By Kerri Burton
Inspired by the junk playgrounds of Denmark, born from the bomb sites of the Second World War and traditionally built from scrap materials and full of loose parts, London’s adventure playgrounds offer children the much-needed freedom to take risks and play how they choose, unhindered by adult instruction. Staffed by playworkers, they give older ones a safe space to visit independently (usually from the age of six). Many also have sessions for families with younger children (but visiting adults must respect that these are child-led spaces) and they also make brilliant birthday party venues. Here’s a list of all the adventure playgrounds we’ve visited in London.
The most northerly playground on this list, Somerford Grove is home to a jaw-droppingly gargantuan slide descending from a very imaginative and impressive play structure. This playground is always evolving, and the latest build is the stunning jewel treehouse. There’s also an adorable boat with a slide that deposits children into a sandpit swimming with toy diggers, and lots of platforms to leap off onto crash mats.
A gorgeous and creative playground that’s part of a community centre providing services for disabled and autistic children. The majority of the main structure is wheelchair accessible and includes lots of lovely sensory elements. There’s also a toddler climbing frame, a mud kitchen area, dens, a roundabout, tons of swings and a zipline. There are always toys and messy play on offer, plus lots of creative opportunities with loose parts.
This playground is actually part of a children’s centre and runs sessions for under-5s (which cost a couple of quid). The big structure has sloped access and features an exhilaratingly fast tunnel slide that launches you into a pile of crash mats and makes you feel like your brain’s been sucked out. Lots to climb and plenty of pallets and boards forming bridges and towers to jump off. We were always astounded by the amount of materials and messy-play activities packed into every inch of the playground. A toddler paradise.
A big playground boasting a sprawling sandpit filled to bursting with loose parts and perfect for digging trenches and rivers. Climbing structures, ropes and nets weave above the sandpit. There’s a toddler corner with a mud kitchen and little slides, a zip line, a skate ramp, a big slide and a plethora of lofty swings. The indoor area is massive, with a vast array of toys, dressing-up clothes, art supplies and a soft-play room.
Hackney Marsh has it all. It covers a huge space with humongous structures and quirky touches, unusual climbing frames, a little boat, lots of go-karts, slides and tons of hidden spaces to discover. A highlight is the big sandpit, which is surrounded by playhouses and crammed with toys, pipes and loose parts. It merges with a formation of big climbing rocks with a water pump at the top.
This big playground is gorgeous, and the perfect place to spend a summer’s day with its tropical-looking plants, big sandpit and water slide. The sandpit is brimming with loose parts, there’s a huge mud kitchen, arts-and-crafts activities, a zip line, swings, inventive climbing structures of all sizes and a playhouse nestled in a quiet corner. And if all that hasn’t sold it to you, there’s even an old black cab the kids can sit inside.
A very welcoming playground that’s popular with families. An imaginative, colourful play structure joins up via a tunnel to a new, impressively high triangular treehouse. There are plenty of slides on offer, including a fast tunnel slide and a water slide in the summer. There’s a hardcore zip line, lots of go-karts, an outdoor space for crafts, a sandpit with a very well-stocked mud kitchen, and a big football pitch. At the back there’s a lovely wild area with lots of trees and little playhouses.
Full of personality and home to an awesome tower of nets that children adore clambering and bouncing about inside. The playground also has two tall tunnel slides (one of them accessible via a slope), a wild area with muddy banks and treehouses, an indoor space with a lovely arts-and-crafts room, and some delightfully bizarre touches, including a huge Star Wars mural and models of cartoon film characters lurking ominously in the undergrowth.
This playground has masses of space and lots of nooks and crannies to explore, including an area sunk into the banks that makes you feel like you’ve stumbled upon a hidden camp. Wooden pallets, boards and posts, crates and loose parts are all available. There’s some wonderfully shonky structures that have clearly been cobbled together by kids, plenty of den-making opportunities, and a collection of nets and swings made from scrap materials. It’s all deliciously risky.
King Henry’s Walk
The selling point of this playground is of course the red double-decker bus, but if that’s not enough this small space also contains a pirate ship with some excellent portholes, as well as a castle, some interesting treehouses and a giant stone head to clamber over. Next door to the playground is a sweet community garden.
Far from the hustle and bustle of the city, Cape Adventure Playground nestles into the beautiful Parkland Walk nature reserve. The whole thing is built on a steep, earthy bank with a tube slide propelling children to the bottom, and lofty structures towering amongst the treetops. There’s a real Lost Boys or Robin Hood vibe going on here.
The unusual structures provide enjoyable climbing and balancing challenges, and there’s also a terrifying drop slide that presumably brings death to anyone who braves it. The sandpit is surrounded by a beautiful ramped walkway with a much less lethal slide and a fun network of water pipes. There’s also a trampoline and large football pitch that’s perfect for racing around in various wheeled contraptions.
A small playground, Cornwallis manages to fit in both a medieval castle and a pirate ship adorned with an ornate figurehead. These structures are linked together with bridges and battlements leading to some big swings, and there are plenty of spaces to hide tucked away below.
The playground has a generous stretch of grassy space, big swings, a sandpit, table football, a treehouse and a trail of walkways, bridges and mini houses. There’s a little stage where the kids like to play music and perform, and they’ve amassed an impressive collection of bikes, scooters and shopping trolleys. The building is always well stocked with toys and craft materials, with exciting art and junk-modelling activities on offer.
Martin Luther King
The playground is currently closed for a complete rebuild, opening on special days for children and families to get involved in the ongoing project. An exciting chance to see an adventure playground started from scratch. So far there’s a slide, a sandpit, some brilliant junk sculptures and copious loose parts – and the kids have made a wonderful start on the garden. A brand new play building will be open next year.
Built in the 1970s from the rubble of demolished tenement buildings, the awesome castle itself is now too old to be climbed on, but provides an impressive backdrop for what is a really fun space, with treehouses joined together by rope bridges, a decent-sized sandpit, a huge abundance of loose parts and mud kitchen paraphernalia. Children can often be found rolling each other around inside tunnels or splattering paint wherever they like.
A good one for children who love to climb, Barnard boasts towering, challenging play structures with a rope ladder that will strike fear into your heart, thrilling swings and a zip line. There’s also a very endearing sea-serpent sculpture, a tiny sandpit, a football pitch and a sort of amphitheatre area with a ramp that children like to slide down on various objects. It’s a very large site with some quieter wild areas tucked away at the edges.
The most central playground on this list, Three Corners is home to a colossal fortress of bouncy nets. Start at the bottom and clamber to the top, or squeeze through a high-up tube of peril. This staggering structure joins up to a castle with a ground-floor maze that’s full of offbeat little features. Yet more little structures fill the rest of the site, and the indoor space is vast, with room for plenty of art activities, plus a big soft-play room.
A lovely oasis in the middle of the city, Toffee Park has left a large section of the playground to grow wild and installed a frog pond whose inhabitants are a massive hit with the kids. Children can descend from the top of the main play structure via the tunnel slide, zip line or by simply launching themselves onto a crash mat below. There’s a collection of imaginative swings and nets, climbing frames made from ladders, and lots of dens and treehouses that are constantly evolving.
A beautifully designed and exciting playground with higgledy walkways leading to fairy-tale treehouses and an impressive fire-pit area. The incredible thing about Waterside is the network of underground tunnels that sprawl below, allowing the very small playground to incorporate play on three levels, with holes in the ground where children can pop up like whack-a-mole. And there’s still space for a zip line and den making with loose parts.
The space has recently been completely revamped with ready-made climbing frames, making it less of an adventure playground in the traditional sense (it also charges 50p per visit), but it’s very popular with families. There are toddler toys, a zip line, a large football pitch and lovely grassy banks that are great for squirrelling away in the foliage.
A relatively new one and the first adventure playground to be built by a housing association, Roman Road has a wonderful community atmosphere. The play structures are exciting and there are inventive climbing opportunities. There’s a large wheelchair-accessible seesaw, go-karts, a generously filled sandpit overflowing with pots and tyres, and the inside space contains plenty of toys, loads of books, a piano and drumkit, and an enviable dressing-up collection.
Glamis is an iconic adventure playground full of delightfully precarious, garishly colourful eccentric structures including rope bridges to teeter along, tunnels to squeeze through and a random door that presumably leads to a parallel dimension. There’s a little boat, a zip line, slides and an exhilaratingly high swing – but the star of the show is the gigantic mosaic lizard, which just cries out to be clambered all over.
Claiming space next to a busy main road, this small playgound is a godsend in an area that’s otherwise pretty lacking in this sort of play provision. The main attraction is the huge red bus that contains two levels, a net walkway and a slide. There are also plenty of big swings and a zip line.
Vibrant and colourful, Bethwin is crammed with fun structures and eccentric touches, including a hilarious Loch Ness Monster sculpture. The walls are covered in amazing murals, and spotting all the painted animals is an activity in itself. There are little walkways connecting everything together, lots of slides and trikes, a trampoline and a big swing. Families are welcome at all times and there are always plenty of games and activities going on.
Dog Kennel Hill
Beautifully eerie woodland walkways stretch down the length of this generously sized playground. There’s lots of overgrown areas that have been left to go wild and plenty of undergrowth to scramble about in, making it a prime location for spotting creepy crawlies. There’s a little sandpit, a plethora of swings, one of the wobbliest wobbly bridges I’ve ever been on, and a good zip line.
The playground has recently reopened under Oasis Play, and like their other playground it’s an inclusive service for both disabled and non-disabled children. There’s a sandpit, large soft-play area inside, a sensory room, wheelchair-accessible structures and a massive choice of different swings catering to various needs, including one that can hold a wheelchair.
The play structure is colossal and colourful, with great heights to climb as well as easy sloped access for wheelchairs or, um, shopping trolleys. There’s also a sweet little sandpit and toddler slide in their nature garden area, an old water flume to clamber around in, a splendid boat that’s gradually being added to, an old car that’s gradually being hacked to pieces, and a big football pitch.
London’s smallest and oldest surviving adventure playground (established in 1957), The Triangle packs a lot of old-school anarchic fun into a little slither of Lambeth. Dotted around the swings, slides and zip-line structure are towers of crates, cushions and assorted bits and pieces that are perfect for den making, and enough space to zoom around on one of the scooters. They’ve also managed to squeeze in an allotment and the kids use the food that’s grown to cook meals together.
Home to a very awesome giant yellow submarine that doesn’t just look amazing but offers lots of opportunities to clamber about inside. There’s some other impressive play structures and big swings, all planted in a massive open grassy space. A raised walkway of bridges weaves across the whole playground, a little garden sits at the far end and there’s plenty of room for football and a good run around.
This inclusive playground offers one-to-one support for disabled children and is home to a gorgeous structure featuring a wheelchair-accessible route to the top, adorned with interactive sensory elements such as musical instruments, mirrors and coloured windows. A hidden entrance through the tyre ladder leads to a series of nets suspended under the structure. There’s also a sensory room inside a van, a BMX track, a zip line, a sandpit, crash mats galore, and a huge purpose-built climbing rock with three tunnels leading up into the centre of it.
Oasis Nature Garden
A really magical space to play in and perfect for younger children as it’s sort of like a miniature adventure playground. As well as wild areas, vegetable patches and a pond, it contains an awesome multicoloured playhouse with a slide, a little witch hut, a sandpit, a wobbly bridge, a wheelchair-accessible treehouse, a fire circle, a woodwork area and plenty of ride-ons. The garden runs various sessions for under-5s and families.
Recently reopened after a period of closure, this small playground is swathed in long grass and features a tango swing, raised walkways, a slide wide enough to accommodate a whole gaggle of children, and the fastest zip line we’ve ever encountered. Seriously, hold on tight if you value your life.
Part of Loughborough Community Centre, the adventure playground has some unusual metal and rope climbing frames and a cool log-pile play structure. Adjoining this is a lovely preschool where they run stay-and-play sessions, with a gloriously spacious outdoor area full of mud kitchens and small-scale structures.
This playground boasts an incredibly imaginative structure that’s so unpredictable and uneven it makes you feel like you’re in an Escher picture. There are nets suspended at great heights, scaffolding bars to climb, a large slide and a zip line that launches from the very top. It’s a welcome change from the usual bridge walkways, and not for the faint hearted.
The most southerly playground on this list, Acacia is a gem in an area otherwise devoid of adventure playgrounds. It’s got some wonderfully unique structures, with high-up networks of logs and balance ropes emerging from treehouses with colourful roofs and windows, tyre ladders and fun bridges. There’s also a huge sandpit, water play, a trampoline, toys, ride-ons, playhouses, dens and oodles of loose parts.
Adventure playgrounds are free to visit. Staff supervise the children but they are able to leave
whenever they want, so it is not a childcare service. Children usually need to be six years old (sometimes eight years old) to attend an adventure playground independently. Most are open after school, on term-time Saturdays and on weekdays during the school holidays (and closed the Saturday before the holidays). Check individual websites for information. Some playgrounds do not allow adults inside. Others do welcome parents and younger children, or run specific sessions for families. If you want to find out opening times for visiting any of the above adventure playgrounds with your child, check out my Instagram Guide: @kerri_and_sprog And if you want to know more about adventure playgrounds, read my Q&A with MotherHood London.
Main image: Lollard Street Adventure Playground, Lambeth