Europe’s best educational (and fun) theme parks

Follow our guide to the best places in Europe to take your minds on a rollercoaster ride

Puy du Fou, France

Puy du Fou, France

Dinopolis, Spain

In the province of Teruel, famous for its dinosaur finds, you can take a train ride past animatronic dinosaurs and visit a palaeontology museum with one of the world’s largest collections, including full skeletons of a Tyrannosaurus rex and a brachiosaurus. Until the science of cloning moves on, this is the closest you’ll get to Jurassic Park.

Details: Open Thur-Sun only; daily July-Aug;

EuropaPark, Germany

Europe’s biggest theme park in Rust, southwestern Germany, has nine rollercoasters, with a tenth on the way. The gimmick is the 12 zones themed for a different country of Europe, so that England has, for instance, a flying London bus ride, while Greece boasts a Poseidon water-coaster.

More likely to promote European unity among the young than any number of hustles from Brussels. Further educational opportunities include exploring the Mir space station, a rosarium and a water power station, and watching performers in a full-sized re-creation of the Globe Theatre.


Euro Space Center, Belgium

A full-scale reconstruction of the US space shuttle will put children aged 10-18 into astronaut training, including whizzing around on the multi-axis chair and entering a micro-gravity simulator. Southeast of Brussels, it’s the most fun you can have without blasting into orbit.


Futuroscope, France

Bizarre edifices of glass and steel with giant balls and organ-like pipes — Futuroscope’s striking buildings have been seen by more than 35 million visitors since the park opened near Poitiers in 1987. The educational aspect, however, has largely been lost amid the motion-simulator rides and IMAX adventures, and non-French-speaking youngsters may find it baffling.


Kristiansand Zoo and Amusement Park, Norway

Norway’s most-visited tourist attraction is one of the world’s loveliest zoos. It is set over 150 acres on the southern tip of Norway, so the animals have the freedom to roam.

And so do you, getting up close to monkeys and other creatures on open paths and rainforest trails. Kristiansand works closely with the WWF to save animals on the brink of extinction. Dyreparken also has an amusement park and a water park.

Details: Open year round;

Puy du Fou, France

Bring history to life — and how. Founded in the ruins of a Renaissance castle in 1977, the park spans 110 acres, draws on a cast of 3,000 performers and puts on seven lavish 40-minute historical re-enactments. In one, a Viking longboat sails downriver to terrorise a village; in another, a jousting tournament gives way to the spectacular storming of a medieval keep.

Details: Open Fri-Sun; daily except Wed from June;

Terra Mitica, Spain

Opened in Benidorm at the turn of the millennium, this is less spectacular than PortAventura, in Barcelona, but marginally more educational.

The five themed zones of the “mythical land” include Greece, which honours Homer’s poetry with the Ulysses water ride; and Rome, with a 36m-high wooden rollercoaster called Magnus Collossus. Where the park itself fails to educate, use the queueing time to recount stirring tales of ancient myths.


Vulcania, France

Set amid the Chaîne des Puys volcanoes of Auvergne, the park offers rides, experiment rooms and 3-D movies, striking a good balance between the educational and the explosive. It erred too much on the side of the former when first opened in 2002, but its relaunch in 2007, with 11 new attractions, was a success. Two new attractions are planned this year.


Yorvik, York

The grandaddy of historical theme parks, this forced museums throughout Britain to raise their game and reach out to a younger generation through interactivity. Built in 1984, it had a £5 million refurbishment in 2001.

Your experience starts in a “time machine” that carries you back to 975, and continues with a ride through reconstructed Viking streets, complete with the smells of 1,000 years ago. A rollercoaster it ain’t, but 15 million visitors have come away understanding that there is far more to the Vikings than rape and pillage.

Details: Open all year;