Baby mats are ideal for providing tots with that little piece of (enviable) tranquillity where they can relax, play and bond with their parents, who could even give them some precious moments of peace too – should they pick the right product.

But with some baby mats now doubling up as baby gyms, the question is what makes the two products different? 

While mats provide instant comfort and often an area for nappy changes, baby gyms use tantalising toys and other learning materials to stimulate child growth and development.

During testing, we looked at mats that could be used as gyms to also test whether the combination of the two products really gave parents value for money as well as what age each mat is suitable for to give new parents the peace of mind over picking the baby mat right for their child’s needs. 

These are our top 10 to pick from.

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. 

Mamas & Papas interactive lights and sounds play mat with hanging toys: £89, Mamas & Papas

Lights, sound – action! This offering from Mamas and Papas is an interactive two-in-one play mat and gym with removable apparatus and hanging toys. The mat is cushion-soft and features a bottomless rim to slide baby in and out from under its two arches. The mat encourages exploration of the senses with soft lights, sounds and textures. Toys are removable for baby to familiarise themselves with and tummy exercises will be mastered fast thanks to the padded mat that also helps builds neck muscles.

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Ikea klappa play mat: £25, Ikea

This underwater-themed play mat takes the form of a large padded quilt, so it’s easy to fold for carrying and storage while also making it durable. Tots can make friends with cute characters such as the orange crab, red octopus, yellow starfish and happy blue whale – with all stuffed toys enveloping baby from the mat’s four corners to keep them safe and secure. Comfort was clearly the manufacturer’s priority of the mat that has an age range of under 12 months and provides just enough space for parent and baby time.

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JayceeBaby the perfectly padded play mat: £85, JayceeBaby

This mat may appear simplistic but its foam padded cushion and large surface triggers the imaginations of toddlers. Mums and dads can join in the fun as eyes wander over a range of exciting environments including a volcano, castle and the sea. Though the lack of toys means the product is also perfect for babies whose parents are keen to promote crawling. The huge cushioned space is ideal for tummy time and rolling and the mat is foldable to make storage simple. The product is also double-sided allowing for even more adventures and boasts a detachable plastic sheet for feeding times.

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Tiny Love meadow days super activity mat: £39.99, John Lewis & Partners

This super-cute mat from Tiny Love is more suited to newborns and tots up to the age of 12 months, who will feel comfortable and content as it helps them work on their developmental skills among new found forest friends. The mat can be used indoors or outdoors and offers eight activities such as an adjustable stand-alone mirror, an engaging peek-a-boo tree and multiple textures. The compact mat comes with a handle so it can be easily carried around to play dates, drawing parent and child even closer together.

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East Coast Nursery Say Hello patchwork activity mat: £24.95, Precious Little One

This spongy patchwork-style mat is large enough for parents that have more than one small child, or for mum and dad to sit with and interact with the one baby on the mat. Newborns can enjoy the mat’s built-in mirror, tactile ribbons and peek-a-boo flap on a bed of bright colours featuring colourful prints of friendly characters. Suitable from birth, the fabric is machine washable and perfect for parents with more than one baby.

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Vertbaudet soft activity play mat: £38.50, Vertbaudet

Beautifully designed, this extremely soft play mat by Funny Baby has a handful of stuffed toys sewed into the fabric to prompt play and rest times. A slumbering rabbit, clouds and stars give the turquoise mat a dreamlike theme, but felt and cotton textures and rattles are enough to keep baby entertained while awake too. The mat measures a generous 100cm squared with toys and 3D motifs to develop a child’s senses located in each corner to encourage curious minds to explore. Suitable for children aged up to 12 months.

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Sebra play mat: £70, Kidly

This clever play mat has been well thought out with its comfy padding and parts that fit together like a jigsaw. Versatility was clearly at the forefront of the manufacturer’s minds when it came to the design that can be taken apart and put back together with ease, making it perfect for travelling. Though highly resilient and extremely practical, it does however lack the same cosy and quilted feel that its rivals possess. But the mat – which consists of 13 foam parts – has a clever way of insulating against a cold floor to provide additional warmth. It is also shock absorbent and wipes clean too.

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Chad Valley foam protector tumbler mats: £10, Argos

This bright, funky lightweight foam jigsaw mat is wonderfully vibrant and spongy and be used indoors or outside. The four interlocking pieces slot in together and can be easily taken apart to be transported or stored away. The loud colours will ignite your baby’s imagination while protecting them and strengthening their tummy muscles to encourage tummy time and eventually crawling and other physical activities. Ideal for babies aged 12 months and over, though without any built-in features to keep tots put constant supervision may be needed.

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Jojo Maman Bebe bunny play mat: £39, Jojo Maman Bebe

This wonderfully soft and gorgeous play mat is one of the most simple on the list, without any bells and whistles, but thanks to its giant head and huge floppy ears it’s a cute, fun and soft place for tots to play. We also love that this can be personalised with a baby’s name embroidered at the bottom, making it a great gift too. Suitable for babies up to 12 months.

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OYOY world rug: £59.95, Kidly

Do not let appearances deceive you here, as what this rug – which is also used as a play mat – lacks in colour is made up for with it’s great print which makes it the perfect tool to help tots become little explorers. Handmade to give it that personal touch, the mat is thick enough to provide comfort too. It can be rolled up and easily tucked away, but also makes for lovely decoration in a nursery too. Parents and babies can bond over the rug’s big wide world theme that helps curious babies navigate around the continents. Made from cotton and machine washable, the mat is handmade giving it that extra personal touch.

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East Coast Nursery Say Hello tummy time play mat: £24.99 Argos

This cute mat is all about tranquillity while gently introducing baby to their abdominal muscles, making it an ideal fixture from birth. The mat keeps minds busy with its fun design which uses a centrepiece crescent moon to help strengthen stomachs and necks in preparation for crawling. Parent and baby can play together using a peek-a-boo flap and mirror to keep tots entertained while building on their all-important sensory development. The crescent moon is detachable for baby to cuddle up to before eventually joining the toy in the land of nod.

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The verdict: Play mats

The additional padding that makes up the rainbow stripes was a simple feature of the Mamas & Papas lights and sounds rainbow play mat and gym that did it for us, as it helps keep baby from wriggling out of the mat while also providing easy access to scoop tots in and out from under the arches, which makes things such as nappy changes and feeding times that much simpler. 

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.