Discover the 7 Largest Zoos in England (And the Ideal Time to Visit Each)

Written by Dina Sostarec
Published: October 12, 2023
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Are you looking to explore the largest zoos in England, or to simply see many different animals in as little time as possible? You’re at the right place! This article will help you plan a perfect, animal-focused trip!

We’ve gathered a list of England’s seven largest zoos by acreage and researched the best time to visit each. All you need to do is decide which one to visit first!

So, without further ado, let’s dive in.

7 Largest Zoos in England

As mentioned, we’ve listed the zoos by acreage. However, the largest zoos don’t necessarily have the largest number of animals. You’ll find more information about the animals below, so choose the zoo you’d like to visit accordingly.

Also, please keep in mind that the zoos may host more or fewer animals at the time of your visit. New residents are born each day!

1. Whipsnade Zoo

Beautiful view of an adult elephant walking in ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, United Kingdo

“Some say I look like the Laughing Buddha, and I don’t mind the comparison!”

©Wirestock/iStock via Getty Images

Whipsnade Zoo is the largest zoo not only in England but also in the entire UK. The best time to visit it is usually around 11 a.m., especially if you want to explore the zoo by train. The zoo’s Station Store opens at 11:30 a.m., and the first train leaves at noon.

2. Cotswold Wildlife Park 

Group of banded mongooses

“Did you not see the Do Not Disturb sign?”

©Adrian Pingstone / Public Domain – License

Cotswold Wildlife Park is actually both a zoo and a safari park, offering visitors a more immersive wildlife experience. It’s best to visit it around 11 a.m., as this gives you a chance to attend daily animal talks and feedings. Penguin feeding is at 11 a.m. and three p.m.; lemur feeding and talk is at noon; and duck feeding is at two p.m.

3. Marwell Zoo

White rhinoceros, Marwell Zoo, Hampshire, U.K.

“Just minding my own business…”

©Laura Holm/

Marwell Zoo features five adventure play areas, cafés, and plenty of outdoor space. According to the zoo’s website, you’ll need around four hours for your first visit, so we recommend getting there as soon as the zoo opens — i.e., at 10 a.m. during the majority of the year.  

Also, keep in mind that the cafés can be especially busy from noon to 1:30 p.m. You’ll need to plan your visit accordingly if you want to grab coffee or a snack while there. 

4. Chester Zoo

Humboldt Penguins about to take a dip at Chester Zoo

“Hey, guys — let’s wow the crowd with our swimming skills. I’ll go first!”

©Gary Cox/

Despite being significantly smaller than Whipsnade, Chester Zoo is home to about thrice as many animals. That may be why it’s the UK’s most popular conservation zoo. 

The best time to visit is at 10 a.m., as many events at the zoo start at 10 a.m. sharp or 10:30 a.m. — such as The Chester Zoo Memory Café and Conservation Tots. However, these events are not held every day, and the schedule may be subject to change. So, if you want to attend them, make sure to check the calendar on the official website.

  • Animals: over 35,000
  • Species: over 500
  • Size: 128 acres
  • First Opened: 1931
  • Popular Feature: Islands (an area that recreates the tropical environments of six South East Asian islands, including Papua, Bali, and Sumatra)
  • Mission: “Our mission is to prevent extinction.”
  • Fun Fact: Chester Zoo was the first zoo to breed a tuatara outside of New Zealand
  • Location: Chester CH2 1LE
  • Hours: The zoo is open daily from 10 a.m., but closing hours vary by season. Check the official website for current hours, and note that the zoo may be closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

5. Twycross Zoo

Meercat at Twycross Zoo

“What are you looking at?”

©Jenny Lilly/

Twycross Zoo is the first female-founded zoo in the UK. In fact, it was founded by two rival pet shop owners, Molly Badham MBE and Nathalie Evans.

The best time to visit Twycross Zoo is around 10:30 a.m., especially if you want to attend the zoo events and activities. Most start around 11 a.m., and end before four p.m.

6. Paignton Zoo

Peacock face, Paignton Zoo, Dorset

“I’m so fancy, you already know…”

©E Thomas/

If you’re reading this around the time of publication, you’re in for a treat. Paignton Zoo is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, so expect a lot of exciting events before the end of 2023.

The best time to visit is, then, before the year ends! But don’t despair if you’re reading this at a later time — the zoo hosts special events every year. 

Ideally, you’ll want to go around 12:30 p.m. This will give you ample time to explore the zoo while also helping you avoid the busiest hours and big crowds.

7. Colchester Zoo

Leopard on the prowl at Colchester Zoo

“Too busy to give a comment. Thank you.”


2023 is a special year for Colchester Zoo, too. It marks the zoo’s 60th anniversary, as well as 40 years with the current owners!

The zoo is quietest on Mondays after one p.m., but you may want to go a little bit earlier to have enough time to explore it in its entirety. 

  • Animals: over 1,000
  • Species: 160
  • Size: 60 acres
  • First Opened: 1963
  • Popular Feature: Colenso village (a recreation of the African village of Colenso where visitors can feed goats and sheep)
  • Mission: “To provide a first class experience for all its visitors and at the same time further understanding and respect for animals.”
  • Fun Fact: The zoo offers on-demand Community Outreach Talks, educational talks about conservation, caring for animals, and how Colchester Zoo contributes to these goals. Those who are interested can book a talk at their desired location.
  • Location: Maldon Rd, Stanway, Heckfordbridge, Colchester CO3 0SL
  • Hours: Colchester Zoo opens at 9.30 a.m. every day except Christmas Day. Closing hours vary by season, so check the official website for current hours.

Summary of the 7 Largest Zoos in England (And the Ideal Time to Visit Each)

ZooIdeal Time to Visit
#1 Whipsnade Zoo around 11 a.m.
#2 Cotswold Wildlife Park around 11 a.m.
#3 Marwell Zoo around 10 a.m.
#4 Chester Zoo around 10 a.m.
#5 Twycross Zoo around 10:30 a.m.
#6 Paignton Zoo around 12:30 p.m.
#7 Colchester Zoo around 1 p.m.
A Summary of the 7 Largest Zoos in England (And the Ideal Time to Visit Each)

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Wirestock/iStock via Getty Images

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About the Author

Dina Sostarec is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on symbolism, mammals, and various plants. Dina holds a Master's Degree in Philosophy and English language, and has been working as a full-time, professional writer since 2021. A resident of Croatia, Dina enjoys long walks in nature, yoga, and caring for her dog Chiquitita.

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