Little children (and quite a few bigger ones, too) love to play pretend, and a doll is a classic make-believe toy – not to mention special friend and cuddle companion.


Dolls come in a variety of shapes and sizes – and prices. Some are floppy and cuddly and simple; others are clever, interactive and have umpteen accessories. Most of them are still very white with very pink outfits, we have to say, although we’re pleased to have noticed a few more black dolls and boy dolls, and even some dolls with disabilities, in recent months.

As well as being a lot of fun, there are so many benefits of playing with dolls, for both girls and boys. Caring for a baby doll helps your child learn about empathy and boosts their social skills, while other dolls are great for immersing your child into a richly imaginative pretend-play world or role-playing what they experience in their day-to-day life, whether that's going to school, visiting the doctor or going to the shops.

Best dolls at a glance

  • Great for 'magical' hair: DesignaFriend Mermaid Doll, £35
  • Great for bubble fun: Kindi Kids Poppi Pearl Bubble 'N' Sing, £29.99
  • Great for accessories: LOL Surprise! Tweens Fashion Dolls, £19.99 each
  • Great for ballet role play: Ballet Studio Sindy, £24.99
  • Great for toddlers: Manhattan Playdate Harper Doll, £25
  • Great for hairstyling: DesignaFriend Dream Doll, £25
  • Great for easy undressing: Our Generation Holiday Haven Doll, £30
  • Great for realistic role play: Lottie Muddy Puddles, £23.99
  • Great for nurturing skills: Baby Annabell Alexander, £54.99
  • Great for realistic cries: Cry Baby Dressy, £30

What to look for when buying a doll

It's important to choose a doll that's appropriate to your child's age. Different age groups play with dolls differently, so a doll that might be perfect for a toddler probably won't hold the interest of a 6-year-old. Here are some things to consider when buying a doll:

  • For babies and toddlers: Softness and size are key here, so look for a big doll with a squeezable body for plenty of cuddles. Young babies will enjoy looking at bold, high-contrast facial features, while toddlers will want a doll they can easily carry around. In an ideal world, when your child's this little, you want a doll that's machine-washable, too.
  • For 2 to 3-year-olds: At this age, your child's social skills are developing rapidly and they will like dolls they can actively nurture and care for. Dolls that can be fed with a bottle or have their nappy changed are great choices, as are dolls that can be dressed and undressed easily. Interactive features – like crying or wetting nappies – are always a hit, too. Children this age are keen to flex their new independence, so pick a doll that's the right size for carrying around and pushing along in a toy pushchair.
  • For 4 to 6-year-olds: Dolls are a fantastic way to help your child explore the world around them and provide inspiration. Of course, princess dolls are great fun and eternally popular but you can also mix things up a bit at this age. Imaginative play with dolls as doctors, teachers, vets and fire fighters, for example, give your child the opportunity to try out different roles. Look for dolls with lots of accessories to aid pretend play and keep those imaginations fired up.
  • For 7+ years: Older children are often drawn to fashion dolls, rather than baby dolls. They can have hours of fun dressing up dolls in different outfits and playing with their hair, as well as creating wonderful, and often quite complicated, pretend-play scenarios. As we all come in different shapes and sizes, you could think about reflecting this in your child's doll collection: a mix of body types, as well as a diverse range of skin colours, helps to portray a more realistic reflection of the world.

How can I make sure a doll is safe to play with?

  • Look for the CE symbol. This means that a toy meets regulatory requirements. Dolls without this symbol may not be intended to be used as toys and could potentially be unsafe to play with.
  • Check for the British Toy and Hobby Association's (BTHA) 'Lion Mark'. It's a voluntary scheme brands can sign up to that requires them to meet key safety requirements.
  • Buy dolls from a reputable outlet. If you are buying from a car boot sale or jumble sale, be extra careful that what you're buying meets safety regulations and is suitable for your child to play with.
  • Checking the age range the doll is aimed at. You need to be particularly careful with dolls for children under 3: if they're not marked as suitable for this age range, they may have, or come with, small pieces that could pose a choking hazard.

Here's our pick of the best dolls, as tested by children and rated by their parents

1. DesignaFriend Mermaid Doll, £35

– Great for 'magical' hair

DesignaFriend Mermaid Doll

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 4+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Gold, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A 46cm-high soft-bodied doll with moveable arms and legs and long, solar-activated hair which changes colour from white to pink and orange. Comes with 2 outfits – human and mermaid – and a charm bracelet for her new owner. Arrives packaged in tissue paper in a boutique-style cardboard gift box.

Why we love it: She's a great size and very huggable, and we like her mermaid's tail and the sparkly silver trainers. But there's no doubting that her star attraction is that amazing colour-changing hair. "The hair was a total – and best surprise," said Heena, mum of our child tester. Ayesha, 6. "Ayesha got so excited seeing the it change colour. I mean, who would have imagined that?" Ayesha and her little sister then spent ages styling the doll's hair, changing her clothes, reading books to her and putting her to bed. "I'm impressed by this doll's quality," said Heena. "Pretty features, lush packaging – and perfect for role-play games."

Available at: Argos

2. Kindi Kids Poppi Pearl Bubble ‘N’ Sing, £29.99

– Great for bubbly fun

KindiKindi Kids Poppi Pearl Bubble ‘N’ Sing

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: 3 x AA (not included)
Awards: Silver, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A 27cm-high plastic doll with big eyes and a multi-coloured ponytail. When you press the shell button on her swimsuit she giggles, sings a 'happy bubble' song, and blows ice-cream-scented bubbles from her mouth. Comes with a dummy, feeding bottle and bubble wand.

Why we love it: Kindi Kids dolls have been around for a while (they have their own YouTube channel, no less) but this one has serious extra wow factor with all those bubbles – which really do stream out very impressively. Our child tester Mia, 3, was thrilled by them – and very delighted to discover that she could pour the bubble mixture into the doll herself by feeding her from the bottle: "I did it, Mummy!" Her mum Kirsty added, "She gets very excited when the bubbles start and loves running through them. It's a struggle to get her to put the doll to be honest, as she has such a great time with it."

Available at: Smyths Toys, Amazon and Argos

3. LOL Surprise! Tweens Fashion Dolls, £19.99 each

– Great for accessories

LOL Surprise! Tweens Fashion Doll

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 5+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Bronze, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What it is: A 16cm-high plastic doll dressed "runway-ready" clothes that comes with 15 surprises (wrapped or boxed in paper), including shoes, hatbox, hairbrush, hanger, clothes stand. Her reusable cardboard packaging turns into a bedroom playset, complete with fold-out bed. There are 4 different dolls in the range: Fancy Gurl, Freshest, Hoops Cutie (pictured, above) and Cherry B.B.

Why we love it: "Oh, wow, the accessories!" said our child tester Indie-Rose, 5. "I love the hairstyles and the big eyes and I like their names. I like all of their different bedrooms. I like everything about them!" And we have to say we agree! The surprises are great (and nicely wrapped) and the reuse of the box as a bedroom is a lovely touch – we especially liked the little storage drawer in the fold-down bed, where you can store unwrapped accessories. "I would definitely say this is worth the money, just for amount of accessories," said Indie-Rose's mum Paige. "And, compared to the original small L.O.L dolls I was really impressed! Indie-Rose found the clothes a little tricky to put on at first but, once we realised that the hands could be removed, that made it a lot easier."

Available at: Smyths Toys, Argos and Amazon

4. Ballet Studio Sindy, £24.99

– Great for ballet role play

Ballet Studio Sindy

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 6+ | Batteries: None
Awards: Bronze, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2021

What is it: A 28cm-high fully articulated, rigid-bodied doll dressed in tutu, leotard, leg warmers and ballet shoes. Comes with her own ballet barre, ballet studio (the packaging itself), a cardboard mannequin with reversible paper outfits, a crafting card to make ballet props and a teeny magazine full of ballet-inspired games and puzzles.

Why we love it: This is a lovely – and slightly bigger – update to the classic Sindy doll. We like her super-bendy legs, knees and ankles (she's obviously been practising those ballet moves a while!) and her minimal make-up – a nice contrast some of the most fashion-y dolls on the market. Our child tester Marnie, 8, said, "I love that I can take her straight out of the box and play with her. I put the ballet barre together myself – it was easy and I can put her in so many ballet positions which is cool! I really like her clothes – they make me want to take ballet lessons."

Available at: Argos

5. Manhattan Playdate Harper Doll, £25

– Great for toddlers

Manhattan Playdate Harper Doll

Age suitability: From birth | Best for age: 12 months+ | Batteries: None

What it is: A 25cm-high soft doll with a built-in onesie and removable dress and shoes. Comes with a mini teddy bear. It’s machine-washable and dryer-safe.

Why we love it: She's very soft, cuddly and well made – and her clothes come off easily and can be washed. Although this doll is marked as safe from birth, we think she's more suitable for children over the age of 1, due to the small teddy bear and removable booties. Perfect for carrying around, snuggling and role play.

Available at: John Lewis and Amazon

6. DesignaFriend Dream Doll, £25

– Great for hairstyling

DesignaFriend Dream Doll

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 5+ | Batteries: None

What it is: A 46cm-high soft-bodied doll, tissue-wrapped in a presentation box (like all DesignAFriend dolls), with extra-long purple hair. Comes with a silver T-shirt, purple tutu, sparkly pumps, a purple unicorn cap – and a silver charm bracelet for her new owner.

Why we love it: That hair! It’s just so silky soft, made for hours of brushing, and all our child testers set to with much hairstyling gusto. The only quibble we have is that, although this doll is intended for primary-school aged children, the lace-up pumps are still quite fiddly to put on and get off without adult help.

Available at: Argos

7. Our Generation Holiday Haven Doll, £30

– Great for easy undressing

our generation holiday haven doll

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: None

What it is: A 46cm-high, soft-bodied non-posable doll, with open and close eyes, dressed in a white dress, gold bolero jacket, pearl headband, white tights, pants and white and gold shoes.

Why we love it: She's just beautiful, as is every doll in the Our Generation range, and we love how she's all dressed up for a celebration. She's very easy for little fingers to dress and undress, and her pants and tights were a huge hit with our child testers. They all also commented on the softness of her long black curls – although, for a black doll, it's a shame she has blue eyes. Do note that her shoes have got glitter on the toes – which can shed a bit.

Available at: Smyths Toys and Our Generation

8. Lottie Muddy Puddles, £23.99

– Great for realistic role play

Lottie Muddy Puddles

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 5+ | Batteries: None

What it is: A 18cm-tall, ball-jointed plastic doll with long blonde hair, dressed in a long-sleeved T-shirt, striped leggings, corduroy shorts, yellow hooded raincoat and yellow welly boots.

Why we love it: Easy to move and bend into different poses, as well as being able to stand up independently, Lottie is a great play companion for boys and girls. We love the authentic wet weather gear – she really does look ready for some serious puddle jumping! –and the age-appropriate clothing, with boots that were super easy to get on and off.

Available at: Lottie and Amazon

9. Baby Annabell Alexander, £54.99

– Great for nurturing skills

Baby Annabell Alexander

Age suitability 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Batteries: 3 x AA (not included)

What it is: A brother to the perennially popular Baby Annabell, Alexander is a 43cm-high soft-bodied doll with plastic limbs, dressed in a blue (of course) sleepsuit. He drinks real water, cries tears, wets his nappy, and giggles when tickled. Comes with a bottle, dummy, bib and pendant.

Why we love it: He's cute and soft and a good size to cuddle and some of the sounds he makes are very convincingly babylike – especially when he sucks on his bottle or dummy. Some of our child testers' parents found his crying quite loud – but you can at least turn the sound off. We like the way he yawns and falls asleep when you rock him.

Available at: Smyths Toys, Argos and ELC

10. Cry Baby Dressy, £30

– Great for realistic cries

cry babies dressy coney

Age suitability: 18 months+ | Best for age: 2+ | Batteries: 2 x AAA (included)

What it is: A 30cm-high doll with huge blue eyes and pink hair that cries 'real' tears and makes 10 baby sounds when you remove her dummy. There are 3 dolls in the Cry Babies range (Coney, pictured, Dotty and Lady) and this new Dressy edition sees them each sporting clothes that can be taken off – and interchanged with the other dolls, if you have them.

Why we love it: The main attraction of these dolls is the crying: our child testers loved pulling out the dummy to make their baby cry, before popping it back in and shushing the doll back to sleep. "The real tears are a fantastic bonus," said Andrea, mum of our child tester Lucy, 3. "I am due my 2nd child soon and feel this doll has been a great help as it highlights to Lucy that a baby cries and when you have a crying baby, you have to look after it to make it stop crying." Yes, it's a bit noisy (you can turn the sound off though) and damp (but you don't have to fill the water reservoir up) but there's no denying how much little children are drawn to this wide-eyed doll. We thought the bunny ears outfit was cute, and liked how these new Cry Babies feel a bit lighter and have much better hair.

Available from: Smyths Toys and Argos

About the author

Helen is Deputy Editor of MadeForMums, the author of Parenting for Dummies (Wiley, £17.99) and the Head Tester for our MadeForMums Toy Awards. She has written about parenting for Mumsnet, Pregnancy & Birth, Prima Baby, Boots Parenting Club and She Magazine and she's also been Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby. She has 3 boys and a heavy-duty washing machine.

With thanks for Sarah Dawson, for additional research

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Helen Brown
Helen BrownHead of Content Delivery

Helen is author of the classic advice book Parenting for Dummies. Before joining MadeForMums over 7 years ago, she was Head of Community at Mumsnet and also the Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby.