Theme parks like Disneyland can be a daunting prospect at the best of times, let alone with the smallies in tow. But there are plenty of fun alternatives on the continent, says Arlene Harris.

Anyone with children will know that at some point or other the little monkeys will get it into their heads that nothing would make a better holiday than a trip to a theme park. 

For most adults the thought of spending hours traipsing around after Mickey Mouse or Elsa from Frozen is enough to send them running for the hills.

But at the same time they also realise that a happy child is a happy adult. So what to do?

The obvious choice is of course Disneyland, but if like me, you are filled with horror with the notion of the crowds, the commercialism, and the general sensory overload, then it is time to look at other options.

With that in mind, we have compiled a list of alternative theme parks.

And if you fancy taking in more than one European park or even exploring some of the surrounding cities and countryside, an inter-rail ticket ( www.interrail.eu) is by far the easiest, most relaxing way to get around the continent.

1. De Efteling in the Netherlands

is the oldest theme park in the world and has managed to retain its old-world appeal while keeping up to date with modern entertainment needs.

6 alternative theme parks to choose from around Europe to suit all ages

The theme of the park is traditional fairytale, which means the atmosphere is utterly magical. It is suitable for all ages, with rides and attractions aimed at everyone from the smallest toddlers to the most adventurous adult. 

The Dreamflight is one of the most popular, allowing visitors to float through an enchanted world. Aquanura is Europe’s biggest water show, incorporating water, fire, and music, while Fata Morgana is a dreamlike boat trip through the Forbidden City.

Just over an hour from Amsterdam, this park can be seen in a day trip from the capital or you can stay in one of the wonderfully quaint but fantastically kitted out cottages or the themed hotel on site. 

Busiest during the school holidays, it is advisable to buy tickets in advance which not only saves time but can also cut costs.

2. PortAventura in Spain

is a well-known destination for Irish families, but the combination of fun in the sun and the opportunity to unwind poolside with a glass of something cold make this a very appealing option.

6 alternative theme parks to choose from around Europe to suit all ages

Reached in under an hour from Barcelona, this could be the ideal weekend break for all the family as, while the park is definitely teenage heaven, with a plethora of hair-raising rides to choose from, there is also plenty for other ages. 

There is a designated section catering for toddlers and young children, pools and waterslides for those who aren’t so keen on adrenalin rushes, and lots of lovely bars, restaurants, and shaded areas for those wanting to take a breather from the whirlwind action.

To make life even easier there are many hotels on site, with options ranging from basic family fun to more spacious, peaceful, and comfortable accommodation complete with their own pool, restaurant, and bar, so in theory, those with older kids could let them have free reign for a few hours while soaking up the sun by the hotel pool. Bliss.

3. Phantasialand near Cologne, Germany

This is a beautiful park which is relatively unheard of outside of Germany. 

6 alternative theme parks to choose from around Europe to suit all ages

There are lots of different themed areas including a 1920s zone and an authentic Chinese area. 

It has plenty of hair-raising rides, including Black Mamba, Colorado Adventure, and the brand new Taron Coaster, which is not for the faint-hearted as it is reputed to have more turns and twists than any other ride of its kind.

Also fun is the Mexican-style Talocan which aims to test your nerves as willing victims (sorry, participants) are lifted into the air and targeted with flames — definitely not one for toddlers.

However, there is still plenty for the young ones, with flying frogs, carousels, and the usual fairground rides in abundance. 

And there are plenty of options for staying on site if you want to make a few days of it.

4. Europa Park in the Black Forest, Germany

Sticking with Germany, Europa Park in the Black Forest is another great option and can be reached by train.

6 alternative theme parks to choose from around Europe to suit all ages

Europa is one of the most popular parks in Europe and, like Phantasia, has lots of different zones. 

Here, they are divided into different countries (including Ireland) and all filled with high-speed rides, virtual reality rides (not for those who suffer from motion sickness), attractions for all ages, and even the opportunity to raft among the fjords.

There are 12 rollercoasters so visitors will be spoilt for choice; the newest is Arthur, a suspended indoor and outdoor ride that is also completely dark in places. 

Different areas of the park can be reached by monorail and there are several hotels to choose from as well as relaxing spa features for weary parents.

  • Children under 4 and those up to 12 celebrating their birthday go free. Children aged 4-11 cost €38.50 and over-12s cost from €44.50. 

    www.europapark.de 

5. Grona Lund in Stockholm

This is a great option for anyone on a city break in the Swedish capital. There is less of a theme going on here and more of an emphasis on good, old-fashioned funfair fun.

6 alternative theme parks to choose from around Europe to suit all ages

Smaller and more compact than some of the other parks, Grona Lund still boasts over 30 rides, seven of which are rollercoasters — Jetline is the fastest with speeds of 90km/h. 

There are also ‘dark rides’ and an 80m ‘tilting’ free-fall which is definitely not advisable for anyone with a dodgy ticker or a propensity towards motion sickness.

This park is located within the city so is perfect for anyone who doesn’t want total theme park immersion. 

As well as the fast-paced rides, it also offers plenty of entertainment for young children (12 attractions specifically designed for the younger visitor) and throughout the year, the venue hosts various concerts so more often than not, daytime visitors will be treated to the dulcet tones of bands warming up for the evening’s entertainment.

  • Admission for under-6s and over-65 is free, while for the rest of the family, tickets cost from €12. 

    www.gronalund.com 

6. Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen

This is in the heart of the Danish capital and like Grona Lund is the perfect option for anyone who wants to incorporate a city break with a visit to a theme park.

6 alternative theme parks to choose from around Europe to suit all ages

Renowned for its aesthetics, Tivoli is both a beautiful, leafy space in the city centre and a venue for fast-paced fun and family entertainment.

As the second-oldest park of its kind in the world, Tivoli is known for its wooden rollercoaster, built in 1914.

There are 27 rides (including four rollercoasters). 

Fatamorgana is a three-in-one ride with bumper cars at ground level, a gondola ride to the top of a tower, and also something for the more energetic visitor, a very bumpy (and scary) floorless ride. 

Speed merchants will also like Vertigo, the ‘plane’ ride which throws passengers around at 100km/h. 

For the more sedate and younger visitors, there is still plenty to choose from, such as a carousel and the Flying Trunk Fairytale journey.

  • Children under 8 go free, tickets for everyone else costs from €13.

    www.tivoli.dk 


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