If youth is wasted on the young, then so are certain Lego sets. Whether you need a screen break or a hit of nerdy nostalgia, there are few things more satisfying than taking time, as a fully-grown adult, to sit down and build a spaceship out of tiny plastic bricks. Lego realised a long time ago that grown-ups were just as keen to play – sorry, build – as children and its range now includes a spectrum of mature designs aimed squarely at big kids.
The best Lego sets for adults aren’t just the ones with 7,000 pieces that require a structural engineer’s sign-off before you build them (although, to be clear, those ones are Very Cool). There are also sleek and simple designs that look good on a shelf, brick-by-brick robots that you control with an app, or imaginative sets that tap into the fandom around film and TV series. Its current collection also includes ‘mindful’ sets designed to reduce stress.
There’s even half a chance that Lego is good for you. Meeting rooms at Big Tech firms are often stocked with Lego because it’s thought to improve creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. Studies have found that it can be used to develop certain technical skills. In 2017, the University of Cambridge even hired a Lego Professor of Play in Education, Development and Learning. The takeaway: playtime is serious.
Not that we need convincing here at Science Focus. These are our picks for the best Lego sets for the biggest kids we know.
The best Lego sets for adults in 2021
Apollo Saturn V Rocket lego set
Adult Lego sets are a great way to depart the real world for an hour or two, and what better place to go than the Moon? Spaceflight fans will not be disappointed here: the metre-tall model breaks up into smaller pieces just as the real Saturn V did. The first and second rocket stages come away, and the lunar lander and lunar orbiter detach too. The attention to detail is out of this world.
International Space Station Lego set
Originally designed by a Lego fan and space enthusiast, this sprawling, faithful rebuild of the ISS features adjustable solar panels and the robot arm that’s used to move supplies around the station. More a display model than one to play with for hours, it nevertheless features a miniature Space Shuttle and cargo ships to dock and tiny astronauts that you may or may not want to take on a space walk.
Apollo 11 Lunar Lander Lego set
The Eagle has landed. The famous lander that dropped Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin off at Tranquility Base in 1969 is a particularly satisfying build with separate, detachable descent and ascent stages. There’s also a pretty faithful replica of the plaque the crew left up there and the steps from which Armstrong took that one small step. Just in case you want to do a little role play.
NASA Space Shuttle Discovery Lego set
One of the newest designs in Lego’s line-up, the Space Shuttle Discovery set comes with a mini Hubble Telescope, which was launched by Discovery in 1990. There’s a geeky thrill in opening the payload doors and deploying the telescope, which features movable solar panels and aperture door.
Star Wars R2-D2 Lego set
Lego Star Wars is a wildly popular sub-genre that has spawned video games and TV series, but it all starts with detailed, authentic sets like this 2,300-piece R2-D2. Standing more than a foot high, your favourite droid from a galaxy far, far away features a rotating head, rising periscope and even Luke Skywalker’s hidden lightsaber from Return of the Jedi.
Star Wars Imperial Star Destroyer Lego set
Yes, there are second-hand cars that come cheaper, but this whopping spacecraft – immortalised in the opening moments of the original Star Wars movie – is one of the biggest Lego sets ever created. It’s over a metre long, made of almost 5,000 bricks and packed with details to blow fans’ minds, like swivelling cannons and a micro Tantive IV to chase. Impressive. Most impressive.
Star Wars Mos Eisley Cantina Lego set
As well as droids and spaceships, Lego has recreated entire sets from the Star Wars universe, including the Death Star and the rebel base from Hoth. Its latest is the Mos Eisley Cantina from A New Hope, that “wretched hive of scum and villainy” that comes with 21 minifigures to reenact some of the saga’s most memorable scenes.
Star Wars The Mandalorian Bounty Hunter Transport Lego set
One of the latest entries to the Star Wars canon, this ship comes from the popular Disney+ series. The set includes a cargo hold with opening sides, spring-loaded cannons and – obviously – a teeny, tiny Baby Yoda. This is the way.
Empire State Building Lego set
Lego’s Architecture range is probably the one most markedly targeted at adults. It allows you to recreate iconic buildings like the Sydney Opera House or the Burj Khalifa. New York’s towering Empire State Building is for display not play, with eye-catching details like the Art Deco antenna at the top and yellow taxi cabs on the base.
Colosseum Lego set
This one actually sits in Lego’s Creator series, a faithful model of Rome’s famous amphitheatre made of 9,000 pieces: officially the largest Lego set ever released. The architectural detail is incredible and you can even build the hypogeum, the elaborate structure beneath the floor of the arena. Truly colossal.
- Buy now from Lego
Paris Lego set
One of a number of city skylines that Lego offers, this set lines up the most famous buildings in Paris, from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre. Other cities in the collection include London, New York, Dubai and Tokyo.
Trafalgar Square Lego set
Imagine Trafalgar Square without the pigeons. Lego’s take on the famous London landmark does away with the feathery menace but retains lots of other details, including Nelson’s column, the fountains and a couple of Routemaster buses. Around 1,200 pieces in this one.
Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle Lego set
It’s not just Star Wars fans that are well served by Lego. Anyone who grew up reading and watching the Harry Potter series will happily lose a few hours exploring this sprawling recreation of Hogwarts. The sheer number of rooms and hidden details make it worth the outlay, with extras like a moving whomping willow proof that it was surely made by fans.
The Beatles Lego set
Lego Art is another collection aimed at an older audience, with a series of build-you-own wall art sets available. Alongside Andy Warhol and some vintage Disney, you can make individual portraits of The Beatles inspired by the band’s White Album artwork. Pushing the mindful aspect of creating with Lego, this set comes with an accompanying soundtrack.
1989 Batmobile Lego set
The noir-ish good looks of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie are present and correct in this build. Again, it’s the details that impress: a slide-open cockpit, intricate dashboard and pop-up machine guns that take you back to a sticky-floored cinema of your youth. If you have very understanding housemates, you can also buy an accompanying Batwing that you can hang on the wall.
- Buy now from Lego
Stranger Things The Upside Down Lego set
Stranger Things won us over with its nostalgic take on 1980s pop culture that included dozens of winks and Easter eggs for fans. This Lego set does the same thing for the Netflix series, with lots of beautifully realised visual touches. Best of all, the entire set is reversible, mirroring the spooky Upside Down world from the show.
Volkswagen T1 Camper Van Lego Creator set
The Creator Expert collection is where Lego and Lego fans show off. These builds are not only complex but beautifully imagined and designed. Case in point: this hippie-style camper van, complete with original styling, pop-up roof, textile curtains and a T-shirt hanging in the window that says, “Make Lego Models, Not War.” Amen to that.
- Buy now from Amazon UK
Bonsai Tree Lego creator set
Lego’s newish Botanical collection is made for mindfulness: slow, creative builds that you can display in your home or office. There’s a very detailed bouquet of flowers, but our pick is this Bonsai tree, which comes with green leaves and pink blossom, so you can switch it up with your mood or the seasons.
Roller Coaster Lego Creator set
Fiendishly complex but hugely rewarding, this 4,000-piece head-scratcher becomes a fully working roller coaster with cars that crank up the chain lift and zoom along the track. Scream if you want to build faster.
James Bond Aston Martin DB5 Lego Creator set
Do we expect you to talk? No, Mr Lego Fan, we expect you to build! A glorious slice of fan service that will delight anyone with a love of 007, this is of course Bond’s iconic DB5 from Goldfinger. It’s a fairly modest build with 1,300 pieces but all the details are here: the revolving number plates, the extending tyre scythes and – obviously – the fully functional ejector seat.
Liebherr R 9800 Excavator Lego Technic set
If you’re looking for a monster engineering job this weekend, this 4,000-piece excavator should keep you busy. It’s hardly one for the mantlepiece, but it does come with seven different motors, all controlled by a smartphone app that let you drive and rotate the machine, as well as operate the boom and bucket.
Remote-Controlled Stunt Racer Lego Technic set
This relatively simple build (it’s under 400 pieces) comes into its own as an RC toy operated with an included controller. Pull wheelies and 360º spins then, when you inevitably crash, rebuild the car in a new way. Endless fun.
Land Rover Defender Lego Technic set
Developed in partnership with Land Rover, this set is all the more realistic for it, with a number of great touches you’ll have to resist filming for social media. As well as authentic wheel rims and treaded tyres, the Defender has a functioning steering wheel and a six-cylinder engine with moving pistons. Come on, that’s cool…
Dragster Lego Technic set
Proof that it’s not just the expensive sets that fire the imagination, this pull-back-and-go dragster comes in under £20. You can also build it in two different ways to maximise the fun. Technically it’s age 7+, but when it comes to Lego, we’ve always felt that age is just a number.
Tree House Lego Ideas set
Lego Ideas is a platform where fans can submit their own Lego designs and other fans appraise and vote for them. The best are made into sets that go on sale. This one is perfect for anybody who’d love to build a tree house but doesn’t have a garden, a tree, or any of the required skills. It’s 3,000 pieces with almost as many charming ideas included within.
Dinosaur Fossils Lego Ideas set
Turn your living room into a natural history museum with this set, which lets you build the skeletons of a T-rex, triceratops and pteranodon. Each one can be moved into a number of different poses and comes with its own display stand. Or you can use them to chase the palaeontologist minifigure that comes with the set. Your call.
Ship in a Bottle Lego Ideas set
Another one that tugs on feelings of nostalgia and make believe, this build first has you piece together a detailed ship with crow’s nest, captain’s quarters, cannons and more. You then slip that inside a brick-made bottle and imagine how chuffed your grandad would be.
Grand Piano Lego Ideas set
This one seems expensive for what looks like a small and relatively simple build. Amongst fans, however, it’s known as one of the most imaginative Lego sets ever made: each of the piano’s 25 keys moves and is linked to its own hammer. Better still, hook it up to Lego’s Powered Up app and you can learn to play 14 songs. Elton-inspired sequined onesie sold separately.
Robot Inventor Lego Mindstorms set
Made for budding robot engineers, Lego’s Mindstorms set lets you design, build, code and control your own droids. There are five different designs, each one with its own abilities, including walking and driving around, picking up bricks, smashing through objects as well as firing missiles and playing ball games. The T-1000 never did that.