15 of the best playsets for children

Toy aquariums, farms and fire trucks can make great pretend-play gifts for children aged 1 to 7. See which ones or child testers rate as the best...

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Whether it’s simple slow-play or whizzily electronic, a good playset will give your child hours of imaginative fun, from pretending to be farmer, pirate or lighthouse-keeper to saving the day as a firefighter or superhero.

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Here are 14 great playsets, as tested and rated by children…

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1. Paw Patrol Ultimate Rescue Fire Truck, £49.99

GOLD winner, Best Play Set, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards

Age: 3+

What it is: It’s only Marshall from Paw Patrol’s very own fire truck! Equipped with an impressive extendable 2ft (yep, 2ft!) ladder, a mini fire car, and flashing lights and sounds. Comes with a Marshall figure, water ‘plumes’ to fire from the water cannon, a hose, grabbing claw and stickers for a spot of decoration. Dimensions: 64.8cm x 35.6cm x 17.8 cm.

Why we love it: What an amazingly long ladder: that was the feature our testers loved the most! And the water cannon are good fun, too.

What our child judges made of it:

  • ‘A great toy which, so far, has provided hours of entertainment for Casey, who has lots of fun putting out fires on his train track and shooting his toy dinosaurs with the water cannons. He loves it!’Carly, mum to Aidan, 4
  • ‘The scale of the truck makes it particularly fun: Ted uses the 2ft tall ladder to rescue toys from all over the house, high and low.’ Katherine, mum to Ted, 4 

Available from: Smyths Toys

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2. Toot-Toot Friends Kingdom Pirate Ship, £39.99

SILVER winner, Best Play Set, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards

Age: 1 to 5

What it is: An interactive pirate’s ship that opens up to reveal a treasure island. Features a cannon that shoots cannonballs, a trap door and a spinning octopus. Come with 3 characters, 3 MagicPoints that triggers responses when you place a character on them and 3 light-up press buttons. Requires 2 AA batteries. Dimensions: 16cm x 45cm x 35cm.

Why we love it: There’s so much to play with in this toddler-magnet playset: the shooting canon was a particularly huge hit with all our testers. We also the fact that the noises can be switched off if you need a break from whistling cannon balls and exclaiming pirates.

What our judges made of it:

  • ‘I love it! There’s lots of bits to look at and find! I like the cannon ball!’ William, 3
  • ‘Tyler loves spinning the octopus and shooting the cannons, This toy really sturdy and the accessories are not flimsy or worryingly small. It’s compact and easy to store – and excellent value for money, too.’ Samantha, mum to Tyler, 3

Available from: Smyths ToysAmazon and Argos

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3. PLAYMOBIL Aquarium, £49.99

JOINT BRONZE winner, Best Play Set, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards

Age: 5+

What it is: An aquarium complete with pool, visitor terrace, deep sea cave, panoramic windows and an adventure dome. Comes with 3 figures, seals, and a gazillion aquatic accessories. Dimensions: 40cm x 43cm x 16cm.

Why we love it: We love the detail and the size of this playset – and that you can fill the pool with water! Oh, and the viewing area has a rotating platform.

What our child judges made of it:

  • Lola loves it. She’s amazed by all the animal figures and sits for hours creating her own sea lion shows. Her older brother joins in, too: it’s a fab toy for girls and boys. There is so much to play with, and it really gets their minds engaged. Makes a change from electronic toys!’ Michelle, mum of Lola, 6

Available from: Playmobil and Argos

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4. Carousel 15-in-1 Activity Playset, £20

JOINT BRONZE winner, Best Play Set, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards

Age: 2 to 5

What it is: A portable, wooden box containing all you need to play 15 different activities. Includes wooden blocks, cards, cars, games, a clock and a shape sorter. The lid doubles up as a 2-in-1 blackboard and whiteboard.

Why we love it: Wow, what a treasure trove of play activities! Our testers loved unpacking the box to discover all the things inside – and work out different ways to play with them. Terrific value for money, too.

What our child testers made of it:

  • ‘Storm especially likes the fishing rod with the magnetic fish. He acts out a fishing game where him and Mummy take turns in collecting fish. He also likes the bricks and building a castle.’ Michelle, mum to Storm, 3
  • ‘Evie enjoys building towers with the shapes and blocks, and also the cards – this enables us to talk about the colours and numbers while she played which is great for learning.’ Rebecca, mum to Evie 3

Available from: Tesco (in-store only)

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5. Gelli Worlds Dino Pack, £15

Age: 5+

What it is: A kit that contains everything you need to make your very own gooey dinosaur swamp. Includes 5 sachets of Gelli powder, 8 dinosaurs and 2 trees to submerge in the goo. Dimensions: 9.4cm x 20.1cm x 26.2cm.

Why we love it: The slime is non toxic, environmentally friendly and won’t stain clothes. And we (and our child testers) reply like the extra play fun you can get from the dino accessories.

Available from: Lighthouse Toys

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6. Sylvanian Families Grand Department Store Gift Set, £120

Age: 4+

What it is: The ultimate shopping experience for the furry residents of Sylvania. Featuring a working lift and revolving door, beautiful architectural details and over 95 pieces to be lovingly assembled. Dimensions: 11.5cm x 52cm x 29cm.

Why we love it: The attention to detail that has gone into this set is incredible. And if you’re an SF collector, it can be combined with other buildings from the series. We’ll meet you by the macaron counter on the ground floor.

Available from: Debenhams and Smyth’s Stores

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7. SuperZings Series 2 Kaboom City Police Station Playset, £20

Age: 4+

What it is: A quirky looking police station to complement the increasingly popular SuperZings series of collectibles. Comes with 2 exclusive characters, a blaster canon, a trap and a secret passageway. Dimensions: 13cm x 30cm x 27cm.

Why we love it: The blaster cannon got a definite thumbs-up from our child testers. It’s simple, good fun and good value.

Available from: Amazon

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8. Puppy Dog Pals Dog House Playset, £23.99

Age: 3+

What is it: Made for fans of the Disney Jr show, this playhouse includes a lift, slide swing see-saw and doggy glider. Comes with Bingo and Rolly figures and a car. Dimensions: 44cm x 47cm x 24.5cm.

Why we loved it: It’s a nice big playset and our testers particularly liked the seesaw and the slide (just exactly what doggies want to play on, apparently!)

Available from: Argos

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9. Sylvanian Families Starry Point Lighthouse, £49.99

Age: 4+

What it is: A lighthouse with 25 pieces, including seaside-themed furniture, a boat bed and a hot air balloon ride. Best of all, the roof can be removed to create light show with 3 different slides that project the night sky and fireworks. Requires 3 AAA batteries. Dimensions: 35cm x 44cm x 21.5cm.

Why we love it: As with all Sylvanian Families toys, the detail is fantastic – from the seashell shaped stairs to the seagull pattern in the fencing. There’s lots to keep little fingers busy, and our child testers completely adored the light and projections, awarding it Silver in our 2017 Toy Awards.

Available from: Sylvanian Store Keepers and Amazon

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10. Fisher-Price Little People Caring For Animals Farm, £34.99

Age: 12 months+

What it is: A farm-barn playset, with working bell and light, chicks that ‘hatch’, a spinning corn silo and drop-through hole for hay bales – all with sound effects. Includes Farmer Jed figure and 4 animals to care for, plus a discovery button with words and songs. Requires 2 AA batteries (not included). Dimensions: 41cm x 61cm x 15cm.

Why we love it: It’s solid and excellent quality, with tons of lovely little touches, like the hatching chicks. Our child testers really enjoyed feeding the chickens corn and tucking the horse into bed with a blanket. A Bronze winner in our 2017 Toy Awards.

Available from: Argos and Smyths

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11. PJ Masks Headquarters Playset, £29.99

Age: 3+

What it is: A fantasy playset inspired by the Disney Junior superhero show. Boasts a lift, slide/ramp, zip line, hanging rings and pop-out hatches, lights, sounds and interactive features like a spyscope that doubles as a furball shooter. Comes with a Catboy figure and his Cat-Car. Dimensions: 44cm x 19cm x 52cm.

Why we love it: It’s a magnet for any PJ Masks fan and the sound effects are great. We like the cool red Owlette vision googles at the top of the building. Would be even better with a few more play figures (you can buy these separately).

Available from: Smyth’s Toys

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12. Schleich Wild Life Quad Bike with Trailer and Ranger, £20.48

Age: 3+

What it is: A quad-bike-and-trailer toy with a opening back gate, a tiger and a Ranger Alex figure. Also includes a storage box containing a mini axe and satellite phone. The set is part of Schleich’s Croco jungle research station range and requires assembly. Dimensions: 23cm x 19cm x 11cm.

Why we love it: Once the bike is built (it’s a bit fiddly), this is slow play at its finest. The ranger and animal figures are super-high-quality, and your child simply does the rest with their imagination. We love the wildlife conservation angle, too.

Available from: Amazon

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13. Chad Valley Driftstone Car Park & Cars Playset, £20

Age: 3+

What it is: A 40cm x 66cm x 30cm 3-level car park with ramps and 5 die-cast cars. Features a working car lift, car wash, fuel pumps, barriers, helipad and parking bays. Track pieces compatible with other Chad Valley track sets.

Why we love it: Lots of lovely little features for the price, and pushing the cars down the ramps is loads of fun. We were also impressed with the number of cars included compared to other sets available.

Available from: Argos

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14. Playmobil City Action Fire Station Super Set, £99.50

Age: 4+

What it is: A fire station and fire engine set with 3 fireman figures. Features lots of sounds and accessories, including hoses, fire axe and metal cutters. Roof is removable. Requires 2 AA batteries (not included). Dimensions: 14cm x 2cm x 51cm.

Why we love it: It’s very detailed and there are plenty of fireman to stage your own emergency situation. We were very taken with how they can slide down the pole and attach the hoses to the engine.

Available from: Amazon

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15. Hot Wheels Corkscrew Crash, £49.99

Age: 5+

What it is: A looped race track, with 3 30cm loops, crash zones, high-speed boosters and 1 Hot Wheels die cast car. Race tracks are a dime a dozen, but this one’s motorised, and your little one can use the 3 speed boosters to make their cars go faster. Some assembly required – give yourself up to 30 minutes. Dimensions: 10.8cm x 61cm x 38.1cm.

Why we love it: It really does fire off the cars at a good speed. We think it’s got play value for older kids who like cars, too. However, you may need to make sure you’ve got a few more Hot Wheels cars to get the most out of this set, which costs a bit extra if your child doesn’t already have them.

Available from: Argos

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