Visit ZSL London Zoo and experience the animal magic without the crowds

What?: Ok so we’ve all been to London Zoo, and judging by how spectacularly their site crashed when they released the first batch of tickets post-lockdown, we’ve all been since the COVID measures were put in place too. Now, I’ve mentioned before how icky I feel admitting that even a brief moment of my existence has been positively impacted by a killer virus, but I will also say that if, like me, you passionately hate huge crowds of people, now is your moment to do all the activities that usually attract them (with the exception of shopping centres, because they remain utterly awful). I’m writing this for those of you – and there must be some of you – who have yet to experience the zoo in Coronatimes, and for myself, because we had such a splendidly stress-free, magical day at the new socially distanced, one-way-systemed, antibac-charged zoo, I want to remember it forever.

By far the best thing about the new zoo, aside from the lack of people, is the route system. Now presumably the main point of said system is to keep everyone moving in one direction, and hopefully as spread out across the zoo site as they can be, which it did. However, it also had the ingenious side effect of making sure we saw absolutely everything without even trying, and added a fun ‘game’ element for the kids because we had to follow a particular set of coloured arrows. Actually I initially assumed we’d only manage one route, but the combination of the arrows keeping us moving and the lack of crowds meant we finished the first one within an hour, and by the time we’d done the second one we thought we might as well do the third. Plus the zoo is so painfully expensive it felt ridiculous not to see everything. Actually, we liked the orange route so much (Animal Adventure, Land of the Lions, penguins) we did it twice… and the tiger bit – we did that twice too.

I’ve been trying to pinpoint exactly what made this particular zoo visit so awesome, bearing in mind that: 1. It was the first time I’ve ever taken the girls by myself; 2. Roro had the most epically awful tantrum she’s ever had while we were in the reptile house and everybody stared. She eventually knocked herself out with all the crying and then woke up in the playground in an even worse mood than before, then resumed the awful tantrum but with more energy. Actually it was so bad another parent with older kids felt compelled to come over and reassure me that everything would be okay, eventually; 3. I paid £50 for one adult and two tiny children, which roughly equates to 21p per minute if you spend four hours there. Spending that much money puts a hell of a lot of pressure on the day being utterly magical, which usually means it won’t be; 4. The whole pandemic thing was happening, and it really is such a downer.

Basically, I think just being able to wander unobstructed by other humans without having to worry about losing toddlers in a sea of legs, combined with the fact that our itinerary had been predetermined, made the whole thing so much less stressful than it usually is. The only mildly traumatic bits were having to queue for the concave penguin window thing, because Roro does not queue and gets very angry when I try to make her; and part one of the epic tantrum (I completely zoned out during part two and let her just writhe and scream and claw me while other parents looked on in abject horror). I often look back on really awful days and think they might have actually been okay if it wasn’t for other people, and this is an excellent case in point. So from now on we’ll only be going to the zoo during global pandemics (or, y’know, midweek during term time).

My favourite zoo-day moments included: getting to see a lion and a tiger up close. Obviously this was sheer luck and there is absolutely no trick to catching a glimpse of them. Actually we’ve never seen the tigers before so that was pretty special. The reptile house was another highlight, even with a very angry baby in tow, purely because Babu was so fascinated by everything and stood staring into all the tanks for ages asking a million questions about all of them, which was so lovely and really made me wish I knew stuff. I’d also promised them both a small soft toy from the gift shop at the end of the day and Babu really enjoyed choosing hers – and then blow-drying it when we got home because we got absolutely drenched in a freak rain storm, which somehow added to the magic (obviously Roma didn’t give a shit about hers and threw it in a puddle on the way home).

Where and when? London Zoo is open every day from 10am-6pm and you must currently pre-book for 10am, 12pm or 2pm entry. The zoo can be found on Outer Circle, NW1 4RY, and is a 15-minute walk from Camden Town tube. The car park is outside the congestion zone but costs £14.50 for four hours’ parking.

Best Bits: Always the big cats, especially since we actually got to see them this time.

Worst Bits: I always slightly resent paying so much for tickets but ZSL really needs the money, especially at the moment, and on this occasion it really was worth every penny.

Facilities: Baby changing, step-free access, loads of cafes/ice cream kiosks.

Cost: £30-£35* per adult, £19.50-£22.75* per child aged 3-15, free for under-2s (*dependent on season/day of the week).

Would We Come Back?: Yes.

Babu meets a Sumatran tiger at ZSL London Zoo, Regent’s Park.