From Toys 'R' Us superstores to small independents, Time Out Family checks out the city's finest toy stockists
Most of the city’s best toy shops can be found in one mall or another. But not Baby International Blu which sits peacefully on Yueyang Lu in the former French concession and is a jack of all trades. One room is given over to its range of Bugaboo, Maclaren and Maxi-Cosi buggies and chairs. Other parts of the store stock everything a parent needs: Happ baby food, Bellamy’s baby formula, and Eco&More washing products included.
Its range of toys features a little of everything. Mini Micro scooters (899RMB) are parked in the corridor in a variety of colours for 1 to 5-year-olds. There are Lego sets, including a petrol tanker (249RMB) and lake house (299RMB); Skip*Hop items like their Alphabet Zoo Activity Gym (820RMB), which features multiple textures and play sounds that will amuse babies; and certain excellent ‘eco’ Hape toys, such as the Switchback Racetrack (528RMB) for little car enthusiasts and the educational, but unimaginatively titled, Shake and Match Shape Sorter (158RMB).
Best of all are the welcoming staff. They make the shop feel like a proper neighbourhood store, even if they have more than one location. Other toy shops in this article might have Baby International beat when it comes to breadth of products, but few match the kind service.
It’s not glamorous, and like all the city’s markets, be it Fake
, the Children’s Market is frequently clogged with people and stalls. But for a one-stop shop, this subterranean Puan Lu spot is hard to beat. Whether it’s a bike, a foam-bullet shooting Nerf gun, a Barbie doll, a model car, it’s all here. Some shops are more like warehouses, metal shelves stacked high with goods, but the upshot is an excellent range. Don’t expect any price tags on any of the toys; instead, bring your haggling A-game as the prices are all negotiable, meaning you make some decent savings compared to shops in Shanghai’s malls.
Another bonus to visiting the Children’s Market are the distractions for kids. There are various mini carousels and kids rides for them to enjoy. Even better is the – to give its full name – Neon Children’s Playground House (open 10am-6pm, Mon-Fri; 10am-7pm weekends). It costs 35RMB/child and an extra 10RMB if an adult wishes to accompany them in. The play area features the usual mix of ball pools, slides and space to run around in. It looks like a slightly more tardy version of Kerry Parkside’s Adventure Zone
. Yet while it doesn’t meet those high standards, it’s certainly much cheaper and gifts parents a pit stop if they’ve just been dragged through numerous stores looking for that ideal toy.
Opposite the Young Versace and Little Marc Jacobs stalls is Japanese mall Isetan’s toy selection. Unsurprisingly there is a significant native bent to what’s on offer. Shinkansen bullet train sets (249RMB), blazoned with katakana, sit the shelves and further evidence of the Tokyo origins of the department store can be seen in the wall of Gundam models that stand near the escalator. Model kits of the famous anime robots come in all sizes (1/44 through to Perfect Grade) and all prices (from 180RMB up to 3,000RMB respectively).
While the Japanese stock adds a unique flavour to Isetan’s offerings, there is plenty else for parents looking for an item less niche. Cute art supplies abound and crayon pencils go from 34RMB for a set of 24, or for the more discerning young artist a full 60-set Sakura-brand tin can be purchased (568RMB). Finger painting sets (338RMB) and iClay animals (173RMB-210RMB) are also available for children who fancy getting fully hands-on.
The Hape story on Jumen Lu may have closed, but their excellent products remain on the shelves here, including some larger items that we didn’t see elsewhere in Shanghai – a pink ‘grand piano’ (1,680RMB) the most impressive item. But other Western brands also feature: Quercetti (made in Italy) and Kiditec (Swiss) add to the impressive range of creative toys.
Isetan’s advantages don’t stop there. Many examples of the games and toys stocked are on display for children and parents to inspect and staff are frequently happy to play board games with kids. For an added bonus, visit on Saturday and Sunday between 2-6pm when Flexa the Clown strolls around the store entertaining youngsters with all manner of tricks.
Although other stores like Kids Land and Toys “R” Us sell Lego, the largest store dedicated to the incessantly fun coloured bricks lies in the Joy City mall
. Although not a mammoth showroom, the Hongkou location sells almost every kind of Lego from across its many ranges. For toddlers there are Duplo blocks, which come in circus sets (499RMB) or Disney castles and Ariel’s underwater palace (499RMB). Packs of generic blocks for creative kiddies who want to build their own constructs are also on sale (299RMB/80 pieces).
Moving up through the age ranges, there are all kinds of boxes to buy. Lego Junior Batman sets (399RMB), Lego City boxes featuring airplanes (1,099RMB) and petrol trucks (249RMB), Legends of Chima fortified castles (1,399RMB), and Star Wars tie-ins, including X-Wing (2,299RMB) and R2D2 (1,999RMB) builds for teenagers. The list goes on through Lego Technics, Lego Movie, Ninjago and Lego Creator sets.
One of the nicest things about this store is the space set aside for children to play. A square play area enclosed by seats has giant Duplo blocks for babies to crawl and play amongst, whilst another table has seats and standard bricks for older kids to enjoy. There’s even a free movie corner, supposedly showing episodes of Ninjago and Hero Factory, though it was not in operation when we visited.
The Grand Gateway mall in Xujiahui already has a branch of Toys “R” Us and Kids Land, so it takes something a little different to stand out amidst such fierce competition. Labelling itself a ‘baby boutique’, Lollipop manages to do this.
Look past the Stokke and Bugaboo buggies and car-seats and you’ll see an attractive range of Skip*Hop backpacks for little ones. These cute designs feature penguins, zebras, owls and pandas. They come in two sizes, a smaller lunchbox size (149RMB) and a larger version (235RMB) suitable for school books. More artistically minded children will love the GoVinci backpacks, which feature a clear plastic screen on the back allowing kids to show off their artwork. Gentle Giraffe and Sleep Sheep toys are stocked and are designed to help babies doze off into a peaceful slumber. Both versions (349RMB) play soothing sounds and simulate a mother’s heartbeat to ease tired tots into the land of nod. A large range of Micro scooters are parked out front in a variety of neon colours (yellow, green, pink, blue), both for toddlers (699RMB) and older children (1,790RMB).
Handy for parents tired from traipsing round the mall is the zen-sounding ‘Enlightenment Garden for Children’ (100RMB), which is a fancy title for a play area. Pastel coloured, it includes a dolphin carousel, merry-go-round, ball pool and padded walkways and floors for kids to tear up and down.
Compared to today’s PS4s and iPads a good old fashioned puzzle seems positively antiquarian. Yet these games retain their charm thanks to their simplicity of concept and the fact they don’t require children to stare at an LCD screen all day. Renoir stock nothing but puzzles, and have a wonderful range. They have a puzzle for everyone. Younger kids will be drawn to the colourful Beatrix Potter (1,000 pieces, 360RMB) and Snoopy puzzles (300 pieces, 158RMB). There’s a particularly cool Snoopy puzzle that features the cast of Peanuts in front of the Lujiazui skyline, complete with an already finished Shanghai Tower (1,000 pieces, 335RMB), that works as a great local souvenir. If parents are looking for something more educational, the shelves also feature puzzles from the Horrible Histories series – a Terrible Tudors 300 piece set costs 288RMB – and Educa Puzzles (135RMB).
But there’s more in Renoir’s inventory than just cute sets for youngsters. There are puzzles by contemporary artists like Jon Burgerman (2,000 pieces, 438RMB), Chinese themed sets featuring landscapes by Song dynasty artist Huang Gongwang (1,000 pieces, 360RMB) and even 3D puzzles of structures such as the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben (450RMB).
A German brand established in 1856, Sigikid has been active in China since this store opened in the IFC mall
in June 2013. Half of what the shop sells is cute children’s clothes, but there are some standout items amongst its range of toys. Especially cute is a (deliberately, as it turns out) slightly off-kilter looking fluffy bunny (989RMB). The price tag seemed steep until the extremely helpful sales assistant pointed out to us that BEASTS, the makers, only produce their cuddly animals in small batches and hand-finish every one. Other wonderful items that we only came across at Sigikid are their adorable finger puppets (119RMB, pictured at the top of this page). Little gnomes, crocodiles, mustachioed kings, farmers and grey haired grannies all feature in the range and would be sure to entertain young kids with their tales. Larger hand puppets are also available and princesses, jesters, wizards and bunnies are the additions to the cast.
Elsewhere, there are a wide range of colourful wooden games and puzzles that highlight the store’s origins in Germany, courtesy of names like ‘Gaggel Waggel’ and ‘Würfelpuzzle’. The cube puzzles cost 249RMB and all have English instructions, so parents need not fear a language barrier.
Although not an out and out toystore there are enough cute knickknacks and toys to warrant Simple Mill’s inclusion on this list. Fujifilm Instax cameras, aka the Polaroid for post-Polaroid times, are available (2,680RMB), as is Instax Wide film (155RMB for a pack of 20), for any youngster convinced digital photos aren’t hip enough. Textile glitter and paints are on sale (15RMB each) in over 30 different colours to allow for clothes customisation, and leather bracelets (30RMB) can bought and decorated with specific letters and numbers too (2RMB each). The store also stocks cute decorations. Hefty leather doorstops in animal shapes (435RMB) are more cosy than anything utilitarian, and the same goes for the adorable animal lampstands (89RMB). Kids can pick their favourite from a range that includes whales, elephants, sheep, dogs and dinosaurs. Wooderful Life wooden toys make for nice, if expensive gifts (298RMB).
This American mega-chain needs little introduction; China is just one of 35 countries to feature its stores. The Super Brand Mall
in Lujiazui houses the flagship store on its fourth floor. As you enter, it seems disappointingly small. Move past the Disney Princess section (which sadly only stocks classic characters, such as Snow White and Cinderella), up the stairs and out of the store’s anteroom, however, and things suddenly expand, TARDIS-like.
In the aisles before you is a welter of options, featuring all the most recognisable kids toys, from Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to My Little Pony and Sylvanian Family. Young tots can be appeased by a trip to the Fisher-Price aisle. Parents looking for bigger toys for special occasions can find them here too – a miniature Lamborghini, the standout amongst the other tricycles and cars, costs 1,698RMB. For children who are more sports orientated basketball hoops (699RMB) and foosball tables (298RMB) dominate in a separate corner of the store. There’s not much opportunity for children to get hands-on and try toys, but what this American juggernaut lacks in interactivity it makes up for in variety.
Although the fourth floor of the Réel mall
is host to a couple of women's underwear shops near the escalators, the remainder of the floor is devoted to shops for children. The excellent kids’ salon Qkuts
sits amongst Sergent Major, Les Enfants Plus, Jacadi and Stella McCartney Kids.
At the far end lies Wise Kids
, an all-round great toy store. Most eye-catching were the colourful rolls of wrapping paper (25RMB-30RMB/sheet), something so simple but so hard to find good specimens of in Shanghai. The shelves are well stocked with educational card games like Red Dog, Blue Dog (199RMB), designed to encourage colour recognition, and Two by Two (245RMB) a memory game inspired by Noah’s ark. An entire section of Voila wooden block products, from shape board (209RMB) to ‘basic skill builders’ sets (432RMB) provide further material for any parent looking to purchase something more instructive than another toy car.
Also impressive was Wise Kid’s range of English language books. They form only a small part of the store, but, like the wrapping paper, such books are not always easy to come by. The prices reflect that – a lovely hardback copy of Babar’s Mystery costs 249RMB, and Snoopy’s Story Book is 349RMB – but unlike clothes, books are not items easy to haul back and forth on intercontinental flights and, depending on the parent, these prices might be judged worth paying. Readers can also choose from a wide range of Winnie the Pooh books, as welll as some Mr Men and Postman Pat titles.