A baby’s first birthday is a big deal – especially for their parents, who’ve kept a very demanding human alive for a whole 12 months. But if you want to mark the occasion with a gift, knowing what to buy can be tricky. After all, whatever you choose, it’s unlikely to beat the appeal of the wrapping paper or cardboard box that it arrives in.
But whether you want something that will last a long time, or want to give the little one something that will make them laugh their cutest giggle, these presents will all go down well with parents and babies alike.
Remember, though, that while we and our one-year-old testers love all of these presents, in some cases their manufacturers recommend a minimum age that’s older than 12 months, so check that anything you give to a young child is safe and suitable for its recipient.
Baby Music Set: £10.49, Amazon
A set of five wooden instruments, including castanets, maracas and rattle, these look good and sound, well, loud when our testers got them in their mitts.
They were so into their music making that they wouldn’t put them down. The bright colours look great and they’re light enough to be held by tiny fists for a while.
They don’t appear to have any tiny parts, but the manufacturer advises they're for babies 18 months and older - and we’d recommend that younger babies are supervised, especially so that they don’t start head-banging, Nirvana-style.
Playmobil 123 My Take Along Noah’s Ark: £28, amazon.co.uk
Many of Playmobil’s toys are aimed at older children, and have lots of small parts (so don’t buy one of those by mistake), but its 123 range is aimed for babies aged 18 months-plus.
Our testers kept coming back to the animal-filled My Take Along Noah’s Ark. With ten animals, two people, a sack of food, ramp and it all packs into a floating boat, they loved moving the animals up and down their ramp.
Since all the toys fit inside their boat (which also has an easy-to-use handle), it’s a great toy to take out and about or on holiday. The boat also floats in the bath so can be used in there too.
My1stYears toy chest and bench: £100, my1styears.com
Personalised presents are especially good for second (or third, fourth or… you get the idea) children who might have lots of hand-me-down toys and clothes. If it has their name on, it’s just for them.
The My1stYears website inscribes children’s names on almost anything, from bathrobes to toys, but this toy chest-turned-bench was a hit with our testers, who liked climbing up to sit on it for a reading nook. You can fit toys inside too, but check the dimensions – it’s tot-sized, not huge.
It’s not cheap. but the chest is good quality, has a catch to stop slammed fingers, and will be used for years.
Usborne Little Peep-Through Books – Are You There Little Reindeer? £4.45, Amazon
At one, babies are starting to get interested in turning the pages of books and looking at the pictures, so something to read/look at is a great present idea.
We tested out classic childhood books that we’d loved when little (like Peepo!, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar), but our one year old testers’ favourite was Usborne’s Little Peep Through range, with ‘Are you there little reindeer?’ lasting a whole 10 minutes of their attention span – a record for a book at this age.
With holes to poke fingers through, beautiful animal illustrations, and different textures to feel, this series is popular with older toddlers too so will last.
Duplo Farm Adventures: £43.99, John Lewis & Partners
Our crew of one-year-old testers loved the bright colours and click-in-to-place fun of Duplo (the junior version of Lego) – and older siblings aged three, four and five were happily joining in too showing the sets have longevity.
At first, you’ll need to supervise play: the blocks are chunky but recommended for 18 months-plus, and babies will need help building. But our testers develop the dexterity to make a tower after just two days of play.
With this set you can build freestyle, or follow the picture instructions to make a farmyard and house, with animals, tractor, houses and even a toilet (which one of our one-year-olds kept putting his teddies on).
The only downside was the packaging: we didn’t think it necessary to package each individual chicken and cow in their own plastic bag..
ZSL London Zoo membership: £99 for an adult, free for under 3s; zsl.org
If you’re buying for a baby who lives in a small (or already toy-packed) home, you can’t go wrong with an experience – tickets to a local zoo or soft play, or kids petting farm, for example, or, with a bigger budget, annual membership.
Toddlers love seeing animals up close, and London Zoo – with its playground, and aquarium as well as tigers, monkeys, petting zoo and much more – kept our testers happy for a whole day, with lots still left to see.
Membership is free for under 3s, so while still not cheap, the birthday babe and one parent can make unlimited trips for a year, for £99 (or £185 for both parents) when paid by direct debit.
Peter Rabbit dinner set: £15.95, Amazon
This is the kind of nostalgic present that your one-year-old recipient could one day pass on to their own child – a first crockery set with bowl, plate, cup and cutlery. You could go for a breakable, china set, but it might not last one breakfast.
Our testers gave the seal of approval to this melamine dinner set. Parents can encourage the gobbling of food to find Peter Rabbit.
My First Baby Annabell Doll: £14.99, Argos
One of our testers hasn’t stopped playing with this plush doll since she arrived a week ago, including in her cot.
Baby Annabell comes with a (removable) hat and Babygro, and a bottle of milk, her tummy is soft so good for a cuddle.
If she’s popular, there are lots of accessories including a pram and clothes to go for future presents.
Little Tikes Cozy Coupé Car: £44.99, smythstoys.com
Officially, this is a toy they’ll have to grow into – the age is set at 18 months plus, but our one-year-old testers were pushing each other out of the way to get into this classic garden toy.
It has a (removable) floor that’s great for when they’re little and want to be pushed around; then once they’ve grown a bit, the floor comes out so they can move themselves around a park or garden.
If it’s a gift for another family, check with the parents first – this is one bulky present – but it’s sure to be popular for years.
Vtech Sing Along Microphone: £13.70, amazon.co.uk
It’s plastic, garish, noisy, and everything the Insta-parent hates: but our baby and toddler testers loved this microphone, which has 15 songs to sing along to, twistable animal pictures to hear oinks and more, a motion-sensor rattle.
Baby karaoke, here you come.
The Verdict: Best gifts for 1-year-olds
A lot of our testers’ parents loved the My1stYears toy chest and bench – practical and cute, as one put it, but the babies just couldn’t get enough of Playmobil’s My Take Along 123 Noah’s Ark. They loved the easy to handle animals, and the fact that it all packs away and floats makes it great for travel and bath-time too, for a popular present. We did note, however, that it’s recommended for children above 18 months, so supervision is essential.
We awarded our Best Buy in the end to the Baby Music Set. Again, the advised age is 18 months and above, so supervision is a must. However, we felt that it could be enjoyed by babies whatever their stage of development and however musical they turn out to be.