1st birthday party ideas that are fun, easy and budget-friendly

Here are some great 1st birthday party ideas for you to try, plus we talk to parents and experts on cake, themes and party food

1st birthday party ideas illustrated by baby in high chair with strawberry cake
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We have found the best 1st birthday party ideas for you to try. As a 1st birthday is as much for you and your family as it is for your little one.

When your baby turns one, you've both reached an important milestone, and we've got all the 1st birthday party ideas you need to give you and your baby a really special day - from easy party food ideas and parenting tips to get you both through the day, to games, party bags, and costumes that little ones will love. Don't blink because before you know it they'll be three years old and you'll be Googling 'mud kitchen ideas'. 

And remember, most babies won't be able to handle the birthday extravaganza for too long, so keep the celebrations short. Mum-of-one, Kiran remembers her son's 1st birthday party, "I was so scared of offending any one that I over-invited, and they all said yes! I was run ragged, and don't even have a photo of me and my baby on his first birthday. My top tip - keep it small."

Two hours is plenty of time to celebrate and have fun without risking a baby burn-out. Below we talk through, 1st birthday invites, themes, cake ide games and outfits, we're here to help you organise a day that everyone will enjoy in our guide to first birthday parties.

1st birthday party ideas

1st birthday party ideas: Invites

Before you consider anything else, you need to think about who you want to invite to your child’s birthday party. This will influence everything else, including what food and drink to buy and prepare, and what kind of entertainment or games you’ll want to organise. In this section, we take a look at how to write a guest list, invite ideas, and how to deal with any awkwardness if you need to limit the number of people coming to your child’s birthday.

When it comes to a 1st birthday celebration, it’s best to limit the number of people you invite. Your baby might get overwhelmed with the sheer number of strange faces and there'll be even more for you to do on the big day. You might want to limit the party to close friends and family only, so the baby is familiar with everyone in the room and there’s not too much going on. 

"I kept my daughter's first birthday to just immediate family - we had no more than 10. And it was just afternoon tea with cake and sandwiches, and I timed it for an hour just before her nap so she wasn't overwhelmed. It was nice and calm." Mum-of-one Emma says. 

1st birthday invtiation ideas illustrated yb montage of etsy invites

(Image credit: Etsy)

Whereas if you have older siblings keeping t quiet and calm isn't always an option; "my three boys couldn't wait to celebrate their baby sister turning one, but it just meant that it was more a party for them than here." Mum-of-three, Jasmine tells us.

Guests could obviously include grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and a few baby friends from any playgroups and NCT classes. 

Limiting numbers does come with the risk of upsetting people, and whilst it’s hard to avoid, a party planner recommends getting around this by inviting people face-to-face instead of online to keep things more low-key. Michael Rossini from Froggle Parties says, “You can never fully avoid upsetting someone, but you do much more damage control by inviting people face to face.”

Or if this is too difficult, you could do a private WhatsApp group with a select few people. Once your guest list is confirmed, you'll want to make a start on your invites. These will need to include your child's name, the name of the child you're inviting, the date, start and end time, and location of the party.  

Invites are also a great way of ensuring everyone has any extra information they might need ahead of time - do you need to warn people about parking for example, or give them any important info about allergies etc?  In the digital age, there are all sorts of ways to invite someone to your party. Whether it’s personalised invitations, homemade ones, or a simple Facebook event, there are lots you can choose from.

  • Personalised invites online: Websites like Moonpig and Zazzle allow you to make your own invites quickly and easily - you can use pictures of your baby if you like and go for something funny, cute or quirky.
  • Homemade invites: If you've got lots of time and some good design skills, why not make your own on Photoshop? Alternatively, you could buy some coloured card and make your cards by hand. Have a look around a craft shop for some extra decorations for your invites, such as glitter pens and stickers. There are lots of places you can buy crafting materials, such as Wilko and Hobbycraft.
  • Facebook invites: If you're short of time, a Facebook event is an effective way to get the details of your baby's party to your friends. It's a good idea to send a message reminding all your guests of the details a week before. Make sure you don't forget to text anyone who doesn't have Facebook (they do exist!) or doesn't check their accounts regularly.

As mentioned above, you could also set up a WhatsApp group to let people know about the party - especially if you’re keen to keep things low key, you don’t mind group chats and other people have access to the app.

1st birthday party ideas: Costumes

A one-year-old won't really appreciate fancy dress, but they will look cute - and provide some great photo opportunities you can look back on for years to come.  If you want to get really into a fancy dress theme, you can buy all sorts of costumes for babies - such as animals, superheroes, fairies to suit any theme. John Lewis and Amazon  have great, affordable options. 

If you're trying to keep costs down or just aren't that keen on fancy dress, a few party hats will make for some nice pictures on the big day.

1t birthday party ideas

(Image credit: Getty Images)

1st birthday party ideas: Cake ideas

An important part of the party is, of course, the cake. While your baby will probably get more on the floor than in their mouth, you will remember your baby's first cake forever. It’s likely that older guests will get more out of the cake than your little one, but it’s always nice to get a showstopper that’s impossible to forget. 

It’s entirely up to you whether you make the cake yourself, or hire a professional or pick one up from the supermarket. But whatever you choose, there’s plenty of options out there to make your baby’s first birthday a special one. Check out this roundup of the most amazing first birthday cakes we've ever seen. They won't be easy to replicate but they're sure to impress if you can. 

Mum-of-two Alice shared this amazingly easy hack on her Instagram account alicefwalker for anyone who wants to spend little but have all the impact of a fancy cake. 

Her caption reads; "Second year of the @coopuk cake hack alert. Again, I’m so sorry for all the amazing bakers and cake businesses but to be fair I was due a baby on this day and birthdays really add up. Scroll through for steps. Candles, serviettes and cake topper from @otherletters" Take a swipe through to see how easy it is to take a shop bought cake and make it your own.

1st birthday party ideas: Decorations and themes

A 1st birthday party is such a special time in any parent’s life, and you’ll no doubt want to commemorate this occasion by taking lots of pictures. There are lots of things you can do to get your party Instagram ready, so you can easily look back on your child’s birthday.

 We’ve put together some helpful tips to help you prepare.

  • Clear a space in your living room or garden for the party's main setting, make sure it’s baby-proofed!
  • Put down a selection of mats, cushions or other soft furnishings for little ones to play on and ensure they’re safe and comfortable.
  • A themed buffet area with paper plates and other cute decorations will brighten up the space without you needing to spend too much time on it.
  • Cute pictures of your baby will go down well with friends and relatives and can complement the other decorations you decided to go for.
  • You can bulk out the decorations with balloons, bunting or paper chains - especially if it’s popular cartoon characters or a familiar animal that your baby loves. But these should be placed out of reach, to prevent them from bursting and scaring your little one. 

There are all sorts of popular themes for kids parties out there, with decorations to suit just about any taste. You might want to go for superheroes, princesses, pirates, dinosaurs… the possibilities really are endless! Or, you could opt for a colourful theme, like bright and sparkly or spots and stripes. 

If you are opting for a costume theme and you’re encouraging younger guests to come dressed up, choose something easy. More obscure themes might make it more stressful for others to get involved.

1st birthday party ideas: Party venues

As mentioned above it's good - for your sanity if noting else - to keep 1st birthday parties small-ish. So it could be a good idea to hold your baby's first birthday party at your house or a relative's house, as it'll be a familiar and comfortable setting. You don’t want your little one getting too overwhelmed in a strange location.

1t birthday party ideas

(Image credit: Getty Images)

However, you might fancy something a bit different or just want to avoid the cleaning up! If that’s the case, there’s a couple of ideas you could consider to celebrate with your little one.

  • Indoor soft play centre: Any indoor soft play centre that has a baby area is a great idea for a first birthday party! Babies will be able to play on the soft shapes and in the ball pit too. You could enquire if the centre does special party deals which can include food and a party bag at the end too.
  • The park: If your baby was born in warmer months, a trip to the park is a great option. Get some friends to all bring a different food and have a little picnic - babies can play with outdoor toys, roll around in the grass and have a go on the swings! Don’t forget to always take your litter home with you, and not leave it bags up by any overflowing bins.

1st birthday party ideas: Party bags

Party bags are a fun way to give back to your guests, but it’s likely that babies won’t get much from them. With this in mind, there’s no need to spend a fortune on its contents. Small, meaningful gifts are much more appropriate for a 1st birthday party. As well as a slice of cake, you could also give other babies some bibs or socks, a little book, crafts like crayons or chalk, bubbles, and something like a rattle to play with.

Thank you cards are also a nice gesture, and can easily be added to the party bag at the end of the event. Michael adds, “It’s not essential, but it’s a nice touch. Parents will often appreciate it. Froggles Parties have free resources on their website that parents can use to thank guests. ”

1st birthday party ideas: Party games

Keep planned activities to a minimum at your baby's first birthday party. One-year-olds are unlikely to have the attention span or skills to participate in lots of games, so don't worry too much about organising anything, unless you have some older children coming too.

  • While they might be too young for pass the parcel, a fun party game for babies involves wrapping up a small individual presents in several layers for all the little ones. They can then try to unwrap it themselves. It’s a great way to keep them entertained!
  • Finger painting goes down well with babies, but you’ll need to be organised and ensure you’ve cleared space and that there’s adult supervision at all times.
  • If there are older children there, you could provide activities like hula hoops, ball pits, colouring books, crafts, and soft toys
  • For crafting ideas, why not take a look at our easy rainbow craft projects for kids? They’re sure to brighten up their day.

1t birthday party ideas

(Image credit: Getty Images)

1st birthday party ideas: Food

It’s not a party without party food, and there’s a great opportunity to impress guests with some tasty treats. When it comes to catering for little ones, it’s best to opt for finger foods and soft foods that are easier for them to eat. A good approach to party food is a buffet-style, so guests can help themselves and choose what they want to eat. This way, you can ensure you’re catering for both children and grown-ups,

Go ahead and have some fun with the party food at your baby's first birthday party. Kids love fun-shaped food, so use cookie cutters on anything from sandwiches to biscuits or even pizzas. Some one-year-olds won't have a full set of teeth, so softer foods like cucumber sticks, banana or other things they can chew on are ideal.

For sweet treats, why not try coloured fruit smoothies and fun jelly and ice cream combos that are sure to go down well. They’re nice and soft too, so easy to eat for little ones. You can also serve fresh fruit cut up into baby-friendly pieces, as it's nice and easy for little ones to eat.

If you need advice on food for your little one, check out our toddler portion sizes and baby portion sizes guide. It provides clear information about finger foods, solid foods and what your baby should be eating.

Should I make my child's 1st birthday cake?

It’s entirely up to you whether you make the cake yourself, or hire a professional or pick one up from the supermarket. But whatever you choose, there’s plenty of options out there to make your baby’s first birthday a special one. Check out this roundup of the most amazing first birthday cakes we've ever seen. They won't be easy to replicate but they're sure to impress if you can 

Should I serve alcohol at my child's 1st birthday party?

Alcohol is a tricky topic, and discretion is definitely advised when it comes to making the call. We doubt your guests will expect a fully stocked wine bar or a fridge full of beers, but a glass of prosecco or some non-alcoholic cocktails could be a nice way to toast the special occasion without overdoing it.

Michael says, “I'm always of the mindset that a children's party should be for children. If you're doing alcohol then the grown-ups will no doubt really appreciate this although I really don't think they expect it.”

What is a good time of day for a 1st birthday party?

Babies rely heavily on routines, so it’s a good idea to plan their birthday celebrations around nap time and feeding time. You know your baby better than anyone, but experts suggest hosting it at around 10am, if that’s possible. 

A 10am party means you can serve brunch for your guests, and little ones will be wide awake and ready to enjoy the party fun. It also means you can wrap things up earlier, so you can set the baby down for their nap and get on with the cleanup. Of course, that might not always be possible - if you have guests travelling some distance or you’re unable to set up at a booked venue. 

How much should you spend on a 1st birthday party?

Everyone’s budget is different, but Michael notes that spending loads on a party doesn’t necessarily mean it will be better or that children will enjoy it more. He noted it’s a common misconception that many parents can have.

Michael says, “The more you spend doesn't necessarily equate to the more children enjoy the party, in fact it is often the opposite.

“Often parents will spend heaps of money on an overload of activities that are just too much for kids to absorb all at once. e.g. an entertainer on one end of the room, whilst also having a bouncy castle in one corner, a face painter in the other, mobile pet party for another part of the party, candy floss machine somewhere else, etc. The assumption many parents make, is often that having all these things will make it a wonderful party to remember. But that simply isn’t the case.”

Instead, he recommends focusing on one or two things that will keep them entertained and allow them to really enjoy the party. When it comes to little ones, they love giving their attention to one thing and really enjoying it.

He added, “Kids like taking their time to enjoy things. Overloading the kids with too much in one short window often leads to them not enjoying anything at all, especially if there are too many things competing for the attention at once. It's far better to pick one or 2 things that they can enjoy separately so they can really soak it in and enjoy it.”

For more birthday ideas take a look at our tuff tray ideas, brilliantly easy crafts and things to do with toddlers at home and take a glance through our kids party games for inspiration.

Stephanie Lowe
Family Editor

Stephanie Lowe is Family Editor at GoodToKnow covering all things parenting, pregnancy and more. She has over 13 years' experience as a digital journalist with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to all things family and lifestyle. Stephanie lives in Kent with her husband and son, Ted. Just keeping on top of school emails/fund raisers/non-uniform days/packed lunches is her second full time job.