But which are the top 20 theme parks in Europe?
We take a look at the parks which enjoyed the biggest attendance gains last season, as well as exploring why some of the leading parks continue to be so successful. Attendance figures are from this year’s Theme Index, which can be downloaded here.
The top 20 theme parks in Europe
1) Disneyland Park, Disneyland Paris, France – attendance 9.74 million
There was little change in attendance last year at Europe’s top theme park. The flagship property, Disneyland Park, at Disneyland Paris resort was down by 1 per cent to 9.74 million. This was consistent with a continent-wide trend of movement in no more than single percentage figures. This is not surprising given the maturity of the market in Europe.
Disneyland Paris’ tried and tested attractions kept guests coming in large numbers. This includes It’s a Small World, Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars Hyper Space Mountain.
The Magic Kingdom style park did not open any major new attractions in 2019. Towards the end of the year, however, the Autopia car ride opened with a new look including LED lighting.
Over the coming years, the wider resort is set for a €2 billion investment. Much of this will be spent transforming the neighbouring Walt Disney Studios Park. The Marvel retheme of Disneyland Paris’ Hotel New York, originally set for a summer 2020 debut, will now be unveiled at a later date.
2) Europa-Park, Germany – attendance 5.7 million
2019 was a top year to remember at Europe’s busiest non-Disney theme park, Europa-Park in Germany. Most significantly, owners, the Mack family launched the park’s largest-ever investment: the long-awaited Rulantica water park.
Built at a cost of around €180 million, the largely indoor offering features an inviting Scandinavian theme. Several of its slides and attractions are the first of their kind in Germany. The 32,600 square metre venue is linked directly to the Europa-Park’s resort’s sixth themed hotel, Krønasår. In addition, a new dark ride was added called Snorri Touren.
Overall it is the attention to detail that makes Europa-Park such a compelling place to visit. Rides and attractions are spread across themed areas representing 18 European nations. New for 2020 is a multi-million euro rebuild of the dark ride Pirates of Batavia.
Theme park attendance last season was a record 5.7 million. Once they are both operating again at full capacity and demand returns to pre COVID-19 levels, combined attendance at Europa-Park and Rulantica should comfortably surpass 6 million.
3) Efteling, The Netherlands – attendance 5.4 million
Next on the list of Europe’s top theme parks is Efteling. The Netherlands’ no.1 theme park had a static attendance of 5.4 million in 2019. Yet the fairytale-rich destination near Tilburg has performed exceptionally well over the past 10 years, having grown from 4 million visitors per year at the start of the decade.
Efteling has also introduced a 365-day operating calendar and a second holiday village, Loonsche Land. These have been instrumental in growing numbers and creating a more international guest profile.
The park has added some strong new attractions in recent years too. Just this June, it launched the fun twin coaster experience, Max & Moritz. This comes just six months after the opening of the new 4D experience Fabula from Aardman Animations.
Dark ride fans have heaped praise on Symbolica, which opened in 2017. Plus, there are high hopes for the upcoming relaunch of the classic Droomvlucht (Dreamflight). Meanwhile the B&M dive coaster Baron 1898 is as noteworthy for its excellent theming as its suspense and thrills.
With CARO, Aquanura and Ravelijn (produced in partnership with Puy du Fou), Efteling also provides some solid shows. For many families, a stroll through the Sprokjesbos (Fairytale Forest) remains a nostalgic ‘must-do’. Above all, this is a park that delivers the Holy Grail of themed attractions – storytelling – in spades.
4) Walt Disney Studios Park, Disneyland Paris, France – attendance 5.24 million
The second gate at Disneyland Paris is set for a transformative expansion over the coming years. In fact, the €2 billion of improvements planned by the Walt Disney Company across the wider Paris resort is greater than that invested in the Studios park when new.
At Walt Disney Studios Park, which comes in at number four on the list of Europe’s top theme parks, guests can enjoy such attractions including Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Toy Story Playland. The unique Ratatouille dark ride will soon be repeated at Epcot in Florida.
Closed for refurbishment is the former Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster. The indoor launch coaster will reopen in 2021 with a new Iron Man theme. This paves the way for the park’s new Marvel-themed area.
Avengers Campus is one of three new lands coming to Walt Disney Studios Park over the coming years. It will also be joined by Star Wars and Frozen-themed areas. Clustered around a lake, these will significantly increase the park’s footprint.
5) Tivoli Gardens, Denmark – attendance 4.58 million
Tivoli Gardens famously inspired Walt Disney during his pre-Disneyland research into the amusement industry. And the attraction is still delighting residents and visitors to Copenhagen after more than 175 years.
Inside this Danish institution, visitors can enjoy an intricately arranged array of entertainment, recreation and hospitality. Due to Tivoli’s landlocked location, there are a lot of aerial rides. These include the Star Flyer, Vertigo, Fata Morgana and Golden Tower. Particularly delightful are the scenic wooden coaster Rutschebanen and the Galley Ships. The park is also famed for its restaurants and concert programme.
The park and its attractions are beautifully designed. Tivoli Gardens takes cues from Art Deco, traditional Oriental architecture and influences closer to home. Together the rides, attractions and gardens generated 4.58 million visits in 2019. That figure represents a 5.5 per cent fall over 2018.
6) PortAventura, Spain – attendance 3.75 million
World-class rides and theming, on-site accommodation, the sea within easy reach and a beyond average does of sunshine make PortAventura, Spain’s leading theme park resort, a top draw for families from across Europe.
Joined by a second gate in 2017 in the form of Ferrari Land, the original PortAventura Park continues to impress. The Shambhala hypercoaster is as exhilarating as it is tall and long. The park’s water rides are popular for obvious reasons.
Entertaining many young guests is the family land SésamoAventura. One thing missing, until last season, was a dark ride. The award-winning Sesame Street: Street Mission was worth the wait.
Attendance last season was 3.75 million. Together with Ferrari Land and the Caribe Water Park, the three parks within the wider PortAventura World are thought to attract over 5 million annual visits. With over 2,000 rooms on site, the resort’s six hotels play an important part in driving such visitation. British, German and Russian families are among the biggest groups staying on site.
7) Liseberg, Sweden – attendance 2.95 million
Sweden’s top amusement park recorded a 3.5 per cent drop in attendance last season. However, in 2020 it will not open as the country adopts a unique response to the coronavirus. This is in common with other Swedish amusement parks and venues hosting more than 50 people,
So, Liseberg fans will have to wait until next spring to discover the secret underground world of the park’s rabbit mascots, as portrayed in an unashamedly old school dark ride called Uplandet.
Even bigger things are to come by 2023. A themed hotel and water park will arrive in time to mark the park’s 100th anniversary. This will transform Liseberg’s business model.
As with Tivoli in Copenhagen, one of the things that makes Liseberg such a valued community asset is its city centre status and its concert/events programme. The repeat visitation this brings explains its presence in the list of Europe’s top theme parks, in a country of little more than 10 million people.
8) Gardaland, Italy – attendance 2.92 million
Founded in 1975, Gardaland attracts close to three million annual visits. That makes it about twice as popular as Italy’s second-busiest amusement park, Mirabilandia and places it in 8th place on the list of the top theme parks in Europe.
Across the 60-hectare (64-acre) site, the attraction mix is rich. Guests can enjoy eight roller coasters, three water rides, three dark rides and some strongly themed family areas attractions. These include Peppa Pig Land and Kung Fu Panda Academy.
Also, Gardaland fans can enjoy a themed area dedicated to its friendly dragon mascot Prezzemolo, who is as old as the park itself.
Part of the Merlin Entertainments portfolio since 2006, the park has developed its resort offer over the past decade by adding a further two themed hotels (three now in total), a Sea Life aquarium and, new this year, Europe’s first Legoland Water Park. From its ‘Magic’ summer nights to Oktoberfest and Halloween, Gardaland’s seasonal celebrations are popular too.
9) Legoland Windsor, UK – attendance 2.45 million
The former Windsor Safari Park has never looked back since its relaunch as Legoland Windsor in 1996. Utilising the former attraction’s infrastructure gave the Lego Group a headstart when it came to developing the site to the west of London, which is perhaps the most topographically interesting of all the Legoland parks to date.
All the Legoland staples are there. From the Lego City Driving School and Dragon’s Apprentice coaster to Ninjago The Ride and of course the Miniland model city. An interesting attraction, now repeated in various guises at Legoland California, Dubai and Japan, is the submarine ride Deep Sea Adventure.
New for 2020, the Duplo Dino Coaster (pictured) offers young guests a ‘first coaster’ experience. In 2017, Legoland Windsor Resort debuted a new look Legoland Hotel concept. This has now been used at the blueprint for further hotels at Legoland resorts around the world.
Since 2015, the venue has been the UK’s top theme park in terms of visitation, and with a 5 per cent increase last season to 2.45 million, it experienced the third biggest attendance growth of any park in Europe.
10) Parc Astérix, France – attendance 2.33 million
Parc Astérix prides itself on having a homegrown French intellectual property at its core. As well as meeting Astérix, Obelix and the Gauls, guests can immerse themselves in themed lands dedicated to Ancient Greece and Egypt. In keeping with the comic books from which this top European park takes its name, there are plenty of humorous touches along the way.
Last year’s 30th anniversary season was a good one – and Parc Astérix’s age wasn’t the only number worth celebrating. A seven per cent attendance increase (the highest of any theme park in Europe) to 2,326,000 meant it climbed four places in the top 20.
It also eclipsed attendance at Puy du Fou to snatch back the title of France’s busiest non-Disney theme park. Furthermore, revenue was up 13 per cent.
Several capital intensive seasons are beginning to pay dividends for operator Compagnie des Alpes. As well as adding attractions such as 2017’s Pégase Express and last year’s Attention Menhir! 4D experience, the company has developed Parc Asterix’s resort offer with new accommodation. This includes La Cité Suspendue and Les Quais De Lutèce. The park’s first Christmas season also helped grow attendance last year.
11) Puy du Fou, France – 2.3 million
Puy du Fou in France is a unique and groundbreaking theme park and one of the top three in the country. It has been owned and run by the de Villiers family for the past forty years.
Winner of both the Thea Classic and Applause Award, Puy du Fou started life as a standalone evening show called Le Cinéscénie. A full theme park has since grown up around it.
Guests go from show to show as they witness spectacular reinterpretations of moments from French history. Casts of sometimes hundreds of human and animal performers (or thousands in the case of Le Cinéscénie) perform against a backdrop of moving sets and special effects.
There is one ride, a small carousel in the Bourge 1900 village. But it’s merely an ‘extra’ in a park where the shows are the stars. After setting up productions in England and the Netherlands, plus a second park in Spain, Puy du Fou is now exporting its unique entertainment model across the globe, with China next on the list.
12) Parque Warner Madrid, Spain – attendance 2.23 million
Visitor numbers were up 2.2 per cent to 2.23 million last season at Parque Warner Madrid, bringing it to 12th place on the list of Europe’s top theme parks. Operated by Parques Reunidos since 2007, it is now a sister property to Parc de Atracciones Madrid.
The park was built in partnership with Six Flags, which operated it as Warner Bros Movie World for its first three seasons, from 2002 to 2004. While the German park of the same name was rebranded as simply Movie Park after Six Flags’ departure, the Madrid venue has kept its Warner licence.
In addition to Looney Tunes characters, guests can also enjoy shows and meet-and-greet opportunities with DC Comic superheroes.
New thrill rides have been few and far between since the impressive arsenal of attractions assembled at launch. This includes two B&M coasters, a huge wooden coaster, a triple tower ride and three water rides. Yet Parques Reunidos has expanded the offer with the addition of Parque Warner Beach (pictured).
13) Alton Towers, UK – attendance 2.13 million
Alton Towers is celebrating its 40th anniversary as a theme park in 2020. Its roller coasters such as Nemesis, Rita and The Smiler keep guests coming from around the country. Meanwhile, it also has three themed hotels, lodges, treehouses and an indoor water park. This makes the wider Alton Towers Resort an attractive short break destination.
A big hit with young guests and their families is CBeebies Land. This will be joined in 2021 by a Gangsta Granny dark ride, based on tales from children’s author David Walliams. In addition, visitors can still explore the site’s well-kept gardens, which predate the theme park.
Attendance soared in 2018 following the launch of the wonderfully immersive Wicker Man wooden coaster (pictured). Last year 2.13 visits were made to the site in the heart of the Staffordshire Moorlands.
14) Phantasialand, Germany – attendance 2.05 million
Like all great family-owned theme parks, Phantasialand provides a unique experience to its guests. Topping 2.05 million visits in 2019, it overtook Legoland Deutschland to become Germany’s second busiest park and the 14th best-attended theme park in Europe.
Whereas the Lego-themed venue in Bavaria features rides that are repeated at Lego theme parks across the world, many of the offerings at Phantasialand (south of Cologne) are one-of-a-kind.
For example, guest can enjoy the very long and extensively themed log flume Chiapas with its wonderful Mexican theming (as pictured). Another masterpiece is the Klugheim themed area, home to the roller coasters Taron and Raik. Coming soon is the new area Rookburgh, featuring the world’s longest flying coaster (F.L.Y.) and a Steampunk themed hotel.
The Maus Au Chocolat interactive dark ride has been accomplished with real flair and is entertaining and humorous. The Löffelhardt family has been able to immerse its guests at every turn in a park with relatively limited space and several planning restrictions. This is a tribute to its creativity.
15) Legoland Billund, Denmark – attendance 1.95 million
Located close to Lego Group’s headquarters, Legoland Billund, the world’s first Legoland park is still going strong after over 50 years. Its ability to attract almost two million guests a year (1.95 million in 2019) to a town with a population of just over 6,500 is proof of the pulling power of the famous toy brick.
2019 was a top year, with visitor numbers up 5.5 per cent to achieve the second-highest theme park growth in Europe.
On its debut in 1968, Legoland comprised little more than a train ride circling a Lego model village. Named Miniland, the latter is now a key component of all nine Legoland parks (with three more on the way) and 27 Legoland Discovery Centres around the world.
Today, Legoland Billund’s resort status is defined by its two on-site hotels. Versions of most attractions inside the park can now be found at the other Legoland parks. Yet it does also boast some unique features like Legoredo Town and Polar Town. New for 2021, it will receive Europe’s first Lego Movie World.
With the opening of Lego House in 2018, Billund’s global status as the epicentre of Lego tourism has been cemented for years to come.
16) Thorpe Park, UK – attendance 1.9 million
A former gravel pit a few miles south of London’s Heathrow Airport, Thorpe Park became a visitor attraction in 1979. Along with Alton Towers and Chessington Worlds of Adventures, it was one of three UK parks picked up by Merlin Entertainments when the company acquired the Tussauds group in 2007.
Due to its relatively close proximity to Chessington (and also Legoland Windsor,), Merlin decided to differentiate the offering at Thorpe Park. Here the focus is on a thrill-hungry young guest, whereas Chessington is now geared more towards families.
Following the launch of world’s first 10-inversion roller coaster in 2002, Colossus, a flurry of new coasters followed. These include Nemesis Inferno, SAW – The Ride, Stealth and The Swarm. As well as SAW, the Walking Dead and Angry Birds brands are also featured in the park.
On of Thorpe Park’s most unique attractions is Derren Brown’s Ghost Train. Fusing live-action, special effects and a terrifying VR experience set on a London tube train, it’s unlike any other ghost train.
16) Futuroscope, France – attendance 1.9 million
In joint 16th place on the list of the top theme parks in Europe is Futuroscope. Though some have made comparisons to Epcot, this park in the west of France is something of a unique offering. “Futuroscope is the intelligent theme park,” says a statement on its website.
This summer Futuroscope opened its first roller coaster, Objectif Mars. Yet most of its main attractions are film and media-based offerings, housed in often eye-catching pavilions.
These include the IMAX-based astronaut mission Through Thomas Pesquet’s Eyes, L’Extraordinaire Voyage flying theatre, The Kube Mysteries with its video-mapped set, La Forge aux Étoiles night show and an interactive dark ride featuring the Rabbids.
Opened in 1987, the venue is located outside the city of Poitiers, between the Loire Valley, La Rochelle and Bordeaux. Many of its attractions are indoors and it isn’t as reliant on family groups as more traditional theme parks. This means that the park has a long operating season (February to December).
Futuroscope was built with public money upon its launch. Then, a 45% stake in the park’s operating company was allocated to Compagnie des Alpes in 2014. A €304 million expansion including a state-of-the-art water park and two hotels was recently approved by the Vienne Department Council.
18) Legoland Deutschland, Germany – attendance 1.7 million
Legoland Deutschland opened in 2002 outside the town of Günzburg. It now hosts 1.7 million visits a year, making it 18th on the list of Europe’s top theme parks.
The layout of the 43-hectare (107-acre) site served as the blueprint for subsequent Legolands. Legoland Deutschland Resort has also pioneered themed accommodation offerings. For example, the Lego Castle Hotel, since rolled to out to several other Legoland sites, and Pirate Island Hotel.
It is home to all the tried and tested Legoland favourites. Plus, the site in Günzburg also features some unique offerings. For instance, the Land Der er Pharaonen (pictured) and a Lego gallery of football stars.
The park was built before the Legoland Parks business was taken over by Merlin. However, Germany has proved to be a good market for the world’s second-largest visitor attraction operator. It chose Berlin as the location for the world’s first Legoland Discovery Centre, which opened in 2007. Now repeated at 26 other locations around the world, a second German outlet can be found in Oberhausen.
18) Heide Park, Germany – attendance 1.7 million
18th place on the list of Europe’s top theme parks is another tie, shared by Heide Park and Legoland Deutschland. Heide Park is located in Soltau, roughly midway between Bremen, Hannover and Hamburg. It enjoys resort status with its on-site Abenteuer (Adventure) Hotel and Holiday Camp.
The 850-hectare destination was founded by showman Hans-Jürgen Tiemann on the site of a former wildlife park.
Along with venues like Alton Towers, Bobbejaanland and Holiday Park, it’s one of several big European amusement parks that flourished during the 1980s but are now in corporate hands. The park’s Wildwasserbahn log flume and Big Loop roller coaster are a legacy from that time.
Today guests can enjoy the looping coaster alongside the ‘Big Seven’ thrill rides, which also include Colossos – Kampf der Giganten, Flug der Dämonen, Desert Race, Krake, Limit and Scream. Merlin, which picked up the park when it acquired the Tussauds group in 2007, has also introduced IP-led experiences including Peppa Pig Land and the interactive dark ride Ghostbusters 5D.
20) Chessington World of Adventures, UK – attendance 1.69 million
Yet another Merlin Entertainments property in the list of Europe’s top theme parks is Chessington World of Adventures. This family-friendly attraction has roots as a zoo going back to 1931. Animals still form a key part of the offering.
Guests are invited to take an off-road truck journey across African-themed plains on Zufari. Meanwhile, those staying overnight in Safari & Azteca Hotels can enjoy a totally immersive experience with themed rooms and animal encounters at the nearby Wanyama Reserve.
Recently, two intellectual properties from children’s author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler have been added. The Gruffalo River Ride Adventure takes passengers on a magical riverboat journey through the deep dark wood. Meanwhile, Room on the Broom – A Magical Journey is a walk-through experience that invites guests to interact with characters from the book of the same name.
New for 2020 is the colourful Elmer’s Flying Dumbos ride. In addition to the rides, attractions and zoo, Chessington also includes a Sea Life centre. Even the park’s carousel has an animal theme.
The ranking of parks above is based on the Top 20 Amusement/Theme Parks in the EMEA (Europe and the Middle East) region, as identified by the TEA and AECOM in the Theme Index 2019. No parks in the Middle East had a big enough attendance to feature in the list.
Images courtesy of parks featured unless stated otherwise. Background image: Klugheim coaster, copyright Phantasialand.