Few things in life bring about excitement, joy and nostalgia like a good theme park. While many people grew up going to Walt Disney's magical parks, magic can be found at many theme parks around the world. Whether you're seeking thrills, want to see the world through a new lens or challenge yourself to try new things, theme parks around the globe immerse visitors in experiences beyond their wildest dreams.
Many vacation destinations around the world do a great job of helping visitors relax and detach from the stresses of everyday life, but only a few successfully build places that genuinely take their guests into new lands, to the highest heights and even into the future. Theme parks are those places. By making what seems impossible possible, theme parks nurture a world of possibility. For many of these parks, they are also a stamp in history, allowing visitors to step into the past and see the world as it once was.
Whether you're looking for the world's fastest roller coaster, somewhere to take the whole family or see incredible live entertainment, there is something for everyone in the world of theme parks. As you're looking for your next theme park adventure, here are 20 you're going to want to visit.
20 Europa Park: A Tour of Europe
This park, located in Rust, Germany, has been around for more than 40 years, serving both the thrill-seeking, roller coaster addicts and those needing something a little tamer. Europa is incredible because it gives its 6 million annual visitors a taste of Europe, with themed sections covering 15 countries in Europe alongside some fictitious lands too. While touring Europe, visitors will also find themselves participating in the Brothers Grimm fairytales, from visiting Sleeping Beauty's Castle to saving Rapunzel from her tower.
While touring this concentrated European continent, visitors will also see something quite familiar if they've been to Walt Disney World. In 1989, they added a geodesic dome (much like the prominent ball people associate with Walt Disney World's EPCOT), which houses a space-themed roller coaster. And for those looking for something a bit slower, Europa boasts the largest flight motion simulator in Europe, allowing visitors to fly over Europe in an experience that stimulates the senses and makes them feel as though they are indeed flying.
There is too much to see and do in one day at Europa Park, so spending two or three should do the trick to experience this bucket-list park.
19 Puy de Fu: French History Meets Renaissance Fair
What this incredible park lacks in rides, it makes up ten-fold in shows. Puy de Fu, in Les Epesses, France, is only second in popularity to Disneyland Paris, and for a good reason. Its award-winning shows bring in 2 million guests every year. It began in 1978 as a place for amateur actors to reenact The War in the Vendée in 1793. While it wasn't the most successful at its beginning, the founder, Philippe de Villiers, transformed it into a fantastic theme park with historical reenactments and stunt shows that draw in and amaze crowds.
What feels like family fun, also serves as an interactive spectacle, taking visitors back in time to see the Vikings and watching the Gladiators in combat. The grand finale show, La Cinéscénie is an epic reenactment of the 700 years of history in the area.
For those who enjoy live entertainment, Renaissance Fairs and history, this is the park for you. Plan for a day or two at this park to get the full experience. To top everything off, not only is this an award-winning theme park, it's about half the cost of Disneyland Paris and you don't even have to tell your kids it doubles as an educational trip!
18 IMG Worlds of Adventure: The Theme Park of the Future
IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai recently took the throne as the largest indoor theme park in the world. Covering 34 acres, it is entirely indoors so visitors can enjoy it year-round despite the hot climate. IMG Worlds has four "adventure zones" which include the Marvel universe, Cartoon Network, Dinosaurs and IMG Boulevard. In other words, there is a lot to see and do for people of all ages.
For those looking for excitement, IMG Worlds of Adventure earned the bragging rights to the fastest and tallest coaster in the emirate, the Velociraptor.
This coaster gets to 60 miles per hour in three seconds and takes riders on eight loops. While that might satisfy roller coaster aficionados, this park also gives cartoon lovers a lot to enjoy. Visitors can fly like the Powerpuff Girls on Mojo Jojo’s Robot Rampage!, enter the World of Gumball or join Finn and Jake from Adventure Time on the monorail.
It doesn't stop there, though. There are ample shopping and dining to enjoy if you're looking for a more leisurely day. With all the television and movie-themed attractions, it's not surprising that there is also a 12-screen movie theater onsite.
With more than 20 rides and attractions, it's a park worth visiting year-round.
17 Tivoli Gardens: A Real-Life Fairytale
This stunning park in Denmark is one of the oldest operating theme parks in the world. At 175 years old, this park has gained global attention. Its history is rich, bringing even more life to this vibrant park. When its creator Georg Carstensen asked the king for permission to build it, he swayed him by saying, "When the people are amusing themselves, they do not think about politics." And so its story began.
When it opened, visitors were quite literally in awe at the beauty of the grounds. Among those visitors was Hans Christian Andersen, who we know today as the creator of many classic fairytales. Visitors can enjoy Andersen's work on one of its rides, The Flying Trunk, which takes riders through 32 of his fairytale settings. Walt Disney even made a pilgrimage to Tivoli Gardens to draw inspiration for his parks.
Given its long history, you might have guessed that it operates one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the world too. Roller coaster enthusiasts may like this coaster for more than its history, but also for its classic design. An operator must control the breaks to keep it from gaining too much speed, make it a different experience each time.
There are many other rides that the entire family can enjoy, and they are very aesthetically pleasing. Plan to visit this incredible park, but wait until March through June, as it's closed for the colder months.
16 Beto Carrero World: Exploring New Worlds
Beto Carrero World is Latin America's largest theme park, and arguably its best theme park. There is endless entertainment, attractions, dining and fun theming to tie it all together into one magical theme. One of the most incredible features of this park is its castle. While theme park castles have become synonymous with Disney parks, Castelo das Nações, or Castle of Nations, is painted with a vibrant blend of colors, which rivals the beauty of Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World.
Each themed world gives visitors a new land to explore, with Animal Land, Pirate's Island and Fantasy Land to name a few.
For thrill-seekers, the Fire Whip is the ultimate coaster. It provides a bird's eye view of the park before taking riders on corkscrew turns and loops at just over 60 miles per hour.
Beto Carrero World also shares a partnership with DreamWorks and Universal, so films like Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda are brought to life throughout the park. That connection to pop culture and fun characters gives the park a Disney feel.
With such an expanse of attractions, the exploration of this incredible 3,500-acre park could take days.
15 Dollywood: In the Heart of the Great Smoky Mountains
Named after The Smoky Mountain Songbird herself, Dolly Parton, Dollywood is one amazing park. Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, this park puts the "theme" in theme park. Visitors can stroll through the historical and cultural delights of Tennessee, from the music to the food to the arts. Its star ride, The Lightning Rod, boasts a 73 mile-per-hour peak speed, making it the world's fastest wooden roller coaster.
Dollywood isn't all thrills, however. Throughout the park visitors can enjoy tamer coasters and gentler rides as well. The holiday season theming of the park is also a sight to behold, with millions of lights adorning the already intricately themed park. Dolly Parton is well-known for her love of children, which is reflected in the design and programming of this park. There's even a water park to add to the experience and allow visitors to cool off.
Something not to be missed at Dollywood is their Smoky Mountain Christmas. Walking through the park lit up with more than 4 million lights is a sight to behold. There is also endless entertainment, from parades and musical acts to a live performance of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. And, of course, Santa himself is there too!
Bottom line, Dollywood brings theme park excitement and fresh mountain air all in one place.
14 Silver Dollar City: Jed Clampett Was Here
Have you ever wondered what it was like to live during the 1800s? Silver Dollar City in Branson Missouri is the park to visit. Not only is this theme park packed with more than 40 rides and attractions, what makes this park incredible is the cave it's built around.
Silver Dollar City began as little more than tours of the caves and then evolved into the great park it is today. This legacy has been protected and cherished since the park began to expand.
Every admission ticket includes a cave tour, which involves going 500 feet underground and touring the cave, which is still living and growing underneath the feet of the theme park's visitors.
But don't worry, while you do have to walk down, there is an original cable car to carry cave tourists the half mile back up.
Silver Dollar City also shares some roots in classic TV. The Beverly Hillbillies, who are from the area, visited the park in one of its episodes, not only putting the park on the map but the city of Branson in general.
At less than $100 a person for a three-day ticket, this park is a steal for the unbelievable experience you're sure to have.
13 Cedar Point: The Roller Coaster Capital of the World
Cedar Point is an absolute mecca for coaster enthusiasts. Dubbed the "roller coaster capital of the world," As the second oldest theme park in America, Cedar Point is a slice of American history. While there are more than 70 rides and other attractions, it's home to 18 roller coasters which reign supreme at this park. There is a roller coaster for everyone at Cedar Point, ranging from wooden to steel, and thrilling to gentle.
A highlight of this park is the most recent roller coaster to open. It's aptly named Steel Vengeance, as this coaster broke records as "the world’s first steel-on-wood hybrid roller coaster to stand over 200 feet tall."
To fully take in the 364 acres of park Cedar Point has to offer, you should probably plan to visit for at least two days. It's primarily open May - September, so start planning your next summer vacation!
12 Ferrari World: Start Your Engines
Visitors enter the world of racing at Ferrari World, with roller coasters, family experiences and entertainment. People young and old can live their dreams of getting behind the wheel of a Ferrari, whether it's in small cars for kids or in the driving simulator.
Is it any surprise that a park named Ferrari World would be the theme park to build the fastest roller coaster in the world? This rollercoaster, Formula Rossa, holds the crown for the fastest, reaching a top speed of 150 miles per hour.
But, that isn't all this park has to offer. Its architecture is also something to behold, as it also has the record for the largest space frame structure ever built.
If you're looking for a park with racing thrills, this cutting-edge park might just be the perfect place to check out.
11 Glenwood Adventure Park: Mountain Escape, Theme Park Fun
Glenwood Adventure Park is an incredible experience for several reasons. The park itself is 7,100 feet above sea level, tucked away at the top of a mountain. Visitors can soar down the mountain in a zip-line ride, ride the giant canyon swing and take a tour of the caverns.
Perhaps the most incredible part of this park is the alpine coaster. This was the first alpine coaster in the US, which takes riders down 3,400 feet down the side of a mountain, getting riders up close and personal with nature.
Glenwood Adventure Park also has excellent lodging, and at the end of a busy day, there are hot springs for relaxing and recharging. This is a mountain retreat that comes with the peaceful setting of the mountains and the excitement of a theme park.
10 Gardaland: Adventures in Italy
Gardaland, situated near Lake Garda in Italy, is an excellent theme park choice for families. This impeccably themed park is one of the world's best and boasts nearly 40 rides, including seven roller coasters and four water rides. The lands throughout create a fun atmosphere, with several themed areas taking visitors out of reality and into fantasy. Its grounds are amazing and look like something out Alice in Wonderland.
While this park is very family friendly, there are ample activities for older kids and adults too. The roller coasters take riders on loops and turns all throughout the park, while the water rides provide a cool down and quick thrill as well.
Gardaland also offers something many theme parks don't: an aquarium. With 200,000 sea creatures, guests can get up close and personal with a diverse array of sea life.
Gardaland has been named one of the top amusement parks in the world by Forbes. With its themed hotels, guests can fully immerse themselves in the fun of Gardaland, making it an all-encompassing adventure.
9 Hersheypark: Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
While this is no real-life Wonka Factory, there is an abundance of fun and chocolate at Hersheypark. Out of the nearly 80 rides at this park, 17 are coasters and 14 are water rides. It also has a carnival feel, with some cool upgrades to traditional carnival attractions.
Want a laugh? Hop on the Laff Track to ride through a hilarious funhouse complete with all the crazy and distorted sights that put the "fun" in Fun House. Want to satisfy your sweet tooth? Go to Hershey's Chocolate World to build your own candy bar or take a tour to see how the cocoa bean becomes the delicious chocolate we all love and enjoy.
If that weren't enough, there is an 11-acre zoo on site which houses 200 native North American animals. Hersheypark is open year-round, with seasonal events to make this incredible theme park even more amazing!
8 Edo Wonderland: Living in 17th Century Japan
Step back into 17th century Japan by visiting Edo Wonderland and be immersed in the culture, art and history of this period. In Edo Wonderland in Nikko, Japan, each area makes up an entire village full of people, architecture and experiences straight out of a history book. From the Road to Edo to Ninja Village to the Samurai Residence, the exploration of this park provides something new at every turn.
While this park is light on rides, it's heavy on putting visitors into the story. Visitors are encouraged to dress up, and can even get fitted by staff to blend in with the crowd. Not only that, kids can dress as samurais and princesses.
For those looking for an educational experience alongside a day of fun, Edo Wonderland is the park for you.
7 Busch Gardens: Down in Africa
Busch Gardens is a theme park to its core, and while its founding and namesake is shared with that of Anhaueser-Busch beer, it no longer the brewery that it started out as. Now, this Africa-themed park is so much more.
Unlike many parks around the world which feature European countries, Busch Gardens takes visitors around African countries, from Morocco to Egypt to Nairobi. Each area offers something different, but you can expect to find great food, fun rides, animal viewing areas and live entertainment throughout.
This park is also big on special events. They celebrate many significant holidays with festivities, including Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s. There are also fun festivals and live music series throughout the year. Food and wine fans should visit in March or April to catch the annual Food and Wine Festival, which fills the weekends with live music, bites and wine samplings.
And of course, there are plenty of rides for visitors to enjoy, too. Adrenaline junkies can free-fall 335 feet on the Falcon’s Foot, while the Florida sun will certainly invite you to cool off on the Congo River Rapids. The Skyride and Serengeti Express allow visitors to see the animals in the park in different ways. With more than 20 rides, four live shows and over 12,000 animals, there is so much to see and do.
6 King's Island: The King of Theme Parks
One of the most popular parks in the US, "Ohio's biggest playground" is a can't miss theme park for anyone. With more than 50 rides, including a dozen roller coasters, a water park and live entertainment, there is something for everyone at King's Island. Visitors who enjoy old TV shows might even recognize this park as it appeared in both The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family.
King's Island is also a record-breaking park on many fronts. The roller coasters provide a golden opportunity for those looking to ride roller coasters.
Its wooden roller coaster called The Beast remains the longest wooden coaster in the world at 7,359 feet long, while the steel coaster Banshee is the longest inverted coaster in the world, coming in at 4,124 feet.
Further, King's Island offers a plethora of experiences. Visitors can visit Coney Mall, a Coney Island-themed strip, and ride one of the original park rides, The Racer. This rollercoaster is said to have revived the public’s interest in roller coasters, which makes it a must ride for roller coaster buffs. There is also International Street, which was designed by a former Disney Imagineer.
King’s Island is both a fixture in American history and pioneer of theme parks, so don’t miss this one when you’re looking for your next theme park adventure.
5 Knott's Berry Farm: A Theme Park With A Distinct Flavor
If the name of this park makes you hungry for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, there’s a good reason for that. Knott's Berry Farm is on the former site of a berry farm run by none other than the Knott family, known for their brand of jams and jellies. It doesn't stop there, though. It's also a fantastic theme park, which started in 1968 as a ghost town replica and transformed into the 160-acre theme park it is today.
It's home to many unique attractions. One of the most popular rides, Montezooma's Revenge, is one of the few remaining shuttle loopers left in the world. There's also the Xcelerator, a roller coaster which with a 90-degree drop! On the other end of the excitement spectrum, Knott's Berry Farm caters heavily to children. They can pump little mine trains around a track or ride the Pony Express coaster. Of the nearly 40 rides in the park, there's plenty for everyone to enjoy.
And if you’re a fan of frights, Knott’s Berry Farm is one of the best destinations to visit for Halloween fun. One of the longest-running Halloween events at a theme park, each October Knott’s Berry Farm transforms into Knott's Scary Farm. This event is not suited for kids under 13, but for those who are old enough to attend should not miss this annual event.
4 Magic Mountain: A Thrill-Seeker's Paradise
Magic Mountain has remained one of the top theme parks in the world. For starters, it's a roller coaster lover's destination.
Located in the Santa Clarita Valley in California, this Six Flags Park is packed with 19 roller coasters on site, holding the record for most roller coasters in one theme park.
It isn't all coasters at this park though. There are live shows, more than 40 rides and special events all year long. All of this is set to a backdrop of Looney Tunes characters and the Justice League, making it fun for kids and nostalgic for parents.
Film and TV buffs will want to check this park out as well. Magic Mountain has been host to many TV and film shoots. National Lampoon's Vacation, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and even a Katy Perry music video have been filmed at Magic Mountain. Such a hot spot for filming means you may just run into a film site while you're there!
3 Schlitterbahn Water Park: The Gold Standard of Water Parks
Schlitterbahn is not just a waterpark with simple slides and wave pools. Schlitterbahn is a park of water experiences, making it an easy pick for this list. The rides here are all water rides and provide excitement and enjoyment even in the hottest parts of the summer (a hard feat most anywhere, but especially in Texas.)
Its flagship park in New Braunfels, Texas is the absolute perfect Summer getaway and has joined the ranks of some of the world's best theme parks.
It has won 36 Golden Ticket Awards for, well, being incredible.
Because of their success, they've dotted the map with many locations spread across Texas and Kansas, making it an accessible theme park and a great way to beat the summer heat.
2 Land of Oz: Toto, we aren't in Kansas Anymore
The Land of Oz is a different kind of theme park. Tucked away on Beech Mountain in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, there are no rides or flashy entertainment shows. Instead, locked behind two green doors marked merely "OZ" is the opportunity to tour the land of Oz with Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow himself. Other characters from the film make appearances, taking visitors from Dorothy's life at Aunt Em's farm to her journey down the yellow-brick road.
Initially, the Land of Oz was created as a way to keep visitors to the area year round and enjoyed much success in its early days. But a few strokes of bad luck hit the park. The owner passed away of cancer, the gas crisis of '73 hit and then two significant structures in the park burned down, forcing the park to close its doors.
Since its revival in the early 90s, the Land of Oz has brought in visitors from near and far. It's the real deal, and they have the yellow-brick road to prove it. This park is now a place where visitors flock to get a look at the Emerald City. The unique setting of this park makes it a photographer's dream and a Wizard of Oz fan's ultimate adventure. Plan accordingly, though. The doors of Oz only open several times a year and they sell out fast!
1 Universal Studios Orlando: A Red-Carpet Adventure
Disney often overshadows universal. While many are off in the Magic Kingdom without even considering a trip to Universal, they are missing out on some incredible experiences. Made up of two main parks and a water park, this is the ultimate vacation for people young and old. This is the movie buff’s park. The endless attractions and experiences put you right in the action of the movies.
One of its two theme parks, Islands of Adventure, has consistently been named the #1 Amusement Park in The World on Trip Advisor, and for a good reason. There are 15 rides, including three water rides and three roller coasters, that have brought the universes of Harry Potter, Doctor Seuss, Jurassic Park and Marvel to life, to name a few.
Sip butterbeer in Hogsmeade before boarding the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley in Universal Studios to pick up your wand. Once you’re at Universal Studios, you can visit the classics like E.T. and The Simpsons, or continue your Harry Potter journey.
And finally, don’t miss the newest addition to Universal Resort: Volcano Bay Waterpark! Open year-round, this 27-acre park has 19 different rides and attractions. They also offer cabanas to visitors for rent so you can have a place to lounge between all the fun you’re having.
Few parks take movie experiences to the level that Universal does. While you’re exploring non-Disney parks, make sure to stop by Universal.
References: theGuardian, CNN, Sixflags, europapark, knotts.com, universalorlando.com