Eight theme parks that are cheaper and quirkier alternatives to Disneyland Paris

Whether it is for the dozens of attractions and rides, or that special moment with Mickey, around 10 million people are drawn to Disneyland Paris every year to experience the Disney sparkle.

With its pink fairytale Disneyland Hotel having recently reopened, complete with an Elsa Ice Palace suite and Cinderella suite – where one-night packages cost £1,500 at the end of April – interest remains high in the 32-year old holiday favourite.

Europe’s most popular theme park comes with a hefty price tag, with a one-day ticket for an adult costing from £118.10 for access to both parts of the park, while a child’s starts from £110.83. Meanwhile food and drink ranges from €16 burger meal deals to €55 set menus at hotel restaurants.

However, the Continent is home to many more theme parks, some of which are hundreds of years old and others which offer a unique and very European experience – often with very palatable prices. Here are eight alternatives where you’re likely to spend less this year, while still having a memorable experience.

Parc Asterix, France

Just 25 miles north-east of Paris, this is an easily accessible Disney alternative that celebrates its 35th birthday this year with a new musical. Children will love the Asterix the Gaul theme, while adults can enjoy one of 50 attractions and rollercoasters. A new attraction for this year is Numérobis, a sky swing that ascends gently to a height of 40m to provide views of Gaul below. Thrillseekers will love the Pégase Express and Zeus Thunder rollercoasters and there’s plenty for younger visitors too.

Three themed hotels add to the experience, and meals here can be purchased online in advance for as little as £7.84 per person. Meal deals range from €12.70 to €32 (cheaper for children).

Admission starts at £44.51 per adult and £41.08 per child (11 and under) for a one day ticket. Look out for promotions – currently one child under 11 goes free with a full-price adult ticket on week days (valid from 8 April to 3 May). Under 3s are free. Discounts available for group bookings. https://www.parcasterix.fr/en

Tivoli Gardens, Denmark

Tivoli Gardens, in the centre of Copenhagen, has an old-fashioned charm that will appeal to all generations. Opened in 1843 and said to have inspired Hans Christian Andersen and Walt Disney, it is a picture of grand buildings, elegant gardens, twinkling lights and roaming peacocks.

There aren’t many thrill rides here but the ferris wheel and carousel are universally popular – the emphasis is on nostalgia. There is, however, a vintage wooden rollercoaster and a legendary haunted house.

Tivoli’s central location makes it easy to access from local accommodation, as well as the city’s many cafes and restaurants but there is plenty to eat and drink in the Tivoli Food Hall as well, from salad bars and Danish smørrebrød to rotisserie chicken and world cuisine.

Admission starts at £48.12 for adults and £24 for children (7 and under) for entrance and unlimited rides. Under 3s are free. tivoli.dk/en

Family is having fun at amusement park. Fantasy themed amusement park Efteling in Kaatsheuvel, Holland, Netherlands, Europe. Attractions are based on elements from ancient myths, legends, fairy tales.
Fantasy-themed amusement park Efteling is based on ancient myths, legends and fairy tales (Photo: Natalia Deriabina/Getty/iStockphoto)

Efteling, Netherlands

If you’re really looking for the Sleeping Beauty castle experience, then this Dutch park is the perfect choice. Complete with jesters, dragons, kings and queens, children are transported to a fairytale world of verdant parkland dotted with Snow White’s house, Sleeping Beauty’s castle, Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house and more, while older visitors will be entertained by the high-octane rides. It’s green, spacious, fun and very European.

On-site accommodation options include lakeside self-catering holiday homes, cute woodland houses, and themed-hotel suites. There are 16 food outlets, and prices sit at around £12 for a pepperoni pizza in Pinocchio’s restaurant.

Admission starts at £37.66 for adults and all children over 4 years old. Under 3s are free. efteling.com/en

Europa Park, Germany

With 100 attractions, including 13 rollercoasters, divided across 16 European-country themed areas, Europa Park offers amazing value for money for adrenaline seekers and there is plenty to explore.

It’s situated in Rust, close to the border with Alsace in France and the Rhine, and attracts 6m visitors per year – little surprise given the breadth of what’s on offer. As well as rides, there’s a waterpark with an eight-flume racer, billed as “Europe’s largest speed slide”, an Austrian themed area, Phantom of the Opera coaster and magic shows.

Stay in one of the six park-owned hotels or the Camp Resort, and eat in one of 15 restaurants ranging from cafes to fine dining.

Admission starts at £52.63 per adult and £44.50 per child (11 and under). Under 3s are free. europapark.de/en

SALOU, TARRAGONA CATALONIA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 17: A group of people in costume put on a show on the opening day of PortAventura World 2023, February 17, 2023, in Salou, Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain. The amusement park starts its 2023 season today. One of the main novelties presented by PortAventura World in 2023 is the celebration of Carnival inside the park, inspired by the popular Brazilian and Italian traditions. The resort will be putting on a large number of shows, as well as activities such as batucadas, parades of troupes and floats that will tour the park on weekends in February and March. The park is also working on new attractions, which will open to the public in the spring. (Photo By Laia Solanellas/Europa Press via Getty Images)
The opening day of PortAventura World last year (Photo: Laia Solanellas/Europa Press via Getty)

PortAventura World, Spain

A weather-sure favourite where you can leave your waterproofs behind. Just an hour from Barcelona, it is close to the beaches and hotels of the Costa Dorada.

There are six worlds to explore and rides include the Shambhala rollercoaster, one of Europe’s tallest and fastest. There is a Sesame Street area, a big water park, a Ferrari-themed area (which has racing car simulators and Europe’s highest and fastest vertical accelerator that gives the same G-force experience thas F1 drivers) and six themed hotels plus more than 20 restaurants.

Admission starts at £34.23 for adults and £29.95 for children (10 and under) for one day, while the Caribe Aquatic Park starts at £23.24 and £24.82. Under 3s are free. portaventuraworld.com/en

Heide Park, Germany

Between the seven large rollercoasters and the charms of Peppa Pig Land, there are rides for all ages here, and with 41 of them, you’re unlikely to get bored.

The park is around 45 minutes’ drive south of Hamburg in Lower Saxony, set in extensive landscaped gardens, and highlights include a loop-the-loop inverted rollercoaster, the world’s fastest and tallest wooden one (up to 120kph) and a huge gyro drop-tower. 

Well-priced packages include two days’ entry, a night’s B&B at the Abenteuerhotel, and a dinner buffet including beer, wine and soft drinks that starts at £75.30pp (based on a family of two adults and two children). Room themes include pirates, the Wild West, Peppa Pig and Ghostbusters.

Admission starts at £33.37 for those over 12 or over 90cm tall. Under 12s and under 90cm free. heide-park.de/en/

BILLUND, DENMARK - SEPTEMBER 01: Entrance of the Legoland park on September 1, 2018 in Billund, Denmark. (Photo by Didier Messens/Getty Images)
Denmark’s Legoland is a family favourite (Photo: Didier Messens/Getty)

Legoland, Denmark

There are now 10 Legoland parks across the globe, from Windsor to Japan but what Lego-fan wouldn’t want to go to the birthplace of the original tiny plastic brick?

Legoland Billund is in the birthplace of Lego (you’ll find plenty more for fans including the Lego House visitor centre in the town centre) and is perhaps its most charming – full of colour and heritage.

And with 50 rides and attractions, there’s plenty to enjoy, not least the extensive Miniland constructed from 20m bricks. There are two on-site hotels and a holiday village, as well an all-you-can-eat buffet that starts at £14.75 per person. The quality of the food at the on-site hotels is also notable, with bread baked on site and around half of the produce organic.

Admission starts at £37.77 for everyone aged 3 and over. Under 2s are free. legoland.dk/en/

Gardaland, Italy

Sitting in the stunning setting of Lake Garda, you can combine your thrill-filled theme park visit with a relaxing Italian holiday.

Themed attractions include Peppa Pig Land, a Legoland waterpark and Jumanji The Adventure, but there are more than 40 rides to entertain, including a Kung Fu Panda coaster, Oblivion vertical drop and a mysterious new immersive attraction with special effects and sets opening in June.

There are three themed hotels and a wide selection of restaurants, including the Pizzeria Saloon where a margherita will only set you back around £6.

Admission starts at £37.64 per adult and £33.36 per child. Children under 90cm tall are free. gardaland.it/en/

@jaymimccann