The London Zoo is the world’s oldest scientific zoo and is home to over 20,000 animals comprising 698 species. It was opened as a scientific institution in 1828 with animals from the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London and was opened to the public in 1847. The zoo was established by Sir Stamford Raffles (of Raffles Hotel fame) and Sir Humphry Davy and its first animals included the Arabian oryx, orangutan and the now extinct quagga and thylacine (Tasmanian tiger).
What to see at London Zoo
The zoo is home to 20,000 animals comprising 698 species.
Animal enclosures at the zoo include:
- African Bird Safari is a walk-through enclosure that is home to a variety of African bird life.
- Animal Adventure is aimed mainly at children and includes alpacas, donkeys, llamas, sheep and more exotic species such as aardvarks, prairie dogs, meerkats, yellow mongooses and crested porcupines.
- The Aquarium at London Zoo opened in 1853, making it the world’s first public aquarium; although the current structure dates from 1921. The Aquarium is split into three areas, one for freshwater fish, one for tropical fish found on coral reefs and the third hall with species from the Amazon River including piranhas.
- The Attenborough Komodo Dragon House is home to three Komodo dragons.
- The Blackburn Pavilion is an aviary that houses tropical birds including the Mindanao bleeding-heart, scarlet ibis and toco toucans.
- The Tiny Giants enclosure has the largest number of individual animals with over 140 species including ants, beetles, crickets, rats and spiders.
- Butterfly Paradise is the zoo’s butterfly house with a variety of butterflies and moths from around the world.
- The Giants of the Galápagos is home to five Galápagos giant tortoises.
- Gorilla Kingdom with six western lowland gorillas.
- In with the Lemurs is a walk-through exhibit with ten ring-tailed lemurs plus aye-ayes and chameleons.
- The Into Africa enclosure is home to African wildlife including giraffes, pygmy hippopotamus, okapi, warthog and zebras.
- Land of the Lions has Asiatic lions, plus Hanuman langurs and dwarf mongoose.
- Meet the Monkeys is a walk-through enclosure that is home to 20 black-capped squirrel monkeys.
- Outback is an Australian-themed enclosure with emus, kangaroos and wallabies.
- Penguin Beach is the largest penguin enclosure of any English zoo. It is home to 70 Humboldt penguins.
- Rainforest Life and Night Life. Rainforest Life is an indoor walk-through exhibit with rainforest animals including flying fox, marmosets, monkeys, sloths and tamarins. The adjoining Night Life exhibit showcases nocturnal rainforest animals including bats, galago, lorises, Malagasy giant rats and blind cave fish.
- The Reptile House opened in 1927 with a refurbished amphibian section opening in 2012. This building is home to chameleons, crocodiles, iguanas and snakes.
- The Snowdon Aviary has a variety of birdlife including little egrets, northern bald ibis, sacred ibis and green peafowl. This enclosure was co-designed by Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon (Lord Snowdon), the photographer who was once married to Princess Margaret.
- The Tiger Territory enclosure is home to four Sumatran tigers plus northern white-cheeked gibbon, bearded pigs and Malayan tapir.
London Zoo in literature and popular culture
London Zoo has been the home of several famous animals that have been immortalised in literature and popular culture. These include elephants Jumbo and Dumbo, Winnipeg the bear and Chi Chi the panda bear.
Jumbo the elephant was acquired from Jardin des Plantes in Paris in 1865. At the time Jumbo was the world’s largest elephant and the word jumbo has since come to refer to anything large and even lent his name to the Boeing 747 Jumbo jet.
An American black bear named Winnipeg was given to the zoo in 1914 and after a visit to the zoo by author A A Milne and his son Christopher Robin, A A Milne wrote the Winnie-the-Pooh series of children’s books.
Chi Chi the giant panda arrived at the London Zoo in 1958 and throughout the 1960s was the zoo’s star attraction, and at the time was the only panda in captivity outside China. Chi Chi was the inspiration for the World Wildlife Fund logo.
The Burmese python scene from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was filmed at the Reptile House.
Visiting London Zoo
London Zoo is located at the northeastern corner of Regent’s Park. Although there are no tube stations in the immediate vicinity there are a couple of stations within a 10 to 15-minute walk, although bus route 274 (which runs between Angel Islington and Lancaster Gate) will take you closest to the main entrance. Bus 274 runs every 7–10 minutes and also stops at Baker Street tube station, where you can transfer to five different tube lines.
The closest underground station is Camden Town (Northern line), which is a 12-minute walk. Great Portland Street (Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines) and Regents Park (Bakerloo line) stations are both a 22-minute walk from the zoo, but it is a lovely walk through Regents Park.
You can easily spend the whole day at London Zoo. Because you can spend so long here it is not really the best place to come if you’re trying to get the most value from your London Pass, but on the other hand, it means that your admission fee (although expensive) is better value than many other sights in London.
If you don’t have a London Pass it is best to buy your admission ticket online as this will save you 10% off the entry charge.
If you live near the zoo and have children, then you may want to consider becoming a ZSL member. ZSL membership gives you unlimited entry to both ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo for one year as well as free off-peak parking and discounts at the zoo’s gift shops and restaurants.
Although this is an excellent zoo with a rich history, there is nothing uniquely London about it so it shouldn’t be a top priority when this city has so many other sights that you can’t see anywhere else but it is well worth the visit if you live nearby, are staying in London long-term or if you are a frequent visitor to London.
The Zoological Society of London also operates the more spacious ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire where larger animals such as elephants and rhinoceros are kept.