the routes in any order (and as many times as you want!)

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

Tickets don’t allow you to leave and return again, so it’s worth planning your food in advance.

There is one main restaurant and a string of smaller cafes, kiosks and other spots to buy food around the zoo, but even on a quiet winter day you’ll find long queues.

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

If you’re buying lunch at the zoo, you can find family-friendly options like pizza at the Terrace Restaurant, baguettes at the Beach Hut and sandwiches at the Aquarium Kiosk and Peckish Parrot Cafe.

You’ll also find vegetarian and vegan options in the menus, plus fish and meat is chosen to be sustainable and free-range.

Image showing a graphic of the London Eye on the Essential Guide to London with kids ebook cover, and the words 'click to buy my 33-page guide to London. Itineraries, tips and all you need to know before a visit to London with kids' linking to my the London with kids shop page

Stay for the talks

Check out the ‘What’s On’ boards when you arrive at the zoo for timings of the regular talks and any feeding times, plus occasional extra pop-up talks.

These do change regularly but as a rule, there’s a tiger talk at 11am, otter and dwarf mongoose talk at 12 noon, penguin talk at 1.30pm (get there early for this one!), gorilla talk at 2pm and komodo dragon talk at 3pm among others.

While you’ll need to be very organised to get to every talk and still explore all the zoo, you’ll discover far more about the animals you’re seeing at each one – 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.

You can also get closer to some of the animals and help with feeding times as part of the zoo’s special experiences, including options for 5+.

Check out the upgrades

London Zoo has been around for a while… and at times, it shows. But there are also some newer additions such as the Land of the Lions and Tiger Territory which are fantastic, with different viewpoints, information and activities for kids along the way.

Check out Monkey Valley too, which opened in summer 2022, with walkthrough tours from 10.30am-12.30pm and 2-4.30pm (times do sometimes change so check on arrival)

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

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, while the reptile house has also now closed with new plans for this historic building as well.

Top trivia: the first aquarium on site was also the world’s first public aquarium.

But the zoo is far from out of date: one of our favourites is a recreated section of Amazon rainforest, complete with mist to keep it humid, and the lemur enclosure you can walk through, among other cleverly designed sections.

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.

You no longer need to wear a face covering inside, including the walkthrough sections

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, regular family activities and some special evening events during the summer.

The regular London Zoo Lates have been replaced by Zoo Nights, but are adults only, although you can sleep over at the zoo (with children aged 5-13 on family nights) for a really special experience.

You can also spot ‘wild art’ – street art in the tunnel linking the main site with the smaller section beyond the Outer Circle road.

Or to let off steam, check out the London Zoo playground (there is also another play area in Regents Park). The Animal adventure Zone includes a splash zone for good weather days.

Any Harry Potter fans who planned to head to the Reptile House to see the section which appears in the first film should know that it’s now closed, so sadly there’s no opportunity to practise your Parseltongue for now.

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 pushchairs at London Zoo if you haven’t brought your own, although unlike the sister site at Whipsnade, there aren’t toddler trikes.

Single buggies cost £10 to hire plus a £15 refundable deposit. The double buggies are £15 to hire with the same £15 refundable deposit. 

Child scooters are allowed as long as they are supervised by an adult (unlike bikes, adult scooters, rollerskates or anything else with wheels).

There is also the special Penguin Queue Hopper pass for families with additional needs, to cut down on waiting times.

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.

Apart from members, it’s better to book tickets in advance to ensure you get the date you want, and you’ll always get the cheapest rate for standard tickets this way too. Under-threes are also free but still need a ticket in order to manage numbers.

They’ll be scanned at main entrance and you can also show electronic versions rather than printing tickets.

Get 6% off using my discount MUMMYTRAVELS6 when you buy tickets.via tiqets

You’ll be asked to select a timeslot as well: you don’t have to turn up precisely at that time, as long as it’s between the time shown on your ticket and one hour before closing time so you could pick the earliest slot of the day if you’re not sure what time you’ll arrive.

You can also buy flexi-tickets, if you’re not sure when you want to visit but you will need to redeem these in advance and choose a time and date to visit.

If you receive Universal Credit, you can also get discounted tickets, priced from £3. These are limited, must be prebooked online and you do need to bring proof of eligibility.

Members get free entry to London Zoo with their annual pass, and don’t need to book a timeslot.

For more ideas on how to save money on days out in London with kids, check out my top tips

If you’ve bought a London pass, you can also get into London Zoo for free, just show the pass on arrival

There are sometimes discounts using Kids Pass – a one-month membership trial costs £1.

Otherwise, the best way to save money on London zoo tickets is with National Rail’s 241 offer, if you visit by train. You need to bring valid train tickets (tube tickets don’t count), and may need to show a printed copy of the discount voucher. There’s an option to use these for a free adult or free child ticket.

Children aged six to 15 with a valid Blue Peter badge card get free entry when accompanied by a full paying adult, who needs to purchase their ticket on arrival at the zoo. If you’re visiting as part of a group, all the other visitors must prebook their tickets however.

You can no longer use Tesco Clubcard points for London Zoo tickets and there’s no blue light, military or NHS discount

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). It’s better to travel by public transport as London Zoo parking is scarce and there’s limited (paid) parking on the roads around.

There is also a car park nearby, priced from £16 per day – it is outside the congestion charge zone as long as you avoid going into central London on your drive.

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.

For more things to do in Camden with kids, check out my top picks

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.

There are two options for timed entry, at 10am or 12 noon. You can enter at any point after the time on your ticket, up to an hour before closing.

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.

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 little free zoo in London

For more tips on visiting London with kids, check out my quick start guide to London with kids, as well as my top things to do in London with toddlers and preschoolers and places to visit in London with kids who love animals.

*last updated 2024*


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

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links – any purchases you make are unaffected but I may receive a small commission. All my tips for visiting London Zoo with kids are based on my own experiences and all opinions are my own

Images copyright MummyTravels


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