Internet shopping has made Father Christmas’s job a good deal easier, but nothing can match the thrill of taking a child and their pocket money to pick a new toy in person. Luckily, London still has a top-notch choice of dedicated shops that are a treasure trove of toys and run by people passionate about play. Here are our favourites.
Climb the creaky stairs past Hobbs and into this shrine to playthings from the past. There are music boxes, traditional puppets, hoopla and spinning tops – in fact, many toys so obscure you’ll likely never have heard of them before, let alone played with them. Toy theatres make up a good part of the stock, and cost from a couple of quid for one in a matchbox to much more for the really complicated set-ups. If miniature stages aren’t your thing, there are more nostalgic toys, such as china and tin tea sets, paper planes and dolls, vintage-style board games, Steiff teddy bears and music boxes.
Both a tourist attraction, with regular school holiday events for children (check the website), and a ginormous toy shop, Hamleys has all the must-have toys, attractively displayed to boot. Arranged on five noisy floors, with perky demonstrators showing off certain wares on every one, you’ll be lucky if you can spend less than an hour in here if you’re accompanied by children. There’s much to see: the basement has interactive toys, the ground floor is soft toys, floor one is all games, two is for pre-schoolers, three is girls’ stuff, four hobbies and five is boys’ toys with a café attached.
Kids will love choosing whether to spend their pennies on a stretchy man, stickers or bubbles at this family-run shop’s pocket money area, featuring goodies under £5. The shop also stocks everything from well-loved big brands such as Lego, Crayola and Microscooters, to niche and up-and-coming ones like Kid O, Zoob and Thames and Kosmos.
This independent shop in Blackheath stocks all manner of carefully chosen items that will delight children and parents alike. Within the bright and inviting south London shop visitors will discover Japanese collectables and creative comics alongside traditional toys, beautiful books and colourful party goods. They also run regular events and workshops for a variety of age ranges in activities such as superhero cape decoration, dreamcatcher-making and journalism. Check http://www.ottieandthebea.com/ for details.
Owners Sarah Standings and Diana Turner pride themselves on offering an ever-changing and eclectic choice of classic and cool toys – and an eye for the perfect present. Their bespoke party bags service lets parents choose age-appropriate favours for every guest, which they make up beautifully for £2.50 a head.
The long-adored Sylvanian Families toys have been putting smiles on the faces of children – and adults too – since the mid ’80s. But how could they not? The little fuzzy, flocked plastic creatures are adorable and reek of nostalgia, with an array of retro countryside settings, including manors, cabins, windmills and other fairly middle-class locations, to house more than 60 different animal families. This shop in Highbury stocks the lot, plus a few discontinued and rare items to boot. As featured in the 100 best shops in London.
Enjoy a coffee and cake (or even brunch) while your child explores the treats on the shelves at this welcoming spot near London Zoo. There’s everything from Hape to House of Marbles, with lots of arts, crafts and scientific sets too. A second store in Muswell Hill has recently opened.
Generations of Clapham families have bought construction kits, craft sets and Schleich animals at this Aladdin’s cave of educational and creative toys. Owner Joseph Yap has been the shop’s official toy tester since his parents opened the doors when he was a year old – his knowledge of what will charm children is second to none.
Head to this Fulham favourite if you’re hunting for a gift that will be treasured – it’s been selling beautifully crafted heritage toys for the last ten years. Take your pick from the likes of Brio’s timeless wooden toys and chic French brand Djeco, then let owner Mirjana gift wrap it for you.
Hackney’s bohemian Broadway Market attracts young families in their droves (particularly when the market’s in full swing), so this pleasant little shop makes the most of passing trade. As well as innovative double buggies and wooden, pedal-free starter bikes, the stock is made up of unusual pieces of nursery equipment, clothes for babies to 12-year-olds and a range of covetable toys. The proprietor is keen to display the knitwear and needlework of local designers; there are some delightful little cardigans for babies, fine print dresses for toddlers and adorable booties. The basement is given over to baby and toddler activities (drama, yoga, baby massage) and can be hired out for parties, along with the little garden.