By country: Popular parks offer cool getaways for families and singles in Europe
Want to know how various European amusement parks stack up? Check the results of the Ultimate European Theme Parks Awards at www.uetpa.com. Here is a sampling of some of the most popular by country.
Vienna: The amusement park in the Prater has entertained visitors since the 19th century. Its landmark is the 215-meter-tall Giant Ferris Wheel, which towers over the 200 booths in the Prater, the ghost train, go-karts and grotto railways, merry-go-rounds, game halls and shooting galleries.
Bobbejaanland: Lichtaart, 25 miles east of Antwerp. Top picks include the Typhoon and Fly Away; three roller coasters give even adult daredevils a thrill. The Sledge Hammer was named best new thrill ride for 2004 in UETPA’s 2004 poll.
Walibi Park: Wavre, between Brussels and Namur, one of seven parks belonging to the StarParks Group, previously operated as part of the Six Flags European Division. Star attractions include the Loup Garou or Dalton Terror. New in 2005 is a 4D cinema featuring “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Small tykes like the park’s theme character, the orange kangaroo, Walibi, and the Walabi follies.
Bakken: Klampenborg, 20 minutes north of Copenhagen. The oldest amusement park in the world. Free admission, so just wander about, or ride its 70-year-old wooden roller coaster. Danes say that Tivoli is for tourists, but Bakken is for the real folks. Lots of bars and Tuborg, and stag parties on Friday nights.
Legoland: Billund, Jutland. Geared toward children. Kids over 7 enjoy “driving school” and getting their very own license. Miniland is a re-creation of world-famous buildings and environments built from 20 million Lego bricks.
Tivoli Gardens: in the heart of Copenhagen, an all-ages favorite. Much of its magic comes from its incandescent-bulb lighting, so go in the evening. It’s more the atmosphere than the attractions that make this place special, but do try the Golden Tower free-fall tower, with great views over the city, or the new triple-loop coaster, the Demon. On Friday evenings, catch a top musical act included in the admission cost.
Disneyland Park: 20 miles southeast of Paris. Made up of five separate “lands,” including Main Street U.S.A., Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Discoveryland. Adventureland has Pirates of the Caribbean, Adventure Isle, Pirates' Beach, and the highly rated Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril. Space Mountain Mission 2 is in Discoveryland. Go to Fantasyland for Disney “classics,” such as the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups and Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Walt Disney Studios offers Armageddon special effects and Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster featuring Aerosmith.
Parc Astérix: 20 miles north of Paris, toward Lille. Its wooden coaster, Tonnerre de Zeus, reaches speeds of more than 45 mph; loop fans get seven of them on a 1-kilometer track featuring a “butterfly, boomerang and double screwdriver.”
Walibi Lorraine: just west of Metz on A4 autoroute. The park, formerly Walibi Schtroumpf (“Schtroumpf” is French for “Smurf,” and those blue cartoon characters were the park’s theme until 2003), has added several rides in the past few years but still promotes itself as a family park.
Europa Park: Rust, near Freiburg. Germany’s largest fun park celebrates its 30th anniversary July 9-17. The park is based on the countries of Europe, and many rides are truly hair-raising. A best bet for all ages.
Holiday Park: Hassloch. Less than an hour's drive from Frankfurt and a half-hour from Mannheim or Heidelberg. Home of the extraordinary roller coaster Expedition Ge Force. The free-fall Bounty Tower is scary to watch, let alone ride.
Legoland: Günzburg, Bavaria, 90 minutes from either Munich or Stuttgart. This park appeals primarily to the younger set.
Movie Park Germany: Bottrop-Kirchhellen, northwest of Hanover, is the reincarnation of Warner Bros. Movie World. Another StarParks member, Movie Park’s thrill rides include Side Kick, FX, Cop Car Chase, NYC Transformer, The High Fall, Bandit, and a family water ride based on the movie “Ice Age.”
Phantasialand: Brühl, between Bonn and Cologne. Highlights include the Wözls Wassertreter and the roller coaster Colorado.
GardaLand: Castelnuovo del Garda, Verona province, between Peschiera and Lazise. New this year is Sequoia Adventure and Robots of Mars. Cool off on the river ride, the Fuga da Atlantide, or in the dark on I Corsari. Clean and green, another best bet.
Mirabilandia: outside Ravenna, near the Adriatic coast. Its Mayan- themed coaster, the Katun, reaches 70 mph, while the Niagara is a flume ride offering an awesome drop.
Isla Magica: Isla de la Cartuja, in Seville, has plenty of rides and shows. New this year is Ciclón, a spinning disk, and La Magia del Caballo.
PortAventura: Salou, south of Barcelona, is well worth a trip wherever you’re from. Location ensures good weather long after northern European parks shut their gates. Spectacular Halloween theme show. Try the 42-story Hurakan Condor free-fall tower or Dragon Khan coaster.
Terra Mítica: Benidorm, Alicante, offers the thrilling El Vuelo del Fenix, El Laberintho del Minotauro, and Synkope; wooden coaster fans like the park's Magnus Colossus.
Warner Bros. Movie World: 12 miles southeast of Madrid. See old pals Bugs, Tweety and Scooby-Doo. Top-rated rides will give even more mature audiences a thrill.
Duinrell: near Wassenaar, is a combination amusement park and water park with an impressive network of slides. Offers a variety of lodging on or near the park.
Efteling: outside of Tilburg, builds upon a fairy-tale theme and boasts of verdant gardens. More than 50 years old, the park offers a good mix of rides old and new, and you can visit in wintertime.
Walibi World: between Amsterdam and Apeldoorn, home to a generous helping of thrill rides, including roller coasters Via Volta and Goliath, billed as Benelux’s longest, fastest and steepest.
Alton Towers: Alton, Staffordshire, near Stoke, roughly between Manchester and Birmingham. New for 2005 is Rita — Queen of Speed, taking you from 0 to 60 mph in just 2½ seconds. Other “adrenalin busters” include Air, Oblivion, Nemesis, and Ripsaw. A best bet for thrill- seekers in England.
Chessington World of Adventure: 12 miles outside of London. Head there if your family includes small ones, as 90 percent of the park's rides are suitable for children under 12. Meet Dora the Explorer and Scooby-Doo.
Drayton Manor Park: near Tamworth, Staffordshire. Great mix of rides both thrilling and tame. Try the world’s first stand-up free fall tower, the Apocalypse, or the Shockwave, Europe’s first stand-up roller coaster. Littler ones like the rides at Robinsons Land or a day at the zoo.
Legoland: Windsor, just west of London, celebrates its 10th season with five new attractions. If your kids are into dinosaurs, they’ll like Dino Dipper and Dino Safari.
Thorpe Park: Chertsey, Surrey, with two new thrill rides this season including Rush and Slammer.
Listings complied by Karen Bradbury.