There’s a lot of talk these days about children being stuck on the couch and glued to their digital devices. But it doesn't have to be this way—especially if you introduce them to one of Richmond’s most immersive family-friendly attractions.

Opened in 2016, The World of Kidtropolis looks like a large, generic warehouse from the outside. Step through the door, though, and you find a magical make-believe mini town complete with scaled-down buildings specially designed for junior citizens. From a police station and a grocery store to a dental practice, it invites the kind of active, hands-on play that digital screens can never deliver.

“We’re trying to bring back imagination, creative play, and fun learning for kids,” says president and CEO of Kidtropolis Ginny Lam. “There’s always a ‘wow factor’ from the children when they first arrive—and they can't wait to start playing and emulating the things their parents do in their grown-up lives.”

The main street of Kidtropolis
Kidtropolis is the perfect place to exercise your imagination. | Photo: The World of Kidtropolis

What’s in store?

Aimed at children from toddler-age to 10, the 18,000-square-foot facility houses a dozen or so buildings on a Main Street lined with streetlamps. Children zip in and around the storefronts, some driving Little Tikes pedal cars collected from the garage and gas station. There’s often a hubbub of excited chatter, with kids playing in groups or fully engaged in their own solo adventures.

Inside each of the bright-painted buildings, there’s always plenty of intense interactive play at work. In the animal hospital, stuffed toys are examined and cross-referenced with X-rays on the walls; the colourful schoolhouse is abuzz with alphabet games and counting activities; and the grocery store is a bustling hive of shelf-stacking, basket-filling, and cash register fun.

Grocery shopping at The World of Kidtropolis
The grocery store is a Kidtropolis hot spot. | Photo: The World of Kidtropolis

Some essential Kidtropolis services can be particularly busy. The fire hall often has a group of costumed young firefighters; the post office (one of the biggest draws) sees plenty of dedicated letter processing and posting action; and there’s often a junior officer locking up a naughty miscreant (typically a parent) in the tiny police station.

The fire station at The World of Kidtropolis
A look inside the fire hall. | Photo: The World of Kidtropolis

Play and real worlds combined

Several of the buildings are sponsored and branded by businesses that many children will have seen around the city. The grocery store is actually an M&M Food Market; the garage is a mini Richmond Honda; the animal hospital is part of the Richmond Animal Protection Society (also known as RAPS); and there’s even a Boston Pizza play restaurant, complete with fake pizzas and real pizza boxes.

The car dealership & gas station at The World of Kidtropolis
Don't forget to pick up your ride! | Photo: The World of Kidtropolis

Pretend play, of course, is only part of what’s going on here. “There’s a huge educational aspect to what we’re doing,” says Lam. “There’s the whole ‘learning what adults do’ element, but the children are also developing their gross and fine motor skills at the same time. Many are also learning how to negotiate and work together with other children through various role-playing activities.”

RAPS Animal Hospital at The World of Kidtropolis
The RAPS Animal Hospital at The World of Kidtropolis. | Photo: Crystal Solberg

Tips for newbies

“The most important things first-timers can bring to Kidtropolis are an open mind and an active imagination. And that goes for the adults as well: you should be ready to play with your children here,” says Lam, noting that all kids must be accompanied by parents or adult caregivers inside the attraction.

The airplane at The World of Kidtropolis
You can even fly a plane at Kidtropolis. | Photo: The World of Kidtropolis

It’s also a good idea to sign the required waiver online in advance, since this saves time for kids anxious to start playing as soon as they arrive. In addition, socks are required if they plan to visit the site’s jungle gym. And while outside food and drinks (except for personal water bottles) are not allowed, there’s a handy onsite café—serving everything from healthy snacks to mac and cheese entrees—if your kids need to fuel-up between post office shifts.

Keep in mind that Kidtropolis also offers a lively roster of extra programs and activities, ranging from music classes to toddler yoga to an upcoming week of Halloween fun, complete with costumes, parades, and treats. They also host some cool kids’ night out events where you can drop off your child for an evening of fully supervised fun—complete with real, rather than make-believe, pizza slices.

The main street at The World of Kidtropolis
The colourful storefronts of Kidtropolis. | Photo: The World of Kidtropolis

If you go:

The World of Kidtropolis is located at #110 - 5940 No. 2 Road. It’s open from 10:00am to 5:00pm Tuesday to Thursday, and from 10:00am to 6:00pm Friday to Sunday. It also operates on Mondays during scheduled school breaks throughout the year. Parking is available, although spaces can be limited. Transit buses stop nearby on Westminster Highway—plan your trip via TransLink’s website.

The admission price for a child (two years and older) includes one accompanying adult and costs $18.95 on weekdays and $20.95 on weekends. Additional adults cost $9.50 ($10.50 on weekends). Children aged under two are free (their accompanying adult pays the additional adult fee).