There is something so sweet and nostalgic about outdoor playhouses – or Wendy houses, as they used to be called. But it's obviously not about looks (or your own memories). The real special sauce of an outdoor playhouse is that it presents your child with a little outside den, for the beginnings of independent play. And it encourages your child into a winning combination of outdoor activity and imaginary play, boosting both their physical and emotional development in one long, fun-filled burst.

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There are hundreds of outdoor playhouses to choose from and it can be hard to work out which ones are the best buys. Should you fork out for a wooden one or will a plastic one be just as good? Is it worth paying extra for a themed playhouse or a playhouse with lots of special features? Or will a plain house with a door and a couple of windows offer just as rewarding a playtime?

We've been taking a long, hard look at the outdoor playhouses currently on sale and, with the help of our child testers and their parents, have selected the top 10 playhouses for children, in a range of prices, styles, themes and materials...

Best children's outdoor playhouses at a glance

  • Best playhouse for nature lovers: Smoby Garden Playhouse, £207.50
  • Best budget playhouse: Kid-Eco Cardboard Igloo Playhouse, £18.99
  • Best wooden playhouse with slide: Plum Wooden Boat House and Slide, £699.99
  • Best portable playhouse: Chad Valley Foldable Wendy Playhouse, £75
  • Best playhouse for little cooks: Smoby Chef House, £299.99
  • Best playhouse with mud kitchen feature: TP Meadow Cottage Playhouse and Kitchen, £270
  • Best value static plastic playhouse: Little Tikes Cape Cottage, £140
  • Best for large families: Kidkraft Cozy Escape Playhouse and Slide, £1399.99
  • Best fairytale playhouse: Feber Super Palace Playhouse, £449.99
  • Best plastic playhouse with slide: Smoby My House on Stilts with Slide, £396.99

What to consider when buying an outdoor playhouse

Space – As obvious as it sounds, you do need to make sure the playhouse you're buying will fit in your garden, so check the measurements carefully (and make sure they're not the measurements go the packaging but of the finished structure).

Wooden or plastic? – Wooden playhouses look lovely but they do tend to be pricier, harder to assemble and the wood will need require yearly maintenance treatment. Plastic playhouses are easier to build (and move), generally cheaper and often come in more imaginative shapes and themes.

Durability – Think about the material the playhouse is made from. If plastic, is it sturdy or flimsy? Has it be treated to stop the colours fading in the sun? If wood, does it come ready treated or ready painted?

Assembly time – Although this might not be everyone’s first question, it's definitely one of ours! Most playhouses are easy enough to set up but instructions and assembly time vary wildly. Plastic models are normally easier to build, while wooden versions need a bit more skill and often a fair few tools.

Features, themes and extras – Some outdoor playhouses are just the basic 4 walls and a roof but more and more come with added features such as slides, balconies, opening and closing shutters, play sinks, play cookers or flower planters. Some are even built to a special theme, such as a cafe or fairytale palace, and come with play accessories included. Generally speaking, you'll pay a little more for extra features – but not always.

Here’s our pick of the best children’s outdoor playhouses:

1. Smoby Garden Playhouse, £207.50

– Best playhouse for nature lovers

Smoby garden house with child tester Kaia

Age suitability: 2+ | Size: L132cm x W128cm x H135 cm | Main material: Plastic | Assembly time: 2 to 3 hours | Accessories included: trowel, rake, dibble, 6 pots and holders, gardener’s booklet, slate and chalk, watering can | Awards: Silver, MadeForMums Toys Awards

This sweet, blue, grey and green gardening-themed playhouse has a half-door, 2 porthole windows and 2 shutter windows, a planter that suitable for planting proper plants in, a trellis that holds flowerpots, a bird feeder, and a working water butt with tap.

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It comes with a little under-window workbench and a lovely collection of gardening accessories, including flower pots for the trellis, a teeny watering can and a mini rake and trowel.

"It's sturdy and it looks stunning, "said Susan, mum of our child tester Kaia, 3 (pictured). "And she absolutely loves it! She can play with it for hours on end, peeking out of the windows – and the water butt is a huge hit. We've planted some flowers in the planter and she love watering them. The little accessories are cute too. The level of detail is second to none."

The plastic is UV-treated to stop it fading in the sun and it's a good, robust structure. But it does take a good few hours to assemble – with a few fiddly little parts to fit together. You can pay extra to add on a little picnic table or a chimney.

Pros: Sturdy, UV-treated plastic, lots of accessories, great features
Cons: Long assembly time

Available at: Very, Amazon and Argos

2. Kid-Eco Cardboard Igloo Playhouse, £18.99

– Best budget playhouse

Age suitability: Not specified | Size: L240cm x W140cm x H118cm | Main material: Cardboard | Assembly time: Less than 1 hour | Accessories included: None

This brilliant-value, eco-friendly playhouse is made entirely of biodegradable/recyclable FSC-certified corrugated cardboard – which is double-walled to make it rigid and robust. It's obviously not as durable as a plastic or wooden playhouse but it's so sturdy, it would be very suitable for outside play on a calm, dry day.

The cardboard's white on the outside, so your child can paint or draw their own designs on it, and it has stamped-out, snowflake-shaped windows on the side – which create a lovely night-time glow if you decorate the inside of the igloo with fairy lights.

It's pretty spacious inside (we could fit 4 children in with space to spare, and all the under-5s could had more than enough headroom to stand up) and all our child testers loved crawling through the tunnel opening, though you can leave the tunnel off if you like.

It comes flat-packed in segments which are pretty quick and slot together and assemble (though it's easier if 2 people work together). Also available in plain brown, and in different designs including a Rocket, Castle, Pyramid and Jungle House.

Pros: Brilliant value, eco-friendly, can be decorated, can be used indoors, easy to assemble
Cons: Not suitable outside in wet/windy weather, not as durable as a plastic/wooden playhouse, no accessories included

Available at: Not On The Highstreet, Amazon and Kid Eco Crafts

3. Plum Wooden Boat House and Slide, £699.99

– Best wooden playhouse with slide

Studio shot of Plum Wooden Boat House and Slide

Age suitability: 3+ | Size: L194cm x W160cm x H270cm | Main material: Painted FSC-certified wood | Assembly time: 2 hours (2 adults) | Accessories included: None

This raised wooden playhouse comes pre-painted in a teal wood wash with a whitewash trim finish, and features a play platform (about 2.5ft from the ground), a 3-step ladder and a 4ft turquoise slide.

These outdoor features are very much the star of the show, as there are no interior play features and no included accessories. It's also worth noting that the windows and door are open to the elements.

The timber is lovely quality and the finished structure is sturdy and showerproof – and if you add a couple of coats of varnish, it should be able to weather more heavy rain. There are air holes in the walls to allow extra ventilation.

It's straightforward to assemble but it will take a while, and is definitely a 2-person job.

Pros: Sturdy, slide and ladder features, ventilated, made from sustainably sourced wood, quality finish
Cons: Pricey, door/windows don't shut, needs 2 people to assemble, no accessories included

Available at: Amazon, Plum and Wicken Toys

4. Chad Valley Foldable Wendy Playhouse, £75

– Best portable playhouse

Chad Valley Foldable Wendy Playhouse

Age suitability: 3+ | Size: L102cm x W90cm x H111cm | Main material: UV-resistant plastic | Assembly time: 10 minutes | Accessories included: None

This brightly coloured playhouse is made from UV-resistant polypropylene and is suitable for indoor and outdoor use. It has swinging doors and a window, folding walls and a roof that clicks off and doubles as a storage case – meaning you can stow the whole thing under a sofa or in the car boot.

It's very lightweight (9.7kg) and not as sturdy as other heavier and non-folding playhouses. And it's quite small – which may suit you nicely if you have a small garden but does mean the roof is quite low for most kids over the age of 4 or 5. Saying that, though it's sold as suitable from 3 years, we reckon most toddlers could play very happily in this – with close adult supervision, of course.

Putting it up and taking it down is just a matter of popping on or off the clicking locks and folding up/folding out the walls, and it really is quick – 10 minutes max.

Pros: Great value, folds easily, can be used indoors, great for small gardens
Cons: Too small for older kids, not as sturdy as non-folding playhouses, no accessories included

Available at: Argos

5. Smoby Chef House, £299.99

– Best playhouse for little cooks

studio shot of Smoby Chef House

Age suitability: 3+ | Size: L125cm x W132cm x 136cm | Main material: UV-treated plastic | Assembly time: 2 to 3 hours | Accessories included: Play food and drink, cutlery, cooking utensils, credit card and play money, salt and pepper shaker, frying pan, 2 removable slates for writing menus

This playhouse is similar in structure to the Smoby Garden House (see no 1 in our list) but this on is designed to be a play café, with an open hatch window for serving your orders from. Inside, there's a fridge, oven, pretend gas stove with flames, a sink and tap, a cash register (including a sweet cash drawer and credit card reader) and storage shelves, and the outside has 2 porthole windows, an opening half-door and another shutter window.

We're impressed by how many play accessories are included, and we really like the little slates your child can write the day's specials on and hang from the hatch shutters.

It's solid and durable and the plastic has been treated stop the colour fading in the sun. But, like the Garden House, it is pretty fiddly and time-consuming to put together. We'd set aside at least 3 hours and say it was a 2-person job.

Debbie, mum to our child tester, Charlotte, 3, was impressed by how well made the playhouse is and called it a great buy, adding, "The built-in kitchen is brilliant, and we liked the option to purchase add-ons – we added a doorbell, which the kids love.”

Pros: Sturdy, UV-treated plastic, lots of accessories, great features
Cons: Long assembly time

Available at: Selfridges, Amazon and Argos

6. TP Meadow Cottage Playhouse and Kitchen, £270

– Best playhouse with mud kitchen feature

TP Meadow Cottage Playhouse and Kitchen

Age suitability: 3+ | Size: L131cm x W99cm x H140cm | Main material: Untreated FSC-certified wood | Assembly time: 2 hours (2 adults) | Accessories included: Steel utensil set, stencil set

This compact wooden playhouse has a covered verandah, window and a door with an inset window – and round the side there's a little mud kitchen, complete with play hob, utensil hanging board, plastic sink and an open top water butt (you can buy this little mud kitchen separately and it's featured in our Best Wooden Mud Kitchens selection).

It comes with 3 steel pots and a whisk to for your mud cookery and a little stencil set (flowers, dinosaurs etc) for you to use to decorate your playhouse with.

For a wooden playhouse, it compares quite favourably in price to some of the plastic playhouses we've selected – though it is maybe just a little bit smaller than them.

It's a reasonably long assembly job but the instructions are nice and clear. You should be warned, however, that the timber is untreated, so you'll have to treat it or paint it (preferably before you put it all together) if you want it to be properly weather-proof,

Pros: Sturdy wooden frame, not bad value for a wooden playhouse, mud kitchen feature, accessories included
Cons: Untreated timber, reasonably long assembly time

Available at: TP Toys and Argos

7. Little Tikes Cape Cottage, £140

– Best value static plastic playhouse

A collage of the Little Tikes Cape cottage outside in a garden with a child inside it next to a studio shot of the product

Age suitability: 2+ | Size: L93 x W122cm x H120cm | Main material: Weather-treated plastic | Assembly time: 30 minutes | Accessories included: None

This wider-than-long playhouse has a brick-style exterior, 2 doors, multiple windows, including some with shutters, and (thrills!) a little letterbox.

Its shape makes it good buy for a smaller garden and, though it's a shade smaller in height that many in our selection, it's not too short for bigger preschoolers. "We bought the Cape Cottage 2 years ago now and it's lasting really well," says Emma, who's a member of our Top Testers Club. "My twins Freya (pictured above) and Joshie are 4 years old now and still love playing in it."

The plastic has been weather-treated but is thinner than you'd get with other, more expensive playhouses. The whole thing is very easy to assemble, with a simple snap-and-click system. Also available in Pink and Tan & Red.

Pros: Weather-treated plastic, good value, good for small gardens, letterbox feature, easy to assemble
Cons: Plastic a little flimsy, no accessories included

Available at: Very, Amazon, Argos and Little Tikes

8. Kidkraft Cozy Escape Playhouse, £1399.99

– Best for large families

Studio shot of Kidkraft Cozy Escape Playhouse and Slide

Age suitability: 3 to 10+ | Size: L317cm x W214cm x H274cm | Main material: Treated cedarwood and plastic | Assembly time: 6 to 8 hours (2 to 3 adults) | Accessories included: None

This big double-decker wooden playhouse is packed with active-play features, including a 12ft twisty slide, ladder and climbing wall, and in the open-air play area downstairs there's a play sink, play stove, as well as a porch with a little bench.

It has 3 entrances (but no doors), windows on both sides and a lovely balcony area round the back, complete with 2 flower boxes on the railings.

Altogether, there's a whopping 4.6 square metres of play space, which would easily accommodate several children all at once.

The wood is good quality and pre-treated for water resistance but will weather better with a yearly application of wood stain or water repellent. Just be prepared for quite an epic build! It’s undoubtably a 2-person job – the slide alone takes upwards of 2 hours to assemble – and you'll need a drill, hammer, mallet, stepladder, screwdrivers and spanners. Comes with ground stakes to secure it safely into the ground.

Pros: Sturdy wooden frame, great for multiple child playing together, great features
Cons: Very pricey, very long assembly time, too big for some gardens

Available at: Very and KidKraft

9. Feber Super Palace Playhouse, £449.99

– Best fairytale playhouse

Studio shot of Feber Super Palace Playhouse

Age suitability: 3+ | Size: L198cm x W147cm x H250cm | Main material: UV-treated plastic | Assembly time: 2 to 3 hours | Accessories included: None

This pink palace has 9 towers, 5 windows in the walls and pretend windows in the towers and a door with an electronic door knocker that makes both knocking and bell sounds. There's also a clock above the door.

Inside, the castle has lots of space – and impressive height – for royal role-playing. The only gripe we have is that the door doesn't always close properly.

The plastic is UV-treated and feels very thick and sturdy. Assembly isn't quick but is pretty straightforward, with just the odd issue lining up holes. You'll need 3 x AA batteries for the doorbell.

Pros: Sturdy, tall and roomy, working doorbell
Cons: Quite pricey, long assembly time, door doesn’t always stay closed

Available at: Littlewoods, Very and Amazon

10. Smoby My House on Stilts with Slide, £396.99

– Best plastic playhouse with slide

Studio shot of Smoby My House on Stilts with Slide

Age suitability: 2+ | Size: L260cm x W160cm x H197cm | Main material: UV-treated plastic | Assembly time: 1 to 2 hours | Accessories included: None

This colourful playhouse on stilts has a little deck, a 4-rung ladder and a 4ft slide which has a hose attachment to turn it into a water slide in summer. It features moulded animal and plant designs on the exterior walls, a half door, a porthole window and 2 windows with sliding shutters – perfect for a game of peek-a-boo!

The house itself isn't huge but Claire, mum to our child testers Emma, 2, and Charlotte, 5, said, "It's big enough for my daughters to play alongside each other – I often find them sat in the playhouse having little tea parties together, which is so cute! You can also sit underneath it in the shade, which is lovely when it's hot."

The plastic is sturdy and has been treated with an anti-UV finish, so the colours won’t fade in the sun. But the platform does collect water when it rains: the solution, according to one parent of our child testers, is to drill some holes in the floor. Assembly is reasonably easy but the instructions could be a little clearer.

Pros: Sturdy, UV-treated plastic, great features
Cons: House quite small, rain collects on platform, no accessories included

Available at: Selfridges, Wowcher, Amazon and Very

How we tested

When choosing and testing these outdoor playhouses we considered size, price, assembly time, value for money, durability, features, play valueand age suitability.

Out 10 of the Best lists are compiled by qualified and experienced parenting journalists. They rely on a number of sources, including our testing during the MadeForMums awards and feedback from our home testing panel and Top Testers Club.

Each year, 1000s of products are put through their paces by hundreds of parents across the country on behalf of MadeForMums, to ensure we’re bringing you honest and true reviews and recommendations.

Our list is not an ordered ranking from 1-10, but instead a carefully selected group of tried-and-tested products, each of which we believe is best for a different situation or requirement. We don’t just tell you what is best, we aim to help you discover what is best for your family.

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.

Pic: Product websites/MadeForMums testers

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Authors

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.

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