4 Reasons Why European Theme Parks Are Awesome

Image Baron 1898 European Theme Park Rollercoaster
I can't even remember when it was now, it feels like years but I think it might actually have been this season, I was having a chat with Ryan for The Inevitable Theme Park Podcast, and he asked me a really interesting question: if you could only visit parks in one continent for the rest of your life, which would it be? If I remember rightly I think my actual answer was Asia - at the time I hadn't been to China yet and there was still so much to explore and discover. But upon reflection, I just really fucking love me a European theme park. Like Asia is fab and the USA obviously has some big ol' coaster bois, but nothing for me really ever matches the unrivalled magic and wonder of a European theme park. So today I wanted to dive into why exactly I love this bizarre continent's weird and wonderful parks. Let's jump right in!

Oh god, the weirdness. Look, when you take a step back the idea of a theme park in general is slightly bizarre anyway. Like let's all go to a place pretending to be something it's not and strap ourselves into various machines to have forces inflicted on our bodies in exchange for some sweet, sweet endorphins. It's an inherently weird concept for sure. But NOBODY does weird like Europe, not even Asia. I'm not going to skirt around the fact that some of the weirdness IS NOT OK (looking at you, Julianatoren!) Where else can you be strolling through a quaint fairytale themed land only to find a donkey that shits gold coins, or ride a log flume with a naked old lady spa section? Europe - that's where!

And don't even get me started on the rides themselves! If you want some off the wall, batshit insane dark rides you've come to the right place! Never will you witness such a plethora of nonsensical fuckery than on a European ghost train. Never will a coaster do EXACTLY the opposite of what you were expecting it to do than Europe. We don't tend to have a lot of room here, you see, so we make the most of the tiny footprints and restrictive height limits we're given by being whimsical as fuck. Can't build above tree line? No problem, we'll just dig ourselves a big ol' hole in the ground! No room left for your new B&M invert? Never fear, just build the station underground. An endless supply of design and engineering madness.

OK, obviously Disney does magic pretty well but if we're being honest with ourselves it's in a very pre-packaged, branded capitalist Americana sort of way. Not that there's anything wrong with that of course, we're all theme park enthusiasts here and we're all aware of the surrounding context of our hobby, but you get what I mean. It can be a little hollow at times. European parks seem to have this unrivalled sense of magic and whimsy about them that I've never experienced in another country. I feel like there's a certain aura that comes from a place that's already steeped with history? Take Alton Towers for example - the Towers themselves are a real old building, not some Chinese fibreglass interpretation of one. The gardens were once home to real people wandering around them, and there's something really magical about that to me. You can almost feel it in the air!

I think what I'm saying is that in European parks, the magic seems to come from a place of authenticity as opposed to coming from a place of corporate greed or profiteering, like with the Chinese or big American chain parks? You get a lot more smaller, family owned parks in Europe too and the love and care that the owners have for these parks comes oozing out in the atmosphere. Another example of this I find is Hansa Park. On paper the park really is nothing special, but when you're there the feeling of nostalgia and joy is palpable and you can't help but feel your stomach flutter with magic. It's really wonderful!

I have a feeling Asia may slightly have us pipped for this one, but I'd argue that with Europe not only do you get the ridiculous variety of ride type and theming from park to park you also have a whole bunch of different countries with completely different cultures all smooshed into one tiny continent, all within a few hours' drive of each other. I especially feel this when I go to Phantasialand - it feels like every single attraction at that park is unique and mad in its own way - a log flume BUT IT GO BACKWARDS, a rapids BUT IT HAS A VERTICAL LIFT HILL, a spinning coaster BUT THE TRACK DO A TILT. Then just a few hours away you have Efteling, a park that's at the complete opposite end of the spectrum to Phantasialand when it comes to thrills but offering variety in an entirely different way. Spend hours wandering through a series of dioramas in a forest, ride one of the most incredibly themed water coasters in the world and indulge in all the different dark rides.

And don't even get me started on Scandinavia - especially Finland. You want a variety of coaster types then I insist you book yourself a two week trip to Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway. It's a similar thing to the weirdness section - we're always looking for that USP so that naturally leads on to an increase in variety to keep things fresh and keep guests coming back for more!

I do love a good airtime filled car park coaster or a classic woodland Herschend family park in the US, but Europe are absolutely unrivalled when it comes to theming. But what about Asia?!, I hear you cry? Well, honestly, whilst the theming is huge and impressive, especially in China, when you see it in person there's definitely something a little empty feeling about it? I think there's not as much attention to detail paid and it definitely comes across. And obviously Disney and Universal are exempt from this discussion because let's face it they're just the best at everything and it'd be boring to just talk about them all the time. But oh god, Phantasialand! Efteling! Toverland! Europa Park! Tivoli Gardens! Just dripping with the most stunning, immersive theming you ever will see, and from independent/non-massive chain parks.

I always argue that our European parks' love of excellent theming comes from the fact that European culture is seeped with inspiration from classic European fairytales. All of the parks mentioned above have something to owe to Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, etc. The theming you see at those parks looks like its jumped straight from the intricately illustrated pages of a fairytale book and there's a real appreciation for beauty and an unashamedness when it comes to a softer more feminine style. The fact that our Disneyland castle is pink is a testament to that alone.

After writing that...it's honestly a wonder I bother going anywhere else. I just love European parks so damn much. When you visit a park you've never been to before you never know what madness is lying around the corner disguised as a humble dark ride or log flume or whether the coaster you thing is just a humble wild mouse is going to turn into some mad vertical drop nightmare. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Talk later xoxo,


  1. Americana corporate greed for sure. Although there are spectacular rides and attractions here, you're better off with the classy wonders of the beautiful Europe parks. Pictures of Alton Towers, Tivoli Gardens, Efteling...just look amazing.