Coast Through European Amusement Parks

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

Summertime is quite possibly one of my favorite times of year. Gone are the winter coats and boots, no sidewalks to shovel and the sun makes its glorious return. You can hike through seemingly endless vineyards, bask in the warmth of sun-drenched beaches, or spend a lazy afternoon reading outside. However, for those looking for an adrenaline fix, you can explore one of Europe’s amazing amusement parks. You may find that they’re not quite the same as American parks, but that just adds to the fun of it. Here are five parks full of gravity-defying rides, fantastic kids’ areas and of course, fried junk food — European style.

Alton Towers — Staffordshire, England

Located smack dab in the middle of England, Alton Towers is the second-most visited amusement park in the U.K. It was opened in 1924, by a coalition of local businessmen wanting to restore the garden area as a tourist destination. In the 1970s, a property developer bought controlling stake in the company and decided to add rides and thus, the modern Alton Towers was born.

Consisting of a theme park and water park, Alton Towers is divided into 12 themed areas and has earned several bragging rights. It is home to the world’s first vertical drop roller coaster (Oblivion), Europe’s first inverted coaster (Nemesis), and proudly boasts the world record for most inversions (14) on a roller coaster (The Smiler). A new wooden coaster opens in the spring this year. www.altontowers.com

Blackpool Pleasure Beach — Blackpool, England

If you’re a film buff, you’ll recognize Blackpool Pleasure Beach from “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” Founded in 1896, the park has been owned and operated by the same family since its inception. Set along the coast of the Irish Sea in northwest England, this amusement park is reminiscent of Coney Island (if you’re from the East Coast) or the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (if you’re from the West Coast).

With 11 roller coasters, there are plenty of thrills to be had at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Home to the tallest coaster in England (The Big One), a new double-launch ride (Icon) opens this upcoming spring. It is also one of only two parks in the world that still operates a wooden Wild Mouse ride, and the only one that operates a steeplechase ride. Little ones can find their favorite sponge that lives in a pineapple under the sea at Nickelodeon Land, or go on adventures with Dora the Explorer and Wallace and Gromit. www.blackpoolpleasurebeach.com

Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios — Marne-la-Vallée, France

Initially met with controversial fanfare, on April 12, 1992, Euro Disney opened its gates to the public. Billed as the European Disneyland, expectations were high. For the first decade, attendance was below expectation and bankruptcy seemed almost inevitable. After rebranding and opening a second park, Disneyland Paris has become the most-visited theme park in Europe. Although it may be smaller than its American counterparts, there is still plenty of pixie dust and Disney magic to be found.

Visitors will find many identical and quintessential Disney rides — Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and more — as well as some unique to the French location. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril were the first rides to feature inversions at a Disney Park. Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain (previously Space Mountain) was the first version of the ride to feature a launch start. Quick tip: Purchase your tickets at the gate, as they offer a very generous military discount. www.disneylandparis.com

Europa-Park — Rust, Germany

Located on the French-German border near the Black Forest, Europa-Park is Germany’s largest amusement park. Drawing more than 5 million visitors per year, it’s the second most-visited in Europe. It opened in 1975, after developers took a trip to Disney World in Florida and were inspired. The park is separated into 17 themed areas, 14 of which are different countries.

Adrenaline junkies will be in heaven with the vast amount of roller coasters. Feel the wind rush beneath your feet on the Arthur ride, or experience virtual reality while riding on Pegasus. Fly through the sky in the newly-opened Volarium, or test your gravity (and your lunch) on Eur-Mir.  Need a break? Head to The Food Loop restaurant, where your meal comes to your table via its own ride. www.europapark.de

Tivoli Gardens — Copenhagen, Denmark

Conveniently located next to the Copenhagen Train Station, Tivoli Gardens is right in the middle of the city. Opened in 1843, it is actually the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world (the oldest is also located in Denmark). With lush gardens, the park serves multiple purposes aside from thrill rides. Throughout the year, it’s also home to games, musical theater, ballet and concerts.

Experience the death-defying thrills of The Demon, or feel the heart-pounding pressure of the force of 5Gs on Vertigo. For those seeking slightly less excitement, catch the stunning skyline of downtown Copenhagen from the Ferris Wheel or stroll through the lush gardens and catch your breath. www.tivoligardens.com

Whether you go to one or all of these European amusement parks, you’ll be in for an adventure full of twists, turns and most importantly – lots of fun!

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