Looking for things to do with your kids? We have listed what we think are some of the best playgrounds in London after our extensive research on the subject. As well as reviewing some of the most well-known playgrounds, we have also rated less known play areas mostly popular with locals. Whether you are local or just visiting, make sure to take advantage of London’s many excellent playgrounds and let your little ones loose to explore and play!
Like many other London parents, we have a love-hate relationship with our local playgrounds. Playgrounds can be lifesavers when it comes to our kids blowing off steam rather than being bored at home. And we just love it when we find play areas that are planned in a way that challenge children at the same time s they are in a safe environment. On the other side, playgrounds can be risky places, especially if no clear separation between different play areas with toddlers and school-age children tumbling on top of each other. Please let us know if you have suggestions for additional playgrounds that you think should be on this list!
Types of playgrounds in London
- Free public playground: Playgrounds that are usually run by the local councils with various types of play elements like swings, slides and climbing frames. With the austerity budget cuts, many of the public playgrounds suffered a lack of maintenance with many having to close down. Despite of this, many free playgrounds have also been refurbished with the help of local charities, national funds and volunteers. Examples of these that we have reviewed are Greenwich Park Playground as well as Southwark Park Playground.
- Paid for playgrounds: These are playgrounds that often have similar equipment as public playgrounds but usually offer something extra and are more extensive in their layout. They are often part of other attractions, like Children’s Garden at Kew and the Magic Garden at Hampton court.
- Adventure playgrounds: Playgrounds with less static elements like swings and slides, with more focus on letting children explore and play on their own more freely. With natural materials available, children can use their imagination to create and build structures for their adventures. In London, many adventure playgrounds started as play spaces in second world war bomb sites that developed into more organised activities over time. In recent years, many local councils have been tempted to sell off land used for adventure playgrounds to private enterprises. We have not included any traditional adventure playgrounds in our reviews so far, but using London Play’s excellent website you can search for one in your local area.
- Adventure parks: Not really playgrounds, but worth mentioning. These are often more specialized around experiences, including activities like treetop climbing and zip wire challenges. These are not just for children, but everyone, including corporate events like team-building sessions. A popular example of this in London is GoApe.
- Indoor playgrounds: The best example of this category is soft play centres. You can find big and small soft play areas pretty much everywhere in London either as stand-alone facilities or in conjunction with shopping centres, museums or leisure centres managed by local councils. Come rain or come shine, we prefer outside play and generally avoid indoor playgrounds. A couple of exceptions that we truly enjoy are the Mudlark Gallery at Museum of Docklands and Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford.
Map of playgrounds we have rated
Use the map to find a playground near you, and read more it in our description below.
The number assigned to each playground is corresponding with its ranking in the list below
How we have identified the best playgrounds in London
We have rated the playgrounds based on four main criteria:
- Play Elements: What’s the quality of the equipment? Are they safe and secure? Are there play elements for toddlers as well as for school age-children? Are they separated?
- Fun factor: No fun with fancy equipment if the kids have to queue up for a long time. Is the planning of the playground making sense? Are kids inspired to use their imagination while playing?
- Facilities: How are the nappy-change facilities? What about stations to wash hands?
- Parents friendliness: Enough benches and coffee within a short distance are essential criteria!
Now to the list, starting from the top:
1. Diana Memorial Playground
Inspirational for young pirates
Kensington and Chelsea W2
Inspiring play elements like the pirate-ship encourage children’s imagination
Challenging but safe equipment suited for toddlers as well as school-age children
On-site staff only allow adults with children into the playground
On the tourist-trail of London, it gets very crowded during school holidays and weekends
Many small sections divided by hedges, making it hard for parents to keep a constant eye
The Diana playground is a fantastic offer for children in central London, free of charge and with lots of great play areas to explore. After a long day of sightseeing, museum visits or shopping I’m sure most children will appreciate a break from the big city. The centrepiece that all the children flock to is the Pirate Ship, which also acts as a climbing frame. It looks like it’s designed for school-age children, but there is nothing stopping toddlers from climbing up. The result is a mix of children of different age-groups playing alongside, which is both positive and negative. On the one hand, it’s nice that siblings can play together, but on the other hand you run the risk of older children trampling on top of the youngest one
Please read our full review of Diana Memorial Garden
2. Kew Gardens Playground
Play areas well matched with the elements of nature
State of the art play equipment, safe and well maintained
Educational with focus on nature’s elements
Wide range of play-areas for all abilities, great for toddler aged children
The different areas are divided up, making it hard for parents to keep oversight
Hard to predict and plan for the time-slot you will be assigned
If it weren’t for the high price-tag for a family of four to enter Kew and get access to Children’s Garden, this would probably have been our absolute favourite playground in London. Pricey or not, Kew Garden can boast of one of the absolutely best playgrounds in London. We love how they have focused on natural elements when building the playground around the key elements of earth, air, sun and water. Playing in Kew’s Children’s Garden feels natural surrounded by lush vegetation and with natural materials used for the play elements. On the other side, we also experienced that it was hard to keep an eye on the kids when the sections are so much divided, especially if you have kids with different interests and ages (which is often the case).
Read our in-depth review of Kew’s Playground
3. Peckham Rye Playground
Suitable for both toddlers and school-age children
A clear divide between areas for toddlers and older children
Open landscape, easy to keep an eye on the children
Nice cafe and parent-friendly
The treehouse can be risky for inexperienced climbers
Peckham Rye Playground ticks a lot of boxes in our book, making it deserve to be listed among the best playgrounds in London. It’s both safe and challenging for toddlers, and we especially love the sand and water area. The playground is really well planned out, easy for parents to keep an overview while drinking coffee relaxing on one of the many boulders. The climbing forest for school-age children is at a good distance, but it’s still possible for parents to keep an eye from the toddler section. One word of caution, though. Parents should be aware that the treehouse is high up, so children should be constantly supervised when climbing.
Read our review of Peckham Rye Playground
4. Parliament Hill Playground
Just perfect after a walk on the Heath
Hampstead Heath NW3
Good selection of solid and well-maintained play equipment and a large sandpit
Sections divided for children of different ages
Close to Hampstead Heath, great for walking and tree-climbing
No wow factor in terms of play structures inspiring imaginary play
Parliament Hill is what we would call a no-frills playground, with a range of very solid and well-maintained run of the mill play elements like swings, slides and climbing frames. You get what it says on the tin, which means it’s not necessarily the most inspiring park sparking children’s imagination. On the other side, being so close to Hamstead Heath is a big plus as you can combine a visit to the playground exploring the beautiful woodlands.
Read our review of Parliament Hill Playground
5. The Magic Garden at Hampton Court
Visit a Tudor inspired playground
Richmond upon Thames KT8
Excellent sand and water play area
Very popular mound with built-in tunnel slide
Inspirational for kids interested in history
Very crowded, despite the limitation on visiting time
Some of the elements like the royal towers seem mostly for display purposes
The Magic Garden is spectacular to look at a distance and an inspirational place for children that just visited Hampton Court and are starting to learn about Tudor history. It’s a truly unique playground, combining modern play equipment with historical elements making it one of the best playgrounds in London. On the other side, it also gets very crowded during summer and weekends, which came as a surprise since the entry fee is quite steep for what you get. We also felt the layout was confusing, and that it was tough to supervise two kids in different sections of the park at the same time.
Read our in-depth review of Magic Garden
6. Greenwich Park Playground
Happy toddlers enjoying water and sand
An inclusive playground that feels safe for toddlers as well as school-age children
Open landscape, easy for parents to supervise
Lots of engaging play areas for the youngest age-group 1-6
Very crowded during summer without on-site staff
Limited play options for school-age children
We love the water and sand area where children can play and collaborate using basic natural elements. There are also plenty of old school playground equipment available like slides, swings and climbing frames. Greenwich park itself is not very far away with its beautiful green landscape to have a picnic. The biggest negative side of the playground is that it gets very crowded around the most popular area. Looking at the amount of space available behind the cafe, it will hopefully be possible to expand the playground to include more equipment for older school-aged children which sill spread the crowds out.
Read our full review of Greenwich Park Playground.
7. St James Park Playground
Small but fun playground next to Buckingham Palace
Well planned out playground with limited space
Natural elements like wood, sand and rocks
Easy for parents to relax and watch (when free boulders are available)
On the tourist trail, meaning huge crowds during weekends and holidays
Kids will get fed up quite quickly (it’s really small)
Children tend to get fed up with sightseeing in the city, and a central playground like this offers a chance for parents and kids to take a break to relax for a bit. This might also be the most prominent playground in London, right next to Buckingham Palace and the Queen herself. Despite being a small playground, we really like it, especially the boulders and sand area. All in all, one of the best playgrounds in central London to keep on your radar for your visit.
Read our in-depth review of St James Park Playground
8. Southwark Park Playground
Enjoying a refurbished local park
Challenging and safe for both toddlers and school-age children
Toddler section fenced off separate from the main play area
Easy for parents to keep an overview
Having to cross heavily congested roads to access the park
Southwark Park Playground received a makeover not long ago and features two separate play areas; one for toddlers and young kids and one more challenging area for older kids. At the same time, it’s straightforward for parents to keep an eye on both areas, which is part of the reason why we like this park so much.
Read our review of Southwark Park Playground
9. The Olympic Park Playground
Getting active in an open and spacious playground
We like the huge rubber surfaced mounds safe for kids of all ages to climb
Innovative climbing elements challenging school-age children
Lots of space to run around without kids bumping into each other
Except for physical activity, more functional than an inspiring playground
Quite hard to get to from public transportation/parking
We really like the Pleasure Gardens on the south side of the Olympic Park. The climbing frames are really solid feeling safe, and it’s easy to keep an eye on the children since the playground is designed to be very open and fully covered with rubber surface. This means kids can explore and play freely, which is important for us.
Read our full review of the Olympic Park Playground
10. Crystal Palace Playground
It’s all about dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park & Playground
Crystal Palace SE20
We love the dinosaur skeletons and bones sticking up from the sand
Lots of other things to do in the area makes for a full day out
A nice cafe for parents to pick up their boost of coffein
Except for the sand and dinosaur area, the equipment is pretty basic and well used
Not a lot to challenge school age children
We really like the Crystal Palace Playground, even if it’s quite limited in terms of play equipment. It’s really spacious allowing kids to run around with parents relaxing and enjoying their coffee. The dinosaur theme of the playground in combination with a visit to the 1850s dinosaur statues is making it a winner for many children.
Read our in-depth review and see more photos of Crystal Palace Playground
Why playgrounds are so important
With kids spending more and more time in front of screens, playgrounds are more important than ever. Not only does playgrounds provide opportunities to stimulate fine motor skills developing balance and coordination. They also help children develop social skills through collaboration and increase their self-esteem by challenging and mastering physical skills. Playground favourites include:
- Climbing frames