We’ve searched from Camberwell to Colindale and from Hackney to Hammersmith to find the capital’s most innovative, aesthetically pleasing, exciting and often downright weird children’s playgrounds (it was a tough job, but somebody had to do it). Below are 50 (ish) of the best ones we found, listed by area with more to be added as play areas start to open up again (suggestions welcome).
Alexandra Park, South Hampstead
Alexandra Road Park consists of three small playgrounds, aimed at different age groups and rather confusingly numbered 3, 4 and 5, with 1 and 2 having seemingly done one. There’s the yellow climbing frame playground for 8-14s, the red swing playground for 3-8s and the weird brown 90s playground for 2-5s. All three are kind of brilliant and the Brutalist estate that they call home is even better, having featured in dozens of films.
Astey’s Row Playground, Islington
A colourfully painted “boulderscape” and an unusually elongated shape make this recently renovated Essex Road playground stand out from the crowd, but it’s not all about looks: the approaches to both of its slides – one on either end of the space – are genuinely challenging and Babu spent ages navigating the interesting-looking climbing frame. Other fun features include a bug hotel, water play and adjoining rock garden.
Stationers Park, Crouch End
Thanks to its beautiful water feature this N8 park is a pretty awesome hangout all by itself, but for Crouch Enders with young children Stationers Park’s unusual playgrounds are the main event – whether it’s the under-fives play area with its cute primary-hued apparatus or this awesome hillside fortress with its pair of genuinely thrilling slides. Plus – and it’s a big plus – the amazing Niddle Noddle kids’ shop is just round the corner.
Arundel Square, Islington
We found this well-hidden square by accident on the way back from nearby Freightliners City Farm. Small but well formed, this Islington gem features challenging but toddler-friendly undulating hills, wobbly bridges, a hillside slide and a small tree house, plus a more traditional roundabout and swings. There’s also a cool but terrifying-looking big-kid treehouse on the other side of the square, in case you’re feeling brave.
RAF Museum Playground, Colindale
It might be tucked up in the farthest reaches of the Northern Line, but the RAF Museum’s incredible military logistics-themed playground is easily one of London’s most imaginative play areas with its yellow helicopter treehouse, pair of warplane slides, a funhouse built as a replica of one of the museum’s oldest buildings, and plenty of planes and cars to commandeer. We’d visit the museum just for this to be completely honest.
Kilburn Grange Adventurous Children’s Playground, Kilburn
Photos just don’t do this beautiful new addition to this popular park justice. Designed to appear as though it’s been cobbled together from logs collected from the park, this natural-looking, brilliantly named “adventurous children’s playground” is broadly aimed at under-14s, and more accessible to toddlers than it looks. This climbing structure is the main event, but there’s also a stand-up seesaw, hammocks and some super-long swings.
Woodhouse Urban Park, Kilburn
The residents of this South Kilburn housing estate have massively lucked out with this cool playground, which was built as part of the wider regeneration of the area. Another play area that looks more suitable for bigger kids but is actually pretty great for toddlers, Woodhouse Urban Park comprises a tall wooden treehouse and slide, a matching climbing structure with suspended steps, a set of swings and a sunken trampoline.
Kinloch Gardens, Finsbury Park
Just off Seven Sisters Road, and sandwiched in between Arsenal, Holloway and Finsbury Park, this Russell Play-designed playground provides a lovely, calm oasis in what’s otherwise a fairly crappy pocket of North London. Swings and a smaller toddler playground join the main treehouse structure to make up an actually pretty good little play area, plus it’s right next door to the Sobell Centre and its brilliant trampoline park.
King Square Gardens, Clerkenwell
I’ve heard this one referred to as a “summer playground” and I’m kind of inclined to agree, owing to its climbing frame and slide both living in a giant sandpit – that and the splash-pad thingy that’s only switched on in the warmer months. It’s still a decent all-rounder though, offering plenty of play options across a large site and in a good location if you’re close to Angel or Barbican. Look out for the colourful metal igloo shelters.
Milner Square, Islington
Really nice square, really nice playground: I’m horribly jealous of everyone who lives here. Comprising swings, a fairly challenging climbing frame, balancing logs, a lonely slide down the other end of the park and a strange circular sports pitch, Milner Square might not be the most thrilling playground the girls have ever visited but it sure is pretty – plus it’s so great to see more pocket parks getting these beautiful wooden upgrades.
Graham Street Park, Islington
Undulating hills to roll down, a brilliant climbing structure that will suit pretty much all ages, a little area with sand and a water feature for the summer, swings for kids big and small, stepping stones to balance on, a little wooden tree house for imaginative play, and two slides of varying heights: it might be relatively small but this Islington pocket park still has pretty much everything you need, as well as that enigmatic “nice vibe”.
Biodiversity Playground, Stratford
Given that it’s Danish playground master Monstrum’s only UK site, I always feel sad that this beauty has been allocated this kind of depressing plot, wedged between Stratford International Station, the back of Westfield and whatever that God-awful building to the left is. Regardless, this magical pond-themed playground is one of the city’s most iconic with its wobbly lily plants, wonky paper-boat houses and giant orange koi slide.
Tumbling Bay Playground, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford
The ultimate summertime playground, the wild and wonderful Tumbling Bay combines an intricate network of rock pools with vast pits of white sand, huge wobbly bridges and birds’ nest-style tree houses. It’s essentially two playgrounds in one, with the ‘bay’ section from which it derives its name being reliably packed during summer and totally dead in the winter. The adjacent Timber Lodge Cafe offers nice, clean toilets and decent coffee.
Wild Kingdom Playspace, Three Mills Island
It’s a bit of a weird one and a mission and a half if you’re not based in Stratford (and possibly even if you are), but at the very least Wild Kingdom offers a change from your average playground equipment with its steps to nowhere, giant rope swings, tombstone-like stepping stones, timber bridges and the sculpture of a giant man on his smartphone. Combine with a trip to the actual Three Mills and soak up some history while you’re at it.
Victoria & Alexandra Playground, Victoria Park, Hackney
There are two playgrounds in Victoria Park but this one scares me less than the main playground – which is great for older kids and houses the excellent splash park, but contains some pretty terrifying apparatus. This one mostly consists of small wooden houses, all plopped on top of a giant sandpit that you can kid yourself will cushion them should they plummet from the top of one of the (still quite frightening) taller tree houses.
All Mead Gardens, Kingsmead Estate, Hackney
Tucked amongst the red-brick blocks of Homerton’s Kingsmead Estate, this secret playground is one of our favourite Hackney finds with its huge concrete fish-head shelter and easily one of the most precarious slides in London. Known as Fish Park (if the big mural on the back wall is anything to go by) this slightly batshit playground also includes a smaller, kind of random toddler area and some weird wall art featuring floating heads.
Skelton’s Lane Adventure Playground, Jack Cornwell Park, Leyton
Like an adventure playground but without the over-6s-only rule, this partly wheelchair-accessible Leyton favourite was built by the company responsible for the visually similar Hackney Downs playground. Its main structure comprises twin tree houses with a wobbly bridge connecting them, plus several slides of varying levels of scariness. The playground is right next to Brooks Farm, whose residents include donkeys and ponies.
Leyton Jubilee Park, Leyton
Like a poor man’s Diana Memorial, the star of this playground is less a model boat that’s also a climbing frame and more a climbing frame that’s vaguely ship-shaped. It’s tediously geometrical but at least it’s easy for toddlers to explore independently – which is more than can be said for the neighbouring slides, which might look exciting but are impossible for toddlers to ascend thanks to the massive gaps at the top of their ladders.
Bisterne Avenue Park, Walthamstow
I like the dry-land/maritime design of this park, which has a nice, friendly community vibe as well as being pretty, and thought the attention to detail (the shark, the portholes and the pops of colour with the blue sea, red slide and yellow zip-wire posts) was brilliant. It’s also home to a tiny police box-shaped free library, and a patterned sports pitch that had just been painted when we visited and was crying out to be scooted on.
Brokky’s Crofte, Walthamstow
Definitely not your average crappy neighbourhood playground, Brokky’s Crofte makes good use of its small plot with a lofty climbing structure that’s still fun for older kids but relatively easy for little ones to scale. It’s got a free library in a cupboard, one of those big nest swings you can fit three kids in, a stage and a weird hanging wobbly thing, in addition to the three-storey tree house. The mural on the back wall isn’t bad either.
Stonebridge Gardens, Haggerston
Snake Park is handily located just over the road from one of our favourite play cafes and so called because…. well, look. While the giant mosaic snake with its tunnels and bridges might be the main attraction here it’s a pretty cool little playground in general, with a mini trampoline, lots of swings and plenty of stuff to climb and balance on. It’s also mega close to Dalston Eastern Curve Garden with its copious ride-ons and family activities.
Forrester Way Play Area, Stratford
This slide packs quite the punch considering it was built not for a big shiny playground but for a small play area on a new housing development in Stratford. And while it might be a bit tricky for under-fives to use unaided, it’s a brilliant one for them to explore with their adults. This well-hidden gem also offers swings, ping-pong tables, wooden animals and a nice water feature (although you might have to watch younger ones with that).
Woodland Play Area, Burgess Park, Camberwell
Everyone bangs on about the other Burgess Park playground, which looked alright when it was first done but now it’s all faded it’s actually pretty rubbish. This one, however, is an absolute beauty, being on the Camberwell side of the park and consisting of a series of wooden dodecagons (dodecagons?!) from which bridges, net tunnels, balance ropes, fireman’s poles, balance beams, slides, climbing walls and climbing nets emerge.
Elephant Park, Elephant & Castle
It might sit bang in the middle of one of London’s most controversial council estate redevelopments but this semi-permanent playground, which has been built into construction-site cladding, is one of my favourite recent discoveries. This mural-bedecked beauty isn’t just a pretty face though, and boasts tube slides, sandpits, tyre tunnels, telescopes, hidden dens, swings, sand hoists, balance beams and more.
Greenwich Park Playground, Greenwich
Another sand- and water-heavy spot, Greenwich Park’s new-look playground opened just last summer and it’s a beauty. Fully wheelchair accessible, sustainable and everything else a modern playground should be, it includes a series of interesting climbing structures, slides, swings, tree houses and a large sandy rock-pool area complete with water pumps. It’s also just a short walk from Greenwich’s child-friendly museums.
Children’s Garden, Kew
Kew’s sprawling Children’s Garden isn’t just a garden, but a wonderfully imaginative playground designed to blend in with its botanical surroundings. Split into four sections, it’s themed around “things a plant needs” and includes a light-filled Sun tunnel, ‘wormhole’ tube slides that shoot you into the ‘Earth’, an amazing Water feature with pumps and stepping stones, and a magical Air garden featuring giant ‘pollen spheres’.
Battersea Park Playground, Battersea
Battersea Park Playground is kind of overwhelmingly great. Actually three playgrounds in one, with the horribly expensive Go Ape towering overhead, it’s a weird hodgepodge of mismatched apparatus for all ages, and it’s frighteningly easy to get lost in. While some of the big slides may require supervision where little ones are concerned, there’s lots for tinies too, plus a shipwreck-themed play area on the other side of the park.
Kite Playground, Cator Park, Kidbrooke Village
Part of SE3’s huge new Kidbrooke Village development, the Kite Playground is without doubt one of London’s best new playgrounds. Designed by APES to resemble kites, it’s home to a series of amazing nest-like wooden tree houses with metal tube slides spiralling out of them, as well as rope bridges, hillside slides, a telegraph-pole climbing area and an absurdly cute baby swing hanging from a tree. In short, it’s brilliant.
The Magic Garden, Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey
It might be part of Hampton Court Palace (and admission is free when you buy a ticket) but the aptly named Magic Garden is worth the trip to East Molesley all by itself. The ultimate imaginative-play zone/hide-and-seek spot, this unusual playground is home to a pair of colourful play palaces, an exciting treetop walk, hidden dens, hillside slides, a huge red-eyed dragon and a menagerie of otherworldly sculptural beasts.
Bodley Way Play Area, Elephant & Castle
It might be small but for a neighbourhood pocket park this one is pretty cool. Like the Elephant Playground it sits on the site of the old Heygate Estate and is worth visiting if you’re doing the former as it’s just across the road. We loved the main climbing apparatus, which is approached either via a rope ladder or a swirling ramp, and the little trampoline got lots of laughs from the baby when I took her on it in the carrier.
Eltham Palace Play Area, Eltham.
Inspired by Eltham Palace’s owners’ travels around the world, this unusual-looking wooden playground features ship- and plane-themed apparatus, and gives off serious Art Deco vibes to match the palace’s classic 1930s decor. You’ll have to fork out for palace entry to play here, but with the brilliant children’s animal stamper trail, dress-up opportunities galore, and beautiful, sprawling grounds, it’s definitely more than worth it.
Paddington Recreation Ground Playground, Maida Vale
A strong contender for the London’s Best Playground crown, Paddington Rec is full of truly unique things, from a slide hidden behind a facade of pastel townhouses to a seriously beautiful double-funnelled climbing ship. There’s an adjoining treehouse-heavy timber adventure playground designed for older ones (but fine for seasoned younger ones), with the two connected via a bridge that traverses one of the park’s main paths.
Wormholt Park Playground, White City
West London’s most colourful playground is actually much more toddler-accessible than it looks, with the mega-high treehouse actually fairly easy to mount. As well as walkways and general clambering bits, this rainbow-hued, Russell Play-designed space features a dragon-headed slide, colourful swings, climbing boulders, a regular roundabout, one of those weird individual metal roundabouts and a wheelchair-accessible swing.
Holland Park Adventure Playground, Holland Park
One of our absolute favourite playgrounds, not just because it lives in one of London’s nicest parks but, well, look at it. Reopened in 2019 following a complete refurb courtesy of Duncan & Grove, this beauty features a “hill coaster”, a “fishing tower” and another utterly terrifying tower thing than Babu fell through on her first attempt (but has since mastered). Holland Park’s toddler playground is also lovely for very young ones.
Northala Fields, Northolt
Northala Fields is a very weird place, consisting of three artificial hills made from the crushed remains of the old Wembley Stadium and located down the side of a motorway. This playground however, is brilliant, if vaguely terrifying for little ones. Expect swinging rope bridges, a big tube slide and hidden sensory games, as well as a cafe and a toilet so you can stay all day (and by the time you’ve trekked here you might need to).
South Carriage Drive Playground, Hyde Park, Knightsbridge
This underhyped but nonetheless nice playground can be found on the Knightsbridge side of Hyde Park, close to Harrod’s, and as a result is usually full of nannies and their absurdly well-dressed charges. Quiet and leafy, it’s equipped with a nice wooden climbing frame, swings, picnic benches and some random snail things. Worth combining with a trip to Harrod’s toy department, if you can resist the urge to splurge.
Diana Memorial Playground, Kensington Gardens, Queensway
It’s a classic (and usually quite busy) for a reason: the Peter Pan-themed Diana Memorial Playground has it all, from the pirate ship climbing frame to the handsome teepee play houses; from the brilliant sand and water area to the treetop walkway. It’s big enough to spend a whole day in and comes equipped with usually clean children’s toilets and a decent-ish outdoor cafe serving predictably overpriced lunches and ice creams.
Gunnersbury Park Museum Playground, Gunnersbury
Not the world’s biggest (although there’s a much bigger but much less pretty playground in the same park), but the little themed playground next to the Gunnersbury Park Museum is worth a visit for aesthetics alone. Try out the carriage slide, climb aboard the penny farthing and take a ride on the teacup roundabout. It’s the perfect way to round off a day exploring the brilliant (and free!) museum and its beautiful surroundings.
WWT London Wetland Centre Playground, Barnes
You have to pay an entrance fee to access this cool and, to be honest, utterly random playground, but while it might not be the Wetlands Centre’s main attraction it’s a great way to round off a summer’s day there. Best bits include a reed-themed climbing frame, a water table fitted with water guns with which you can guide plastic ducks, a climbing wall and a rabbit warren of a tunnel system it’s frighteningly easy to lose your child in.
Emslie Horniman’s Pleasance Park Playground, North Kensington
While sadly (and predictably) much faded since it was finished 20 years ago, the excellently named Emslie Horniman’s Pleasance – known amongst locals as the Teletubby Playground – is still a pretty great park for toddlers. Space-themed, it features a row of seven ‘planet’ windows in its outer wall and stars painted onto its tarmac, as well as rocket bouncers, undulating hills to climb and tunnels to burrow through.
Acton Park Playground, Acton
We love a treehouse playground and this was a particularly good one, featuring hanging steps, big fast slides and plenty of ways up. Very little ones might find this one challenging and there’s a ‘younger’ (albeit much uglier) playground right next door if they do. We were also intrigued by the Putt in the Park mini-golf course and pizza restaurant on the other side of the park, plus there’s a skate park literally next to this.
Shepherd’s Bush Green Playground, Shepherd’s Bush
“Urban”, “gritty”, “soviet”: all words I used to describe this playground while we were hanging out in it, but I kind of loved it regardless. The big concrete slabs housing musical instruments, convex mirrors, chairs and giant swirly wheel things were brilliant, and I particularly loved the metal things with hats that played notes when you spun them round. The lone swing sitting above the big, filthy accidental lake was weird though.
Horseferry Playground, Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster
One of our favourite playgrounds for many, many reasons. It’s next to the river. It has views of the Palace of Westminster. It’s a five-minute walk from Tate Britain. It’s interesting and unusual and it’s great for toddlers, which is a rare mix. Aside from the sunken horses, which are random but great, it boasts slides, roundabouts, bridges, swings, a water feature, clean toilets and even a food and drink kiosk (when it’s open).
Marylebone Green Playground, Regent’s Park
Everyone always bangs on about this being three playgrounds in one, but to be honest this big concrete thing is the only really good bit, combining a tube slide, a giant sandpit, a water feature and a little musical cave thing. Mostly it just looks cool and I’m really into the orange details, but we’ve also managed to squeeze a fair few hours of play out of it. It’s also next door to Frieze Sculpture Park, which runs every year from July to October.
Paddington Street Gardens Playground, Marylebone
It might not look like much, and the equipment is in pretty serious need of a revamp, but Paddington Street Gardens is probably still one of our most-visited playgrounds of all time. Its leafy Marylebone location right by The Conran Shop and Daunt definitely helps, but it’s a great park in its own right, offering a lovely ‘feel’ (that inexplicable playground must-have) whatever the season plus lots to play on, from climbing frames to zip wires.
Spa Fields Park, Exmouth Market
You’d think aliens had landed in this Clerkenwell playground thanks to its War of the Worlds-esque climbing frame, which sits perched on one of its rolling green tarmac hills. The site has a murky history as a burial ground famous for bodysnatchers but has actually been home to a playground of some description since 1886. A great one to visit post-Mrs H & the Singalong Band, and combined with a stroll through Exmouth Market.
Causton Street Playground, Pimlico
A good one to combine with a trip to Tate Britain, since it’s basically in its back garden, this leafy pocket park is another one that falls into the “has a nice feel” bracket, despite not being totally amazing equipment-wise. It does, however, possess a great little splash pad that’s a lifesaver in the summer, as well as two boat-themed climbing apparatus, a pair of those weird swings you’re supposed to stand on and a substantial sandpit.
Coram’s Fields, Bloomsbury
The Coram’s Fields playground is long overdue an update but it’s still a nice one for when you’re in Central and the kids need some downtime. There’s a primary-coloured toddler playground inside an enormous sandpit that has water in the summer, a big kids’ bit with a treehouse climbing frame featuring a pair of excellent curly slides, a couple of structures for inbetweeners, and even a little city farm with goats and chickens.
Bloomsbury Square, Holborn
You’ve probably gathered that I’m not massively into metal playgrounds, but this newly renovated mega-central one is a definite exception to the rule. Perfect for young toddlers – but maybe a bit boring for older ones – this colourful addition to a lovely, leafy square features some kind of slide-bus thing, a pleasingly colourful accessible roundabout and lots of stuff to balance on. Great if you really need 20 minutes of just sitting on a bench.
Crabtree Fields, Fitzrovia
Yes, Babu may have got stuck up that treehouse and had to be rescued by Bab Dad, who just happened to be walking down Tottenham Court Road at that precise moment, and yes, I may have found a used condom on the floor but I still have a weird soft spot for this place – mostly because it’s quiet and the equipment is decent for a small, very central park. That and it just has a nice ‘feel’ (or at least it would if it wasn’t for the condom).
Golden Lane Estate Play Space, Barbican
Technically not a public playground (the sign on the gate says it’s for residents’ use only), this greige beauty is hard to find and kind of baffling once you do. Designed by architects Muf and children from the local primary school, this unusual space is lined with stacks of concrete slabs and includes a hidden slide. Children can access the slide via a separate gate and then re-enter the play space through the tunnel next to the bottom of the slide.