Family Day Out Review: The Secret Garden, Hitchin
The Secret Garden, Hitchin
Value For Money9.0/10
Variety Of Activities10.0/10
Things We Like
- Great Alternative To Soft Play
- Hundreds Of Different Types Of Toys To Play With
- Separate Sensory Room Is A Great Addition
- Nice To Have Somewhere Just For Preschoolers
Things We Dislike
- Can Get Quite Messy
- Limited Seating Available In Play Space
- Can Feel Busy Pretty Quickly
What’s It All About?
The Secret Garden is an indoor creative play area for children under 5 in Hitchin. With a large, garden-themed space filled with a huge range of toys to appeal to different ages and interests, an activity room, a sensory room and a cafe, it provides an alternative play area to your traditional soft play.
What Do We Think?
The Secret Garden in Hitchin is like no other place we’ve been before. Located in the town centre, it provides an outdoor-themed, indoor space for children under 5 to play, explore and learn. With hundreds of toys and games for the kids to play with and a (relatively) relaxing environment for the parents, it’s a welcome change to the madness of soft play.
From the outside, the Secret Garden is very unassuming and you can walk passed it quite easily. On entering, there’s a narrow corridor where you can leave a buggy, as well as a lift. You walk up the stairs, through a stairgate, leave your shoes outside, then go through another door to enter the play space. The stair gate is obviously for safety which is good, but I can’t help but feel like there should be a door release button at some point just for additional safety and security.
Once inside, the first thing you’ll notice is the astro turf floor, closely followed by all of the toys. Imagine a toy shop where your kids can actually play with every single one of the toys on offer – this is the reality for children at the Secret Garden. They have a huge choice of things to play with which span interests and age ranges. From baby rockers to ride-on cars or musical instruments to stacking blocks, there is very little chance that your children will be bored or underwhelmed. It also adds an educational aspect not found at a normal soft play – for instance, learning through role play or electronic alphabet toys.
The main play space is shaped like an ‘L’. The astro turf floor, MDF trees, play houses and other decoration gives the impression of being outside whilst your inside – almost like some kind of secret garden (see what I did there!). The space is vaguely organised – there’s somewhere for trains, somewhere for DUPLO, somewhere for dress up, somewhere for cars, somewhere for tools, somewhere for cooking etc. There’s also a couple of sofas, but not much seating for adults.
Despite the themed areas, the reality is that things get moved as children play and it gets messy – and I do mean messy. As you’d expect, toys, games, dressing up clothes and everything else is strewn around the floor. This can make it difficult to find things (e.g. when a toy has multiple parts), problematic to play (e.g. when driving a ride-on car) and can create a trip hazard for parent and child. It’d be impossible for staff to keep on top of things, but I’d expect a bit of tidying during the day – no-one attempted to organise the chaos in the few hours we were there on our last visit.
When it comes to the condition of the toys, we were surprised that they were in a pretty decent state. You’d imagine that being played with every single day by different kids would destroy them pretty quickly, but there’s plenty of toys still being played with which I recognise from our first visit over three years ago. Yes, some toys are passed their best, are a little broken, are a bit grubby or don’t have batteries, but this is the minority.
As well as this main play space, there’s also a couple of other areas – our most recent visit was the first time we’ve found them as we’ve always stayed in the main space. The Sensory Room includes things like a large bubble lamp, a disco light, a projector, an aroma diffuser and sensory toys. It’s actually a really nice little room – perfect for younger babies and any children with special educational needs.
There’s also an Activity Room which had a few books, toys, water / sand tray and large table. I imagine this is where kids can paint, partake in messy play and do crafts, but none of this was out on our most recent visit. If I remember rightly, this room used to have a projector where they sometimes put films on, but again, this wasn’t happening when we were there.
There’s also a couple of other rooms which we weren’t able to explore as they were closed for classes – I’m not sure if there were more toys or if they’re just an empty space. The Secret Garden is actually a central hub for the local area when it comes to regular antenatal classes, postnatal activities and baby and toddler classes like Hartbeeps, Disco Ducks or Baby Sensory. These are separate to the Secret Garden, so you can’t just pop into one of the classes unless you’re booked directly with them.
In terms of facilities, there is a cafe that serves hot and cold drinks, as well as toasties, salads and cakes. They also have children’s options, including picnic lunch boxes. I’ve eaten here once before, but it was a few years ago so I can’t really comment on the food. Adjacent to the cafe is a sort of hallway where you can change your baby on a counter, then two toilets which are child-friendly with things like potties, lowered sink and an actual toddler toilet.
In terms of ages, our four-month old son is a little too young to play, but he did enjoy a bit of tummy time and the sensory room when he visited for the first time recently. Our nearly four-year old daughter on the other hand had a great time playing and exploring. In fact, she’s been a number of times over the years and has always got something out of it regardless of her age. She is on the older side though and I agree with them when they say “an indoor creative play area for children under 5” – it wouldn’t hold much appeal for kids older than this.
All in all, the Secret Garden is a great place to visit for those with babies, toddlers or preschoolers. They will have endless fun exploring and playing with all of the toys, games and dress up available Sure, it can be a bit messy and feel a little chaotic, but no more so than going to soft play. If you’ve not been before, definitely check it out.
What Does It Look Like?
What Do I Need To Know?
Address: 10 Sun Street, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, SG5 1AE.
Opening Times: Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm, Sat 9.30am-3pm.
Price: Under 12 weeks free, Under 1’s £3, 1 to 2 £4.95, 2 to 3 £5.95, 3 to 5 £6.50.
Toilets: Yes. Two toilets with baby change facilities.
Cafe / Restaurant: Yes. Separate cafe area with tables and chairs serving paninis, sanwiches, soups, wraps etc.
Parking: No. Multiple Pay and Display car parks within walking distance, including St Marys and Biggin Lane.
Public Transport: Hitchin Train Station 1.0 miles away.
Duration: 1 to 3 hours.
Age Range: Babies and Toddlers (0-3), Young Children (4-8).
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