Find Unexpected Thrills in Europe
Head to the Old World for your next family getaway to make new memories at the continent’s most amazing theme parks
For North Americans, Disneyland and Universal Orlando are perennial family-friendly magnets, but even more fun and adventure awaits at European theme parks. From wild roller coaster rides and wacky encounters with famous cartoon characters to whimsical gardens and wonderful dining experiences, there’s something for all ages. Though Europe is known largely for art and culture, it also has some exciting theme parks families can enjoy together.
If you love the new Moominvalley cartoon TV series, which includes the voices of Taron Egerton and Kate Winslet, plan a summer visit to Moominworld. Situated on an island adjacent to Naantali, it immerses visitors in the surreal storylines of the small, hippo-like creatures invented by Finnish children’s author Tove Jansson. Explore the turreted, blue Moomin House, watch Moomin stage plays at Theatre Emma, and savour the Peculiar Café’s freshly baked cinnamon buns.
Hockey fans attending the 2022 IIHF World Hockey Championship next May can also compare the thrills of Taiga, Finland’s tallest (52 metres) and longest (1,104 metres) roller coaster, at Helsinki’s Linnanmäki, and Hype, the first triple-launch coaster for Nordic countries, at Tampere’s Särkänniemi.
Did you know that more than 380 million Astérix comic books have been sold worldwide? Get into the indomitable little Gaulish warrior’s adventures at Parc Astérix, northeast of Paris. Tour a reconstruction of Astérix’s village and conjure up his magic potion-fueled battles with Romans and Vikings on Les Espions de César, a pedal-powered monorail, and Les Petits Drakkars, a dragon ship ride.
Just outside Poitiers, the 1987-opened Futuroscope park abounds with 3D-cinema shows and fantastic experiences like Destination Mars, The Extraordinary Journey and Dances With Robots.
With more than 100 attractions, the Europa-Park, near the Swiss-French border, is Germany’s biggest theme park. An Iceland-themed area lures adrenaline junkies with the Blue Fire Megacoaster, a launched coaster featuring a 32-metrehigh vertical loop, and Wodan Timbur Coaster, a breathtaking odyssey guarded by Norse god statues. After watching a medieval jousting tournament, devour roast chicken or mushroom ragout with bread dumplings at the Seehaus restaurant.
At the Cologne-area Phantasialand, the new, immersive Rookburgh – a steampunk-inspired fantasy city – is generating serious buzz with F.L.Y., the world’s longest flying coaster at 1,236 metres.
Celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2022, Efteling stimulates your imagination with its Fairytale Forest, Haunted Castle, and Max & Moritz roller coaster. One big draw is the 2017-built Symbolica, a trackless dark ride where passengers explore a king’s palace, brimming with wizardry and music, brought to life with cutting-edge animatronics. Efteling is the largest theme park in the Netherlands.
Billed as Europe’s fastest roller coaster, Red Force – the signature attraction at PortAventura World’s Ferrari Land – gets thrill-seekers up to 180 kilometres an hour in just five seconds. Other can’t-miss coasters include Dragon Khan and Shambhala. This bustling theme park near Barcelona also boasts the 50,000-square-metre Caribe Aquatic Park with sensational waterslides for all ages.
In the Tabernas Desert near Almeria, the Oasys MiniHollywood theme park captivates fans of cowboy movies. Director Sergio Leone chose the location to film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and other 1960s “spaghetti westerns” starring Clint Eastwood on this purpose-built set. Today, watch thrilling live cowboy shows, or head to the zoological reserve with 200 different animal species, or hang out around the aquatic zone and its water slides – a favourite among youngsters, and view more than 250 varieties of cacti.
Alton Towers, one hour north of Birmingham, recently introduced Gangsta Granny: The Ride, a comical 4D adventure where you try to steal the Crown jewels. It’s one of more than 40 rides and attractions here, ranging from children’s faves like Cuckoo Cars Driving School and Peter Rabbit Hippity-Hop to darker fare like the Wicker Man roller coaster and the Alton Towers Dungeon.
In Greater London, Chessington World of Adventures debuted Croc Drop in 2021. This shriek-inducing drop tower sends you plunging 25 metres into the jaws of a humongous crocodile, inspired by the Egyptian god Sobek. Prefer real wildlife? The award-winning on-site zoo includes gorillas, Humboldt penguins and Amur tigers.