London is often described as a zoo by both residents and visitors, being one of the world’s largest and most bustling urban jungles. However if you want to get up close and personal with some real wildlife while in the city you might want to think about visiting one (or more) of the world-class menageries and safari parks that can be found in and around the capital.
Naturally, wild animals need a lot of space to roam, which is why many of the best wildlife parks are located outside of London in the countryside, where there’s enough room to accommodate prides of lions, herds of elephants and other incredible beasts. Many of these reserves are too big (and dangerous) to explore on foot and can only be enjoyed from inside a vehicle. For these reasons it may be a good idea to hire a car in London, which you can then use as your personal safari truck, discovering some of the most exciting animals this side of the Serengeti.
Of course there’s only one place for animal lovers to start when visiting the capital and that’s London Zoo. Set across 36 acres inside Regent’s Park and run by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), its main attractions include the Tiger Territory, Giants of the Galapagos, Gorilla Kingdom and Penguin Beach, all of which are absolutely teeming with wildlife. Live shows involving tigers and penguins are also staged daily, and anyone wishing to get in touch with their ancestral roots can do so at the Meet the Monkeys enclosure.
Generally considered to be one of the best zoos on the planet, London Zoo regularly receives praise for the quality of its enclosures, which perfectly mimic the wild and provide the ideal habitat for the many animals that call the place home.
Located in Dunstable, Whipsnade Zoo is also run by ZSL and is one of the aforementioned wildlife reserves that are best enjoyed in a car. Set across 600 acres, this amazing park is home to more than 2,500 animals and contains a pride of lions and a herd of elephants, along with rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes and much more. It really is the closest you can get to a real safari without travelling to Kenya or Tanzania.
Taking a drive to Colchester is a great way to spend a day, with this being the oldest inhabited town in England. It’s not just humans that live here though, with Colchester Zoo generally considered to be among the top facilities of its kind in Europe.
The Spirit of Africa and Kingdom of the Wild enclosures contain a truly amazing collection of wild animals such as elephants and zebras, while the Walking Giants area houses three of the world’s four largest tortoises! Other great attractions include the Lost Madagascar Walkthrough Lemur Enclosure and the ever-popular Penguin Shores.
Over in Kent you’ll find Howletts Wild Animal Park, which really is a unique place. Having been set up as a private wildlife reserve by John Aspinall in 1957, it covers 90 acres of parkland just outside the historic city of Canterbury, and houses a number of large and small cats including tigers.
The Walking with Lemurs enclosure, meanwhile, allows visitors to get a close look at some of the park’s residents, while kids can take part in Junior Ranger Days, which offer them the chance to go behind the scenes and find out what life is like for the people who look after the animals.