Advent calendars don't have to be filled with chocolate to put a smile on a child's face. In fact, if you choose the right toy-filled advent calendar, the Christmas cheer will see your child way beyond the sugar high alternative.
While the price is considerably higher – particularly if you've more than one child to buy for – the toy-filled advent calendar can be the gift that keeps on giving, with the contents becoming treasured pieces for years to come, so see it as an investment.
The market is flooded with advent alternatives, but how do you find the right one? Hone in on your child's passion – whether they are an art enthusiast, music admirer, or someone with a passion for ponies, if you opt for a theme or character they like, they'll jump out of bed to open a daily window.
We also considered how easy the advent calendars were to open, as it’s more fun if they can do it by themselves. But big on the agenda for us, is the quality of the toy or gift behind the window, as that will ensure the contents are cherished and played with way beyond the month of December.
How we tested:
Christmas came early for our mini testers, aged three and five. During the course of a month we prized open doors, ripped cardboard windows and opened multiple boxes.
The best toy-filled advent calendars for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Smiggle Advent Calendar 2021: £30, Smiggle.co.uk
- Best for collecting –Marvel Pocket Pop! Advent Calendar: £44.99, Bargainmax.co.uk
- Best value for money – Horse Club Advent Calendar 2021: £17.99, Smythstoys.com
- Best for being magical – The Gruffalo’s Child Official Musical Advent Calendar: £24.99, Danilo.com
- Best for variety – Tinc Advent Calendar 2021: £25, Tinc.co.uk
- Best for quality – ‘Harry Potter’ Funko Pop! Advent Calendar 2021: £54.99, Popinabox.co.uk
- Best for family fun – Disney Advent Calendar Game and Puzzle: £29.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for Christmas themed – Hot Wheels Christmas Advent Calendar: £24.99, Bargainmax.co.uk
- Best for creativity – Little Brian Paint Sticks Advent Calendar: £24, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for sustainable luxury – Milledeux Advent Calendar – 24 Gifts – City Gold Version: £85.16, Milledeux.com
- Best for bath fanatics – Disney Princess 12 Days of Royal Surprises Bath and Beauty Advent Calendar:£15, Boots.com
Smiggle advent calendar 2021
Best: For stationery enthusiasts
Australian brand Smiggle (that’s smile and giggle for those who are asking), are the kings of stationery, and this year have released its best advent calendar yet. Stocked to the rafters with 25 days – yes, a full 25 – worth of limited edition favourites, from lanyards and keyrings, to glitter glue and scented stickers.
To heighten the magic, you’ll also get chance to find one of 30 winning “lucky tickets”, which will see you winning a Smiggle shopping spree. As a special treat to celebrate the brand’s 10th year of counting down to Christmas, the first ten to claim their winning ticket will have their prize matched and donated to a school of their choice. That’s the gift of Christmas.
Funko Marvel pocket pop! advent calendar
Is your child a pocket pop! From Funko fanatic? And mad about Marvel too? Well, this advent calendar could top Christmas Day itself, making the purchaser the real hero this festive season. Opening up like a comic book, this is bound to become a centre-piece in a child’s bedroom (rather that than the living quarters). There’s 24 doors to open (which are a little fiddly), where both superheroes and villains are lurking.
All characters are based on classic characters from the Marvel universe from Guardians to Avengers. While this is a considered purchase, the figurines are so well made, as is the box, so keep this to display them once the festivities are over. Our only slight niggle is that the numbers are in order which does take away a bit of the excitement, but this didn’t seem to affect our tester’s experience.
Schleich horse club advent calendar 2021
Best: Value for money
Friedrich Schleich founded his brand in 1935, and has been making detailed, authentic animal figures ever since. With 24 doors to open, this advent calendar made our five-year-old tester giddy with excitement. And being a huge horse fan this product was always going to perform.
Over the course of 24 days there’s a real assortment of figurines, from scene setters like the massage brush and hoof pick, to the showstopping Arabian mare horse and her rider, Lisa. What we didn’t expect was such detailed figurines, all wonderfully hand-painted and at a reasonable price. Our horse fanatic can’t put these figurines down, if only all Christmas gifts were this successful.
Ravensburger ‘The Gruffalo’s Child’ official musical advent calendar
Best: For magical
If this advent calendar doesn’t get you in the festive spirit then we don’t know what will. With a bi-fold design, which opens to reveal a snowy scene and 25 doors, inside you’ll find stickers, scenery and even dancing characters.
The magnetic-based characters were a real highlight for our testers; the gruffalo, snake and gruffalo’s child are like the “shiny” of the Pokémon world. Watch them glide on the magnetic moving base, to the official soundtrack which is composed by Rene Aubry. We love how interactive this calendar is, and it’s one that our reviewers played with simultaneously. It’s supplied with 3 AAA batteries, which are needed to power the magnetic movement and music but if you’re able to keep it in a good condition – our reviewers are pretty heavy handed – then you’re able to replace these for future Christmas countdowns.
For us, The Gruffalo never disappoints, and this is a lovely way to instil some Christmas cheer.
Tinc advent calendar 2021
Best: For variety
Unlike the conventional advent calendar, once you remove the sleeve you’ll see 24 numbered cardboard boxes, all different shapes and sizes. Our five-year old reviewer revelled in the task of finding the correct numbers.
There’s a real element of surprise with this calendar, as just like the humble Christmas cracker the gifts vary, but you’ll find no tat here. With the contents worth £50, from pencils and pens to magic flannels, there’s gadgets, stationery and gifts, which our reviewers loved. Oh, and there’s even a little joke on every box for some seasonal sniggers from the adults.
Funko Pop! ’Harry Potter’ advent calendar 2021
Best: For quality
If you want to make the countdown to Christmas full of wizardry and wonder then welcome Harry Potter and friends with this advent calendar from Funko. Hiding behind the 24 doors, from Harry and Ron to Dumbledore and Dobby, this awesome advent calendar will take December days to new spellbinding heights.
Standing at just over an inch tall each, we were won over by how intricately made and detailed these pop vinyl characters are – which Harry Potter enthusiasts will want on display all year round. It’s one of the most expensive of all the calendars we tested but we can’t deny the quality of the contents which will stand the test of time.
Disney advent calendar game and puzzle
Best: For family fun
Many families like to treat the brood to a new board game at Christmas, kill two birds with this Disney advent calendar game and puzzle. There are 16 3D Disney characters to collect, including all the favourites like Buzz Lightyear, Mickey Mouse and to our three-year-old tester’s delight... Elsa.
You’ll also get a puzzle board and puzzle pieces which are hidden amongst the windows, as is the four coloured dice and four card standees. Piece together the puzzle and it’ll reveal a game board ready to be played on Christmas day.
A simple board game for two to four players, move your set of toy figurines around the board, helping guide them into their spot under the Christmas tree. Don’t chuck the box straight in the recycling, take off the perforated windows and you’ve got yourself a game of snap. It was lovely to see our reviewers get involved with this equally, but whose to keep the Elsa figurine is still under debate.
Hot wheels Christmas advent calendar
Best: Christmas themed
The countdown to Christmas will speed by with this Hot Wheels Christmas advent calendar. Cleverly designed, open the lid to reveal your very own racetrack. As the days go by this will be filled with an assortment of cars (there’s eight in total) and 16 seasonal accessories such as sleighs for your car, snow scrapers and reindeers.
There are 24 windows to open in total, and what stood out for us is how playable the contents are. Our reviewers played happily with whatever they found on that day, and this is certainly something that’ll be used beyond Christmas.
Little Brian paint sticks advent calendar
Best: For creativity
Little Brian is a parent’s dream product... no more messy painting sessions with your mini artists thanks to its paint sticks; a water soluble, child-friendly solid paint that twists up and down just like a glue stick. Before you start opening the doors, this calendar comes with seven A3 Christmas-themed colouring in sheets and three fun activity sheets featuring a Santa maze, festive word search and more.
But it’s what’s behind the doors that’ll bring these sheets to life, featuring 24 different surprises with a variety of paint sticks to collect. With a wonderful mix of face paint sticks, mini paint sticks, chunkie or the latest addition from the brand the scribble paint sticks – for finer strokes, each day will inspire creativity. Both our three-year-old and five-year-old testers took to these products so well, and the activity sheets captured their attention allowing them to showcase their talents. Not only will this calendar instil some festive spirit, but you’re ultimately left with a collection of great artistic tools too.
Milledeux advent calendar, 24 Gifts, city gold version
Best: For sustainable luxury
If you’ve the budget to go all out this Christmas, then you won’t be disappointed with this advent calendar from Scandinavian brand Milledeux. Lovingly handmade in Denmark, this calendar provided our two testers with a lot of joy and plenty of sparkle.
There are 24 drawers to pull open – which was easy for little hands to do themselves – and inside each is a hair accessory, all of which are made with nickel-free metal and certified Oeko-tex ribbon. The quality is unrivalled, and you’ll be set with hair accessories to see you through childhood. The calendar itself is gorgeous, with adorable festive-inspired illustrations, and the winning feature for us is that it’s designed to be reused, so it can be refilled each year with new surprises.
Disney princess 12 days of royal surprises bath and beauty advent calendar
Best: For bath fanatics
Do you have a Disney princess enthusiast on your hands, who loves nothing more than splashing around in the tub? Let us introduce to you the 12 days of royal surprises advent calendar. Our three-year-old tester insisted on wearing her Cinderella costume when pealing back number one’s door, this dedication petered off but the excitement continued throughout.
Behind the perforated doors (which did require some adult assistance), we found bath fizzers, a sponge, bath crumble and confetti, and our tester’s favourite...nail sticker sheets – which ended up everywhere bar her nails. Parents beware, you may be asked why it’s not Christmas Day when you open the last door (number 12), so have an answer ready.
The verdict: Toy-filled advent calendars
We’d happily recommend any of these toy-filled advent calendars, but donning the crown is Smiggle’s 2021 Advent Calendar we love the variety of contents, all of which are great quality and will get maximum use. Plus there’s chance to win a golden ticket – it doesn’t get much more exciting than that.
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For the parents, check out our round-up of the best beauty advent calendars
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