Into the lion’s den: An overnight stay at London Zoo

Arrow Discover more

Freddie, my five year old son, has his nose pinned to the glass window. I’m sipping a glass of chilled prosecco. We’re both in heaven watching London Zoo’s sleepy male lion Banu. He yawns and stretch out his huge front paws in the early evening, the crowds of the day long gone.

“Oh yes! We’ll record that as ‘active’”, exclaims Kiran Lyn, our expert guide for the evening. “Lions spend up to 20 hours sleeping so we get really excited when we get an ear twitch or small movement out of them.” Myself and my boy are staying overnight at the ZSL London Zoo Lodges, and one of its many perks is that we get to see the animals at their most active, even if it is just a momentary stir.

The interior of one of the lodges at London Zoo

Freddie outside our lodge, excited for the tour ahead

Another benefit of a stay at London Zoo is listening to Kiran’s wealth of insight into all the individual animals here, the effort that goes into caring for them, the wider species they represent and the conservation efforts ZSL is working on. We peel ourselves away from the lions to visit, learn about and feed the camels, pygmy hippos, African hunting dogs and the warthogs before sitting down for a meal of our own at the zoo’s restaurant and to digest everything we’ve discovered.

After dinner we go behind the scenes to the old Casson elephant house to find out how food is prepared and ‘enrichment’ activities are thought up, to help animals express and enhance their natural behaviours.  Kiran tells us how all the animals, with the exception of gorillas, will tear hessian sacks apart. The great apes turn them into pillows, which is one of the most endearing things I’ve ever heard.

Freddie’s verdict: “I loved feeding the hippo. She was really hungry and had a very BIG mouth. I also liked eating the chocolate brownie at dinner time and watching Banu laze about.”

As we snuggle down for the night in our cosy lodge, we listen to Banu’s vocal calls, the melodic tones of the gibbons and honks from the flamingos. Our wooden lodge is immaculate, with crisp white sheets, plump pillows and a welcome towel shaped like an elephant, which Freddie adores. Soothing white walls are brought to life with a simple, colourful animal mural inspired by Indian wildlife. It’s hard to believe we are in the middle of London. The nine lodges were built three years ago at the same time as the zoo’s latest enclosure; Land of the Lions, a stunning and immersive representation of GIR National Park in Gujarat, India, and where laid-back Banu and his three wives Heidi, Ruby and Indie all live.

In the morning, we have time for one last tour before the zoo opens to the public. After our breakfast, we don plastic gloves and grab a handful of slippery, silvery fish to feed the penguins theirs. We say hello to the musical gibbons and the mighty Komodo dragon before gasping at the strength of Asim, the seven-year-old male tiger, as he leaps up a tree to collect his breakfast, a dead rabbit. “Do you think Banu the lion is ever that quick?” says Freddie. “Maybe,” I reply. “We should come back soon to find out.”

Banu the lion wakes from his slumber in the early evening

The Lowdown

How to book
An overnight stay for two costs from £378 per lodge. Each additional child place £50 each. Two adults and two children (aged five to 13) can stay on family nights.

Price includes:
Complimentary drink on arrival
Three exclusive after-hours tours of the Zoo at sunset, after-dark and in the morning
Overnight stay in a private lodge – double or twin bed, en-suite, complimentary toiletries, tea and coffee making facilities
A delicious two-course buffet dinner
Full English breakfast
Free entry into ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo for two days of your evening stay
Free car parking
Exclusive discounts on Keeper for a Day and Meet the Animals experiences

How to get there
Camden Town underground station (Northern Line) is a 15 minute walk away. Regent’s Park (Bakerloo Line) is a 20 minute walk away. Euston is the nearest mainline station. Free car parking is available.

Find out more and book

Get travel news and competitions sent to your inbox