Children’s Farms and Zoos in Essex

If you and your children love animals then a visit to a local farm or zoo makes for a fun-filled day. Essex has a fantastic range of places to visit for animal lovers from free petting farms to Colchester Zoo and other attractions which are a complete day out, but beyond the budget for many families as more than the occasional treat. This guide contains over 15 top farms and zoos in the county of Essex, but as an extra bonus I have added a selection of great places to visit for animal lovers just over the border in Hertfordshire and London as well that are easy to get too. Whether you want to see guinea pigs, pygmy goats, a white rhino or other exotic creatures there are places for you to see them within Essex, UK. 

Of course if you aren’t looking for farms where you can see animals but other sorts of farms I have posts on pumpkin picking farms, Christmas tree farms and (coming soon) pick your own farms all in Essex.

a raccoon behind a fence at Hopefield Animal Sanctuary in Essex
There are lots of places in Essex to see animals including zoos, farms and animal sanctuaries (photo taken an Hopefield Animal Sanctuary)

The Best Zoos, Children's Farm Attractions And Petting Farms In Essex To See Animals

Zoos in Essex

Colchester Zoo, Colchester

Essex’s main zoo is Colchester where you can see a huge range of animals from penguins to parakeets, lions to lemurs. You can even feed the giraffes and elephants. With numerous playgrounds and a soft play, a visit to Colchester Zoo is a full day out where you are more likely to leave because you are exhausted (or it’s closing) than because you have seen everything.
They have a variety of animal encounters if you want a fun and educational experience with the Kid's Zoo Academy suitable from age 6.
Free Parking and open all year.
Maldon Rd, Stanway, Heckfordbridge, Colchester CO3 0SL
Read my Colchester review, tips and FAQs.

Get To Know Animals, Epping

Essex’s newest zoo is a “mini zoo” just outside Epping. Get To Know Animals previously had a tiny zoo in Chingford and they have now moved to bigger and better premises opening to the public February 2023. It’s still small compared to many attractions but it is indoors (so good for rainy days) and includes a nocturnal area, aviary and alligator room. They have lots of small animals that animal lovers will enjoy looking at and learning more about. They also offer hands on experiences and birthday parties. All the animals are rescued or re-homed and very much loved by the owners and staff.
Free parking. Open all year round.
Forest Lodge Commercial Complex, High Rd, Epping, Essex, CM16 5HW
Click here to read my Get To Know Animals review.

Call of The Wild Zoo, South Woodham Ferrers

Previously Tropical Wings Call of The Wild Zoo has far more than just butterflies and birds. Animals include lemurs, monkeys, coatis, porcupine and an armadillo. They also have a Keeper for the day (2 1/2 hour) experience suitable for children from age 8. 
Open all year round, it is a mixture of undercover areas and outside. Prebooking encouraged for weekends and holidays.
Wickford Rd, South Woodham Ferrers, Essex, CM3 5QZ

Maldon Promenade Petting Zoo, Maldon

This petting zoo in Maldon Promenade Park has a selection of farm animals including goats, donkeys, rabbits and alpacas as weak as exotic animals likes skunks, meerkats, marmosets as well as birds and reptiles. Combine it with a visit to the lovely play area in the park next door or splash park.
Park in the council car park (chargeable). Open every day, no need to book (according to their website).
Maldon Promenade Park, Maldon, Essex, CM9 5JQ

A big cat amur leopard walking around at Colchester Zoo in Essex
An Amur Leopard at Colchester Zoo

Farms In Essex

Boydells, Braintree

Boydells is a working farm which opens in school holidays, bank holidays and weekends in season. There are a few play activities, but the focus is definitely on the animals and education. The staff (mostly the family who run the farm) are really friendly and there is normally the chance to get hands on with animals including bottle feeding sheep and milking a cow! Expect all your farmyard favourites like sheep, chickens, ducks and llamas.
Free parking (but most of it is in a field which can get muddy). Seasonal opening.
Wethersfield, Braintree, Essex CM7 4AQ
Their facebook page is updated more often than their website.

Pets' Corner, Harlow 

Located in Harlow Town Park this small farm has a range of farmyard animals from sheep to reindeer and fish. It is a lovely little place to visit and it’s free. Ideally combine with a visit to one of the Town Park’s Playgrounds.
Nearest car park is about 5 minutes walk away. Pets' Corner is open all year round (afternoons).
Town Park, Harlow, Essex, CM20 2QG
Check their Facebook page for latest updates.

Hopefield Animal Sanctuary, Brentwood 

This animal sanctuary has a wide range of rescued animals. As a registered charity they rely heavily on the entrance payments and donations to keep running. The focus is on the animals and while there is a small shop and a (plant based) cafe there isn't an a play area. 
Free Parking. Seasonal opening end of March to December. 
Sawyer's Hall Farm, Sawyers Hall Ln, Brentwood CM15 9BZ

White Elm Petting Farm, Chelmsford

Set in the grounds of White Elm Garden Centre, the White Elm Petting Farm is lots of fun for children under 8 (older children can go to, but the soft play is meant to be for under 8s only). There are plenty of animals to see, and many you can feed, play areas outside and a nice soft play inside. My only criticism is that you have to book a morning or an afternoon slot and my children would happily stay all day. You must prebook entry online.
No eating allowed in the farm area (you can feed the animals though) and only eating of purchased food in the playbarn, but there are picnic tables outside where you can eat your own food. If going to the afternoon slot you could come early and eat at the Tea Room in the garden centre before you go in which does main meals and light bites.
Free parking. Open all year.
White Elm Rd, Danbury, Bicknacre, Chelmsford, CM3 4LR

Ashlyns Softplay and Farm Park (Tylers Green, Epping)

Next door to Ashlysn Farm Shop is a separately run softplay and farm. You can pay to go into the indoor play area and farm or just the farm. There aren't a lot of animals, but they are working on getting more. They have playgrounds in the farm area too. 
Free parking. Softplay is open all year and it looks like the farm park might be too. You can book online. 
Epping Road, North Weald, Epping, CM16 6RZ
See their Instagram for more details or check out our review. 

Foxburrows Farm, Hainault Forest Country Park, Chigwell

Currently closed due to a restoration project, with no specified end date. A small free farm with a number of farm animals, birds and meerkats.
Parking is chargeable (via an app)
Hainault Forest Country Park, Romford Road, Chigwell, IG7 4QN

Redwings Ada Cole, Nazeing 

The Ada Cole Horse Sanctuary is home to 80 horses, donkeys and ponies. It is open selected weekends and you can book on the website. Entry is free, but donations are encouraged.
Broadlands, Epping Road, B181, Roydon, Nazeing EN9 2DH
Free parking. Open one or two weekends a month.

Hadleigh Rare Breeds Centre, Benfleet

The Rare Breeds Centre is part of Hadleigh Farm and run by the Salvation Army. It's aim is to conserve and promote the UK's rare breeds through education and breeding programmes. There aren't many different types of animals, but interesting to see all the many types of sheep.
Seasonal opening (Spring to Autumn)
Hadleigh Farm Estate, Castle Lane, Hadleigh, Essex SS7 2AP

A large bird, a rhea I think, at Hopefield Animal Sanctuary in Essex
There are farms in Essex you can see animals for free, but many ask for a donation to help support the care

Farm Attractions in Essex

I have grouped these separately to the Children’s farms above because while all of these attractions have animals and may have started out as farms, the main reason for visiting them now is arguably the activities and amusements. The price reflects this as they are a whole day out. 

Lee Valley Adventure Park (formerly Lee Valley Park Farms), Waltham Abbey

Animals includes pigs, goats, sheep, meerkats and reindeer. They also have outdoor play areas, a bouncy pillow, shows and event days. Mostly outside so choose a dry day if possible.
Free Parking. Open daily during Summer Season, open some weekends out of season for special events. We reviewed their Christmas event in 2022 (gifted tickets).
Stubbins Hall Lane, Waltham Abbey, EN9 2EF

Marsh Farm, South Woodham Ferrers

My children love the outdoor adventure play areas at Marsh Farm (there are 2 big ones), bouncy pillows, rides, mini golf, indoor soft play area and performances. The cost for all activities is included in the entrance price. On some visits we haven’t even looked at the animals, although it is definitely worth checking out the baby animals in Spring. They hold lots of special event themed weekends eg dinosaurs or superheroes where you enjoy themed activities. Entertaining is definitely what they do best. The Bubble n Bop festival in the Summer months is a lot of fun too and they even have a purpose built splash pool (opened in 2022 and requires water shoes).
Free parking. Open daily between April to August and most weekends and school holidays the rest of the year. Read about everything you need to know before visiting Marsh Farm here (gifted entry)
Marsh Farm Road, South Woodham Ferrers, CM3 5WP

Barleylands Farm Park, Billericay

The focus of Barleylands is on farming, animals and education, but they have great play areas (inside and out). You can see displays of reptiles and birds of prey, get hands on with farm animals in the petting farm and walk through the aviary. Outside the farm park there is a craft village with some interesting shops, a cafe and pottery painting. Read the review of my visit here (gifted).
Free parking. Open all year.
Barleylands Farm Park & The Village, Barleylands Road, Billericay, Essex, CM11 2UD

Old Macdonald's Farm, Brentwood

This is a lovely place to visit with younger ones. There are over 30 species of animal to see, play areas and plenty of rides (height requirements vary with Doggy Dog Rollercoaster the highest at 1.2m). There are 2 indoor play areas. The perfect age is probably 4 to 5, but older children will enjoy it too.
Free parking. Seasonal opening: school holidays out of season and daily in the summer months.
Weald Road, Brentwood, Essex, CM14 5AY

Hastys Adventure Farm, Clacton

At Hastys children can enjoy go karts, sledges, sand and water play and an undercover wooden adventure zone as well as farm animals including sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, alpacas and calves.
Free customer parking. Seasonal opening Spring to Autumn, as well as special Christmas events.
West Rd, Clacton-on-Sea CO15 1AG

Sheep and their baby lambs at Marsh Farm Park in Essex
In Spring there are lots of places where you can see baby animals

Beyond Essex: Farms etc in Herts, London and the Essex Borders

This post was originally meant to be just Essex, but so many of the farms and zoos recommended locally are in Hertfordshire I had to include a section for beyond Essex too.

Willows Activity Farm (St Albans, Hertfordshire)

Willows is a really fun day out with playgrounds, a massive softplay, a play village and more. There are enough animals to justify it being called a farm, but you aren’t going to visit exclusively for the animals.
Free parking, open all year.
Coursers Road, St Albans AL4 0PF

Paradise Wildlife Park / Hertfordshire Zoo (Broxbourne, Hertfordshire)

Paradise Wildlife Park has a wide variety of animals including big cats, monkeys, penguins, camels, reptiles and more. The animals are impressive, but not the only reason to visit. There are several play areas, a soft play, a splash pool and an impressive dinosaur area with over 30 animatronic animals.
Paradise Wildlife Park have animal encounters including Mini Zoo Keeper experiences for children age 5 to 8.
Paradise Wildlife Park, White Stubbs Lane, Broxbourne EN10 7QA

Foxhole Farm (Hertford, Hertfordshire)

A working farm which provides produce for their farm shop and butchery. They have a play area and selection of animals to see including pigs, goats, sheep and rabbits. Open weekends, holidays and special events. Book via their website or check their social media. 
London Road, Hertford, Hertfordshire, SG13 7NT,

Aldenham Country Park Farm (Elstree, Hertfordshire)

The farm is home to over 100 animals including, Cows, Pigs, Sheep, Goats, Alpaca, Donkeys, Shetland Ponies, Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, Ducks and. Chickens. The Country Park also has a 100 Aker Wood (Winnie The Poo) trail as part of the Country Park.
You can visit the animals everyday, however weekends and holidays in season there are additional activities including a tractor ride and adventure playground.
Car park is payable. 
Aldenham Country Park Farm, Aldenham Country Park, Aldenham Road, Elstree, Hertfordshire WD6 3BA

Forty Hall Farm (Enfield,  London/ Middlesex)

A small farm with rare breeds of sheep, pigs, cows. Free for under 16s. There is also a playground at Forty Hall separate to the farm. Walk round the lake to the farm, to get to the woodland play area take the path from the diagonally opposite side of the car park and follow the path for about 5 minutes.
Free parking. Farm has seasonal opening: Spring to Autumn
Forty Hall Farm, Forty Hill, Enfield EN2 9HA.

Capel Manor Gardens (Enfield, London/ Middlesex)

Described as a “mini zoo” there is a small collection of animals including lemurs, meercats and a porcupine. Located just inside the entrance of Capel Manor Gardens. The gardens are pleasant to walk around and there are trails and activities in holidays. Read my review of our visit (at Easter) here
Free parking. Open Monday to Friday in Winter and daily March to October.
Bullsmoor Lane, Enfield, Middlesex EN1 4RQ

Wellgate Community Farm (Romford, London)

Just over the border from Essex into London is this little community farm. Run by volunteers in the local community. Entry is free, but donations encouraged. Animals include: ponies, goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys.
Free parking, open daily.
Wellgate Farm, Collier Row Road, Romford, RM5 2BH

If you love farms and are travelling up North then check out these fun farms to visit near Manchester.

*All information correct at time of publishing*

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