If you want to find some of the best rollercoasters in Europe, you don’t have to stay in the UK or even go to Disneyland Paris - France, Belgium and The Netherlands have some of the highest, fastest and most exhilarating rollercoasters and attractions you’ll find anywhere in Europe, and the fact that you can drive to them from Calais is all the more reason to hop on a ferry with DFDS and take your thrill-seeking to new heights - literally!
After Disneyland Paris, Parc Asterix is the biggest theme park in France, and while they may not be as well known in the UK, in France Asterix and Obelix are superstars.
Originally a comic book series that first appeared in 1959, the series has spawned TV shows, cartoons films (both animated and live action), books, games, and of course, the theme park. France’s first satellite and even two asteroids are also named after the pair! The comics have been translated into 111 languages, making them the most widely translated comic book series in the world.
But while Asterix and Obelix have been children’s favourites for decades, the park isn’t just for kids. There are rides for thrill seekers of all ages, from the classic carousel and miniature train to the Pegasus Express, which will suddenly throw itself into reverse on its perilous journey through the ancient cities of Olympia and Alexandria, and Discobelix, where you spin round and round and back and forth like a giant discus thrown by Obelix himself.
In 2023 Parc Asterix unveiled its newest rollercoaster, Toutatis - the fastest rollercoaster in France. Achieving speeds of 110kmph and standing 51m high, it also boasts the most airtime of any steel rollercoaster in the world - you leave your seat 23 times!
The Parc is incredibly popular in France, attracting approximately 2.3 million visitors a year, and its 50 attractions and shows are spread over six areas or “universes”, each themed around a different Asterix and Obelix adventure. The park is the total package for a family holiday, with three hotels on site as well as several restaurants, cafes, and bars.
Enter the enchanted world of Efterling, a magical theme park where fairy tales come to life. It is the largest theme park in The Netherlands and actually predates the original Disneyland in the US, making it one of the oldest theme parks in the world. It is such a popular theme park in Europe that only Disneyland Paris and Europa-Park in Germany regularly receive more visitors.
Folklore and fairy tales abound in Efteling, where you can meet classic characters and get lost in stories from around the world. Explore the Fairytale Forest with Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel, encounter ancient tribes along Pirana’s river rapids, and dine with the Sultan on Fata Morgana - just don’t get thrown in the dungeon!
But it’s not just for kids, the rides at Efteling challenge even the most adventurous of thrill-seekers. The Baron 1898 drops you down a 37.5m free fall at 90kmh, Python twists and turns round its double loop and tight corkscrew, and Vliegende Hollander takes you on a doomed ship’s eternal journey before splashing into the abyss.
There are shows and live entertainment to enjoy, including a thrilling knight’s tournament and a spectacular water show, as well as chances to meet your favourite fairytale characters. You couldn’t enjoy everything Efteling has to offer in just a day, so stay overnight at one of Efteling’s excellent accommodations such as the glamorous Efteling Hotel or the idyllic lakeside holiday village of Efteling Bosrijk to make the most of one of Europe’s best theme parks.
Just across the border into Belgium is Plopsaland, one of the country’s most beloved amusement parks and themed around children’s favourite Maya the Bee. Suitable for kids of all ages, Plopsaland has 52 attractions, including seven rollercoasters.
One of the highlights of the park is their rollercoaster The Ride to Happiness, the very first extreme spinning rollercoaster in Europe. Riders are catapulted to 90km an hour on the almost 1km ride as the cars rotate freely on the journey around the track - a bit like a waltzer and a rollercoaster combined! No two rides are the same, with the twists, drops and chicanes giving riders a different experience every time.
For younger kids, there are other rides and rollercoasters that are a bit less high octane, but great fun nonetheless, such as De Draak and the K3 Roller Skater.
Guests can stay in one of the 117 rooms and suites in the Plopsa Hotel, which has its own restaurant, cocktail bar and theatre, or the Plopsa Village, where guests can bring their own camping equipment and motorhomes or stay in one of the amazing chalets on site.
Now that the summer heat is here, don’t forget to visit Plopsaqua, a huge Viking themed waterpark with flumes, swimming pools, and a wave pool. There are rides and activities for all ages, with special pools for younger children and toddlers, and if you’re feeling brave you can do the Sky Drop, a 20ft freefall slide into the pool below. There’s even a sauna and jacuzzi if you want to treat yourself to a bit of much needed relaxation.
Parc Bagatelle in Merlimont is in the heart of an area that is perfect for holidaymakers, especially those with young children. The nearby town of Berck-sur-Mer has a fantastic Blue Flag beach with excellent beach activities for adults and kids alike, and a the town itself has plenty of souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants along the seafront that make it surprisingly reminiscent a British seaside town.
Parc Bagatelle is an excellent amusement park for kids of all ages, with rides that have been designed for toddlers upwards. There are gentler rides for the younger children, and more exhilarating rides for older kids and adults like Triops, which takes you round spins and loops on the second highest rollercoaster in France, and the 4G spins and exhilarating twists and turns of Silver Wings.
There are rollercoasters, dodgems, and a little train that tours the park for younger kids and anyone who might want a gentler ride, there’s even a petting zoo, a mini farm and a boating lake to enjoy, complete with rowing boats and pedalos.
The park is set in the middle of the woods, and it has taken efforts to give back to nature with the farm and the boating lake. There is also a dedicated area known as Insect City, where a habitat has been created to allow insects to flourish. Visitors can learn about the different insects in the park and their vital role in the biodiversity of the area.
There are restaurants, bars and shops to satisfy your hunger while you explore and enjoy the park, and plenty of areas to rest after all the excitement of the rides and attractions, with hotels and camping sites nearby for guests who want to make the most of the park.
DFDS offers up to 30 crossings per day on its Dover to Calais service. Fares start from £68 each way for a car and four people. Browse a selection of fragrances, cosmetics and electronics in DFDS’ duty-free shops and save up to 50 per cent off UK high-street prices. Book at www.dfds.com.
Upgrade your ticket to include access to the exclusive Premium Lounge with complimentary hot and cold drinks and snacks from £12 per person. Add Priority Boarding to be one of the first to board and disembark the ferry from £10 per car each way.