Ever wanted to get up close and personal with wildlife without heading to an African savannah? You may not know it, but there’s a host of UK zoos and wilderness reserves that offer a 24-hour wildlife experience without ever having to leave your hotel. It’s like an IRL nature documentary, except there’s potentially a lion watching you as you try to go to sleep…
From wilderness reserves and wellness retreats playing host to golden eagles, deer and barn owls, to luxury lodges overlooking the elephants, cheetahs and lions… Here’s where to head if you want to spend the night snoozing with the wildlife.
When Kenya isn’t an option, head to Kent… A little slice of the African savannah in The Garden of England, Port Lympne hosts more than 900 animals on its 600 acre site – home to iconic members of the Big Five like lions and tigers, and other less common safari favourites like gorillas and ostriches.
To see some of the animals after-hours, you can stay in one of the reserve’s amazing accommodation options, ranging from glamping under the stars to staying in a luxury lodge overlooking the leopard, lion, giraffe, tiger and rhino enclosures. Each stay includes out-of-hours access to the reserve, plus a safari experience.
They’re also set to open Giraffe Hall for visitors to book soon – a fully restored Grade-II listed house where you can get closer to your giraffe neighbours than ever before. Watch the herd amble past the drawing room, or come right up to the bedroom windows as you wake. It’s top of our staycation bucket list when it opens, that’s for sure.
For a one-of-a-kind experience in the UK, book into the West Midlands Safari Park and get up close and personal with elephants and cheetahs during your overnight stay. There are a host of new safari lodges to choose from – whether it’s a two-story lodges with huge windows and an outdoor deck area overlooking the elephant’s drinking pool, or a single-story lodge with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the cheetah’s lair.
Other options overlook the rhino, red panda and giraffe enclosures, and all rooms are decked out to blend in with their surroundings – including thatched roofs, woven rugs, wooden floors, safari prints and straw lampshades – and come with modern luxuries like a coffee machine and a minibar filled with local produce. Breakfast and dinner are included, as well as entry to West Midlands Safari Park and all its attractions.
Whipsnade Zoo’s Lookout Lodge retreat provides guests with an overnight stay in cosy lodges overlooking the Chiltern Downs. Experience the zoo out-of-hours with three exclusive tours included in your stay – a sunset tour, a torchlit nighttime tour, and an early morning tour.
Each lodge has a private veranda so you can sip your bedtime hot chocolate while listening to the sounds of the Zoo at night. Luckily, your neighbours for the evening are the zoo’s herd of white rhinos and reindeer, some of the quieter animals at the zoo, but don’t be surprised if you wake up to the sound of roaring tigers or honking flamingos.
You’ll also get a complimentary drink on arrival, a two-course dinner and a full English breakfast during your stay.
Where: Whipsnade, Dunstable LU6 2LF
Your main struggle at Wilderness Reserve will be the sheer choice of gorgeous accommodation options to choose from. From the quirky Garden Cottage with dolls house bunk beds, a mythical open fireplace and roll top baths; the pink, thatched Cider House with its own heated indoor swimming pool, spa and sauna; to the Tudor Moat cottage reached via a wooden bridge across a medieval moat – you’re absolutely spoiled for choice with the sixteen unique properties.
The homes are set against a stunning backdrop of 8,000 acres, with wildflower carpets of golds, reds, yellows and blues on display during the spring, summer and autumn seasons. Wildlife wise – the estate is home to birds, mammals, plants, moths, butterflies, dragonflies and amphibians, as well as 2,000 nest boxes, 75 of which are for barn owls.
Fancy an indulgent meal in your private, rural wildlife estate? Have the Estate Kitchen chefs indulge your friends and family in a fresh seasonal private menu of your choice – from a relaxed BBQ or grazing menu to a formal three course dinner served with canapés. There are also unforgettable experiences to choose from, including fire pit dinners under the ancient woodland tree canopies, axe-throwing, archery and bushcraft and campfire cooking.
Swap the city for the wilderness at Camp Baboon, set within the Wild Place Project on the outskirts of Bristol, and home to lemurs, pygmy goats, eland and okapi.
You’ll stay in one of ten luxury wishbone-shaped cabins, help feed the animals on a morning tour, set out on an additional evening tour, and you can even join rangers’ workshops where you’ll learn bush craft skills around a firepit and under a canopy in the woods. If that wasn’t enough wildlife for you, you’ll get free access to Bristol Zoo Gardens the next day, too.
All the wonder of an African savannah – somewhere between Bath and Salisbury. Longleat’s huge reserves is a whopping four times the size of Richmond Park and is home to more than 500 animals, including tigers, zebras, red pandas, lions and monkeys.
If you want to stay the night, you’ll have a number of cottages to choose from – East Lodge and others include a guided tour of the grounds; or there’s Keeper’s House and Keeper’s Cottage which both include a guided safari tour in a 4×4. The rest of the time, you can drive your own vehicle around the park or hop on a safari bus.
Get up close and personal with the wildlife.
Book a night at ZSL London Zoo’s nine cabins in Gir Lion Lodge, and you’ll also experience three unique private tours (sunset, nighttime, and early morning) when the zoo is closed the public, led by expert keepers who’ll teach you about the animals.
The lodge and enclosure is named and modelled after Gir National Park – complete with a corrugated roof, railway tracks, a crumbling temple and a train station ticket hall – where you can see a pride of these endangered animals in Land of the Lions, the zoo’s breeding centre.
Where: Outer Cir, London NW1 4RY
As if the 23,000 acres of rugged mountains, forests, rivers and lochs wasn’t remarkable enough, Alladale Wilderness Reserve near Inverness also throws in four beautiful lodges for good measure.
Our favourite, the traditional yet modern Alladale Lodge, sleeps up to 14, and comes complete with Laura Ashley interiors, a sauna, gym, snooker room and catering. Meanwhile, Deanich Lodge is the only self-catered option – it’s a historic hunting lodge set remotely down a track road next to streams and green valleys of untamed beauty. Outside, expect to watch the reserve’s wildlife like golden eagles and red deer in their habitat.
Where: Ardgay, Sutherland, IV24 3BS