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21 Oct 2021

Kids' advent calendars: which toys will your children love?

We reveal which toy advent calendar from Lego, Playmobil, Barbie and more, will bring the most joy as you countdown to Christmas Day with your child

A toy advent calendar is a great alternative if you're keen to get an advent calendar for your child to help build up to the excitement of Christmas Day, but you don't want to deal with the sugar rush from giving your little one chocolate daily.

We've tested nine popular kids' advent calendars ranging in price from £15 up to £25, from the biggest toy brands including Lego, Playmobil, Barbie, Hot Wheels, Polly Pocket and more.

Unfortunately not all kids' advent calendars are created equal - some have great toys that your children will love, but others are filled with cheap plastic that will be forgotten about well before Christmas Day.

Watch our video below to find out more and keep reading to see what we learned testing kids' advent calendars, plus some alternative suggestions of advent calendars for children if you'd rather not add to the amount of toys in your home.

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The best kids' advent calendars

Editor's Choice: Playmobil Pirate Island Advent Calendar

Cheapest price: £18.29 available at Amazon. Also available at Playmobil.

Pros: High quality gifts, good variety, these toys can be added to any existing Playmobil sets.

Cons: Not very Christmassy.

Our verdict: It's a fun and engaging kids' advent calendar that's perfect for pirate and Playmobil fans.

Although it's not Christmas-themed, pirates are a popular theme with kids and the Pirate Island Advent Calendar is packed full of great gifts. Particular highlights include boats, cannons that fire actual cannon balls, rocks with trap doors and even an Octopus.

While there are a couple of windows that might underwhelm (a selection of crabs for example), these are normally followed by something spectacular the day after. By Christmas Eve your child will have a great selection of Playmobil pirate toys and a cardboard cut out pirate-themed backdrop to play with them in.

Most of our panel would buy this calendar for a child, and three of the four adults in the panel would also be quite happy to have this calendar bought for themselves.

One of the great things about the toys in this calendar is that they can be added to any existing Playmobil set, so it's an ideal choice if your child is already a fan.

Editor's Choice: Barbie Dreamtopia Advent Calendar

Cheapest price: £19.99 at Smyths Toys (in store only). Also available at Amazon and Booghe and Coolshop for £29.99.

Pros: High quality gifts, these toys can be added to existing Barbie sets, good value if bought for the lower price.

Cons: Not very Christmassy.

Our verdict: Barbie devotees will love mixing and matching the princess, mermaid and fairy outfits contained in this calendar.

Barbie Dreamtopia begins with a bang thanks to the Barbie doll on day one, which is sure to get December off to a fabulous start.

What follows each day thereafter are clothes and accessories for the Barbie doll, and most of them are actually pretty good. Highlights include wings, a hairbrush, a tea set, a dog, mermaid tail and various shoes and bags.

Considering a Barbie on its own can cost around £10, and the amount of accessories that are packed into this advent calendar, we think it's pretty good value if you're able to pick it up for £19.99, plus the accessories can be used with other Barbie dolls.

This calendar was popular with our panel, who would buy this calendar for any young Barbie fans.

Editor's Choice: Lego City Advent Calendar

Cheapest price: £19.99 available at Amazon and John Lewis. Also available at Argos.

Pros: Five minute kit behind each window, consistency of gifts is high, kits can be added to any existing Lego sets.

Cons: A little too fiddly for younger kids

Our verdict: A perfect introduction to Lego for kids and good fun for experienced Lego enthusiasts too.

Along with our other Editor's Choice advent calendars, this Lego City calendar one was a popular pick for our panel as a gift for the children in their lives.

It's packed full of figures, vehicles and other accessories that can be added to other sets after Christmas is over.

As expected with Lego the quality of the gifts is high, but the consistency of the gifts behind each window is also pretty good, and there shouldn't be too many underwhelming days in the run up to Christmas.

Behind each window there's a small Lego kit that would be great for beginners and would probably take up to five minutes to complete for a young child who's just getting used to building Lego to complete with adult supervision.

We also tested the Marvel Lego Advent Calendar, but felt that Lego City has the edge due to the consistent quality of gifts throughout the month.

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How the rest fared

The following advent calendars didn't quite make the grade for our recommendation. We've listed them alphabetically.

Hatchimals CollEGGtibles Advent Calendar

Cheapest price: £24.99 available at Amazon.

Pros: Not many unless you have a Hatchimals obsessed child on your hands.

Cons: Poor quality gifts, lots of small plastic toys that we imagine in most cases will be destined for the bin.

Our verdict: A strange and underwhelming advent calendar with little gifts of value.

Unless your child is already obsessed with Hatchimals, we wouldn't recommend this advent calendar.

It contained only one Hatchimal egg and all the other 23 gifts were small poor quality plastic accessories, cardboard cutouts and stickers.

Our panel universally disliked the toys that came out of nearly all of the windows.

Haynes Retro Electronic Games Advent Calendar

Cheapest price: £25 available at MenKind.

Pros: Teaches the basics of circuitry.

Cons: The games are underwhelming, the gifts behind each window are a bit boring.

Our Verdict: Unless you have a real IT nerd on your hands, this advent calendar is a bit boring.

This retro games calendar is designed for older children and it includes parts to help you make a little home made computer that you can play basic games on.

Although good in theory, unfortunately the consistency of the gifts behind the windows isn't that great, with the majority containing LED resistors and wires.

In addition, the computer and games you get at the end is quite underwhelming, and our panel felt that it's just not that exciting whatever age you are to open a window and see a small piece of electrical wire.

Hot Wheels Advent Calendar

Cheapest price: £20 available at Next and Sports Direct. Also available at Amazon.

Pros: Eight cars included in the set.

Cons: No track, some underwhelming gifts.

Our verdict: The gifts included in this Hot Wheels calendar are a bit inconsistent.

There's eight Hot Wheels cars in this set which is pretty good going, but that means that in 16 windows out of 24 the gifts are a bit rubbish.

Our panel struggled to see the relevance of trees, plastic presents, gingerbread men and snowmen to the Hot Wheels universe, and we'd imagine that many of these items will end up in the bin.

There isn't any track in the set, which isn't obvious from the packaging. You can also buy a pack of ten Hot Wheels cars for about £14, so this calendar doesn't necessarily represent great value.

Lego Marvel The Avengers Advent Calendar

Cheapest price: £24.99 available at Amazon, Smyths Toys, Waterstones and Argos.

Pros: High quality gifts, Lego can be added to existing sets.

Cons: Not quite as good as Lego City according to our panel.

Our verdict: A great choice for any Marvel obsessed kids.

As you'd expect with Lego, this is a good kids' advent calendar that contains a mini-set behind every window.

Although it's not a bad calendar, our panel simply felt that the consistency of the kits isn't quite as high as with the Lego City calendar.

You get eight Marvel figures in the calendar, but some of the other windows contain slightly random kits. Our panel struggled to figure out what some of them were actually meant to be.

If your child is obsessed with Marvel they would clearly favour this one over Lego City, but otherwise we think Lego City is a better option for Lego fans.

There's also other themed Lego advent calendars that weren't included in our testing. For example, the Lego Star Wars Advent calendar which is available from Amazon, Argos, Lego and Smyths.

As well as a Lego Harry Potter Advent Calendar available from a number of retailers, including Amazon, Argos, John Lewis and Lego.

Playmobil Christmas Grotto Advent Calendar

Cheapest price: £14.97 available at Asda. Also available at Amazon.

Pros: Toys can be added to existing Playmobil sets, strong Christmas theme, good quality gifts.

Cons: Not as good at the Playmobil pirate calendar.

Our verdict: Good advent calendar and the most Christmassy of the bunch.

Our panel really liked this calendar, which contains some high quality Playmobil gifts that could easily be added to any existing sets.

The consistency of the gifts is pretty high too, with not many underwhelming days in the run up to Christmas.

Our panel also liked the strong Christmas theme that runs through this calendar.

But ultimately, all of the panel preferred the pirate themed Playmobil advent calendar to this one, so it just misses out on our recommendation.

Polly Pocket Advent Calendar

Cheapest price: £19.99 available at Amazon and Next.

Pros: Not many unless your child is already hooked on Polly Pocket.

Cons: Cheap plastic gifts, lots of underwhelming windows in the run up to Christmas.

Our verdict: Lots of poor quality gifts behind each window.

Unless your child is already hooked on Polly Pocket, we wouldn't recommend this advent calendar.

The majority of the gifts behind each window are tiny (it's Polly Pocket, that can be forgiven), but they seem to be very low quality with visible mold lines on many of the random toys.

For example, one of the gifts is a miniscule plastic comb that will quickly and easily be lost.

What we learned testing kids' advent calendars

1. So much plastic waste

The majority of the kids' advent calendars we tested would give Greta Thunberg a headache. In particular we'd single out Polly Pocket and Hatchimals as containing a high proportion of gifts that are destined quite quickly for the bin and ultimately landfill.

But while the advent calendars we've recommended are still filled with plastic, we think that they contain toys that will ultimately have a much longer life than the others. Playmobil, Barbie and Lego are gifts that can be handed down and reused when the time comes.

But if the idea of a kids' advent calendar still turns you off, take a look at some of our alternative and more sustainable options below.

2. Consistency is key

If you really want your child at fever pitch by the time it gets to Christmas Eve, then the consistency of the gifts behind each window is important.

A flaming red Hot Wheels car followed the next day by a small plastic snowman is not ideal.

We've made sure that the advent calendars we've recommended contain a good gift almost every day.

3. Don't be fooled by the pictures on the box

The box art of each of the calendars we tested almost always paints a much more favourable picture than the reality.

4. Consider making your own

To some, a kids' toy advent calendar may seem a little excessive. And that certainly occurred to our panel as they were opening each door.

If you like your Christmas fun a little more wholesome, and perhaps a little less wasteful, see some of our suggestions below.

Alternative kids' advent calendar suggestions

1. Book advent calendars

If your child loves reading or being read to, what could be better than a short bedtime story every night in the run up to Christmas?

That's the concept behind advent calendars such as Disney Story Book, available from Amazon, The Works and WH Smith,and The Gruffalo, which is sold via Amazon, John Lewis and Waterstones.

Quality time with your child and much less plastic make these calendars very appealing.

2. Chocolate advent calendars

Not as wholesome or popular with dentists, but chocolate advent calendars are certainly cheaper and contain less plastic.

While almost certainly overindulgent for a child, see our pick of the best chocolate advent calendars for adults.

3. Homemade advent calendars

By far the most sustainable option, homemade advent calendars can be brought out each year and filled with almost anything you want.

Whether that's toys your child might have forgotten about in the bottom of their toy bag, books, or Christmas-themed chocolates, a homemade calendar is a much cheaper and more environmentally-friendly choice in the long run.

How we tested kids' advent calendars

We asked a panel of five researchers, including parents, aunts and uncles to rate each calendar on the quality of the gifts inside, their consistency, and the aesthetics of the unopened calendar.

We then asked each of the panel which calendar they would give as a gift to the children in their own lives.

After considering all of the above we rated each calendar and awarded Editor's Choice to three of the nine calendars we tested.