A magical overnight stay at London Zoo – South London News

For almost 200 years now, London Zoo has been one of the go-to days out our great capital has to offer.

We visit at least three or four times a year as there is always a new enclosure or exhibit to see – and even if there’s not you’re guaranteed to see things you never spotted before.

At Christmastime the zoo turns into a magical wonderland, lit up with spectacular beauty.

But this year the team at the Regent’s Park zoo have gone one step further, offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse during next week’s London Zoo Lodges’ Meet Santa Experience, a limited series of magical, festive sleepovers, which kick-off on Friday.

My wife, Hayley, and I were lucky enough to be among the first guests for this astonishing experience, visiting as we did with our 10-year-old daughter, Nellie, and her 13-year-old cousin Jessie during Friday’s press night.

Nellie and Jessie with Santa 1Nellie Stong (centre) with Jessie Coventry-Townsend and Father Christmas (Picture: Charlie Stong)

We arrived at the zoo shortly before 5pm and were welcomed by the team of incredibly enthusiastic guides, who without doubt genuinely love their jobs – and how couldn’t you?

We received a welcome glass of Prosecco – juices for the kids – in our lovely little lodge, equipped with an en-suite bathroom, before we were visited by Father Christmas himself, who brought the girls a gift and chatted away as they looked on in wonder.

Our first of three private, out-of-hours tours of the zoo, started shortly after Santa had left for the evening.

Any visit to the zoo is one to be remembered, but being guided by the experts when the place is actually closed to the public is truly something else.

Their enthusiasm is infectious and their manner instantly puts guests at ease, creating a friendly atmosphere where everyone feels immediately comfortable in asking all sorts of questions about the animals.

ZSL London Zoo lions in the snow c ZSL 3ZSL London Zoo lions in the snow c ZSL 3ZSL London Zoo lions in the snow (Picture: ZSL London Zoo)

Our lodges were based near the Land of the Lions, the permanent exhibit recreating a little bit of the Gir National Park in Gujurat, India, home to the incredible Asiatic Lions, right here in the heart of London.

Bhanu, the zoo’s male, and his female partner Arya, were snuggled up together like two domestic cats in the front of the fire, prompting one enthusiastic youngster to ask if it would be safe for us to go inside the enclosure. We declined.

After a wander around the first section of the zoo it was time for dinner. And what indulgence. We all enjoyed a great two-course meal, of Coq au Vin for Hayley, smoked haddock, caper and pea fishcake for me (there was also a vegetarian option of butternut, chickpea, and pepper tagine) and chicken nuggets, potato wedges and beans for the girls, followed by a combination of chocolate brownie, fruit compote, whipped cream, and raspberry puree and Blackberry, apple and coconut drizzle cake and cinnamon custard.

The meals – both dinner and the next morning’s ample buffet breakfast – are included in the price, but alcoholic drinks are extra.

Next for tour number two before bed, and the walk was much-needed after the hearty dinner.

That evening we visited some of the zoo’s more nocturnal creatures, such as the splendid porcupines and Aye Ayes, a lemur native to Madagascar, before heading behind the scenes to make up some enriching food for the animals the following morning.

Jimmy White Cheeked Gibbon cZSLJimmy White Cheeked Gibbon cZSLJimmy – White Cheeked Gibbon (Picture: ZSL London Zoo)

Enrichment is a big thing at London Zoo. The staff are incredibly attentive to the animals’ welfare and keeping them inquisitive and fulfilled is just as important as feeding them the correct diet – the cost of which spirals into the millions every year.

Soon it was time for bed and a cosy night in our lodge, Prancer – each of the homes are named after Santa’s reindeer.

We were up early at 7am for a fabulous buffet breakfast, full English, but also cereals, juices, teas and coffees – everything you could want – before our third and final tour took in, among other things, the tigers and their six-month-old cubs, and the South American Humboldt Penguins.

With the guides on-hand you find out so much more about the animals – for example the fact that the penguins’ black back and white belly are to blend in with the sea bed and the sky to try to deter predators.

Herbie the porcupette c ZSLHerbie the porcupette c ZSLHerbie the porcupette (Picture: ZSL London Zoo)

And then there was Jimmy, one of the zoo’s most sociable inhabitants – a gibbon who when we turned our backs to look at the tigers showed his displeasure by banging on his glass.

Lucy, one of our expert guides, told us that Jimmy missed the presence of people so much during lockdown that he could often be seen gazing out over the park watching the Sunday morning footballers as they took their exercise.

The experience includes two full days – either both at London Zoo or one here and one at Whipsnade.

If you’re looking for a magical experience on your doorstep this Christmas, look no further.

What a fabulous visit to one of our favourite places – and all thanks to our wonderful guides SJ, Lucy and Lynden.

We can’t wait to return.

Pictured top: Gir Lion Lodges in the snow (Picture: ZSL London Zoo)

Sumatran tiger cub ZAC c ZSL London Zoo 6Sumatran tiger cub ZAC c ZSL London Zoo 6Sumatran tiger cub , Zac (Picture: ZSL London Zoo)

For an unforgettable Christmas experience, book your tickets for the London Zoo Lodges’ Meet Santa Experience online now at www.zsl.org


Twin or Double room – up to 2 adults + 1 child – £530 

Twin or Double room – up to 2 adults + 2 children – £625 

Twin or Double room – up to disabled person + carer + 1 child – £399.35 

What is included in the price of staying overnight?

  • One night’s accommodation for two people (and up to two children aged 5-13 years on family nights) in a

twin or a double lodge

  • Meet Santa & a special gift
  • Complimentary welcome drink
  • A delicious two-course dinner
  • Buffet breakfast, hot and cold
  • Three exclusive tours led by passionate and knowledgeable hosts.
  • Free car parking at ZSL London Zoo
  • Two days’ free entry to ZSL London Zoo (or one day ZSL London Zoo and one day to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo)





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