Last updated on February 18th, 2024 at 05:30 pm
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Are you eager to find out what the best zoos in the UK are and plan your visit?
As a family, we have personally visited nearly all of the zoos listed below and can happily vouch for them.
A day out at the zoo is always fun and there’s definitely something to keep all the family happy. You might feel in two minds about zoos. It’s sad when you see large animals pacing in small cages, not looking their best. Undoubtedly, there are some zoos (abroad, and even in the UK), which don’t care for their animals as they should.
However, the conservation work and breeding programmes run by some of the best zoos in the UK are necessary and important. There are some fantastic zoos which do valuable work, bringing animals back from the brink of extinction and releasing them into the wild again.
To help you choose wisely, I’ve put together this guide to help you find the best UK zoos for you and your family.
The Best Zoos in the UK – South (including Devon and Cornwall)
ZSL London Zoo
ZSL London Zoo is set over 36 acres and is located in Regents Park. It’s more compact than some of the other zoos on this list (head to ZSL Whipsnade for larger animals). However, it’s the oldest zoo in the UK with some fantastic history, contributing to it being, without a doubt, one of the top zoos in the UK.
The first two animals to arrive at London Zoo were a small collection of pheasants. Founded by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (also the founder of Singapore) in 1828, for the first 20 years it was only open to members of the Zoological Society for the purpose of study.
It was opened to the public in 1847 as they needed funding. There’s some great information on ZSL London Zoo’s website about the zoo’s most famous animals over the years and the history of the zoo.
Highlights at ZSL London Zoo include Tiger Territory, the Reptile House (that famous Harry Potter scene was filmed here), and the Gorilla Kingdom.
- Address: Outer Circle, London NW1 4RY
Whipsnade Zoo, also owned by ZSL, is the biggest zoo in the UK. You can drive to different sections of the zoo and park there, which is a good option if you’re with people with little legs. Or you can hop on the Whipsnade safari bus which makes several stops around the park.
Whipsnade also rents out buggies, double buggies and Micro Trikes if you’re making your way around the zoo on foot. Children can bring scooters, to be used under parental supervision.
Whipsnade has a wonderful butterfly house and aquarium. It also has a substantial outdoor play area (the Hullabazoo Adventure Playground) and indoor soft play for rainier days (Hullabazoo Indoor Play).
Whipsnade’s main draws include its elephants, bears and rhinos – plus its wonderful views of the Dunstable Downs. And of course, the fact that it’s the biggest zoo in the UK!
- Address: Whipsnade, Dunstable LU6 2LF
Longleat Safari Park
Longleat opened in 1966 and was the first safari park to open outside of Africa. The setting is impressive: it features a beautiful stately home (which you can take a tour of), now lived in by the 8th Marquess of Bath.
There are some great activities for kids such as a giant maze, the Rockin Rhino ride, miniature railway and Adventure Castle. The drive-through safari will take you through Tiger Territory and Cheetah Kingdom, among other areas. You can also visit other parts of Longleat on foot. Hand-feeding the lorikeets and Koala Creek are highlights.
If you’d like to plan something special, Longleat Safari Park offers VIP experiences (for ages 8 and over). You can even stay at Longleat, in one of the cottages on the premises. Definitely a contender for the best safari park in the UK.
- Address: Warminster BA12 7NW
- Get your Longleat Safari Park tickets here
Port Lympne Reserve
Port Lympne Reserve, based in Kent, offers a really special experience. You can stay at the Port Lympne Mansion Hotel or arrange to have afternoon tea there as a treat. They also offer animal experience days and photography courses. Purchase a ticket with the truck safari included if you want to put your feet up.
Not only is it one of the best safari parks in the UK, but Port Lympne is also a great option if you’d like the experience of staying onsite as part of your experience. There’s loads of choice when it comes to accommodation here – from the hotel itself to glamping.
The biggest draw here has to be the cabins overlooking the different animal habitats – Leopard Creek and Lion Lodge (the most luxurious) are just two of the picks! It’s not cheap and it’s really popular – but if you want to push the boat out when it comes to your animal experiences, there’s not much (in this country, at least) which beats it. One of the best wildlife parks in the UK.
- Address: Aldington Road, Lympne, Hythe CT21 4LR
- Get your Port Lympne Reserve tickets here
You’ll find lots of events and activities for families at Colchester Zoo. From photography workshops for teens to character breakfasts for younger children, there’s always lots happening. You’ll find over 160 species of animals at Colchester Zoo, with highlights including the Komodo dragons and orangutans.
Colchester Zoo is a private zoo (the largest in the UK) which means it receives no external funding. Entrance fees and purchases go towards the upkeep of the zoo and the funding of their charity ‘Action For The Wild’.
For kids, there’s a playground, soft play and ‘Crazy Sand’ (where you can make your own sand-filled bottles). There’s also the Discovery Den and The Lost Madagascar Road Train, as well as opportunities for kids to hand feed the goats, sheep and rainbow lorikeets. If you’re looking for the best zoo in England when it comes to extra activities, this might be it.
- Address: Maldon Road, Stanway, Heckfordbridge, Colchester CO3 0SL
- Get your Colchester Zoo tickets here
Paradise Wildlife Park
Paradise Wildlife Park in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire is compact and easy to get around. While it’s not the biggest zoo in England, it has a remarkably diverse range of animals, given its small size. Paradise Wildlife Park also has a good range of wildlife experiences (we tried the Lemur Experience, which was just amazing)! In fact, we reckon it’s one of the best zoos in England when it comes to animal experience days.
There’s a soft play (Tumble Jumble), World of Dinosaurs, Safari Adventure Golf, miniature train and outdoor play area for kids. Plus the food is good at the Safari Diner.
In 2023, Jaguar Jungle opened at Paradise Wildlife Park. The zoo also be welcomed a pair of Bornean sun bears.
- Address: White Stubbs Lane, Broxbourne EN10 7QA
- Get your Paradise Wildlife Park tickets here
The Wild Place Project, Bristol
Much loved Bristol Zoo closed in September 2022, with plans for a new Bristol Zoo to be completed in 2024. In the meantime, you can visit Wild Place Project in South Gloucestershire, where some of Bristol Zoo’s rarer creatures have moved to. Younger kids will enjoy ‘Hide and Peek’ (fairy doors hidden in the ancient woodland). The Lemur walk-through and Bear Wood (home to wolves, lynxes, wolverines and, of course, bears) are also great features.
In keeping with its name, there are also some ‘wild’ activities here for those braver ones among you. These include The Leap of Faith, the Giant Swing, and Climbing Adventures. Book ahead for tickets for these.
- Address: Wild Place, Blackhorse Hill, Bristol BS10 7TP
- Get your Wild Place Project tickets here
With eighty acres of botanical gardens to explore and over 2000 animals, Paignton Zoo is the UK’s first combined botanical and zoological garden. One of the top zoos in the UK if you’re looking for flora and fauna in addition to animals!
The zoo started as the private collection of animals of eccentric billionaire Herbert Whitely in 1923 and has since expanded significantly. Paignton Zoo has a nature trail, an outdoor play area, a Jungle Soft Play, and a fun wobbly bridge in Lemur Wood.
There are also a number of great animal experiences on offer, including a Giant Tortoise Experience for children aged 8 and over. As Paignton Zoo is not one of the biggest zoos in the UK, you’ll be able to get around it in half a day (although a full day of fun is preferable if possible).
- Address: Totnes Road, Paignton TQ4 7EU
- Get your Paignton Zoo tickets here
Shaldon Wildlife Trust, Devon
Shaldon Wildlife Trust is a tiny zoo compared to some of the others on this list – it measures just one acre. However, it does lots of conservation work on behalf of critically endangered primates.
You’ll find lemurs, capuchins, slow lorises and cotton-top tamarins here. Shaldon Wildlife Trust also houses other small mammals such as margay (spotted cats native to the Americas), meerkats and armadillos.
One of the top zoos in England if you’re looking for an easy-going experience and you’re limited on time. It’s also worth exploring the lovely fishing village of Shaldon while you’re there.
- Address: Ness Drive, Shaldon, Teignmouth TQ14 0HP
- Get your tickets for Shaldon Wildlife Trust here
The Best Zoos in the UK – North (including Midlands, Scotland and Wales)
Open since 1931, Chester Zoo is vast and has a huge team of conservationists, scientists, vets and zookeepers working on its breeding programmes and caring for all the animals who live there. Chester Zoo is particularly renowned for its breeding of Asian elephants. In fact, Chester Zoo was the first zoo in the UK to successfully breed them in captivity.
Chester Zoo has more animals than any other zoo. 21,000 across 500 different species to be exact (or perhaps approximately) – making it the biggest zoo in the UK (and most likely the world) in terms of animal count. Chester Zoo has so much to see, I’d recommend staying overnight (if you’re not local) and spending two full days there.
There are lots of extra activities you can pack into your day out at Chester Zoo, including Breakfast with the Lions, an early morning ‘secret life of the zoo’ tour bus and some great animal experiences. A must for animal lovers and a strong candidate for top of the list when it comes to the best zoos in the UK.
- Address: Moston Road, Upton, Chester CH2 1EU
- Get your Chester Zoo tickets here
West Midland Safari Park
West Midland Safari Park is one of the biggest safari parks in the UK and it has an exciting new addition: Tiger Tropics. For the first time, you can see the tigers whilst on foot. Make sure you check out the African Walking Trail too. Head to the Grasslands Viewpoint to see the elephants and to Savannah Viewpoint to see the Giraffes and White Rhinos.
You can choose to drive your own car around the safari park or take the park’s minibus if you prefer (book seats in advance for £7.50 per person). West Midland Safari Park also has a theme park attached to it with rides for all ages. Plus Land of the Living Dinosaurs which younger kids will love.
You can purchase tickets for the safari park individually, or buy a ticket for the safari park with a wristband for the theme park too. If you’re looking for thrills as well as wildlife, West Midland Safari Park is definitely the best safari park in the UK for you.
- Address: Spring Grove, Bewdley DY12 1LF
- Get your West Midland Safari Park tickets here
Welsh Mountain Zoo
Overlooking Colwyn Bay, the Welsh Mountain Zoo has breathtaking views. The zoo began life in 1963 as a small family business but is now the most established zoo in Wales.
Highlights include Sumatran tigers, Margay, Red Faced Spider monkeys, California Sea Lions and Red Pandas. The zoo particularly prides itself on its beautiful gardens and works to ensure the conservation of flora and fauna as well as animals, with some rare and endangered plant species.
There are several different animal experiences on offer here, including encounters with the zoo’s primates, meerkats and California Sea Lions for children aged over 7 years old.
- Address: Old Hwy, Colwyn Bay LL28 5UY
- Get your Welsh Mountain Zoo tickets here
Dudley Zoo and Castle
Dudley Zoo opened in 1937; the idea of the castle’s owner at that time, the third Earl of Dudley. The zoo was designed by modernist architects who created a new design of buildings (Tectons) in which to house the animals.
Dudley Zoo features a number of endangered animals, including Asiatic Lions, Sumatran Tigers, Bornean Orangutans and Tibetian Red Pandas.
There’s a vintage chairlift and of course, the Castle (admission to this is included in your ticket for the zoo) to explore.
- Address: Castle Hill, Dudley DY1 4QF
- Get your tickets to Dudley Zoo here
Knowsley Safari Park
You can explore Knowsley Safari Park on foot or by car. With a length stretching 5 miles, Knowsley has the longest safari drive in the UK. It’s split into ‘continental zones’ with animals from different parts of the world in each section. From Bactrian Camels and Yaks in Asia to Lions and White Rhinos in Africa, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
If you don’t drive or would rather leave your car in the car park, you can hop on the Baboon Bus which will take you around the drive-through section, for £6.50 per person.
The foot safari will take you to the Amur Tiger Trail and to see the meerkats, giraffes and sea lions.
You’ll also find rides for smaller and bigger kids at Knowsley. You’re guaranteed a packed day out.
- Address: Prescot L34 4AN
- Get your Knowsley Safari Park tickets here
Edinburgh Zoo, which was opened in 1913, is the largest wildlife attraction in Scotland. It’s home to giraffes, penguins, koalas, sloths and a pair of giant pandas, Yang Guang and Tian Tian. You’ll have to be quick if you want to see them, though. They’re due to travel back to China in 2023, following a 10-year stay at Edinburgh Zoo. The zoo is also home to more than 2,500 other animals.
Edinburgh Zoo offers an extensive range of ‘Magic Moments’ where you can get up close to the animals. For smaller kids, they have a ‘Close Encounters Family Magic Moment’. The zoo’s walk-through ‘Dinosaurs’ exhibition is also fun for children.
- Address: 134 Corstorphine Road, Corstorphine, Edinburgh EH12 6TS
Blair Drummond Safari Park, Stirling
Near Stirling, Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park was established in 1970. It’s one of the best safari parks in the UK, one of the first (following Longleat Safari Park in 1966) and the only one in Scotland.
While you’re best off making your way around the park by car, you can visit the animals on foot too. There are over 300 animals at Blair Drummond Safari Park, including a beautiful pair of Amur tigers. A baby White Rhino was recently born at Blair Drummond so keep your eye out for him.
In addition to the animals, Blair Drummond has a giant play fort, mini funfair and dinosaur forest.
- Address: Blair Drummond, Stirling FK9 4UR
- Get your Blair Drummond Safari Park tickets here
Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig
Highland Wildlife Park predominantly features animals which are used to colder climates (this is Scotland, after all). Its main attraction is its polar bears. There are 4 here currently, including the UK’s only polar bear cub, Brodie (he’s 1 year old now). We also loved seeing the arctic fox, snow leopard and wolves at Highland Wildlife Park.
Highland Wildlife Park runs ‘Magic Moments’ giving you a chance to get up close to some of these wonderful creatures (currently these are mainly for teenagers and adults).
Highland Wildlife Park has a small drive-through section (this is where the polar bears are) and the rest is on foot and fairly compact. We loved Highland Wildlife Park and definitely feel it should make the list of the top zoos in the UK.
- Address: Kincraig, Kingussie PH21 1NL
- Get your Highland Wildlife Park tickets here
Head to my article on The Best Animal Experience Days in the UK if you’re looking to add a special experience to your day out at one of the best zoos in the UK.