For the first time in my life I regretted not taking the middle seat. As my daughter and I were slowly hauled towards the crest of the Silver Star hypercoaster, it was too late to change my mind. We were about to drop almost 70 metres at 130 kmph and I was on the edge.
Strapped in tightly, there was nothing left to do but scream and let centrifugal forces of 4g energy drag us along the track at a dizzying speed- the 95 hectare Europa Park flickering past us.
Our 6th roller coaster of the day is one of the biggest in the world, but clearly not big enough for my daughter, who shouted “Again, Again,” after we finally came to a standstill. ‘No chance,’ I said, gathering myself. After all, I’m not a theme park person.
At least, I wasn’t until I came to Europa Park in Southern Germany. Located in the small town of Rust at the border triangle of Germany, France and Switzerland, the park is one of the biggest in Europe. It covers almost one million square metres, boasts 13 roller coasters and 100 attractions, which are divided across 18 areas, each dedicated to a different European country. The ‘countries’ are distilled down to a few landmarks, with customary cuisine and themed rides, experiences and entertainment.
The French section has Moulin Rouge, the Irish section has Limerick Castle and O’Mackey’s pub, while the German section has wood panelled houses and beer gardens. Croatia will join in 2024. The countries are so authentic, I thought I was in a genuine Swiss village in the Alps at one point.
Like many things in Germany, it’s family owned. The Mack family have been in the fairground business making rides for over 200 years. After visiting the US in 1972, founder Franz Mack decided to open a theme park in Germany to showcase his rides. The park opened in 1975 and 250,000 people came to visit that year. Now 25,000 people come every day, almost 6 million annually.
Despite spending my childhood summers in Germany with my granny, who lived around two hours from the park, we never went. My family have no interest in theme parks, therefore I didn’t plus I had a chronic fear of heights, which I’ve since overcome by doing lots of scary things.
Now that my daughter Romi is eight and loves scary rides, I decided it was time to visit. Besides being half German and loving Germany, we chose Europa Park because it’s less expensive than other parks.
I paid €199 for tickets online – €109 for me and €90 for Romi for two days. After flying to beautiful Basel with Ryanair for less than €80 each and staying for a night, we got the train and bus to Rust the next day, which took less than two hours. I already have a Deutschland ticket, which allows unlimited travel across German regional trains for €49 for one month. But normally fairs cost upwards of €24 each way, pending on time of year and day. My daughter paid just €6 with her annual German Bahncard. We stayed just outside the resort in a hotel that cost €370 for three nights with breakfast. There are themed hotels and camping within the resort too.
Once you get inside, all rides are included. There are no fastpasses, but you can get an Europa Park app and register for the virtual line. We didn’t bother, as school holidays for the park’s main visitors -French, German and Swiss people hadn’t started yet, so we didn’t queue longer than 45 minutes for any ride.
Luckily for us, it was overcast on both days. Europa Park is in the hottest part of Germany, so temperatures in the mid 20s in early July and no glaring sunshine were a gift. On the first day we took a quaint train across the huge park, bypassing fairy tale villages, lakes and plush gardens, flowerbeds and canals. We stopped at the Netherlands, walked through Scandinavia’s fishing villages and went straight to the Wodan Timbur in Iceland-, an all wood coaster, reminiscent of old school theme parks.
We waited 45 minutes, but the queue moved along nicely. Romi could go on all rides, as they are determined by size, not age. We sat at the front and it was as insane as any ride can be. I wanted to rest afterwards and get my bearings, but my daughter moved quickly. We sat on a rocking ship, a roller coaster in the Greek area called the Atlantica super splash and did some white water rafting. Luckily there weren’t too many expensive distractions along the way. The Europamaus mascot can be purchased in designated shops along with other trinkets, but you’re not overwhelmed with stuff. The words ‘‘Mama please can I have.…’ were mostly spared, though I did waste money on silly games, which cost €3 to €5, where you never win anything. I also bought a few photos of us looking ridiculous on rollercoasters costing between €4.50 and €6 each. A happy printed memento of fun had.
Food is more expensive than most places in Germany, but portions are large. Each country has numerous food opinions. I spent around €25 on lunch everyday including a beer, but we ate kids portions of pasta or German sausages. We rounded off day one with a trip to the Russian section and took the Euro Mir, yet another roller coaster, watched the parade and went home to bed, exhausted.
One day at Europapark is definitely enough to get a feel of the place, but it was nice to return on the second day. I would have been happy walking around, taking it easy, but alas, we were back on the Russian Rollercoser, the Swiss bob and numerous others. A pit stop for pasta and ice cream in the Italian section, a few small purchases made from lemonade stand money, and we ended up on the Silver Star and some smaller rides to wind down.
There are lots of attractions too and animals, people and entertainers wandering around. Shows take place in the sections catering for all ages. As a single parent, travelling alone with my daughter, meant I couldn’t take turns on anything, but that’s fine. We had loads of fun between mad and slow rides. Being old, I particularly enjoyed calling it a day with a beer in the German beer garden with some familiar German music, which brings me back to my youth. I was thrilled when Romi made a German friend, which allowed me to chat to her dad- an adult. Turns out, they live beside the park and get free annual entry. ‘When can we move here,’ the next question.
Although I never planned on being a theme park person, I became one. Although I was exhausted from walking slowing and mad rollercoasters, I happily made an exception. Europa Park is for everyone, even if you don’t go on any rides, or take them all. There’s so much else to do. It’s not cheap, but it’s certainly overpriced like Disney and it’s in Germany. The famous saying may be true- the Germans do it better. When it comes to theme parks, they certainly do- and cheaper too.
Europa Park is located in Rust, Southern Germany.
It is the busiest theme park in Europe with almost 6 million visitors annually.
It is open throughout the year, with summer opening times from 9am to around 7pm.
It is located close to the Swiss and French borders.
Tickets are €57.50 per day for adults and €49 for children per day. Group prices and multi days come at reduced rates.
The nearest airport is Basel, Moulouse.
Flights are available wih Ryanair.
We stayed at the Hotel Gasthof Rathaus beside the park, but the park has numerous themed hotels.
Europa Park is open for most of the year.