Efteling Theme Park: Inside the delightful Dutch fairy tale attraction perfect for a fun family holiday

Holland's Efteling, an altogether less expensive family trip outHolland's Efteling, an altogether less expensive family trip out
Holland's Efteling, an altogether less expensive family trip out | Other
Fancy a theme park that doesn’t break the bank like Disney but has captured all the magic for a young family trip? Then head to Holland ...

A delightful theme park will try and spin a magic spell on visitors: convince them they've entered another realm for a while. And while, indubitably, the Disney Theme parks excel at spinning that sorcery on visitors, whoever is picking up the check is likely to be yanked out of the reverie by the money they're haemorrhaging on seeing Mickey and co. Enter Holland's Efteling, an altogether less expensive family trip out, albeit one that still provides an immersive sense of wonder for, if not the whole family, definitely the pre-teens. 

Founded in 1950 by filmmaker Peter Reijnders and illustrator Anton Pieck, Efteling started life as a recreation ground, located in a forest surrounding the village of Kaatsheuvel. In 1952 the park constructed the 'Fairytale Forest' (Sprookjesbos), to bring a series of Europe's most famous fairy tales to life. It's grown and evolved ever since, but across 500 acres of dense forest (wear comfortable walking shoes) the park and its attractions are firmly committed to fantasy and folklore. 

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That forest setting is crucial: it saves Efteling from ever feeling overly plastic or commercialised, despite all the standard trappings of a theme park: cartoon characters, concession stalls, rollercoasters. I had a ten-year-old companion and she declared the environs "peaceful" which is quite a feat for a bustling tourist spot. 

Tell us about the rides 

Snappily, both the Efteling map and its (really rather useful) app offer a 'family guide' to clarify which rides are family-friendly, which are for thrill-seekers (and older kids) and the toddler--attractions. Between this and the app's updates on queue times, it was easy to plan the day and not waste the day languishing in lines, especially for inappropriate rides. 

I will say the park is especially fantastic for toddlers and small kids (my younger nieces adored it), while the scarier coasters are good for 13+, but my ten-year-old companion found much of the kiddie-stuff too infantile, the dare-devil rides too overwhelming. She was, fortunately, delighted by the optical illusions, playgrounds and boat rides - not to mention the food (more on that later) but it is worth noting. 

Inside the nostalgic, bucolic park, you can find rollercoasters, death drops, carousels, haunted houses, theatre shows, ice-skating, whimsical characters, a miniature steam train, a moving viewing tower.  'Quaint' flits through your mind as you negotiate the park.

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Particular praise should go to the Fairytale Forest, a park within a park, cut off from the outside world by woodland, a gigantic walk-through attraction. Meander through woods and hidden clearings to happen upon animated displays representing the world’s most famed fairytales. Wee ones adore the 'treasure hunt' feel, I'm told. 

The displays are lovely: Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Frog Prince, The Magic Clock. The Little Mermaid is a statute, elegantly surrounded by fountains, while the Indian Water Lillies (a tale written by Queen Fabiola of Belgium) is a gleeful silly animatronic musical show in an underground theatre.

As to the rides? My ten-year-old guest loved the Villa Volta, the world’s first Vekoma Madhouse. Part haunted house, part giant optical illusion, you step into a banquet hall full of people, before being spun 'upside down'. It's exhilarating but not scary. She also loved the Pirana - we rode it three times in two days - a very splashy water ride where you're twirled through rapids and bounced off rocks - be warned, you will get drenched. 

One of Efteling's most celebrated attractions is Baron 1898, the B&M dive coaster. The attention to detail is impressive, and the process of queueing is rendered much more entertaining by two pre-shows in the load station. The story is fun: Baron Gustave Hooghmoed has hired you to head underground in search of buried riches, but an ancient supernatural force in the shape of the spectral White Women warns us to turn back. The ride, as with so many dive coasters, is quick, but hair-raising.

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It's also worth making time for the Pagode, a levitating, rotating viewing platform that will give you fabulous views of the park, and the Gondaletta boats, a glacial means of circumnavigating a part of Efteling by water. It's corny, but good fun. Oh, and the mini steam train ride around the park is very cute. A thirty-minute ride, it will give you the lay of the land - and you'll get plenty of cheerful waves from passers-by as you go. 

How to get there

We flew from Gatwick direct to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, a thirty-minute jaunt. The train to Hertogenbosch took an hour - it couldn't be easier, the train station is in the airport, ideal if you're shepherding little people over excited by the prospect of imminent rides and candyfloss. 

From Hertogenbosch, you can catch the regular Efteling shuttle which takes 15 minutes. 

You can also travel by car. It’s 100km from Amsterdam, 70 kilometers from Rotterdam, 140km from Brussels and 435km from Paris. 

Where to stay

There are a variety of accommodations on-site, including self-catering cabins. We stayed in the Hotel adjacent to the park (which also gives you early access when the park opens: certainly a perk worth it for peak time), a five-minute walk into the park itself. 

It's not too pricy to stay there and the proximity was a joy: whenever we were footsore or over-stimulated by animatronic goblins, we could retreat to our rooms for a little quiet time before heading back for more coasters. It meant we felt like we got the most out of the (very large) park without feeling too bedraggled, although my Garmin informed me we were walking 25,000 steps a day - you'll definitely be needing snacks to keep young people's energy up!  

Food, cost, and other note-worthy things

As I mentioned above, part of heading to Disney parks is accepting that you will end the day feeling fleeced. This isn't the case at Efteling. For a start, the feel of the park is genuinely charming rather than commercial, and tickets are very reasonable. Food around the park is so impressive - with over 20 restaurants, there are plenty of nutritious options, well priced and tasty. Or, if as we did, you end up reverting to a somewhat childish diet to keep the energy up, there are plenty of treats - Dutch doughnuts, pancakes, candyfloss (only two Euros - you won't get that at Disney!). 

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Queueing wasn't too onerous - indeed, thanks to the app, the longest we waited was 15 minutes. Apparently, it gets a little busier in peak Summer holidays, but the app will offer plenty of guidance to cut down unnecessary waiting. Yes, the park is Dutch-language, but this isn't a hindrance - the staff all speak English, and the app comes in a variety of languages. It adds to the atmosphere of being immersed in a different culture - and none of the rides are contingent on understanding the language. As to how long to stay - a two-to-three-day stay will leave you feeling you've achieved everything the part has to offer. Any more and you might get cabin fever. 

Find out more and book your trip at https://www.efteling.com/en

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