The sheer amount of choice makes crowning the best zoo in the UK an extremely difficult decision.
Besides the numerous options, many zoos have also evolved over the years to expand their offerings and give themselves an edge over the competition, with sprawling safari zones and action packed adventure parks.
If you have any animal enthusiasts in the family then a trip to the zoo is always an exciting day out, encountering exotic animals from far flung corners of the Earth and getting up close and personal with deadly predators.
Whether you are interested in creepy crawlies and reptiles, or slightly cuddlier species such as Pandas or Koalas, the UK has it all.
This article provides a comprehensive list of zoos in the UK which we think stand out from the crowd, offering the best family experience and selection of animals.
Our choice of 15 zoos are spread across the British Isles, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
1. Cotswold Wildlife Park
This zoo consists of 160 acres of beautifully landscaped parkland, featuring stunning gardens and is home to over 260 species of animals.
Its primary exhibits are the walled garden, the Madagascar area, the woodland walk, the large mammals zone and the insect, bat and reptile houses.
Some of the more exotic residents of the Cotswold Wildlife Park are the Pygmy Marmosets, Giant Anteaters, White Rhinos and the rare Clouded Leopard.
This unique zoo is built around an historic manor house, with a former train station and a 600 year old oak tree, with animal exhibits cleverly placed around the site to immerse guests in its history and nature.
The estate was built in 1804 and was transformed into a zoo in 1970, now welcoming around 350,000 people each year.
Online Tickets: Adults (£16), Children aged 3-16 (£11), Senior Citizens (£11)
Address: Bradwell Grove, Burford OX18 4JP
2. Blackpool Zoo
No list of UK zoos would be complete without Blackpool Zoo located on the Lancashire coast which remains one of the nation’s most popular seaside resorts.
Opened in 1972, this zoo is home to 1,350 animals and is built on the site of the former Stanley Park Aerodrome.
The zoo’s most significant investment is Project Elephant which provides a multi-terrain habitat for the giant mammals, including the largest indoor elephant house in the UK.
The enclosure is home to six elephants in total, including a 49 year old female named Kate.
Online Tickets: Adults (£19.95), Children aged 3-15 (£15.50), Students & Senior Citizens (£17.95)
Address: E Park Dr, Blackpool FY3 8PP
3. Folly Farm Adventure Park & Zoo
The first of our Welsh zoos, Folly Farm is situated close to Tenby in Pembrokeshire, boasting around 500,000 visitors each year. This adventure park consists of a zoo, vintage funfair and indoor & outdoor play areas.
The zoo’s state-of-the-art, saltwater Penguin Coast enclosure is home to 24 Humboldt Penguins, while the Kiafru Reserve is a breeding facility for Eastern Black Rhinos.
Fun Fact – This zoo started life as a dairy farm where families would regularly stop by the roadside to stroke the cattle, giving the farmer the idea to welcome visitors.
Online Tickets: Adults (£19.95), Children aged 3-15 (£17.95), Senior Citizens (£17.95)
Address: Begelly, Kilgetty, Pembrokeshire SA68 0XA
4. Paignton Zoo Environmental Park
Devon’s Paignton Zoo Environmental Park is considered one of the top UK zoos and houses a collection of about 2,000 animals from 300 species, as well as 1,600 different species of plant.
Made up of numerous, themed exhibits, the zoo has many endangered species on show, including Western Lowland Gorillas, Bornean Orangutans, Asiatic Lions and Sumatran Tigers.
Welcoming visitors since 1923, Paignton is one of the older zoos on our list and was one of the earliest combinations of a zoological park and botanical garden in Britain.
The 2017 TV show, ‘The Zoo’ was also filmed here.
Online Tickets: Adults (£20.45), Children aged 3-15 (£15.30), Students and Senior Citizens (£17.35)
Address: Totnes Rd, Paignton TQ4 7EU
5. Welsh Mountain Zoo
Next in our list of UK zoos is another contender from Wales, the Welsh Mountain Zoo which is located just a stone’s throw away from Colwyn Bay.
The zoo was opened in 1963 by nature enthusiast, Robert Jackson and over the years it has expanded to include unique enclosures like the Sea Lion Rock and the Lemur Walkthrough.
In 2006, the zoo welcomed a pair of extremely rare and endangered Snow Leopards who have become the park’s jewel in the crown.
Online Tickets: Adults (£14.39), Children aged 3-15 (£10.83), Senior Citizens (£12.73)
Address: Colwyn Bay LL28 5UY
6. Longleat Safari & Adventure Park
Although primarily a safari park, Longleat does have enough exhibits to provide an excellent day out without risking scratches on your car! This was the first drive-through safari park outside of Africa and has been featured in numerous BBC television shows.
The enclosures can be found in the park’s main square, alongside a range of fun activities. Enjoy a jungle cruise on Longleat’s half mile lake, or take a stroll in Koala Creek and Jungle Kingdom to be almost teleported to another continent.
Longleat’s railway is also amongst the busiest miniature railways in the country, stretching over 2 kilometres, with three diesel locomotives and fifteen carriages.
Online Tickets (including safari): Adults (£34.95) Children aged 3-15 (£26.20), Senior Citizens (£31.45)
Address: Warminster BA12 7NW
7. Bristol Zoo
The world’s oldest provincial zoo, opening in 1836, Bristol Zoo is one of the smallest parks on our list but still provides a great day out for visitors, both young and old.
This Victorian walled zoo is close to the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge and plays an important role in wildlife conservation.
Animals represented at Bristol Zoo include; Pygmy Hippos, Lions, Red Pandas, Aye Ayes, Quolls, Gorillas, Marmosets and much more.
It was announced last year that the zoo’s main Clifton site will be closed in 2022, with the animals being moved to the modern Wild Place Project which is made up of a series of biomes which can emulate specific habitats.
The Wild Place Project will officially open in early 2024, a potential new rival for best UK zoo.
Online Tickets (including donation): Adults (£17.84), Children aged 2-14 (£12.10)
Address: College Rd, Clifton, Bristol BS8 3HA
8. Belfast Zoo
The Northern Irish entrant in our list of zoos in the UK is Belfast Zoo, set in a secluded location away from the city, offering a tranquil and relaxing experience for guests and animals alike, which is something the park is frequently praised for.
Belfast Zoo welcomes around 350,000 guests every year and takes care of over 1,200 animals, with the vast majority of the species classed as ‘at risk’ back in their natural habitat.
Startling life as a pleasure garden, miniature railway and playground, the area evolved in the 1920s and 1930s to include a zoological collection and quickly became one of Northern Ireland’s premier paid attractions.
In total the zoo cost £10,000 to build, which is the equivalent of £700,000 in today’s money.
Online Tickets (with donation): Adults (£14), Children aged 4-16 (£7), Students & Senior Citizens (£7)
Address: Antrim Rd, Belfast, Newtownabbey BT36 7PN
9. Twycross Zoo
If you’re a lover of monkeys then Twycross Zoo is surely a contender for the best zoo in the UK, with the largest collection of monkeys and apes in the Western World – an accolade which led to the zoo relaunching itself as the World Primate Centre in 2006.
Established in 1963 and located in Leicestershire, Twycross attracts almost 650,000 visitors a year, based on the most recent data collected in 2019.
It is home to around 500 animals, belonging to 150 species, including all four of the ‘Great Apes’ – the Gorilla, Orangutan, Chimpanzee and the Bonobo.
Twycross Zoo has earned itself a global reputation for the breeding of primates, recording the first UK births of thirteen different species, such as the Agile Gibbon, Siamang and Woolly Monkey.
Fun Fact – Some of the park’s resident Chimpanzees were given leading roles in the popular PG Tips tea adverts which spanned a number of decades.
Online Tickets: Adults (£21.95), Children aged 2-16 (£16.95), Students & Senior Citizens (£19.50)
Address: East Midland Zoological Society, Burton Rd, Atherstone CV9 3PX
10. Marwell Zoo
Located in Winchester, Marwell Zoo is often discussed as a contender for best UK zoo, with 1,208 animals spread across 140 acres. Managed by the charity, Marwell Wildlife, the zoo acts as the HQ for many conservational and educational activities, predominantly centred around Africa.
Opened in 1972 the zoo quickly established itself as a breeding centre for many protected species – the park’s founder, Dr John Knowles was awarded an OBE for services to conservation in 1991.
The zoo now features many themed areas and visitors can check out the Sloths in the Tropical House, count their steps on an Australian Bush Walk or enjoy feeding time at Penguin Cove, amongst other fun and interesting exhibits.
Recently a rare Javan chevrotain Mouse Deer was born in Marwell, one of the smallest hoofed animals in the world.
Fun Fact – The zoo’s original owner Dr John Knowles sold his Rolls Royce to purchase zebras as the park’s first exhibit.
Online Tickets (including donation): Adults (£22), Children aged 3-16 (£18), Students & Senior Citizens (£19.50)
Address: Thompson’s Ln, Colden Common, Winchester SO21 1JH
11. Colchester Zoo
No list of UK zoos would be complete without Colchester Zoo, attracting around 1 million visitors each year. Home to a range of rare and endangered animals, with over 5,600 animals across 60 acres. Colchester Zoo is constantly expanding and adding new exhibits, with the park already boasting over 30 main areas to explore.
Giant Tortoises, Amur Tigers, Sun Bears and Komodo Dragons can all be found at this brilliant Essex Zoo which has been welcoming animal lovers for nearly sixty years. The park also offers a perfect place to relax in its many gardens, Butterfly Glade and Koi Carp pools.
Online Tickets: Adults (£17.99), Children aged 3-15 (£14.40), Senior Citizens (£16.20)
Address: Maldon Rd, Heckfordbridge, Colchester CO3 0SL
12. Edinburgh Zoo
Located within Scotland’s capital, a short distance from the main centre, Edinburgh Zoo was built in 1913 and its hilltop location offers stunning views of the city to be enjoyed by guests and its many residents.
600,000 visitors a year pass through its gates to observe the 171 different species who call the park home.
Edinburgh Zoo famously leased two Giant Pandas from China for a cost of around £700,000 each year, after investing in a bespoke enclosure which cost £285,000, becoming the only zoo in the UK to house the creature.
Fun Fact: This zoo was the first in the world to house and breed Penguins.
Online Tickets (including donation): Adults (£21.95), Children aged 3-15 years (£12.50), Students and Senior Citizens (£19.95)
Address: Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, 134 Corstorphine Rd, Corstorphine, Edinburgh EH12 6TS
13. London Zoo
The nation’s capital was surely going to receive a mention when discussing the best zoo in the UK, with a whopping 1.25 million visitors flocking to Regent’s Park each year.
London Zoo contains an incredible 673 different species and boasts the accolades of opening the world’s first reptile house, public aquarium and insect house.
This is the world’s oldest scientific zoo, built in 1831 and the first batch of animals were transferred from the Tower of London for study, with the zoo later opened to the public in 1847.
London Zoo is the location of the Sir David Attenborough Komodo Dragon House and another popular exhibit is the Giants of the Galapagos enclosure which was built in 2009 to commemorate the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin.
Fun Fact – London Zoo was home to the only photographed Quagga (a type of Zebra) in existence, before its extinction.
Online Tickets: Adults (£26.60), Children aged 3-15 (£17.30), Senior Citizens (£23.60)
Address: Regent’s Park, Outer Cir, London NW1 4RY
14. Chester Zoo
Chester Zoo is not only a challenger for the top zoo in the UK but also Europe, featuring in many lists compiled on the continent.
It is one of the largest zoos in the UK, spread across 130 acres and it is the most visited zoo in Britain, with 2 million annual visitors, based on 2019 figures.
In order to avoid the traditional Victorian zoo design which featured iron bars, Chester Zoo used a concept developed by Swiss biologist, Heini Hediger to create one of the world’s first modern zoos which used moats and ditches to contain animals.
In 2009 the zoo also completed the necessary work to earn the title of largest conservation attraction in Europe.
Popular exhibits include; Elephants of the Asian Forest, Realm of the Red Ape and Bears of the Cloud Forest. Chester Zoo is home to over 500 different species in over 30 different enclosures.
In 2007, Forbes Magazine ranked Chester Zoo in its 15 best zoos in the world!
Online Tickets: Adults (£25.45), Children (£20.90), Concessions (£23.63)
Address: Chester CH2 1EU
15. Whipsnade Zoo
For sheer size, Whipsnade reigns supreme and anyone who has visited will agree that it would be a worthy winner of best zoo in the UK.
This zoo is vast and anyone planning to visit is advised to wear a comfortable pair of walking shoes if they plan on seeing all Whipsnade has to offer.
A derelict farm was purchased by the Zoological Society of London 1926 with the intention of building a conservation centre which later became Whipsnade Zoo in 1931 – the first zoo made easily accessible to the public in Europe.
Cheetah Rock and the African Hunting Dog enclosure are two of Whipsnade’s most popular attractions, in addition to regular shows at the Sea Lion Splash and Bird of the World areas, plus educational talks at the Penguin, Lemur and Giraffe habitats for any budding zoologists.
Fun Fact – This zoo is so large it even has its own bus service to take visitors from one area to the next.
Online Tickets: Adults (£30), Children aged 3-15 (£19.50), Students & Senior Citizens (£27)
Address: Whipsnade, Dunstable LU6 2LF
We hope you have enjoyed reading our list of the 15 best zoos in the UK which are in need of public support more than ever during this very challenging time.