Sarah-Jane Eddon takes a family trip to Efteling, Europe's oldest theme park, and discovers a magical world of wonder
Reaching double figures is a milestone in any child’s life and, as parents to a newly-turned 10 year old, my husband and I wanted to do something special as a family to mark our son’s landmark birthday
So, no party was thrown this year. Instead we embarked on what would prove to be a totally magical adventure at Holland’s hidden family gem: Efteling theme park.
Dubbed ‘the biggest theme park you’ve never heard of’, Efteling is the oldest theme park in Europe – Walt Disney even paid a visit to get inspiration for his original Disneyland.
Spurred on by the promise of thrilling rollercoasters, enchanting attractions and exciting live shows, we set off on a three-day trip with our aforementioned 10 year old, Alfie, and his his friend Sam.
Inside Efteling theme park
From the moment we arrived, we realised that Efteling possesses a distinct character unlike it’s competitors. It may be one of the biggest theme parks in Europe, but in our eyes it is definitely the most magical.
Efteling places huge emphasis on bringing fairytales to life, and everywhere you turn there are elements of ancient myths, legends and folklore. Even disposing of rubbish is a wondrous experience, thanks to the park’s environmentally-minded interactive bins.
Unsurprisingly, the lure of the daredevil attractions proved irresistible for the boys, who made a beeline for one of the park’s most spectacular rides, Python, which sent them upside down and through turns at more than 45 miles per hour.
Later, as they tried out the river rapids ride Piraña, George and the Dragon, a double track wooden racer rollercoaster and even Baron 1898 with it’s hair raising 120 feet free-fall, we could only look on with eyes bulging as the boys shrieked with wild excitement.
A real plus point of the rides is that there is a maximum wait time of only 20 minutes, meaning that the children don’t get easily bored – which also makes for happy parents!
It’s not all thrills and spills though; the park is divided into several different areas that cater to differing tastes and ages. Whilst we were initially somewhat reticent to explore the Fairytale Forest, aimed at younger children, we ended up being pleasantly surprised and totally enchanted by the experience.
Here the boys went in search of Pinocchio, posed with Efteling characters (familiar faces include Rapunzel, Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin), walked among giants and trolls, and listened to stories from The Fairytale Tree – proof to us all, if needed, that fairytales do exist!
Come evening we enjoyed a lovely fish and chip supper before finding a prime spot to watch Aquanura, a spectacular water, light and fire show which happens every night, accompanied by music from one of Holland’s hottest DJs.
Another live experience worth seeing is Caro, a wonderful show full of humour, music and acrobatics.
Accommodation at Efteling
We checked in to Loonsche Land Hotel, just one of the accommodation options at Efteling. Upon being shown to our room, the boys immediately disappear up a wooden ladder into their ‘secret’ bunk beds. With their bed curtains drawn to stop adults eavesdropping, they start planning their days ahead in the theme park with military precision.
It was a 15-minute walk from our hotel to the park itself, which took us through some of the beautiful 177 acres of forest in which Efteling is set.
Following the winding road led us to the park’s VIP entrance, reserved for those staying in the hotel. With no queues on arrival, we were straight into the park.
Efteling’s other accommodation options include themed suites, cosy woodland cottages, tree houses and lakeside lodges.
Getting to Efteling
Located in southern Holland, Efteling is just 45 minutes from Rotterdam, half an hour from Eindhoven and three and a half hours from Calais.
One of the easiest ways to get there is by car. Taking the early morning P&O ferry from Dover to Calais, we felt rather joyous at reaching the Continent without facing long queues or delays at the airport gate.
Once ashore, a leisurely drive through France, Belgium and Holland brought us to Efteling in under four hours – with the inevitable stop off for snacks, of course.
On the return leg home, Alfie chirped up from the back seat: “So, what are we doing for my 11th birthday?” Now there’s a challenge! Efteling will undoubtedly be a tough act to follow.
Overnight breaks at Efteling start from £320 for a family of four, including breakfast and two days’ access to the park. See more at efteling.com.