West Londoners of a certain age may remember a place called the 'Bunny Park', a small animal farm which first opened in 1975.
What they may not know is that it's still open, though these days it's known as Hanwell Zoo — and it's home to far more than just rabbits.
Located in the middle of Brent Lodge Park, alongside a cafe, playground, toilets and a maze, Hanwell Zoo packs a lot into its small footprint. Alpacas trot around a small field, alongside a peacock strutting its stuff. A capybara curls up in a shed to avoid the midday sun, and a donkey peeps out of a sunshine yellow stable block.
First and foremost, Hanwell Zoo is a family-friendly attraction, aimed at groups with younger children. It's budget-friendly too, at under a fiver per person. Sure, it doesn't have the lions, tigers and giraffes of London Zoo, but the more intimate, farmyard-style vibe means you can get a closer look at the animals. Flamingos, for instance, balance elegantly on one leg just 3-4ft (and a wire fence) away from where we stand.
Among the more exotic species at Hanwell Zoo are tamarins and marmosets (small species of monkey), lemurs, meerkats, porcupines and a margay (a small jungle cat with leopard print-esque fur), though the latter is a shy creature, and wasn't to be seen on our visit. A small aquarium is home to a tank of clownfish, or, as most kids and many adults know them these days, Nemo.
Each species has an information board detailing the basics of its natural habitat, diet, conservation status, and any threats it faces. For younger visitors, there are interactive guess-the-smell stations — and even the toilets have various poo samples, preserved in resin and belonging to various species mounted on the wall so you can learn as you queue. Everyday's a school day, eh?
You can easily see everything in around 45 minutes, though could probably stretch it out to a couple of hours, particularly if your kids make a pitstop at the small playground. Hanwell Zoo has toilets and a gift shop, but no cafe or food and drink facilities. Don't fret though — your ticket lets you enter and exit the zoo as you need during the day, and there's a park cafe/ice cream kiosk just a few steps from the entrance gate, that does the best lemon gelato we've ever had.
As impressive as the animals are the artworks dotted around the place. There aren't many buildings in the zoo, but those that do exist have had a thorough brightening up with wildlife and conservation themed murals, painted by young people from the Ealing Youth Justice Service Summer Arts College, making for an altogether more joyful experience.
A note on accessibility: Though there are tarmac paths all through the zoo, there are some spots where they aren't in the best condition, and can get a bit puddly. The zoo is built on a slight incline too, so may not be completely accessible for wheelchair users without assistance.
Oh, and one more thing. If you hear an elephant trumpeting while you wander around the zoo, it's the noise made by an interactive toy in the zoo's playground. Very realistic, though.
Hanwell Zoo, Brent Lodge Park, Church Road, Hanwell, W7 3BP. Open year-round. Entry is £4.50 adult/£2.50 child. It's a 10-minute walk from Hanwell station on the Elizabeth line.
All photos by Londonist.