The next best thing to the beach, a sandpit enables kids to dig, build and make shapes all in their very own garden. They provide hours of imaginative and sociable play and come at a range of prices to suit all budgets.

There are different types of sandpits to choose from, so think about whether you want your child to stand up or sit down while they’re playing in the sand – the latter option may mean whole body coverage, not always welcome when they coming running indoors for a snack.

And if you go for a stand up option, consider whether you want a sand and water table – on the upside it doubles the fun and on the downside, it can make things really messy.

Some sandpits come with accessories and provide protection from the sun. We’d advise getting one with some kind of lid and do, of course, check the size.

We considered practicality and durability on our test, as well as how much fun our little testers had playing in them.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Kidcraft children’s pirate boat sandpit and play bench: £199.95, Cuckooland

Suitable ages: 3 years and older

Kids will love sailing across the seven seas in this awesome wooden structure that takes the humble sandpit to the next level. It comes complete with pirate motifs and flags, seats for the sandpit and, at the back, there’s also a blue sail that doubles up as sun canopy to protect children from the sun. It’s got two handy storage areas under the benches too.

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Plum store-it wooden sand pit: £54.99, Amazon

Suitable ages: 18 months and older

Clean freaks will love this as it has built-in storage space for all those buckets and spades and other sand toys, which can then be covered up with a colourful wooden lid at the end of the day. In fact, the same colours are accented on the remaining two corners – a nice touch on this attractive wooden sandpit. The lid can also handily be used as a seat for little ones. A protective cover is included.

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Little Tikes turtle sandbox: £34.99, Amazon

Suitable ages: 1 to 6-year-olds

Remove the shell from this turtle-shaped sandpit and you’ll find ample space for younger kids to get stuck into sand play. The front flippers double-up as two little seats and when kids are all finished, the lid can be popped back on to keep out the elements and to reveal the fun green turtle in all its glory, which will add some character to your garden. Easy to keep looking new and clean, especially if you have a jet wash, and there’s no assembly needed either.

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Simplay3 sand and water bench: £109.99, ELC

Suitable ages: 2 years and older

This easily wins the prize for being the most versatile sandpit. Two-year-olds and over will love the fact that it turns into a bench for two when it’s not in use – and even when it is opened up, it has more than one use. In winter, it can be used as a train and track table and in summer as a sand and water play area. The hard plastic construction makes it particularly robust and durable, but no accessories are included.

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ELC my first sand and water table: £30, Argos

Suitable ages: 1 year and older

Once children get to around their first birthday, they can’t get enough of messy play and testing out their fine motor skills. The problem is there aren’t many sandpits suitable for kids as young as this, but this is an exception. You can even detach the legs if they can’t stand up quite yet. Out little testers loved putting sand in the middle section and water round the outside one and they enjoyed using the rake, scoop and boat, which are all included – as is the lid.

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Plum palm beach wooden sandpit: £124.99, Argos

Suitable ages: 18 months and older

This is the only sandpit we could find that offers complete shade from the sun and it’s the classiest sandpit on the market too, in our opinion. There’s lots of sitting space for siblings or friends and the timber quality is impressive, making for a sturdy sandpit that should see you through many years. A groundsheet and protective cover is included.

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TP deluxe picnic table sandpit: £119.99, John Lewis & Partners

This doubles up as a picnic bench, so you can just pop the lid back on when it’s time for lunch. We also like the robust build quality – no wobbling at all – and you get two plastic containers in case littluns want to play with water and sand at the same time. It’s a sociable table because every part of the bench allows access to the middle, and it’s a good way of enabling youngsters to sit while they play without getting their knees filthy. It’s not the easiest to put together, though.

Suitable ages: 2 years and older

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Little Tikes builders bay sand and water table: £139.99, Little Tikes

Another all-in-one sand and water table, this one has a construction worker theme, which means youngsters can get digging with the accessories included – dump truck, excavator, trailer and more. The interactive crane system was a huge hit with our testers, who also couldn’t wait to add their little JCB trucks from their toybox to add to the fun. There’s an umbrella to shelter children when the sun’s blazing and the multi-purpose lid turns it into a flat(ish) play surface.

Suitable ages: 24 months to 5 years

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Chad Valley hippo sand pit: £25, Argos

A good one for a single child to play in, this hippo-shaped plastic container can be filled with sand, water or balls. There’s a lid so the contents don’t get wet or used by animals and it all comes in at under twenty quid, making it an ideal option for anyone on a budget. We like the bright purple colouring too, which brings a bit of vibrancy to the garden. But it’s small, so better suited to toddlers.

Suitable ages: 12 months and over

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Step2 fiesta cruise sand and water table: £89.99, Step2

This one won us over with its cheery bright blue colouring and cruise ship theme, in which children can have hours of fun thinking up imaginary games utilising both the water and sand. Our testers’ favourite bits were the spiral water slide and springboard and we were impressed how many kids could fit round it at one time. There’s a plug so you can empty the water at the end of the day and you get 10 accessories thrown in, plus a lid.

Suitable ages: 24 months to 6 years

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Step2 crabbie sand table: £49.99, Step2

Another animal themed option – this time a crab – this sandpit has legs, which means kids don’t have to get their whole bodies covered in sand. Great news for your floors when they come inside after their messy play, and indeed for the washing machine. There’s a shell style lid to help keep everything dry and a four-piece accessory set with shovels and buckets so they can get stuck in as soon as you’ve set it up, which won’t take you more than a few minutes.

Suitable ages: 18 months to 3 years

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The verdict: sandpits

The Kidcraft children’s pirate boat sandpit and play bench not only looks brilliant, but it’s packed with attention to detail, while protecting little ones from the sun. For innovation, the TP deluxe picnic table sandpit gets top marks as it doubles up as a picnic table. Our favourite water table is the Little Tikes builders bay sand and water table, which kept our little testers busy for hours.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.