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12 of the best dolls for toddlers and children, as recommended by Mumsnetters

Dolls are a great toy for young children's development, encouraging nurturing role play, imagination, empathy and communication. From soft-bodied dolls to interactive dolls, here are the best dolls you can buy in 2023, as recommended by real parents. 

By Lucy Cotterill | Last updated May 19, 2023

collage of 3 dolls

This article was updated on 12th May 2023. 

Children love to play pretend, so it’s not hard to understand why children have loved dolls for generations. A fun way to replicate adult behaviour, the best dolls come with a range of educational benefits, including improved social skills, compassion and responsibility, looking after their doll using gentle hands and kind behaviours.

Named as one of Mumsnetters' top choices in both our best toys for 2-year-olds and best toys for 3-year-olds round-ups, dolls of all kinds are still a popular choice for young children. What's more, a 2020 study by experts in child development at the University of Cardiff found that playing with dolls increases empathy and social skills, because it activates the same part of children's brains as playing with others. Dr Sarah Gerson says, "playing with dolls is helping them rehearse some of the social skills they will need in later life."

The doll market is pretty extensive with a wide range of dolls to choose from. Whilst there are some more recent improvements in inclusivity, however, there is still a long way to go. The vast majority of doll brands are still white, although in recent years there more brands are starting to become more inclusive, offering more variety in terms of doll skin colours, interests and abilities. 

Whether it’s a soft bodied doll for a young child, an interactive doll or even a doll that can cry, we’ve researched the best dolls you can buy in 2023, with tried and tested recommendations from real parents in the Mumsnet forums.

These are the best dolls to buy.

Best dolls: at a glance

1. Best overall doll: Baby Annabell

Baby Annabell

RRP: £27.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs

Age Suitability: From 3 years | Size: 36cm | Batteries: No 

What we love

  • Realistic looking soft bodied doll 
  • Comes with a cute babygrow, hat and bottle
  • Eyes close automatically when lying down 

What to know

  • No interactive features on this model (although other Baby Annabell dolls do have sounds and actions such as this one) 
  • Soft-bodied dolls unsuitable for play in the bath

What Mumsnet users say

Mine loved Baby Annabell. She has a soft body so easy to change clothes. You can get loads of accessories too, my daughter had a baby walker, cot, plenty of outfits and bottles.”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user Kanaloa)

Mine love baby Annabell. The soft body one” (Recommended by Mumsnet user AnnaSW1

Our verdict 

Whilst Baby Annabell does have an interactive doll in the range, Mumsnet users couldn’t praise this soft-bodied version enough for her authentic design, gently weighted soft body and ease of changing. She comes with a small bottle included, allowing children to engage in nurturing and caring role play as they pretend to feed their baby.

Whilst her soft body means she can’t be popped in the bath, it makes changing outfits a doddle, allowing children to easily remove her velcro fastened babygrow and hat before replacing it with other outfits (sold separately) as required.

Whilst some children may prefer an interactive doll, we love that this simple design encourages children to use their imagination. Baby Annabell also has a great range of accessories to complement your child’s doll collection including high chairs, cots, outfits and accessories. 

2. Best budget doll: Hapello Potty Training Baby Doll

Hapello Potty Training Baby Doll

RRP: £9 | Buy now from ASDA

Key specs

Age Suitability: From 3 years | Size: 30cm | Batteries: No

What we love

  • Budget-friendly price tag
  • Accessories such as a bib, potty and bottle included 

What to know

  • The potty is for pretend play only - this is not a weeing doll

What Mumsnet users say

“The doll that both my girls (5 & 4) love came from Asda and cost £8 a few years when eldest daughter was about 18 months. The Asda doll is still played with daily, taken for walks, dressed etc. Mine play less with interactive dolls,”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user EcoCustard)

“I always saw just get the cheap ones from the supermarkets. They are light and cute and quite often come with accessories.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user ITSSSSCHRISTMASSS

Our verdict 

Mumsnet users were fairly unanimous that when buying a first doll for a child, you don’t need to spend a fortune. Whilst interactive dolls can offer a more varied gameplay, many Mumsnet children actually preferred the more simple, budget-friendly designs. 

Retailing at just £9 and available in a variety of skin tones, this 30cm doll comes with four accessories included - a potty, bottle, bib and hair band, as well as a full outfit which can be removed and changed as required. It’s worth noting however that the potty is purely for role-play purposes as this doll cannot cry or urinate. 

3. Best doll for a 2 year old: Chad Valley Babies to Love Interactive Lily Doll

Chad Valley Babies to Love Interactive Lily Doll

RRP: £20 | Buy now from Argos 

Key specs

Age Suitability: 2 years and over | Size: 40cm | Batteries: Yes 3 x AAA not included 

What we love

  • Larger sized 40cm doll ideal for toddlers 
  • 10 interactive features
  • Budget-friendly price 

What to know

  • The bottle and dummy don’t actually fit in the doll’s mouth, much to online reviewers’ frustration

What Mumsnet users say

“My daughter has just turned 1 she loves the chad valley dolls, ordered from Argos. They're very cute, reasonably priced and come with nice accessories/outfits etc. Was great value as I wasn't sure if she would be into dolls so didn't want to spend a fortune” (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user Cherryrainbow)

Our verdict 

Lily the interactive Babies To Love doll offers excellent value for money. Despite the low price tag, this cute little doll has 10 unique interactive features from giggling and babbling to drinking and burping. 

She comes wearing a cute pink and lilac outfit, which can easily be removed and mixed and matched with other outfits in the Babies to Love range. The only criticism, the dummy and bottle accessories don’t fit into the doll's mouth, something which seems like a lost opportunity when encouraging nurturing role play.  

4. Best first doll: Rubens Barn Cutie Doll Hanna

Rubens Cutie Doll Jennifer Classic

RRP: £37.95 | Buy now from Trouva 

Key specs

Age Suitability: All ages | Size: 32cm | Batteries: N/A

What we love

  • Soft and cuddly
  • Handmade
  • Suitable from birth

What to know

  • Pricey

What Mumsnet users say

“Have you looked at Rubens Barn dolls? They’re so lovely.”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user SinkGirl)

Our verdict 

Handmade from soft, plastic-free polyster fleece, Rubens Barn dolls are much softer and cuddlier than the hard plastic types you'll find elsewhere in the doll aisle. With her sweet, cheeky face and practical outfit, younger children will love playing with and cuddling Jennifer.

Online you'll find videos and patterns for making clothes for the doll as part of the Rubens Barn Do It Together campaign. The hand-stitched dolls and their removable clothing have no small parts, making them perfect for even the youngest children - what's more, both the doll and clothes are machine washable.

5. Best doll for hairstyling: Bayer Design Super Model Styling Head

Bayer Design Super Model Styling Head

RRP: £28.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs

Age Suitability: 3 years plus | Size: 27cm | Batteries: No

What we love

  • Long blonde hair for styling 
  • Range of accessories including comb, clips and curler 
  • Make-up  palette for fun make-up looks 

What to know

  • Suitable from 3 years although parents may want to supervise younger children with the make up

What Mumsnet users say

We got a Bayer Design one from Amazon for DD last year & I must say she has played with it a lot over the last year. She likes to play with it whilst I am brushing her own hair. It has a big base so is really sturdy and the hair is glossy & doesn’t seem to get knotty.”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user heboywonteat)

Our verdict 

If your children are forever asking to play with your hair, this Bayer Design Styling Head is a great way for children to express their personality, getting creative to bring to life unique or even intricate hairstyles with the comb, clips and accessories provided.

With high-quality, long blonde hair that can even be curled with the included rollers, this doll offers a fun screen-free activity for children that can easily keep them entertained for hours. For older children, the included make-up palette and stickers provide the opportunity for experimenting with different looks and styles.

6. Best realistic doll: Tiny Treasures Doll in Pink Bunny Outfit

Tiny Treasures Doll in Pink Bunny Outfit

RRP: £30 | Buy now from Argos

Key specs

Age Suitability: 3 years plus | Size: 44cm | Batteries: No

What we love

  • Super soft hair and lifelike features 
  • Larger size and weight just like a real newborn
  • Includes a birth certificate and hospital wristband 

What to know

  • Not interactive 
  • The long-haired look won’t be to everyone’s taste

What Mumsnet users say

“My daughter who is also 3 loves the tiny treasure dolls from Argos. They are lovely, good weight, lots of options of the doll and accessories too. I think they are good quality.”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user Autumnpumpkin)

“Tiny Treasures. Nice weighted dolls that feel and look more like the 'real thing'. Lots of nice accessories for them too.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user InFiveMins

Our verdict 

For children who really enjoy acting out caring role play with their dolls, these Tiny Treasures dolls offer a really authentic experience thanks to their weighted bodies, realistic features and even newborn baby scent. Each doll comes with her very own hospital tag and birth certificate to complete, allowing children to choose her name and date of birth before taking her home to care for.

Ideal for gifting, the Tiny Treasures dolls come gift boxed and compete with a super soft jersey outfit which can easily be removed and complimented with additional sets from the Tiny Treasures range. Our only critiques? For the price, we’d love to have seen a bottle included.

7. Best doll for older children: Our Generation Rosalind

Our Generation Rosalind

RRP: £29.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs

Age Suitability: 3 years plus | Size: 46cm | Batteries: No

What we love

  • Larger-sized dolls ideal for older children
  • High-quality hair that's fun to style and accessorise
  • Range of outfits included 

What to know

  • Other items in the Our Generation can be costly, particularly the playhouses and accessories

What Mumsnet users say

“I always think Our generation dolls look nice - they seem to have a good range of accessories and come in things like school uniform with a backpack, and a horse riding outfit and dog walker, ballet dancer etc. And you can get horses and dogs and all sorts of add-ons for them (if you want to go all out !)”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user AmyDudley)

My daughters loved their Our Generation dolls. Played with them loads. The outfits are lovely and if you are crafty, there are lots of 18" doll clothes patterns so you can make your own.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user DorotheaFrazil

Our verdict 

Our Generation Dolls are incredibly popular amongst both Mumsnet users and retailer reviews, thanks to their larger size, soft body with freestanding ability and beautiful long, styleable hair. 

Our Generation Rosalind comes with a great fashion set included, featuring three unique outfits and accessories which can easily be switched or mixed and matched thanks to their easy velcro fastenings. Rosalind has a soft body with plastic limbs and beautiful long brown hair that’s begging to be plaited and styled.

It’s worth noting that due to their larger size, Our Generation dolls do take up a fair bit of space and that the larger Our Generation playsets can be quite costly due to their size. 

8. Best interactive doll: Corolle 9000150050 - Mon Grand Poupon Lucille Interactive French Doll with Vanilla Scent

Corolle 9000150050 - Mon Grand Poupon Lucille Interactive French Doll with Vanilla Scent

RRP: £67.45 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs

Age Suitability: 2 years plus | Size: 42cm | Batteries: Yes (not included)

What we love

  • High quality, authentic dolls
  • Vanilla scented 
  • Eight interactive functions

What to know

  • Costly 

What Mumsnet users say

“There are some nice Corolle dolls. They are French and very good quality.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user witchesbubblebath

"I second Corolle dolls - just the best quality and prettiest dolls." (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user NoIdea1234)

Our verdict 

Whilst they come with a fairly significant price tag, Mumsnet users spoke highly of Corolle dolls for their premium finish and attractive, authentic designs.  

Whilst she will set you back over £70, Lucille is a beautiful interactive doll which comes with four accessories included. She offers eight interactive functions including twenty different sounds and responses - everything from giggles to kisses, burping to sleep sounds, making her a realistic and engaging choice for children over the age of two.

We love the addition of Lucille’s floral teddy, which automatically activates lullaby songs when placed on the doll’s tummy. 

9. Best crying doll: Baby Born 43cm w Dummy-Realistic Doll with Lifelike Functions

Baby Born 43cm w Dummy-Realistic Doll with Lifelike Functions

RRP: £48.99 | Buy now from Amazon  

Key specs

Age Suitability: 3 years plus | Size: 43cm | Batteries: No

What we love

  • Larger-sized doll including plenty of accessories
  • 10 life-like functions including crying, drinking and weeing
  • No batteries required

What to know

  • The potty function may not be appealing to younger children 
  • Many of the  interactive elements might not be used frequently 

What Mumsnet users say

By FAR my daughter’s favourite is Baby Born. It is really overpriced for what it does, but I think it is the open-ended aspect that makes them so popular ”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user User686827)

Our verdict 

Despite not needing any batteries at all, this Baby Born doll is incredibly interactive, with the ability to perform many lifelike actions including crying tears, drinking from a bottle and even using the potty. Unlike most dolls which can only close their eyes when laid flat, the Baby Born doll has a magical dummy, which when turned can allow children to open and close the eyes of their doll on demand.

She comes with a range of accessories included such as the potty, bottle and dummy, as well as pouches of play food for feeding and a nappy which Baby Born can actually poo into. It’s worth noting however that if your child wishes to use the feeding and toilet elements of this doll regularly, you’ll need to buy additional Baby Born food packs (sold separately).

10. Best fashion doll: Lottie Doll Wildlife Photographer Doll Mia

Lottie Doll Wildlife Photographer Doll Mia

RRP: £23.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs

Age Suitability: 3 years plus | Size: 18cm | Batteries: No

What we love

  • Small 7-inch dolls ideal for small hands
  • Dolls bodies are modelled on accurate proportions of children
  • Lottie brand has a strong focus on inclusion, body image and sustainability 

What to know

  • Some smaller accessories and parts can get lost easily

What Mumsnet users say

“Lottie dolls are fab if she would prefer that style. Muddy puddles Lottie has been a firm favourite in our house for years but we also have a range of other Lottie dolls that get a lot of love too!”  (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user FlamingoDust)

"My children love(d) Lottie dolls - they have lots of adventurous/aspirational hobbies + equipment and look like little girls not women." (Recommended by Mumsnetter Janek

Our verdict 

Of all the dolls on our list, Lottie certainly offers the most choice when it comes to inclusivity, with a range of skin tones and genders, as well as diverse representation in terms of disabilities and combatting gender norms. Lottie dolls are strong and confident, embrace STEM subjects and love the great outdoors.

We love Mia the Wildlife Photographer, who not only comes with an adorable removable outfit, camera and wellies but also has a cochlear implant, helping young children gain an understanding of inclusivity and individual differences. 

11. Best Barbie doll: Barbie Gymnastics Playset

barbie gymnastic playset

RRP: £26.99 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs

Age Suitability: 3 years plus | Size: 38cm | Batteries: No

What we love

  • Extra bendy Barbie 
  • Lots of accessories
  • Easy to dress and undress

What to know

  • Small accessories can get lost easily

What Mumsnet users say

"6 yo's verdict is that the bendy gymnastics doll is best because she can manipulate it more. She likes dressing/undressing then, and role plays a lot." (Loved by Mumsnet user mummymummymummummum)  

"My DD 8 loves the Barbie gymnastics set and the camper van. The camper van I bought new and she has played with it for 3 years." (Tried and tested by Mumsnetter Carsarelife)

Our verdict 

With so many Barbies to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start if your child takes an interest in this kind of doll. Mumsnetters and their kids have tried and tested tons of Barbies, and the Barbie Gymnastics Playset is the most-recommended set to buy, thanks to the doll's extra bendiness.

Not only does this mean Barbie can perform granly gymnastics moves, it also makes it easier for small hands to dress and undress her, which can be awkward and frustrating on other Barbies - especially when it comes to getting plastic limbs into a leotard. 

12. Best Disney doll: Elsa Adventure Doll

elsa adventure doll

RRP: £25 | Buy now from Argos

Key specs

Age Suitability: 3 years plus | Size: 35cm | Batteries: No

What we love

  • Toddler-style doll
  • Practical outfit
  • Dress and boots are removable

What to know

  • Elas's hair gets tangled easily

What Mumsnet users say

"Elsa has quite literally been dragged through a hedge backwards, and thrown down a slide repeatedly, jumped on on the trampoline and everything else... I've given up worrying about it." (Loved by Mumsnet user 5000KallaxHoles)  

Our verdict 

For Disney fans, having a doll version of their favourite character makes for hours of fun, imaginative play and musical numbers. These toddler-style Adventure Dolls are a nice alternative to the fashion doll Disney princesses, if you're looking for something a bit more sturdy and substantial. 

Elsa comes with a removable dress and pair of boots, but Mumsnetters advise against getting too attached to her perfectly plaited, neat hair do. The size of this doll is really nice for younger children, not least because its proportions are more like a child's than an adult's. 

What to look for when choosing a doll

  • Size - How big is the doll? Smaller dolls such as Lottie Dolls are more portable, whereas larger dolls such as Our Generation are great fun for use in the home. If you’re buying for a toddler or preschooler, most standard dolls range between 30 and 45cm in length and you should pick a size that best suits your child’s age.
  • Hard or soft-bodied? - Hard-bodied dolls are robust and hard-wearing, and some even offer the ability to pop them into the water as a fun bath time companion. That said, soft-bodied dolls are often more comforting for children to cuddle. 
  • Interactive? - Does the doll have any interactive features? Whilst children love sounds, actions and responses such as giggles or the ability to cry tears, the more basic models can still provide plenty of imaginative role-play opportunities, allowing your child to get creative when playing and caring for their dolls.
  • Does it include accessories? -  Does the doll come with any accessories such as bottles, dummies and outfits? If not, you may want to weigh up how much they cost to purchase separately, as it’s likely your child is going to want to have a few options when caring for their new baby. 

How can you tell if a doll is safe?

When buying a doll for a child, you must ensure that it’s safe and suitable for their age. Check the age recommendations carefully, as some dolls include smaller parts and accessories that could be a choking hazard for children under the age of 3. 

You should always buy dolls from a reliable trusted seller, and look out for the CE mark (which proves it meets health and safety or environmental requirements) or the British Toy and Hobby Association's (BTHA) 'Lion Mark' - a voluntary code of practice that guarantees ethical and safe manufacture of toys. 

What’s the best doll to buy?

The best doll for your child will ultimately depend on your budget and the age of your child. That said, Mumsnetters were fairly unanimous in recommending Baby Annabell, thanks to her soft-bodied comfort, adorable easy-change outfits and engaging lifelike appearance. 

That said, in a market that still has a long way to go in terms of inclusivity, we have to give huge praise to Lottie for offering a diverse range of dolls in a world where representation matters. 

How we chose our recommendations

Recommendations from real Mumsnet users 

First, we sought out the trusted opinions of Mumsnet users, to get their feedback on their children’s favourite dolls, including the dolls their children love, play with regularly or that they would confidently recommend to others.

We also looked out for any negative reviews, where Mumsetters highlighted dolls that they felt were poor quality, overpriced, failed to hold their child’s attention or simply didn’t work as expected.

Authentic consumer reviews

Finally, to bring you our definitive list of the best dolls, we thoroughly investigated genuine, in-depth customer reviews on retailer sites such as Amazon, Argos and John Lewis to get wider consumer experiences regarding the products on our shortlist. We looked for consistent criticism and frequently praised features, to help us gain real insights into the dolls in our selection. 

Why you should trust us

We work hard to provide honest and independent advice you can trust and we spend hours scouring the Mumsnet forums and online bestseller lists to find products that real parents rate.

Transparency is really important to us and that's why we're always upfront about where we find our recommendations. We write about products that we feel offer the best value to most parents – the ones that our users would recommend to their own friends and family.