What?: Bab loves animals but I still fail to see the point in paying £60 for me and Bab Dad to drag her around ZSL London Zoo given that 1. she will last a maximum of two hours in any given scenario before she malfunctions and we have to take her home to recharge, 2. she is still confined to her buggy as she is still not walking on her own, which 3. makes her very cross and is not worth it, and 4. I don’t have £60 to spend on taking Bab to the zoo – I could buy 100 packs of Pop Pops with that and I think I know which one she’s going to get more enjoyment out of (still not being sponsored by Pop Pops). So, you can imagine my delight when I discovered there’s a zoo right on our doorstep, and best of all it’s FREE.
Located in the north-eastern corner of Golders Hill Park, this cute but compact zoo takes the form of two large, compartmentalised enclosures filled with rare and exotic birds and animals including Ring-Tailed Lemurs, Patagonian Mara (sort of kangaroo-rabbit people) and White Silkie Bantams (fluffy chickens). There is no entrance as such; rather visitors turn up to the park and wander the periphery of the menagerie, peering through the double fencing in the hope of catching a glimpse of animaux. Next door there is an open-air deer enclosure, which is shared by a family of emu-like Great Rheas, and there is also a butterfly house that’s open between 1 and 3pm each day. It’s small, but there’s enough variety to keep under-fives entertained for a while, provided the animals aren’t asleep, and if that goes tits up then there are two play parks adjacent to the zoo: one with swings and a large climbing frame with slides for older kids, and another aimed at toddlers with a spacious sand-pitted area and small-person-shaped play apparatus.
Where?: The park is situated at the northern end of Hampstead Heath’s West Heath area, just a short walk from Golders Green tube (Northern).
Best Bits: This is a particularly pretty corner of London, with the West Heath and park alone being home to a wealth of tranquil woodland, lush lawns, well-kept gardens and peaceful ponds. Make sure to visit the nearby Hill Garden and Pergola, a heavenly Georgian arbour and terrace boasting serene gardens and breathtaking views across Hampstead Heath. There’s plenty for older kids to explore, loads of room for wrigglers and crawlers, and a lovely peaceful ambience that will soothe even the most frazzled of parents.
Worst Bits: I was very, very disappointed to discover that Jake and Dinos Chapman’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly sculpture, which takes the form of three enormous rusty dinosaurs, has recently upped sticks and moved out of the park. I told Bab there would be dinosaurs and there were none. I have failed her as a parent.
Facilities: The Refreshment House is located in the park’s north-east corner and serves hot and cold drinks, snacks and light meals, although in light of its mediocre-to-damning Trip Advisor reviews you might be better off at the more popular Old Bull and Bush, a family-friendly pub just across the road in North Hampstead. We endured a rather perilous, sweary cross-heath hike with our silly little buggy since the wheels literally came off our heavy-duty pushchair last weekend, so I’d suggest you either invest in a sturdy, tank-like situation or take the main-road route if, like me, you live in fear of some kind of trapped-in-the-woods horror-film scenario a la The Descent. There are also toilets and baby-changing facilities dotted about.
Would We Come Back?: While there is a fair amount to see and do, everything is quite small and can be seen and done quite quickly, so be prepared to traverse the entire park in the space of an afternoon. We will be back because it’s walkable from our flat, but I don’t know if we’d travel across London for a repeat trip.
Bab befriends Bambi at Golders Hill Park deer enclosure, Golders Green.