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The Netherlands: Efteling theme park in the Netherlands is like stepping back in time to magical world - by Anna Melville-james

The entrance to Efteling
The thought of visiting a theme park on a busy national holiday is enough to turn most parents into a quivering wreck.

So I feared the worst when I headed across the North Sea with my five-year-old daughter to the Netherlands for a bank holiday Monday trip to the popular Efteling attraction.

But my luck was certainly in that day – unknown to me, the UK and the Netherlands do not share the same bank holiday dates, so Claudie and I had the park to ourselves.

Efteling is one of the world’s oldest theme parks and a place I had wanted to visit for a long time. 

It seemed different from the new breed of mega parks with their ever-faster rollercoasters, and instead harks back to a gentler age.

It was rumoured to have inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland – although that is now largely relegated to myth. 

Efteling opened in 1952 and was entertaining families long before Mickey and Co – and it has maintained its popularity ever since.

Unlike Disney, Efteling, just to the north of Tilburg, is low-key, something that begins with actually finding that the park is located in a dense forest.

We had travelled first to Brussels by Eurostar before a quick connecting service dropped us outside the front gate.

From 2017, Eurostar’s new direct Amsterdam service means you could easily mix a city break with a day trip to the park.

Once inside Efteling, it all felt like a stroll through a beautiful park that just happens to have a rollercoaster in the middle.

First-time visitors should start with the pagoda, a chinoiserie folly that rises above the canopy to show you the whole park.

At ground level Claudie drew up her ride wishlist and commandeered one of the free trolleys for me to pull her in, as piped music floated over the boating lake.

We hit the 1950s miniature train, pedalling engines through the mock Dutch countryside, followed by the mini-waltzer and a toy car circuit.

We then toured the enchanted elf worlds on the Droomvlucht – the dreamflight ride – through a land of castles and fairy tales.

There are faster thrills too, including the new 60mph Baron 1898 ride and the Python rollercoaster.

By early afternoon it was time to stop and admire the park’s luxuriant tulips and leafy boughs, themselves a fairytale of red squirrels and bird boxes.

In the oldest area, the Marerijk, the forest frames a trail of classic tales such as Rapunzel, Pinocchio and Rumpelstiltskin reconstructed from the nostalgic drawings of illustrator Anton Pieck.

You won’t recognise all the characters: Mother Holle and Langnek are definitely aimed at the local crowds.

But there’s something soothing about their quirkiness.

This lack of pressure also applies to merchandise – I only saw one toy store, and food kiosks sell chips with mayonnaise, rather than drinks in movie tie-in cups.

As Claudie and I sat in the sunshine, we giggled at an animatronic gnome. It was a simple pleasure. But at that moment the world was magical. 

Read more: Efteling theme park in the Netherlands is like stepping back in time to magical world | Daily Mail Online

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