When I first moved to Beijing, I asked an old university friend about his experiences growing up in the city. “I was only in Beijing from about 9 years old to 12,” he told me. “But I remember being really disappointed by the toy selection when I moved there.”
I was shocked. Having spent my childhood with the words “Made in China” emblazoned across almost every plaything in my possession, I had assumed that this country was a toy paradise. Surely this was a magical place where kids’ playrooms overflowed and people commuted to work in plastic choo-choo trains?
Alas not. While the selection of toys has undoubtedly improved since my friend lived here in the 1990s, the export market still takes most of them off to far-off lands. But like so many things in Beijing, finding great toys for the kids is just a case of knowing where to look.
So we’ve put together a list of some of the best toy retailers in Beijing. And if you like to spoil the kids now and again, why not make a day of it? Sure, you can find everything you need online nowadays but there is a certain magic to strolling the aisles and operating a strict “try before you buy” policy.
Toys “R” Us
The undisputed mecca of toy stores during my childhood, Toys “R” Us launched its first Beijing stores last year. As one of the world’s largest toy retailers you can expect high-quality products but, contrary to the 1990s advertising campaigns, the shop is not actually staffed by benevolent giraffes. There are currently several mall locations in the city.
Beijing International Toy City
It may not technically be a city, but it’s not far off. With more than 1,000 individual retailers spanning over five floors, this Fengtai paradise is the largest toy market in North China. Independent retailers brush shoulders with international brands like Lego, Disney and Tomy, so you’ll be spoiled for choice.
77 Nansanhuan Zhonglu, Fengtai District (8781 9999) 北京国际玩具城, 丰台区南三环中路77号
The sprawling Hongqiao may be better known for clothes and other tidbits, but there is also an entire floor dedicated to toys. If you don’t find what you’re after, head next door to the Tianle Toy Market where another 300 booths await you.
Old-Toxin Tin Toys
If you’d rather go toy-browsing in a hutong than a mega-mall, then try the vintage selection at Old-Toxin Tin Toys. Seconds away, you’ll also find Jingcheng Baixing which sells handcrafted toys, games and puzzles.
Kidsland stocks all sorts of toys, gifts, and art supplies for kids in its colorful store, including a variety of Lego and Crayola sets.
MUMA Smart Toys
For parents who like their kids’ toys to have some learning value, MUMA’s unique range of educational (and fun) toys are designed to promote creativity, visual perception, and motor coordination.
Photo courtesy of coolinsights (Flickr)