With the first signs of life post-coronavirus starting to show, many people (including us) are starting to hope they might be able to get away in the next six months or so.
Unfortunately, many people have had holidays cancelled or re-booked for next year. Others are still nervous about travelling too far and are worried about spending too much money on a holiday that might still have social distancing measures in place.
With these reservations in place, it’s a great time for UK Disney World fans to have a year off and consider saving some money by booking a cheaper trip closer to home.
So we thought we’d pull together a list of European theme parks that are just as magical as Disney World. These places all have the same charm, incredible theming, world-class rides and immersive storytelling. So if you’re facing a year without an Orlando holiday and still want to lose yourself in a magical world, these parks are well worth a look.
Please note: Not all these parks are open yet and we’re still facing uncertainty on international travel here in the UK. However the hope is that we’ll be able to fly again by Autumn and most of these parks offer year-round fun.
1. Disneyland Paris, France
This seems like a pretty obvious choice but honestly, I’m always surprised by how many people visit Orlando on the regular but rarely go to Disneyland Paris.
Sure, the less said about Walt Disney Studios the better, but Disneyland Park is pure joy. The place is sprawling, stunning and full of detail that makes the aesthetic far more impressive than Magic Kingdom in Disney World.
The rides here are fantastic as well. We’d say most of the famous attractions – Space mountain, Thunder Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean in particular – are better than their Orlando counterparts and there’s the added bonus of Ratatouille and Crush’s Coaster.
If you live in London you can get to Disneyland Paris easily via the EuroTunnel or EuroStar. It’s a little trickier if your from up North like us but it’s a damn sight easier than flying to Orlando.
2. Efteling, Netherlands
Efteling is the self-proclaimed World of Wonders, a fairytale themed park situated just over an hours’ drive from Amsterdam Airport in Kaatsheuvel in the Netherlands.
The park itself is absolutely huge which means every attraction and area has the space to breathe and benefits from the theming of the landscape around it.
Fantasy and fairytales are at the heart of the theming at Efteling which makes it the perfect place for Disney World lovers. Whether it’s taking a trip through the Fairy Tale Forest and encountering a talking tree, or entering an enchanted forest to come face to face with fairies on Droomvlucht, Efteling is all about sweeping you into a world of imagination.
Don’t expect Disney-level cuteness here though. It’s steeped in European fairytales so there’s an edge of darkness that makes it feel like a totally different experience.
The other thing that makes Efteling a great park for Disney World lovers is the dark rides. For our first few hours in this park we struggled a bit to ‘get’ what Efteling was all about. Then we moved from riding coasters to hitting the dark rides and it all fell into place. The dark rides here are incredible – detailed, large-scale, gorgeous and entertaining. In some cases, they far surpass those you’ll find in the Magic Kingdom.
3. Phantasialand, Germany
There isn’t enough space in this post to share just how much we love Phantasialand.
Located close to Cologne in Germany, this park is actually one of the best theme parks we’ve ever visited.
It’s not fairytale themed like Efteling, but the theming is just as magical and immersive. The park is actually quite small which means you have to go up and down stairs and round the back of buildings to find attractions that are often hidden or tucked away.
This just adds to how absorbed you feel in the park and helps you get truly lost in the world Phantasialand is building. In fact, there’s a main road that even goes underneath the park and you’d never know, we’ve honestly not been in a non-Disney theme park that’s felt as far away from the world outside as this one.
The rides are incredible too. There’s a great mix of thrills, dark rides, water rides and flat rides and every single attraction has a story and purpose. I don’t think anything exemplifies this more than Talocan which is a simple top spin flat ride on paper. However the team at Phantasialand have elevated it into something truly incredible through a mix of theming, special effects and spine-tingling music.
You can get pretty cheap flights to Cologne through Ryanair and we would urge you to book a cheap trip to this incredible place as soon as it’s safe to fly.
4. Toverland, Netherlands
If enchantment and imagination is what you’re after, Toverland more than delivers.
Located in Sevenum in the Netherlands, Toverland is another magical themed park with surprises around every corner.
We were absolutely awed by the sheer wonder of this park and how peaceful and tranquil it felt. The newest themed areas of Avalon and Port Laguna are straight out of a fairytale and the music rivals that of Disney World. Honestly, I listen to the soundtrack on the regular because it’s so uplifting and beautiful.
None of the rides here are world beaters but each one is well-themed with a proper story and intricate queue lines that build the narrative.
A special shout out goes to the Avalon area which is a must-visit especially if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan. The whole area is incredible, and filled with unique walkways, detailed animatronics, fantastic themed dark sections and magical surprises.
5. Tivoli Gardens, Denmark
Finally is a park we haven’t visited yet, but one I couldn’t leave off this list.
For those who aren’t aware (although you will be if you’ve watched the Imagineering Story on Disney+) Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen was one of Walt’s inspirations for Disneyland.
He’s said to have admired how Tivoli Gardens had a unique mood and family atmosphere, as well as how well maintained the park was compared to many of the other amusement parks he’d visited.
Tivoli Gardens was also visited by Hans Christian Anderson and the gorgeous gardens inspired his fairytale The Nightingale.
So if you want to experience a place that inspired the creation of Disney Parks and fairytale alike, Tivoli Gardens is a great place to start.
We hope you reading our thoughts on European theme parks Disney World lovers need to visit has inspired you to take a trip closer to home when you can travel again this year.