Spitalfields City Farm - hogs

    London’s best animal experiences

    24 June 2019

    Living in central London can be a tough gig for animal lovers. Take a walk in countryside and you’ll probably spot enough animals for an entire nursery rhyme – even boring suburbia is brimming with hedgehogs and friendly neighbourhood moggies. But spend a year living in zone one and you’ll be lucky if you spot anything more the occasional midnight fox rummaging through next door’s bins.

    So how do capital-dwellers get their wildlife fix? Here are five of our suggestions:

    Spitalfields City Farm

    Donkeys at Spitalfields City Farm

    With its foreign-owned skyscrapers and identikit coffee shops, it’s easy to forget that the Square Mile is home to several city farms – with dozens more elsewhere in London. My personal favourite is Spitalfields City Farm, just two minutes from Brick Lane, where you can wander at your leisure amongst goats, pigs, donkeys and geese. For the green-fingered, the gardens – complete with state-of-the-art ‘bug hotels’ – are a delight too. True to the original city farm ethos, Spitalfields is also a community hub, offering volunteer opportunities, educational classes, and locally-sourced vegetarian food.

    Spitalfields City Farm is open six days a week (no Mondays). Entry is free.

    Battersea Park Children’s Zoo

    Lemur at Battersea Park Children’s Zoo

    A more relaxed alternative to London Zoo, Battersea Park Children’s Zoo is one of London’s lesser-known gems. Admittedly there are no safari giants, but they do have an adorable stable of monkeys, meerkats, and otters. My heart was stolen by the Scottish wildcat: an untamable beast which looks like a prowling tom-cat after mounting a leaf-blower. The wildcats used to roam freely in the Highlands but have mated themselves to near-extinction by breeding with their domestic cousins. The zoo also offers Keeper Experiences (for children, families or solo adults) if you want to get up close with the animals.

    Battersea Park Children’s Zoo is open all week. Entry is £9.95 for adults. 

    The Golden Ball guinea pig pub

    Golden Ball Pub, Russell the Guinea Pig (Credit: Sharon Luscombe)

    Yes, it’s technically Greater London (Henley-on-Thames) but this stunning Chiltern hideaway more than merits a mention. As well as a Michelin-recommended restaurant, Luscombes at the Golden Ball doubles up as a new home for rescued guinea pigs and chickens. It’s a sanctuary, not a petting zoo, so don’t just rock up and expect a tour: visits should be arranged in advance with the landlady, who will talk you through the guinea pigs’ various names and professions (Harrison, the therapist, is my favourite) The best way to experience it? After a hearty three-course lunch, washed down with their special guinea pig ale.

    The Golden Ball in Lower Assendon is open Wednesday to Sunday for lunch & dinner. Dinner for two (with wine) from £75. 

    London Wetland Centre

    Asian Short-clawed Otters at London Wetland Centre (captive)

    Asian Short-Clawed otters at the London Wetland’s Centre

    Spanning some 100 acres of the Thames reservoir area (a short walk from Barnes in West London), the London Wetland Centre is the capital’s best spot for bird-enthusiasts. Newcomers will go wild for the birds of prey and majestic kingfishers whilst experienced twitchers can try their luck at spotting the seasonal rarities. Explore at your leisure or sign-up for the organised courses on birdlife, flora and wildlife photography. If you’re really into it, they even do weddings.

    The Wetland Centre is open all week. Adult tickets are £14 with discounts for booking online.

    Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium

    Dinah’s Cat Emporium

    Cat cafés might not always get the best rap with animal-lovers, but Lady Dinah’s – the first such establishment in London – promises the highest ethical standards. For a start, all of the cats are rescue cats. They focus specifically on those moggies which shelters can’t rehome – i.e. those which aren’t photogenic enough to make good ‘Insta-pets’. They also ban anyone from picking up the cats. When it first opened in 2014, the Emporium booked up quicker than the Harry Potter play.  Nowadays things have calmed down slightly, but you’re still advised to book ahead for weekend visits.

    Lady Dinah’s is open six days a week to over 12s only. Enjoy afternoon tea with the cats from £30.