From endangered and rare creatures to your all-time furry favourites, these UK zoos have everything you can wish for and more on an animal day out.
Folly Farm Adventure Park and Zoo, Kilgetty, Pembrokeshire
Folly Farm Adventure Park & Zoo is also big on conservation and looks after a number of endangered species, with purpose-built, award-winning enclosures. It’s one of only seven zoos in the UK that looks after the critically endangered Eastern black rhino - another incredible creature to tick off your list of things to see here. On 16th January 2020, first-time mum Dakima gave birth to a healthy baby boy - one of an estimated 40 Eastern black rhino to be born in the UK in the past 20 years.
Cotswold Wildlife Park & Gardens, Burford, Oxfordshire
That’s not all: at Cotswold Wildlife Park you’ll also find some furry farmyard favourites (who you might even get the chance to stroke and cuddle!) and a fun-filled adventure playground for those sunny days out. Oh, and if you want to see the whole park without getting your feet tired, you can hop on the narrow-gauge railway (April to October, weather permitting) and explore the whole place. If you’re looking for a roar-some zoo near you, somewhere in the South East, Cotswold Wildlife Park should definitely be at the top of your list.
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, Dunstable, Bedfordshire
Fancy a visit to the biggest zoo in the UK? With nearly 4,000 unique animals and 600 acres of stunning lands, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is the proud holder of this title. We know what you’re thinking: how do you get around such a huge place in one day, with kids at that? ZSL Whispande wouldn’t have qualified for our list of the best zoos in the UK if it didn’t have a solution for you and your little animal explorers! There are Micro Trikes available to hire so tots can whizz around the zoo without getting tired out, plus you can also ride the Jumbo Express Steam Train for a scenic view of your favourite animals.
ZSL London Zoo, Greater London
ZSL London Zoo is the world’s oldest scientific zoo and the first in England, dating way back to 1828. That’s not the only record they’re setting; it lays claim to the UK’s only walkthrough spider enclosure (!) which may be a treat or simply terrifying depending on your point of view. If the latter is true, take a detour towards the star of the show, Land of the Lions. This is a roar-some state of the art facility for rare Asiatic lions where you can learn about their breeding programme and see those enormous paws up close. Sadly, there’s only 400 of them left in the wild, so go and show your support for the kings of the jungle!
Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Doncaster, South Yorkshire
You don’t have to travel all the way to the Arctic to see polar bears - Doncaster will do with the UK’s favourite polar bears calling Yorkshire Wildlife Park home. But how rude of us, introductions are in order! Meet Nobby, Nissan, Pixel and Victor; four huge fellas who spend their days in a researched-focused environment swimming, snoozing and waiting for their next meal. Your little wildlings could look on with awe for an hour - or three - before escaping the Arctic chill with a visit to the Monkey Playhouse for all-out bananas antics. Oh, and don’t miss the chance to spot the Amur Tigers, there’s only about 500 of these beauties left in the whole world!
Crocodiles of the World, Brize Norton, Oxfordshire
Prepare to get snap-happy at Crocodiles of the World. When you started looking for a zoo near you, giant lizards probably weren’t what you expected but it would definitely be a unique day out! It’s the only crocodile zoo in the UK with a wide range of modern-day dinosaurs, like saltwater crocs and the delightfully named, Spectacled caiman. There are daily feeds where you can watch as these prehistoric pals chomp on something meaty, while the bravest amongst you can handle a baby alligator. The important thing to remember though is that they’re not monsters, rather misunderstood, so make sure your gang learn as much as possible.
Chester Zoo, Chester, Cheshire
Chester Zoo is your first class ticket to tour the world, with 125 acres of weird and wild habitats. Between the painted dogs of Sub-Saharan Africa and those Visayan warty pigs, you might need a little help seeing every one of the 21,000+ residents in one day. Do so in style by hitching a monorail ride or hopping aboard one of the lazy river boat trips - both make the experience feel like a real adventure as you delve into unknown territory, especially with the opportunity to join the dream team at junior rangers training camp.
Dudley Zoo and Castle, Dudley, West Midlands
Aside from Disney’s Robin Hood, it’s not often castles and creatures come together but at Dudley Zoo and Castle you’ll have the chance to team two days out in one. Introduce yourselves to each of the 1,300+ animals in the place before drawing swords and battling at the 11th-century castle. And while they might not be dressed up in medieval gear, the animals here are a friendly bunch from Jorong the Bornean orangutan to feeding Australian lorikeets with tiny pots of nectar. Just keep an eye out for Pingu who’s the oldest bird in the park and a stalwart of their 60-strong colony of Humboldt penguins.
Bristol Zoo Gardens, Bristol, Somerset and Bristol
Bristol Zoo Gardens has all sorts to keep little legs busy like cheeky meerkats, the seal and penguin coast, a water play area plus 12-acres of award-winning gardens. What makes it one of the best zoos in the UK though is Twilight World: an indoor exhibit where day is night and midnight creatures roam... Travel through the desert at sunset, enter a nocturnal forest and end up in an underground world where a blind naked mole rat might be the only face you can make out! Then after adventuring through the night, you can pop out the other side for an ice cream.
Colchester Zoo, Colchester, Essex
Explorers might joke that they’ll see topped-up tans and loafers without socks in the Essex wilds; instead, there’s more multi-coloured feathers, fluffy tails and shiny scales at Colchester Zoo than you could shake your binoculars at! Set in 60 acres of parkland, there are over 260 species to discover like the winged wonders of Butterfly Glade or Billy Joe and her gang of ape acquaintances at the Chimpanzee Lookout. Also, take the chance to enter Europe’s largest underwater tunnel, the 24-meter ePlaya Patagonia, where 5 female Patagonian sea lions can be found swooping and looping around you.
Banham Zoo, Banham, Norfolk
Banham Zoo is all about extremes: pay a visit to Santos the two-toed sloth down in the ‘Eureka’ subtropical house or fly to dizzy heights with one of the Birds of Prey displays. Join snow leopards, tigers and cheetahs as they prowl through the undergrowth and then leap to the tippy tops of the trees on the Zarafa Heights SkyTrek (or Zarafa Heights Junior SkyTrek). Thrillseekers can navigate wobbly crossings, fly down zip wires and test their nerve with every step as they spy on the world below. It’s also a great way to avoid the crowds with a bird’s eye view.
Belfast Zoo, Belfast, County Antrim
Just a hop, flap and a pounce away from the city castle, Belfast Zoo is a hub for over 120 different species who are facing increasing danger out in their natural habitats. As such conservation is at the heart of everything this UK zoo does and, luckily for us, that means meeting mighty gorillas, monochrome zebras and enormous Malayan sun bears who are all in their care. Make the most of your memories with a trip to the photography base camp; strike a pose and attempt to upstage the other grinning apes in frame.
Edinburgh Zoo, Edinburgh, Edinburgh and Lothian
Here comes lucky number 13 and a celebrity duo. Of course, we’re talking about Edinburgh Zoo’s pair of pandas, Tian Tian (meaning Sweetie) and Yang Guan (Sunshine). They live in two special enclosures full of climbing frames, treehouses and caves where they can play or more likely in panda town, snooze the weeks away while visitors are welcome to pay them a visit and learn all about their incredible journeys. Oh and as well as black and white bears, there’s a fantastic - and free - Hilltop Safari Ride and the UK’s only koalas. Edinburgh might not be the closest zoo near you but it’s definitely worth a trip!