In the good old days, advent calendars contained nothing but whimsical pictures behind each door, but the lead up to Christmas has now become a far more extravagant affair. Not even satisfied with a daily chocolate treat, today’s youngsters have come to expect toys and treats a-plenty in their calendar.

But if you don’t want to lose the meaning behind advent, there are traditional options still available, despite them being few and far between. 

We’ve been testing a range of kids’ calendars to find you the best this year, making an effort to include options that don’t just feature chocolate; from stationary and toy-stuffed to personalised calendars with fun family challenges.

So whether you want your little ones to engage in some festive reflection or just count down the days until Christmas with a daily treat, there’s something for everyone’s taste and budget here.

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 to fund journalism across The Independent.

Cadbury heroes advent calendar: £4.99, Cadbury Gifts Direct

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t improve on a classic. That’s definitely the case here. This old-school advent calendar contains miniature versions of much-loved Cadbury bars, including dairy milk, dairy milk caramel, wispa, eclair, fudge, creme egg twisted and twirl – and new for 2019 you’ll also find a dinky decker and crunchie. It’s excellent value for money, too.

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Sainsbury’s Home santa countdown plush: £20, Sainsbury’s

Oh, how we love this guy, he embodies everything that a cuddly plush Santa should. He’s bigger – by far – and cuddlier than we expected, and just the sight of his little smiley face is enough to make us feel all aglow with festive cheer. The pockets are the perfect size for stashing a slip of paper in – we wrote out a festive family challenge for every day, and the entire household looked forward to seeing what Santa had stashed in his pockets.

Available in-store now

Lego city advent calendar: £20, John Lewis & Partners

With 24 different buildable presents behind each door, this is a true classic that Lego fans never seem to tire of. We tested ours on a teenager who was as thrilled with this calendar as he was with the first one he got aged five. It includes five Lego mini-figures (yes, including Santa) and a variety of vehicles and seasonal extras. We especially like the monster truck and cupcakes.

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Playmobil 1,2,3 Christmas in the forest advent calendar: £24.99, Playmobil

Suitable for little ones aged 18 months and above, this advent calendar comes with a whole host of forest animals to play with. And yes, you get Santa himself and even his sleigh. Our five-year-old tester carried each character around with her each day, and by the end of the month we had a whole new play set to add to our existing Playmobil collection.

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Elf for Christmas personalised advent letters: £21.99, Elf for Christmas

This is a lovely idea, and a great way to build excitement and make some magical memories for little ones. You get 24 letters in the pack so it’s great value for money, too, and you can personalise them for your child if you wish. We had great fun hiding the letters in different locations for the children to find each day.

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Harry Potter advent calendar: £55, Menkind

Harry Potter fans will love this advent calendar containing 24 Pocket Pop! figures, each based on the best-loved characters from the books. There’s no denying that it’s expensive – factor in that the figures are just 4cm tall – but collectors will love it. Our teenage Potterhead thought this was nothing short of brilliant.

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Smiggle advent calendar: £25, Smiggle

Smiggle has done it again – no wonder this is the must-have advent calendar for stationery-loving kids of a certain age. Each and every gift is brilliant – they are limited edition items, eight of which are exclusive to this calendar – but our five-year-old tester’s favourites include the silicon bag tag, the slapband and the ice cream pen. If only they did a version of this for grownup stationery addicts.

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Limited edition Sophie Conran for Biscuiteers advent calendar: £125 for the calendar, £58 for the biscuit tin, Biscuiteers

This limited edition hand-embroidered Scandi style advent calendar is a collaboration between Sophie Conran and Biscuiteers. Designed to become a festive family keepsake, the idea is that you fill each pocket with one of the 24 luxe biscuits from the gorgeous advent biscuit tin. At £58 a tin, they’re certainly not cheap but are delicious – a huge hit with all our testers. The only problem will be leaving each biscuit untouched until the relevant day!

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Mini Maison wooden woodland advent calendar: £34, Mini Maison

If you’re looking for an advent calendar to buy as a special gift for new parents, this is it. It comes in an exquisite little suitcase (which our six-year-old tester loved almost as much as the calendar itself) and inside are numbered trays which reveal small wooden pieces. Over the month, you get to build a beautiful woodland Advent scene. Lovely.

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PLAYin Choc advent calendar: £55, PLAYin Choc

We love this award-winning, innovative advent calendar. The beautifully-designed box contains 24 drawers, each of which holds a vegan chocolate and 3D animal puzzle with a quirky fact card. The outer sleeve of the box doubles as a playmat to use with the animal figures. We think the chocolate is a bit of an acquired taste for kids but we’re not complaining – we ate the chocolates while they played with the animals! And we love that the chocolate contains no refined sugar and comes wrapped in clear film that is 100 per cent plant-based and completely home compostable.

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Carluccio’s chocolate advent calendar: £9.95, Carluccio’s

Each window of this stylish advent calendar contains a foil-wrapped milk chocolate festive character with a delicious gianduja filling. Younger kids might find the taste a bit rich (we hope) but our choc-loving teen testers thought these were scrumptious.

Available now

CEWE personalised advent calendar with Kinder chocolate: From £18.99, CEWE

You can personalise this Kinder advent calendar with any image of your choice; a photo of the lucky recipient or even use one of their own drawings. There’s a Kinder chocolate behind every door, and you get three varieties of chocolate in each one. For a chocolate advent calendar with a twist, we think this makes a lovely gift.

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VTech toot-toot friends advent calendar: £20.05, Amazon

Trust us: little fans of the Vtech toot-toot range of toys will love this. The box eventually folds flat to reveal a snowy, festive scene, and behind each door is a MagicPoint character or a related play accessory. We had to hold our four-year-old tester back from trying to open the whole thing in one go – be warned – and keeping track of all the pieces over the month was a challenge, but it brought our tester a lot of joy. And that’s what it’s all about.

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Aquabeads advent calendar: £19.99, Amazon

Inside this one, you’ll find all the beads and everything you need to create 15 festive Aquabeads designs, including Santa, a snowman, a Christmas pudding and a gingerbread man. There’s a lot here and plenty to do, although our five-year-old tester needed close adult supervision. We love that the completed characters can be turned into Christmas tree decorations.

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Thorntons elf advent calendar: £5, Morrisons

There are 25 chocolates hidden behind each door of this advent calendar – they’re a mix of milk and white chocolate, so it’s ideal for younger kids or those who prefer milkier varieties. It also opens out to reveal a cute “cheeky elf Christmas quiz”, which our six-year-old tester especially enjoyed.

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The verdict: Kids’ advent calendars for Christmas 2019

Call us old-fashioned, but the Cadbury heroes advent calendar was by far the biggest hit in our house. You know what you’re getting, everyone loves the chocolate, and it’s seriously affordable. Buying a few of these for big households is doable, which is not the case for some of the pricier options. We think the Lego city advent calendar deserves a special mention because it’s the one our three testers squabbled over the most, which tells you how much they love it.

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.