Playgrounds feature prominently in most childhood memories. That isn’t surprising. After all, they are the spaces where we make our first friends and let our imaginations soar. Of course, playgrounds of the past, with standard-issue slides, swings, and sandpits, rarely ventured beyond the conventional. Their modern counterparts are much more whimsical, designed to stimulate the minds of little visitors. Here’s a list of places that give the traditional playground an idiosyncratic twist.
The geekiest high offered by Parque Gulliver is the chance to stand atop Lemuel Gulliver and pretend to be a Lilliputian. The playground pays homage to Jonathan Swift’s four-part novel Gulliver’s Travels, and features a 70-metre-long sculpture of Gulliver in an enormous sand pit. Not only is this sleeping giant a work of art, it doubles up as playground equipment. Hidden in the folds of Gulliver’s clothes are slides. Stairways run over his legs, ropes hang from his hair, and attached to his sides are mini caves begging to be explored (visitvalencia.com; open Monday-Sunday, 10a.m. to 8p.m., all year round except July and August, open from 10a.m. to 2p.m. and 5p.m. to 9p.m.; entry free).
Woods of Net consists entirely of hand-knitted crochet. Instead of swings and slides, children jump on trampoline-like nets, crawl through mesh tunnels, and swing on teardrop-shaped crochet strips. Artist and creator Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam struck upon the idea of creating this peculiar playground by accident when two children sneaked into a crochet installation at one of her gallery exhibits and started playing there. She felt the playfulness gave life to her work, and was inspired to create Woods of Net at the Hakone Open-Air Museum. The exhibit opened in 2000 after three years of testing, planning, and building. MacAdam likens the exhibit to a campfire: the energy of the children is the fire, and the parents bask in its warmth. Often, though, it seems like the adults are daydreaming about jumping around the nets themselves (www.hakone-oam.or.jp; open 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; entry ¥ 1,600/₹956, university and high school students ¥ 1,200/₹717, middle and elementary school students ¥ 800/₹478).
You can never run out of things to do at St. Kilda Adventure Playground. Spread over 10 acres, the park looks like a rugged, dusty town straight out of a Western movie. Children (and adults) can climb aboard a life-sized shipwreck, challenge their wits trying to exit a maze, explore the dark corners of a wooden fort, and zip down a flying fox cable car. This park never runs out of enthusiastic kids and parents. It has everything required to dream up an Indiana Jones-style adventure. Those who tire of athletic pursuits can take a tram to the nearby Tramway Museum, which showcases Adelaide’s transport history, or walk across to the St. Kilda Mangrove Trail and Interpretive Centre to learn about the importance of coastal wetlands (+61-03-92096348; click here for timings; entry free).
The futuristic Science Playground at the New York Hall of Science (N.Y.SCI) was actually inspired by the playgrounds of India. On trips to the country in the ’80s, Alan Friedman, the former director of N.Y.SCI, visited science-themed playgrounds in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, and Patna and decided New York needed one too. The park is designed to teach children the basic principles of physics in a creative, yet practical manner. Walking across a wobbly bridge, young visitors experience the relationship between weight and balance first-hand. A giant screw teaches them about Archimedes’ principle, and a giant spider’s web introduces them to the concepts of action and reaction. The only catch? Playtime is restricted to 45 minutes due to the playground’s limited capacity and the army of kids that visit each day (+01-718- 6990005; www.nysci.org; open Mon-Fri 9.30 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat-Sun 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; in November, park closes at 4p.m. everyday; entry $5/₹333 per person, plus general NYSCI admission.).
Sculptural Playground offers children an uninterrupted set of challenges in the form of an obstacle course. The main attraction is a steel and net sculpture, a pentagonal loop around the playground, which connects climbing nets, tunnels, bouncing walkways, nest swings, a climbing wall, and a slide. Children never have to set foot on the ground. Inspired by the pentagonal shape of Weisbaden city, the park is divided into different zones, each of which tests children physically and mentally as they find innovative ways of crossing from one section to another (Open 24 hours; entry free).
Appeared in the June 2014 issue as “Swinging Times”. Updated in March 2016.
Tushar Abhichandani is a freelance journalist, struggling stand-up comedian, and former Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. He prefers travelling to places that are devoid of hipsters.