As an academic I am fortunate to have colleagues who I am blessed to call friends as well. Just before our second child was born (in July 2016) we met up with one such friend and her husband in London for a long overdue catch up over brunch (we went to the wonderful Greenbery Cafe in Primrose Hill – delicious food and very accommodating to our noisy toddler!). It felt slightly cruel to drag our daughter down to London for brunch without doing anything fun for her. I quickly realised that the cafe was an easy stroll from London Zoo, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit.
Parking – We chose to drive to London from Alcester largely because of convenience but also cost (it was going to be cheaper to drive than to buy tickets on the day – so frustrating!). We settled on parking in the London Zoo carpark – its a staggering £14.50 for the day but I guess it is central London! That said, the parking was an easy stroll from the main entrance to the zoo (useful when you’re pregnant!).
Tickets – You’d be well advised to book your tickets prior to arrival as they are considerably cheaper (although in my view still pretty steep). We hadn’t done this so we coughed up the £30 a head for us two adults! (Yikes) – thankfully our daughter, still under 3 at that stage, was free (otherwise she would have been another £22!). Now, if you’re a regular to my blog you’ll know that we’ve been fortunate to be able to take our daughter to a number of amazing zoo’s across Europe – Copenhagen and Hamburg were two of the best. To put the cost of entry to London Zoo into perspective it is half the price to get into Hamburg Zoo and in our view there is absolutely no compassion – I know which Zoo I’d go back to in a flash! I’ve just done a quick search on skyscanner, and if you have some flexibility over when you travel you could actually fly to Hamburg for less money than taking the train to London! Now, there’s a thought.
Our day out – London Zoo is large and therefore I would strongly advice a pram for even the most independent of little people (you can apparently hire prams if you forget yours). The various animal enclosures are spread out so it takes a little time to get between them all. Sadly, unlike many other zoo’s we’ve visited, the grounds aren’t particularly well kept and I personally wouldn’t describe it as a pretty place for a stroll. The majority of the enclosures are also fairly bland and dated. The most problematic element of the day was the design of the enclosures. Our daughter was unable to see over most of the walls, bars, and barriers and therefore had to be picked up to be shown the animals and this made for a far more tiring day (especially when pregnant!) than we’d expected. We’ve never encountered this problem before and it seems a shame that the design was not child-centred. The selection of animals at London Zoo was also not that impressive. The lion enclosure was not open on the day we visited (massively disappointing!) and a number of the other enclosures seemed to either lack animals or needed indoor viewing areas. Other enclosures (like the penguins) were massively crowded and it was near on impossible to see anything at all. All in all we felt that we could see most of the same animals for far less money and in more picturesque surroundings on a visit to Costwold Wildlife Park.
I was also put off by the commercialisation of the whole place. You couldn’t do anything without having to pay extra for it. Why not just include that in the extortionate entry price?!?
At the time of visiting, the toilet facilities were pretty poor – there was no real baby changing area (no mat etc) and the toilets were not overly clean.
Would we return – not in a hurry. I would be more inclined to either look for cheap flights to another European city, such as Hamburg or Copenhagen – the zoo’s in these cities far surpassed London’s flagship offering or alternatively, there are plenty more places to view animals outside of the capital (Bristol Zoo or the Cotswold wildlife park to name just two).