There’s nothing that quite beats seeing some of the incredible animals that inhabit the earth – whether it’s the cute lemur or a roaring tiger – which means a visit to the zoo is a perfect way to get up close and personal in a way that a nature documentary just can’t.
And with many zoos actively supporting efforts to conserve populations of some of the most endangered animals across the world, they’re well worth supporting. So, from the endangered and rare to all-time furry favourites, let us take you through some of the best zoos and wildlife parks in our region.
ZSL London Zoo
ZSL London Zoo is the world's oldest scientific zoo. Opened nearly two centuries ago in Regents Park (15 minutes’ walk from Camden Town station, itself just a short ride on the Northern Line from London Waterloo), it was originally intended to be used as a collection for scientific study. Today, it houses a huge more than 19,000 animals of 698 species from all over the world, making it one of the largest zoos in the UK as well as being a key site for research.
Although it remains a hub of extensive scientific research, it’s also a seriously exciting day out. You can get closer than ever before to Asiatic lions with the new Sasan Gir exhibit, designed to look exactly like town in India - the homeland of these incredible creatures. You can also take time to watch meerkats and otters enjoy their brunch before heading to Penguin Beach and Europe's largest penguin pool.
Chessington World of Adventures
A short bus ride from Chessington South station, Chessington World of Adventures is not just a theme park, but offers much more – including Chessington Zoo and Sea Life Centre. Fortunately, your ticket gets you access to all three venues – which means there’s more to see than you’ll manage in a day (luckily, you’ll find a selection of hotels on site to stay in)!
You’ll find more than 1,000 animals here – from a family of otters to a tribe of western lowland gorillas. There’s also the AMAZU Treetop Adventure which lets you get up close to monkeys, marmosets, agoutis and armadillos – with raised walkways that go right through the enclosures themselves.
The Sea Life Centre showcases some of the incredible sea creatures you’ll find around the UK, including starfish, seahorses and rays. You’ll also have the chance to make a personal connection at the touch pool – which little ones will love.
Battersea Park Children’s Zoo
This small, charming zoo is family-run with sister zoos in the New Forest and Derbyshire. Just a short walk from the nearby Queenstown Road station, you’ll find exotic and endangered species like meerkats, tortoises, talking mynah birds and even a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig!
It’s a more personal experience than you’ll find at many zoos, with opportunities to get involved in feeding the animals, as well as arts and crafts events tailored to children which make it perfect for younger kids. It’s only a short walk from Queenstown Road station too, so it’s not tiring on little legs If you’ve got a heavy pushchair, you may wish to use Clapham Junction and take the 344 bus to Battersea Park Library.
Not strictly a wildlife park itself, but Richmond Park is a site of both national and international importance for wildlife conservation. As London's largest Site of Special Scientific Interest, a National Nature Reserve and a Special Area of Conservation you’ll find a mixture of animals here that stands as an example of the best of British wildlife. At just 10 minutes’ walk from Norbiton station, or 20 minutes from Richmond, it’s also close enough that when you’re tired out from a day exploring it doesn’t feel like too much of a slog getting home again.
With almost 2,500 acres (more than 1,400 football pitches) of land, the park is home to more than:
600 red and fallow deer
63 breeding species of bird, including woodpeckers, kestrels and owls
up to 11 species of bat
countless foxes, rabbits, shrews, mice and voles
But it's not just about fields and animals. Richmond Park is home to horse riding, carriage rides, golf and even power kiting - so there's something for everyone.
Bristol Zoo is one of the oldest in the world, having opened to the public in 1836. One of the world’s leading conservation centres, you’ll find some animals here that can’t be found in any other UK zoos, including aye ayes, quolls and the huge Livingstone’s fruit bat.
The zoo takes particular care of making sure that its animals have as much freedom as possible. The Monkey Jungle is home to lemurs that jump and swing above your head as visitors can walk through the enclosure with no barriers, and the Forest of Birds gives south Asian avians a chance to fly freely through the exotic plant-laden habitat.
In 2022 the zoo will finally leave its historic Clifton home, moving to their Wild Place Project site in South Gloucestershire and reopening in 2024. For now, the closest station is Clifton Down (just a ten minute walk), or Bristol Temple Meads (a hop on the number 8 bus). Handily, you can save a third with your train ticket thanks to Bristol Zoo’s sustainable travel discount.
London Wetland Centre
London Wetland Centre is the world’s first man-made wetland environment and now an award-winning nature reserve, bringing the countryside to London. Despite its central London location (a short walk from Barnes and Barnes Bridge stations in Zone 3), it's a haven of tranquillity for both wildlife and people.
The lakes, pools and gardens are home to Kingfishers, Sand Martins, and wading birds. It's also a key location for migratory birds around the year - for keen bird watchers there are Bitterns in the winter and Yellow Wagtails on the grazing marsh in summer.
Oceanarium: The Bournemouth Aquarium
The Bournemouth Aquarium is an all-weather activity - ideal if a beach trip is rained off. Hundreds of marine and freshwater creatures populate ten spectacular recreated environments, with low lighting and lit tanks to recreate a truly deep-sea feel.
Kids will enjoy spotting the incredible variety of fish as you wander around the different eco systems - including Crocodile Rocks and The Abyss. There’s even an adventure trail and underwater themed play zone for the little ones to burn off some energy.
Alternatively, for a more in-depth experience, the Oceanarium offers VIP experiences, from feeding sharks, penguins and rays to otter enrichment and being an aquarist for the day. All this is just a short bus ride away from Bournemouth station – and just a stones throw from Bournemouth’s stunning beaches.
Marwell’s 140-acre park is home to an incredible range of exotic and endangered species, in beautiful, landscaped surroundings. Marwell Zoo is owned and operated by a conservation charity, Marwell Wildlife, so by visiting you’ll be making a big contribution to their projects to conserve species and habitats, both in Hampshire and around the world.
It’s a family-friendly zoo, with five different playgrounds to break up the zoo itself and provide some opportunities to burn off any excess energy – or to stop for a picnic. Plus, once little legs get tired, there’s always the tractor ride to take you round the zoo, and three stations to get you home – it’s a short taxi ride from Winchester, Eastleigh and Southampton Airport Parkway stations.
Daily talks and animal feeds mean there’s always something to see – whether it’s endangered amur tigers or cute meerkats at play.
So if you’re inspired to take your next day trip, then it’s never too early to start planning – the cheapest tickets are released up to twelve weeks in advance, so sign up for our cheap ticket alerts to be the first to know.