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’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it). Below are 100 (ish) of the best ones we’ve discovered, listed by area and with new ones added as we find them (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.
Kilburn Park Road Play Area, Kilburn
The new housing estate on Kilburn Park Road has given birth to twin play areas – one aimed at little ones, with a tiny slide and bouncers, and the other (pictured) essentially a mass of logs with some ropes thrown on for good measure. It’s small, and just a five-minute walk from the much more impressive Paddington Rec, but still worth a look if you’re local and looking for something a bit calmer. Find it right opposite St Augustine’s Church, at the junction with Rudolph Road.
Hornsey Park at Clarendon, Turnpike Lane
You can get away with a silly name when you look really cool, as evidenced by this stunning new playground that sits atop the Harringay Ladder. Part of the luxury Clarendon development (hence the daft appendage), HPaC boasts some refreshingly inventive apparatus: concrete poles hung with elaborate rope arrangements and rainbow-hued climbing holds; an innovative treehouse walkway with diamond-shaped hideouts; and perhaps the fastest slide in North London.
Wembley Park Play Park, Wembley
Apparently it’s a temporary fixture, but this playground has been here at least two years now. It’s the only London playground I can think of that’s covered (seriously, why aren’t more playgrounds covered?), and boasts a pair of very cool play towers with a walkway between them, a tube slide, an accessible roundabout, bouncers and swings. If it is indeed temporary then that’s a big shame – I don’t think Roma’s ever loved a playground as much as she loves this one.
Finsbury Park is home to not one, not two but three playgrounds: a traditional toddler situation with a sandpit, a new big kids’ area consisting largely of green metal structures, and this. Inhabiting the former rocky hillside area next to the above, this recent addition offers equipment for all ages, including a wooden playhouse with a slide, a bouncy bridge, a circle of swings, lots of nice landscaping and a hillside slide, among other bits and pieces
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.
Gloucester Gate, Regent’s Park
Gloucester Gate Playground’s new layout is worlds away from its previous incarnation – a more traditional situation with towering treehouses and swirling tube slides that, if I’m honest, I kind of preferred. This is still cool though, being wheelchair-accessible with a huge sand/water area, plus a more challenging space outside the main playground that comes complete with a zip wire for bigger ones. Head here on weekday mornings to avoid the crowds.
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.
Mapesbury Dell play area, Cricklewood
Hidden behind elegant semi-detached houses in a triangle-shaped oasis between Cricklewood, Kilburn and Willesden Green stations, this Peter Pan-themed pocket playground is one of our favourite finds to date. It’s decked out with a replica Black Pearl complete with super-fast slide, a teepee playhouse, a crocodile, a tiny train and some kind of Loch Ness Monster thing, and surrounded by the most stunningly leafy community garden.
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”.
Barking Park Playground, Barking
This largely sand-submerged (and, by the looks of it, brand new) playground is full of clamberable wooden delights, from a wrecked ship that’s reminiscent of Battersea Park’s to a hamlet of adorably tiny houses. It’s also home to a seesaw, a hillside slide, a basket swing and an absurdly low-to-the-ground toddler swing. The best bit about this playground though, at least on a hot day, is its proximity to Barking Splash Park (it’s literally right next to it).
The Flamboyance of Flamingos, Parsloes Park, Becontree, Dagenham
Probaby the prettiest playground I’ve ever seen in my life, but then it was designed by the brilliant Yinka Ilori, so I’d hope so. Yinka designed his Estate Playground as a temporary installation for LDF back in 2017, and it only seemed a matter of time before someone asked him to create the real thing. Flamingos are, unsurprisingly, a bit of a thing here, with bouncers, a roundabout and seats all themed around our pink pals. A must-visit (once it’s officially open).
Parsloes Memphis, Parsloes Park, Becontree, Dagenham
And you can’t go Yinka’s playground without also checking out fellow artist Eva Rothschild’s Parsloes Memphis – within spitting distance of the flamingos. With its towering, cage-like climbing structures, this playground is better suited to slightly older kids, but it’s worth a visit however old yours are. Rothchild is known for her twisted metal sculptures that scream to be clambered on, so to see her creating them for that purpose is a dream come true for her child-encumbered fans.
Hackney Downs Playground, Lower Clapton
I really like this Apes-designed playground, and the way the main structure is so great for toddlers despite looking like it wouldn’t be. I love the ramp and the yellow helter-skelter that’s been reclaimed from the previous playground, and the tiny twin slides underneath (which, incidentally, were being used by a pair of tiny twins the first time we came here). There’s also a weird shelter thing on the other side of the playground with a cool animal mosaic inside.
St. John’s Hoxton Garden Playground, Hoxton
Churchyard playgrounds tend to err on the creepy side. Thankfully there’s nothing remotely sinister about this one – mostly owing to its complete lack of tombstones. The main structure is more inventive than most, with its muddle of ramps, steps and rope ladders making the perfect hideout – plus there’s a big bucket swing and a turf-topped crawl tunnel. Want more? It’s totally enclosed for peace of mind… and there’s even a falafel van permanently parked opposite.
South Dock Park Marvellous Maze , Canary Wharf
It’s not exacly a destination playground, but this tiny quayside cutie is worth a look if you happen to be in the area with a toddler. Located just off Park Drive, the play area consists of a low maze of hedges and concrete peppered with bridges, mirrors, benches, seesews, talking tubes, a mini slide and various music-making equipment. It’s just down the towpath from the play area below (they were designed by the same company), so make sure you head down there afterwards.
Whale’s Landing, Timber Quay Park, Canary Wharf
Also designed by Erect Architecture, Whale’s Landing (so called, presumably, because of the whale-shaped water feature) is just down the towpath from South Dock Park Marvellous Maze. Also designed for 0-5s, this concrete dream features mosaic steps, a water pump, dams, a cool pink slide and a tree platform thing – oh and uncomfortably coarse builder’s sand, for some reason.
Leman Street, Aldgate East
It doesn’t look like much, but that’s kind of the point of this minimalist playground, which provides endless play opportunities despite its size. Designed by Eibe, it consists of a series of hills – some with slides and tunnels built around them and some simply for clambering over. It’s aesthetically pleasing, simple enough for toddlers yet challenging enough for bigger ones, and there’s a really good coffee shop next door. I’m obsessed.
Dove Road Playground, De Beauvoir Town
What you see here is pretty much what you get with this adorable toddler playground just off Balls Pond Road, but sometimes this is all you need. It’s got colourful domes, a wobbly log thing, a little tunnel and a slide. It’s also totally enclosed and has a couple of nice ‘ringside’ benches where you can relax – that is unless your kid wants you to hold their hand while they walk around the entirety of the surrounding wall, over and over again.
Woodberry Down Park, North Hackney
We’ve been to Woodberry Wetlands multiple times without realising this was here, but I’m so glad we finally found it. The giant pyramid slide is kind of the star of the show (it looks terrifying but Babu and Sprog managed it without any help), but there are also some nice climbing bits, a swing, a roundabout and a table-tennis table. Woodberry Wetlands is just across the road and its Coal House Cafe does really good ice cream.
Victoria Road play area, Leytonstone
Ok so it’s absurdly tiny but I couldn’t not include this colourful little play area, which was recently installed on a sad patch of grass a the corner of Leytonstone High Road. We came by car and almost didn’t stop it was so dinky, but I’m glad we did because the kids absolutely loved it – which just shows you that as adults we know absolutely nothing. We loved the colourful timber equipment and the candy-cane phone masts surrounding it.
Henry Reynolds Park, Islington
We loved this cute little Leytonstone playground, which was perfect for Roma with its fairy village vibe, low apparatus and spongy floor. There are boats to sail, mini slides appearing from tiny houses and colourful floor markings that make it ideal for tinies, while a larger climbing frame will suit slightly older ones. It adjoins a similarly designed junior play area that’s aimed at over-fives (but our bigger ones loved this too).
Coppermill Park, Walthamstow
Like its sort-of neighbour Bisterne Avenue Park, this decent-sized play area close to Walthamstow Wetlands is home to a wooden boat that appears to have been made out of giant Cadbury’s Fingers. It also has a red slide and a blue tarmac sea but aside from that the two are fairly dissimilar, with Coppermill also housing some older bits – including a maze. Its (relatively) central-E17 location and proximity to several decent coffee shops also massively up its appeal.
Shepherdess Walk Park, Hoxton
This recently opened playground by wooden design wizards Duncan & Grove sits bang on the border of Hackney and Islington, that sweet spot where small but perfectly formed play areas have been popping up with reckless abandon the last few years. It’s got a big sandpit, a climbing frame, a log walk, a couple of slides, some swings and a roundabout, and is perfect for 1-8s. Oh and check out the mosaics while you’re there.
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.
Bartlett Park, Poplar
We love a playground that reminds us we’re in London, but much more so when said playground is actually good. There’s plenty of fun to be had by all ages in this new addition to Bartlett Park – that and the impressive views of Canary Wharf – but the sprawling, toddler-friendly ramp apparatus is very much the star of this show.
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.
Jack Cornwell Park playground, Leyton
Formerly Skelton’s Lane Adventure Playground, this Leyton favourite has recently had its twin-treehouse structure completely demolished in favour of this more generic, piratey scenario, complete with loads of very expensive blue surfacing. It’s still a good playground, but we’ll miss the (partly wheelchair-accessible) old one, even if it was rotting. The playground is right next to the very lovely Brooks Farm, whose residents include donkeys and alpacas.
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).
Victory Park Playground, East Village
Stratford is getting greedy when it comes to playgrounds, and we’re here for it. As of 2021 this timber-framed delight accompanies the otherwise fairly sad little toddler playground in Victory Park, close to the area’s cool cafes and less than a 10-minute walk from Tumbling Bay. Its towering treehouses make it better suited to older kids, but the small slide and voice tubes should keep tiny ones entertained, and if not then the mirror maze is just around the corner .
Abbey Lane Open Space, Stratford
There’s something kind of creepy about this playground, which sits just off the Greenway in ‘old’ Stratford, but we’re into it anyway. The main events are a toddler frame, a much larger ‘house’ with a swirling tube slide, and a long slide that’s accessed either via a gate off the greenway or a sloped climbing wall, but by far our favourite part was the pair of windmills that top the first two structures. Visit on a breezy day to see them in action.
Tandy Place Play Area, Hackney Wick
Like a much smaller version of Burgess Park’s Woodland Play Area (and, I’m assuming, designed by the same people), this incredibly random new play area in Hackney Wick literally consists of this single structure. While it might look cool, it’s not the most toddler-friendly thing in the world, and is best suited to ages 4+. Find it on the new housing estate next door to Here East – on the corner next to Gavin Turk’s big door.
Springfield Park Playground, Upper Clapton
Hackney’s Springfield Park underwent a £4m overhaul at the beginning of 2021, which saw a new playground installed and the existing one improved. The new one combines bumpy landscaped areas with timber apparatus aimed at toddlers to teens, and sits close to the cafe (which does a mean vegan sausage roll). The older one is much larger, and includes a sand-play area, wooden bridges and one of the best seesaw getups we’ve ever seen. Definitely our new favourite park.
Wick Green Playground, Hackney Wick
It might look like an ordinary neighbourhood playground, but this muf-designed, 2010 Hackney Wick wonder is peppered with ingenious touches that make it anything but. Expect stiles and benches that straddle the circular fence, a seesaw that’s half-in, half-out, artificial hills, and white everything. A scooting/cycling track runs around the periphery, with slides and swings just beyond them. Brilliantly weird.
Clapton Pond Play Area, Clapton
Admittedly, if Clapton Pond’s new play area didn’t have a slide that was shaped like a parrot I’d be a lot less interested in it. But it does, so here we are. There’s not much to recommend it besides the parrot, other than a bouncy ride-on duck and its slightly pointless, non-bouncy ducklings, and a little tunnel. It’s next to a very busy main road and passersby have a habit of leaving the gates open when they pass through the garden, which is stressful, but other than all that it’s super.
Anne Keane Playground, Dickens Square, Southwark
To my knowledge, playgrounds didn’t exist in Dickens Square until this beauty came along in late 2021 but the space is so sprawling it can take it. Suitable for tinies to teens, this shiny new play area packs in everything from baby swings and elephant-shaped toddler slides (a nod to its proximity to Elephant & Castle?) to a hillside wobble bridge and accompanying, terrifyingly fast slide. It’s got climbing logs, wooden animals, purple tarmac… I mean, what more do you want?
Brunswick Park, Camberwell
It’s a beauty, this one. We liked this colourful but tasteful older kids’ structure with its various access routes, and the way it was seemingly mirrored on the other side of the playground by a mini toddler version with its own tiny slide. Everything else was pretty standard, but it worked, and was all made a million times better by the addition of The Bower, a parkside cafe selling good coffee, homemade cakes and stylish gifts.
Leathermarket Gardens Playground, Bermondsey
Ideal for post-White Cube fun, this recently renovated play area has retained some of its original features – including the newly lilac speedboat – and gained some shiny new wooden ones, resulting in what is now a pretty banging space. Think big play frame with slide, one of those spinny ropey climby things, a bucket swing, a wooden teepee and some plasticky toddler bits – plus a pretty spectacular outlook onto the Shard, in case you like your playgrounds with a view.
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 (DEMOLISHED)
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.
Elephant Park, Elephant & Castle
We were sad when the playground above closed, but the one that’s popped up in its place is so great we no longer care. The perfect summertime splash spot, the new Elephant Park playground combines incredible rocky landscaping with cascading waterfalls and playful fountains poised to absolutely soak your toddler (I mean would you LOOK at Roma’s dress?). There’s lots of sand too. Bring buckets, spades, towels – you know the drill.
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.
Squeaky Clean at Charlton Park, Charlton
Ask an artist to design a playground, and you might get something like this. That’s what happened when Frieze asked sculptor Gary Webb to create a permanent installation for Charlton Park playground as part of the London 2012 Festival. The quirky structure no longer has a a climbing net and is now basically just a bunch of liquorice allsort-type things on a metal stick, but it still looks pretty cool and there’s an (admittedly very ordinary) traditional playground right next to it.
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.
Canons Leisure Centre playground, Mitcham
The main draws at this brilliantly inventive playground are two wonky treehouse climbing frames – one for little ones and one for bigger kids; and an incredible horizontal shell house thing that you can either scramble onto or crawl underneath (I’m not explaining either well, but just believe me when I say you need to see them. The main drawback is that Canons is a Better gym, which means its playground is pretty much guaranteed to be packed outside of school hours.
Felnex Park, Hackbridge
It’s probably not worth the trip to Hackbridge unless you happen to live nearby, but this classic pirate-ship-climber-with-neighbouring-slide scenario is pretty cute nonetheless. The park itself is small but not too soulless considering it’s on a brand-new estate, and both kids were big fans of the giant chalkboards and wooden doggy bouncers. Bring chalk and a bucket and spade, obviously.
Salter’s Hill Playground, Norwood Park, West Norwood
We were bowled over by the amazingness of this witchy pirate den playground, which combines an expansive wooden climbing structure with water play, a sandpit and very random touches including a spinning rock and a giant water spiral. On one side it adjoins a very average playground that the kids loved – of course; while on the other there’s the Bloblands skate park, which is way more boring than it sounds.
Leyton Square Playground, Peckham
It might be well hidden, but once you’ve tracked it down this recently renovated north Peckham/south Bermondsey pocket park is pretty much guaranteed to be a hit with all ages. It’s roughly split into two, with the toddler section consisting of a bouncy wooden crocodile, baby swings and a small climbing frame and slide, and the big kids’ area comprising a giant wooden treetop trail and a pair of reeeally long swings.
Peckham Rye Park Playground
I’m so in love with this playground and I don’t even know why. It just has something. On the day we visited the vast water-play area wasn’t working properly and the big slide at the back is basically impossible to access without help if you’re under five, but we still had an excellent time. This playground has everything, including a nice cafe and decent toilets, and Peckham Rye Common just has this amazingly unassuming beauty. Into it.
Vauxhall Park Playground, Vauxhall
It might not be anything groundbreaking but there’s something for everyone at this recently renovated playground in Vauxhall’s very lovely eponymous park. Roughly half of this generous space is dedicated to tiny tots and features mini trampolines, a classic red play train and a sensory music zone, while the bigger kids’ half boasts a pretty challenging castle-themed play frame and a Viking swing. Be sure to check out the tiny model village in the adjacent bit of park.
Goose Green, East Dulwich
It’s not new or unusual or particularly beautiful, but Goose Green is one of my new favourite playgrounds. Why? It’s got something for everyone: a castle-shaped toddler climbing frame, an adventure playground-style structure for big kids, a random structure involving stepping logs and a goalpost, and a pub next door serving coffee and croissants, along with all the usual playground suspects. The child-encumbered locals have lucked out here.
Battersea Power Station Playground, Battersea
First they extended the Northern Line and now there’s a Frank Gehry-designed playground. Let’s all move to Battersea (actually let’s not, it’s really expensive). This rainbow-surfaced beauty is actually more suited to younger kids than it looks at first glance, with the larger structure featuring an easy-climb staircase while the other poses more of a challenge. The space is set to expand in summer 2022, with even more toddler-friendly features pledged. Hooray.
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.
Wiltshire Close, Chelsea
It’s technically just for residents – and confusingly also an adventure playground for 6-14s during the school holidays – but we snuck in anyway because we’re naughty (don’t judge me, trespassing on private playgrounds has become my single biggest thrill over this last year). Aside from this incredible climbing-pyramid/ramp/tube-slide situation, the playground boasts a big climbing net and some toddler equipment that Roma was having none of. Proper hidden gem.
Victoria Embankment Gardens, Westminster
There’s a real dearth of decent playgrounds in central London – particularly around Westminster – so we were overjoyed to find this dinky delight sandwiched between Somerset House and Embankment tube station. Made by Kompan, this toddler-friendly playground consists of a hillside slide, baby and big-kid swings, a balance walkway and an adorable play boat that comes complete with steering wheel and a set of binoculars.
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).
Alf Barrett Playground, Bloomsbury
Used to be bloody awful. Now is great. The lumpy landscaping has added so much more than just height to this formerly very sad space, like a beautiful phoenix rising from the ashes of a depressing tangle of garish metal… or something. The head is meant to be a dragon, but really it could be anything you want it to be. Suddenly there are so many more opportunities for playing, climbing, hiding, scooting, scrambling, balancing, imagining. And there are some swings too.
Seward Street, Clerkenwell
A weird one, owing to the lack of actual stuff in its frankly massive central space, but this vaguely space-themed playground is still pretty lovely, offering an unusual array of equipment that includes a big yellow climbing frame, spaceship-shaped hidey holes and the longest tunnel we’ve ever seen. It’s wonderfully leafy too.
St Giles Playground, Covent Garden
This, the most perfect of toddler-friendly pocket parks, is so well hidden it manages to remain all but deserted pre-school chuck out and on weekends, despite being exactly halfway between Tottenham Court Road and Covent Garden stations. It’s also right next door to the tranquil Phoenix Garden – ideal for summer picnics – and boasts a challenging yet accessible slide, toddler and baby swings, some bouncy bits and some of those big tarmac balls for added cuteness.
Fitzrovia Children’s Playground
Its lofty apparatus might pose too much of a challenge for under-5s – and the majority of over-25s, for that matter – but this hidden gem deserves inclusion for its handy location (just off Tottenham Court Road) alone, and that’s before we’ve considered how rare it is to find a pocket playground exclusively designed for older children, let alone one in W1. Yes, it’s closed during school hours and yes, its treehouse is positively vertigo-inducing, but we still think this place is pretty great.
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.
Grosvenor Playground, Pimlico
It’s been closed for nearly two years while the hall attached to it was used as a Covid testing centre, but Grosvenor Playground is finally back and we’re there for it. Like Causton Street, this is an ideal post-Tate hangout and is perfect for toddlers with its pirate ship, baby swings, small slides, bouncers and little play house. It’s spacious but secure, making it a great spot for a game of hide and seek, and we can’t get over the amazing chess-board facades of the surrounding blocks.
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 (DEMOLISHED)
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.