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12 mind-bending playgrounds around the world

From Tulsa to Tokyo, imaginative spaces for all ages.

Published 3 Aug 2019, 08:00 BST
Hakone's open air museum inspires children with its use of light and colour.
Hakone's open air museum inspires children with its use of light and colour.
Photograph by John Lander, Alamy Stock Photo

For travelling families with a full itinerary, a stop at the playground can feel like more work than fun. Sometimes the swing sets and twisty slides begin to blend together whether they’re in Bognor or Budapest. Unless you’ve happened to stumble upon one of the world’s greatest playgrounds. Thanks to the playful imaginations of innovative architects, the days of squeaky seesaws and drab jungle gyms are giving way to outrageous designs and accessible environments that spark young imaginations. Here are 12 standout playgrounds that will delight the whole family.

Climb an interactive sculpture in Missouri

MonstroCity stands outside the City Museum of St. Louis, Missouri.
Photograph by Serhii Chrucky, Alamy Stock Photo

Welcoming guests to the City Museum of St. Louis—a must-see for families visiting the city—MonstroCity is a mash-up between a playground and a massive interactive sculpture. Kids and adults can explore the secret passageways and slinky tunnels to discover two antique airplanes and a giant ball pit.

Bounce through a net forest in Japan

Children are encouraged to consider the beauty of colour and light at the permanent exhibition of the Hakone Open Air Museum, located south of Toyko. One of several kid-friendly stops within the museum, the net forest was designed by artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam; kids 12 and under can climb and bounce throughout the colorful rope structures. (Here’s the ultimate Tokyo itinerary.)

Get a giant’s perspective among skyscrapers of New York

Look through these eyes for a giant’s perspective of New York City.
Photograph by D. James Dee

A gentle giant (measuring 25 feet tall and 30 feet long) lurks between two high-rises in Midtown West. Designed by Brooklyn sculptor Tom Otterness, this friendly bronze colossus (aptly titled “Playground”) permits little ones to scale his limbs, look through his eyes, and then slide down his legs.

Find Never Never Land in England

Set sail on a pirate ship inspired by Peter Pan in London.
Photograph by Alamy Stock Photo

Built in memory of Princess Diana beside her Kensington Gardens home in London, the Diana Memorial Playground was inspired by the stories of Peter Pan. From the giant pirate ship in the middle of the playground to the teepees and tree forts, the playground encourages open exploration and free rein of the imagination. Parents will appreciate the plentiful seating, public restrooms, and café. 

Explore willow huts in Denmark

Designed as an alternative to commercial amusement parks by landscape architect Helle Nebelong, Copenhagen’s fanciful Nature Playground features a village of woven willow huts, a maze, towers, bridges, and a snail-shaped walking path. The entire playground is surrounded by an elevated wooden bridge.

Enter other realms in Oklahoma

The Gathering Place in Tulsa was designed to be accessible for all children.
Photograph by Ole Barslund Nielsen, Monstrum

Overlooking the Arkansas River, Tulsa’s Gathering Place opened in 2018 with a $465 million price tag. The ambitious, five-acre park contains a wonderland with seven realms designed for different age groups, from toddler-friendly Volcanoville to a zip line for older kids. Accessibility for all is a cornerstone of the park’s mission, and you’ll find wheelchair-accessible ramps, a sensory garden, and amplified voice tools to ensure that no child is left out of the fun.

Slide down Gulliver in Spain

In the heart of the Turia Gardens in Valencia, Gulliver Park was inspired by Jonathan Swift’s fantasies.
Photograph by Iurii Buriak, Alamy Stock Photo

Experience life as a Lilliputian at Parque Gulliver in Valencia’s Jardines de Turia. Inspired by Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels, the colossal play-sculpture invites kids of all ages to climb up and slide down Gulliver, from his fingers to his toes. 

Whirl around Virginia

With a focus on accessibility for children of all abilities, Northern Virginia's Clemyjontri Park offers wheelchair-friendly surfaces, lowered monkey bars, and a special swing for wheelchair users. Scattered around the two-acre playground, kids can explore four different outdoor “rooms” surrounding a fanciful carousel.

Scale a towering Godzilla in Japan

Tokyo’s Nishi Rokugo Park was created from more than 3,000 rubber tires recycled from the nearby Kawasaki manufacturing plant.
Photograph by Andia, Alamy Stock Photo

A two-story-tall Godzilla made of tires watches over Nishi Rokugo Park in Toyko, where you’ll find more than 3,000 rubber tires repurposed as playthings. There are tire swings, slides, and climbing-friendly sculptures set up around the playground.

Top a volcano in Denmark

Each section of playground Kloden in Aarhus showcases different cultures and regions of the world.
Photograph by Monstrum

Inside Aarhus’s innovative community centre and library, Dokk1, families will find five different sections at Playground Kloden, each representing a compass direction. Designed by Danish playground masterminds Monstrum, the imaginative space takes young adventurers around the world, from a giant Russian bear slide to a volcanic climbing wall in the West Indies.

Swing like Tarzan in New York

The sixth pier in Brooklyn Bridge Park is arguably its most kid-friendly, with five different playgrounds to choose from. There’s a Tarzan swing, a two-story slide, a water lab, and the biggest sandbox in New York, plus a marsh garden that immerses visitors in nature, all within view of the Manhattan skyline.

Retreat to nature in France

The serene Parc de Belleville holds the biggest slide in Paris.
Photograph by BASE

High above the bustle of Paris in the 20th arrondissement, Parc de Belleville is a meandering green space that’s home to one of the city’s best playgrounds. Spilling down the hill, the rustic yet modern wooden playground has a play tower, climbing wall, and the biggest slide in the City of Light.

Based in Richmond, freelance writer Erica Jackson Curran covers family travel. Follow her on Twitter.
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