10 best kids' playhouses that will keep them entertained for hours

Inspire little imaginations with these play dens, from teepees to cabins

Heidi Scrimgeour@heidiscrim
Tuesday 25 August 2020 13:30
From high end to budget, we've tested a range of different sized playhouses to help you find the perfect one for your garden
From high end to budget, we've tested a range of different sized playhouses to help you find the perfect one for your garden

The lovely thing about a playhouse is that it inspires almost endless imaginative play. While the initial investment can be quite significant, it’s likely to provide years of fun.

When shopping for an outdoor playhouse for your garden, the first thing you should check is that it has been certified to the European recognised EN71 standards, according to Lewis Baines, managing director of Playscape Playgrounds.

“This means that the guidance has been followed in its design for putting the safety of the child first,” he says. “If it is certified to these standards, you can be assured it has come from a reputable designer or manufacturer and is fit for purpose.”

The next thing to consider is the age of the children using the playhouse, and how long it’s likely to be used. Check the upper age limit, if there is one, and also factor in the height of the structure alongside the height of your child.

A playhouse might pose a fun challenge now, but as they get bigger and more able, will it still entertain them? Is it modular? Can it be expanded as the child grows, in order to maintain the play value?

In practical terms, think about where you’re going to place the playhouse. The heavy wooden structures aren’t easy to move once assembled, so if you choose one of those, it will need to stay in situ in your garden. The teepee style playhouses are designed for indoor use, but can provide a lovely spot of shelter in the garden on a sunny day.

Some also require more maintenance than others. Many wooden playhouses have been treated to make them weatherproof, but you might still need to repaint them or treat the wood to keep it looking good over time.

Consider your DIY skills before choosing your playhouse too. If it’s flatpack, you may need some assistance to assemble it. We’ve noted which models need a bit more work to build.

Taking all of this into consideration, we’ve tested everything from budget-friendly options to expensive, top-of-the-range playhouses, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of the options on this list.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

TP Toys cubby house with verandah

This all-wood playhouse has a cute verandah and two wooden window boxes, plus a half stable door. The wood is fully treated, so you don’t need to worry about it being outdoors all year round. Assembling it is a two-person job, but the instructions are very straightforward so it didn’t take long. It’s aesthetically very pretty compared to other outdoor playhouses and made a lovely feature in our testers’ garden. We love the window boxes and the fact that the door shuts with a satisfying “click” sound.

3WM kids eco playhouse

This environmentally-friendly cardboard playhouse brightened up some really dull lockdown days for our six-year-old tester. It’s sturdier than you’d expect, being made from recycled corrugated cardboard, and we love that you can pack it away neatly for easy storage under the bed when it’s not in use. It’s obviously only suitable for use outside on a dry (and not very windy) day, but we think it offers excellent value for money. It took seconds to assemble and our tester spent hours decorating the outside, so we also got lots of crafty fun from it.

Djeco multicoloured play tent

This arrived flat packed in a beautiful box – if it was a present, it would already look exciting with no need for extra wrapping. It’s very easy to put together – we went from opening the box to “moving in” within five minutes. We liked the fact that this has a floor attached, sustaining the belief that little ones are in their very own house. It has a roll-up door and four windows with roll-up curtains, but the door and curtain ties are a bit tricky for little hands to manage. The external print is so pretty – adorned with plants, birds, cats, squirrels and dogs – and our little tester loves the number above the door, handy for letting your parents know where to deliver snacks.

Little Tikes picnic on the patio playhouse

This brilliant outdoor playhouse provided our pre-school testers with hours of fun and laughter. It’s impressively sturdy, and a great choice if you’re looking for a good quality, all-weather option for children from the age of 18 months to five years. It’s also straightforward to assemble. The picnic-themed playhouse was a joy to use, our testers loved insisting that their diners ring the doorbell before ordering their food. It comes with lots of food accessories, plus two stools and a picnic table – the perfect spot for an outdoor afternoon snack. It’s currently out of stock, but you can sign up to be notified via email when it returns.

Smoby chef playhouse

With so much packed into this all-weather play kitchen and house, and so many brilliant accessories included, it’s guaranteed to bring hours of fun and imaginative play. The attention to detail is really impressive – inside, there’s a play fridge, oven, and grill with pretend flames that move, and salt and pepper shakers that make realistic sounds. Our toddler tester loved opening the serving hatch shutters to take orders, and writing up her menu on the message boards. We found the built-in cash register and toy card reader with play money very useful for getting some basic maths done during lockdown, without our tester realising. It’s really robust and well-made, too.

Plum boathouse wooden playhouse

This is our recommendation if you’re looking for a robust, outdoor wooden playhouse, but want a more manageable garden building project. It’s on a slightly smaller scale than other similar designs, but still has plenty to offer younger children. It has a 1.2m slide and a three step ladder. We love the colour, and were impressed with the overall quality – everything you’d expect from Plum Play at a reasonable price.

TP Toys skye wooden playhouse

This impressive two-storey playhouse has a downstairs with an internal access ladder to the loft space, and an upstairs viewing verandah, plus a wavy 8ft slide. It’s made from FSC certified European timber, which has been treated with an environmentally-friendly preservative, and it has a panelled door with three windows on the ground floor. The perspex window panes make this an appealing option for outdoor play in all weathers, although it’s not watertight. The wood is pre-drilled for easy assembly, but it’s still a major building project for two adults. Set aside a day for assembly and don’t do it in the presence of an impatient tenant itching to move in! Superb design, quality and construction make this a really worthwhile investment, if you’ve got the space and budget for it.

Snuzpod kids teepee play tent

This is a really striking teepee, made from 100 per cent cotton canvas with a five-pole structure. It’s intended for indoor use and makes a lovely addition to a child’s bedroom or playroom, but we used ours on the patio as the perfect shaded spot for a snack on sunny days. We included this one in the line-up because the bold black and white print is brilliant for stimulating babies’ developing eyesight, so we think it would make a lovely new baby gift that will get years of use. It also comes with a travel bag, and a play mat is available to buy separately.

The Little Green Sheep kids teepee play tent

The brand's new teepee play tents have a five-pole solid wood structure, so they’re sturdy and robust, even during boisterous play. It’s easy to assemble and comes in its own cotton travel bag, so you can take it to the beach or the park. It’s only suitable for outdoor use when it’s dry, and the fabric is wipe-clean only, but it’s a really stylish addition to any garden or playroom adventure. We think this is unbeatable value for money for a playhouse. You can buy a quilt cotton playmat separately – worth the money for a little extra comfort.

DockATot play tent

It’s difficult to do justice to this beautiful teepee – it wouldn’t look out of place in a royal household. An exclusive collaboration between DockATot and William Morris – ours is the classic “strawberry thief” print – it also has lots of lovely lavish details like golden bobble trims and velvet tassels. It has a doorway and a window with drapes you can open or close, and we love the internal secret pocket – perfect for stashing a book, a favourite teddy or a torch.

It’s incredibly robust – the poles are made from solid teak – and really spacious. There was enough room inside for our six-year-old tester and her mum to curl up together reading books. We used it outside in dry weather too – perfect for a picnic or when sheltering out of the sun. It takes seconds to pitch and not much longer to pack away. It comes in a gorgeous canvas storage pouch, but we can’t see anyone ever wanting to pack this away. The floor mattress is sold separately, but well worth investing in – we reckon it’s comfy enough to sleep on, and transforms the teepee into a truly luxurious hideaway. The teepee is available from 1 November.

The verdict: Playhouses for kids

If you’re looking for a sturdy outdoor playhouse that won’t break the bank or overstretch your building skills, the TP Toys cubby house with verandah is just the ticket. Far cuter than the average playhouse, it’s well-constructed and makes a truly lovely feature in the garden. If you’ve got a bit more cash to spend, the Plum boathouse certainly won’t disappoint – the quality is excellent.

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