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7 weird and wonderful theme parks in Europe

June 06, 2020
7 min read
Tropical Islands
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As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials' guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

Theme parks are a real winner in the summer. In the U.K., some of the big ones include Alton Towers, Thorpe Park or Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Remember getting up at the crack of dawn with a big picnic and driving for hours to get there before it opened, beside yourself with excitement? We do!

But besides the usual big hitters, there are plenty more lesser-known and more unusual theme parks dotted throughout Europe. So if enormous white knuckle rides aren't necessarily your thing, we've rounded up our picks of something a little (or, very) different for when it's possible to jump on a train or plane for some good old fashioned "themed fun."

1. Diggerland

(Photo courtesy of Diggerland)
(Photo courtesy of Diggerland)

Ever wanted to drive your own JCB digger while wearing a hard hat? Well, you can at Diggerland. With four locations across the U.K. -- Kent, Durham, Dorset and Yorkshire — it has 20 different rides and drives, including an actual excavator and a three-tonne digger. For younger kids, there are Go-Karts, bumper cars and an indoor play area with slides. Make sure you have a go on the Spindizzy, a huge bulldozer with seats in the bucket that lifts riders 50 feet into the air and spins around. Diggerland was created by Hugh Edeleanu, who runs a construction equipment hire company and saw how much kids love anything to do with big machines. General admission is $30, and children under 3 ft go free.

Read more: 7 of the best road trips around the UK

2. Popeye Village, Malta

MELLIEHA, MALTA - JUNE 28: A view from Popeye Village, built by director Robert Altman for the movie "Popeye - The sailor" in 1979, is seen in Mellieha, Malta on June 28, 2015. The village is open for visitors. (Photo by Emrah Guney/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
(Photo by Emrah Guney/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Popeye Village was originally built as a film set for the 1980 live-action musical Popeye, starring Robin Williams. It's located in Anchor Bay, two miles from the village of Mellieħa, in northern Malta. After the film production, Popeye Village -- or Sweethaven Village -- was turned into a small amusement park. Visitors can wander around the ramshackle buildings, meet characters and enjoy puppet shows. You can even watch the film there (it was a bit of a flop though, sadly). If you're a comic book fan and a Popeye purist, there's a comic museum, too. Entrance is free.

3. Tayto Park, Ireland

Ireland's only theme park is potato inspired. That's not a joke. Well, it's based on Taytos, the country's beloved brand of "crisps." Located in Co. Meath, it's also home to Ireland's only wooden roller coaster, the Cú Chulainn Coaster (Cu Chulainn was is an Irish mythological demi-god). There's an extreme climbing wall, a zoo, a 5D cinema and maybe most compelling, a Tayto factory tour. You can see for yourself how the country's favorite chips are made.

4. Efteling, the Netherlands

Dream flight ride at theme park The Efteling, Kaatsheuvel, The Netherlands. miniature fairy tale forest in Duiksehoef, Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands. (Photo by Mathieu van den Berk/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mathieu van den Berk/Getty Images)

Efteling, located in Kaatsheuvel in the Netherlands, is a place of pure whimsy. Based on mythology, fantasy, fables and folklore, it's like Narnia, "Game of Thrones" and Middle Earth all rolled into one. It's pretty vintage, as it opened in 1952 and started life as a playground. Efteling is also enormous at 180 acres, meaning it's bigger than Disneyland in California. You'll encounter elves, trolls and talking parrots, and the rides are all based on dark Brothers Grimm fairy tales. The park recommends two days to experience the whole thing, and you can stay overnight at the fairly new Loonsche Land hotel, which is a holiday village with hotel and woodland houses just 15 minutes’ walk from the main entrance. Loonse en Drunense Duinen National Park is also on the doorstep. Entry is $43 for adults and children age 4 and up.

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5. BonBon-Land, Denmark

BonBon-Land is in Holme Olstrup, about 60 miles from Copenhagen and will be right up your street if you're a fan of toilet humor. For instance, the roller coaster Henry the Dog is propelled by his own... wind. Apparently his flatulence "adds extra speed to the ride." The park's recurring theme seems to be flatulent animals, in fact. There's all sorts of other gross attractions include a vomiting rat, a peeing ant and a defecating seagull. BonBon-Land is the brainchild of confectioner Michael Spangsberg, whose sweets all had infantile and rude names -- he readily admitted he had the "mind of a 14-year-old boy." This place is definitely somewhere that has to be seen to be believed. Entry is from $30.

Read more: From Crete to Croatia: 11 best hiking spots in Europe

6. Tropical Islands, Germany

(Photo by picture alliance / Contributor/Getty Images)
(Photo by picture alliance/Contributor/Getty Images)

Tropical Islands has a certain Truman Show vibe to it -- it's housed in a former airship hangar and is the biggest free-standing hall in the world. It's also the world's largest indoor water park and at capacity, it can fit more than 8,000 visitors in a day. It's so vast you can even take a hot balloon ride inside it. As the name suggests, the temperature inside is hot -- 79 degrees Fahrenheit. There's a rainforest with 50,000 plants, a butterfly house and, of course, plenty of slides. Flamingos and other exotics birds roam around, too -- it really is like being in another universe. Tropical Islands is about 40 miles from Berlin and entry is $50 and children under 5 go free.

7. Under the Pier Show, Suffolk, U.K.

(Photo by Chris Radburn/PA Images via Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Radburn/PA Images via Getty Images)

The games at Under the Pier arcade in the seaside town of Southwold in Suffolk are seriously bonkers. Created by British engineer and cartoonist Tim Hunkin, the inventions on the pier's penny arcade are unusual, to say the least. Attractions include the Autofrisk, a device that simulates the experience of being frisked by multiple, inflated rubber gloves, the Bathyscape, a device that simulates a brief submarine adventure and Whack the Banker. Our favorite is the Fly Drive -- experience a fly's eye view of the world but beware of the fly swat. You'll leave feeling a bit confused and disoriented but this place is definitely worth a visit if you're ever in Southwold.

Bottom line

The theme parks we would usually go to may not be the best places to visit at the moment due to social distancing guidelines, even if they are open. So why not try one of these more off-the-beaten-track places? All are in the U.K. and just a short flight away.

Featured image by picture alliance via Getty Image