World’s best alternative theme parks

Last updated 19th November 2018

Theme parks hold a magical attraction for kids (and grown-up kids!) but there’s a whole world of fantasy beyond Disney, Alton Towers and the other tried-and-tested parks. Hold on tight, because Namrata Bhawnani has found the world’s most wonderful and off-beat alternative theme parks for families.


Black Mamba. Photo: Phantasialand

1/7 Phantasialand, Germany

At Phantasialand, six themed islands are home to awesome attractions for all ages, with rides ranging from gentle to truly stomach churning. There are rollercoasters, live shows and even a Mystery Castle to explore. Taron is the fastest multi-launch coaster in the world, while RAIK is the world’s longest family boomerang. Other highlights include the Black Mamba roller coaster, Winja’s Fear & Force and Maus au Chocolat, a ride with 3D effects.

In the later months of the year, Phantasialand creates a winter wonderland with illuminations and Christmas market. For accommodation, check into Ling Bao, the park’s four-star theme hotel.

Where: Brühl, about 20km from Cologne

When: Open late March to early November, and late November to early January

Price: Day tickets for adults cost £40.65 and £32 for children (aged 4–11). Children under four enter free


Spindizzy. Photo: Diggerland

2/7 Diggerland, England

If it never crossed your mind that a construction site could be a playground for kids, we don’t blame you. But Diggerland is a theme park experience where kids can ride, drive and operate real diggers. After all, full-size construction machinery will keep a child of any disposition happy.

The Skyshuttle raises you 50 feet up in the air, while Spindizzy, a giant digger bucket, tosses you around like, well, dirt. Hop on the JCB 8065 tracked excavator that looks like it’s easy to muck about in, but more challenging than you think.

Where: Kent, Devon Durham, Yorkshire

When: Open February–October, 2017

Price: Advance booking: £16.99;  Pay on the day: £19.95. Children under 90 cm go free


Photo: Bon-bon Land

3/7 Bon-bon Land, Denmark

You wouldn’t think bodily functions make for appealing theme park inspiration, but the popular Bon-bon Land thrives on anything that will make you say gross! With rides like Dog Fart Roller Coaster, vomiting rats and urinating ants, it basically opens the door for potty humour, which should keep the kids giggling all day.

If you love water rides, try Pelle Pirate Sprøjt, which is open when the temperature is above 15 degrees (usually between June and August).

Where: Holmegaard, Denmark

Price: Approximately £23. Children under 90 cm go free. Book in advance for savings


4/7 Santa Park, Finland

While strictly not a theme park, you have to admit it’s very hard to resist the big man himself. Santa Park is built in an underground network of caves where Santa and his elves meet all the children – naughty and nice. There’s even an Elf School, Mrs Claus’s Gingerbread Kitchen, a magic sleigh ride and an Ice Princess gallery.

Apparently, even Santa is an Angry Birds fan. Kids will love the Angry Birds Activity Park, which means mums and dads will be free to fortify themselves with a drink at the Ice Bar.

The exciting part is that it is the only place in the world where the Arctic Circle can be crossed from below – think 50 m below ground. And what’s better than an Arctic Circle Undercrossing Certificate to prove it?

When: 26 June – 12 August, 2017. Christmas: 18 Nov, 2017 – 13 Jan, 2018

Where: Two kms from Rovaniemi airport, 8 kms from Rovaniemi city centre. There are daily flights and trains between Rovaniemi and Helsinki

Price: An adult ticket costs £17.50, Children (age 3-12) costs £15. Children under three go free


5/7 Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi, UAE

The UAE never does anything by half measures and Ferrari World is no different. The swanky theme park is all about big thrills – 20 Ferrari-themed rides, a racing simulator and Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster. Kids will love the 4D experience of Adventure with Nello, a wicked Ferrari driver who dives into oceans, flies over cliffs and goes through ice caves. In Ferrari Driving School, kids can also learn to pilot a wee F1 racer.

Soon the park will see a mega coaster called Turbo Track that will zip through not just inside and outside the park – but launch you above the iconic red roof!

Where: Drive to Ferrari World on Yas Island from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. There is also a free shuttle service

Price: £80 for an adult day ticket, and £68 for a junior ticket


6/7 Harmonyland, Japan

Japan is a treasure trove of the weird and the offbeat, and theme parks are no exception. A Hello Kitty theme is a surefire hit with the younger ones. Kids can get a selfie with Hello Kitty in Kitty Castle, hop on the Ferris Wheel to peep at Beppu Bay 60 feet above the ground. They can also meet Sanrio characters like Cinnamon and My Melody.

It’s an enchanting world with coasters, boat rides, parades and Kitty’s Dream Factory.

Where: Oita Prefecture, Kyushu

Price: Tickets cost £21

7/7 Efteling, the Netherlands

As well as all the thrilling rollercoasters and rides you’d expect to find at a theme park, Efteling boasts an enchanting Fairytale Forest, which is home to a host of characters from your favourite fairy stories. Don’t miss the the amazing live show Raveleijn, which features a fire-breathing dragon, and Europe’s largest water show, Aquanura. One day at Efteling simply isn’t enough, so stay at the four-star hotel or woodland lodge, both a short stroll from the park.

Where: 1.5 hours from Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Price: From £30.90 for a day ticket

Don’t miss our top tips for visiting theme parks with kids