Soft play = The wonder of playing with toys that aren’t your own
[Pictured: ABC Studios, Forest Hill]
My impressions of ‘soft play centres‘, before having my own baby, were made from vague memories of working at one when I was 16, and spending most of my time in the ball pit, ‘working’, and of going to a very loud, shout warehouse type ones as an energetic seven-year-old; and spending most of my time in the ball pit…
Upon having my very own wriggly, crawling, wall climbing eight-month-old, I decided that it was time to embark upon finding out more about the ‘baby soft play’ scene. Living in London, I take my daughter to see lots of city sights, but sometimes, she needs a run around somewhere I know she’ll bounce back from if she takes a little tumble, and definitely need options for rainy or cold days. And I have discovered LOADS of places that are not only fun and safe, but which are much cleaner and brighter that I thought they’d be – and often attached to a museum or with a brilliant cafe. Todays soft plays are competitively good.
So, here is a list of the best soft play centres and indoor playgrounds I’ve come across, to which I will add more info to and pictures, as we visit each one. Do let me know of any you love and feel would make a great addition. And check opening hours/times and booking conditions before you set off: here’s to having happy, safe, tired out babies, toddlers and kids!
1.The National Army Museum – Play Base, Chelsea
Sloane Square (no lift, only escalator/steps) or Victoria (lift access) tube stations, 15/20min walk
For children aged eight years and under, the Play Base soft play at the National Army Museum was part of a £23 million refurbishment plan. As well as a huge padded area for all ages, there is a soft padded section just for babies, plus a netted climbing area and slide, dressing up props, play kitchen and play tank for the bigger children. You can book a timed session online for as little as £1 per child. It was fantastic – we loved it. Evie loved watching the older children race around from the safety of her soft padded baby den. There’s a brilliant cafe on the next level up, serving delicious open sandwiches, cake and coffees.
2. Museum of London Docklands – Mudlarks, West India Quay
Canary Wharf (lift access) tube/DLR station, 10min walk
Attached to the Museum of London Docklands, free sessions at the Mudlarks play centre should still be booked as the tickets are snapped up fast. There is a small soft play area, which babies will enjoy, and lots of construction type play areas to reflect the history of the area and the content of the museum. Ship building, goods removal, knot tying – the kids can give it all a whirl, while wearing high vis vests. Evie, even at just a few months, loved watching the toy boats sail at the water play station. There’s a cafe just next-door.
3. The Science Museum: The Garden, South Kensington
South Kensington tube (no lift access, only stairs and escalator)
The Science Museum is a sensory treat, filled with hanging aeroplanes and satellites, chiming bells and planet holograms. However, down in the basement, you’ll find ‘The Garden’, a play area for children. It says it is aimed at 3-6 year olds, but we found our nine-month-olds (at the time) loved watching the water play, pulling at the springs and wells stuck on the wall, batting the hanging string curtains and laughing at themselves in the many mirrors. There’s a buggy park and a cafe, next-door.
4. AHOY! at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich DLR station, (lift access)
Here is imaginative play at its best. A ‘fish stall’, complete with lobster and an array of fish friends, sensory bubble tubes, play ships and an ice cream stand – roll up, roll up! The Ahoy! play area is on the lower level of the Maritime Museum, and so is appropriately sea/seaside themed. We like spending some time in here, then heading upstairs for a crawl around on the giant world map for Evie and a coffee, while watching her, for me.
5. Discover Children’s Story Centre, Stratford
Stratford tube and Overground, (lift access)
The Discover Children’s Story Centre is aimed at 0-11 year olds, set over two main activity floors and a basement with changing exhibitions. We visited when the fantastic Julia Donaldson show was on (pictured above) and listened to a staff member read a story, before entering the enchanted world they had built around Julia’s tales. The focus at the centre is on building imagination around storybooks, and while I think it is probably best suited to children who can walk about, the benefits of crawling around, looking at the magical sights and listening to the chatter and music were not lost on Evie. There is a cafe, here and an outdoor playground for fine weather. Costs are £6.50 per adult, and babies/kids from £2.
6. Under1Roof, Woolwich
Woolwich Arsenal DLR (lift access)
The clue is in the name – there is just so much under one roof, here. Including a kids’ hairdressers, a children’s second hand clothes shop, a cafe, craft shop as well a gated toy area and dedicated soft play room with slide. A multicoloured dreamworld, that costs just £2 for under 1’s and £5 for 1-5 years olds. Check out the class activities, too, including classes like baby ballet, Hartbeeps and gymnastics.
7. ABC Studio, Forest Hill
Forest Hill overground (has lift access)
This is a great home-from-home, run by a fellow mum in Forest Hill, and is perfect for those rainy days when you need to escape your own house. The ground floor room (pictured at the top of this post) is set out with toys and books, and a very much-loved bubble tube. The basement floor is a dedicated ball pit – yes, a room completely filled with play balls! Upstairs, you can have a coffee while your little one plays, and there is a outdoor space for fine weather. You can also book the space for self-hosted parties. Small but perfectly formed, we spent a good hour and half here, and had the entire place to ourselves. Well worth the £3.95 for babies. ABC Studio is just down the road from the Horniman Museum, which is a great place and park to walk the buggy around for a post-play nap.
ABC Studio Facebook page – website coming soon
8. Cloud Twelve members club, Notting Hill
Notting Hill or Ladbroke Grove tube (no lift access, escalator and stairs only)
This one is oh so slick; but it isn’t a drop in, it will cost you a membership. Set within a beautiful private members club, the food is as clean as the play areas – as in, clean eating… think oxygenated water and vegan everything. Rooms around the edge of the main play area host music, reading, or craft activities, and the playtime includes all the latest in play technology and ‘developmental apparatus’, naturally. Evie was a little young when we visited to appreciate too much more than the musical instruments played to her, and face planting in the baby area, but she seemed perfectly happy. There’s a spa upstairs, that you can retreat to while they play, if that helps sway the membership decision.
Still to visit…
9. Kidzania, Westfield Shepherd’s Bush
The Queen of real world imaginative play, this is a pricey but stellar playtime place. A whole world of adventure, the majority of which looks best suited to slightly older children
Shepherd’s Bush (lift access)
10. The Play Spot, Finsbury Park
Has a dedicated babies area that looks more extensive than others, and the sensory jungle den sounds ace
Finsbury Park tube (no lift access)
11. The Sherriff Centre, West Hampstead
Soft play set within a cool looking church, with a tasty looking cafe
West Hampstead tube (no lift access)
12. Peckham Levels play area, Peckham
Doesn’t look too soft, but does look cool. One level of a converted car park
13. Jam Circus pub, Brockley
It’s a pub, that has a soft play area on a Friday
14. Hackney Playbus, various locations
A free to attend soft play on board a bus
15. The Postal Museum
Soft play and a chance to ride a mail train! It’s a bit pricey to visit the whole museum, but you can just go for a play session for £5
Faringdon (lift access), or King’s Cross, Chancery Lane, Russell Square
16. ZAPspace, Stratford
An indoor trampoline centre with a soft play space for babies (age 1-5 years) to boing from 9am
Stratford tube and Overground (lift access)
17. Apple Tree Children’s Cafe, Herne Hill
A cute cafe and soft play for littles, right next to Brockwell Park
Herne Hill National Rail or fifteen min walk from Brixton tube (both have lift access)
18. The Idol at Abbey Leisure Centre, Barking
A sculptural black and white soft play centre – looks seriously cool. Books sessions online from age one year old
Barking tube (lift access)
19. Cuckoo Hibou, Fulham
A sweet, chic space with a list of baby and toddler classes including baby ballet, naturally
Parsons Green tube (no lift only steps) or walk from Fulham Broadway (lift access)
20. The Pod at YMCA Hawker, Kingston
Soft play with a multi sensory room, open seven days a week
Kingston National Rail (lift access)
Other big warehouse type soft plays:
- Gambado, Beckenham, Chelsea or Watford
Soft play and party centres – looks like a slick operation
- Discovery Planet, Surrey Quays
Multi level soft play for children aged 0-10
Canada Water tube (has lift access)
- Bramley’s Big Adventure, Notting Hill
Playframes, slides and ball ponds, with baby area and birthday party packages
Ladbroke Grove (steps, no lift access)
- Big Little Fun, Greenwich
Classic caged soft play with birthday packages available
Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich DLR station, (lift access), or Greenwich or Deptford mainline rail