Ever since my first visit, I’ve considered Efteling to be the best amusement park in the world, and for so many reasons. If you happen to be passing through the Netherlands (or anywhere close to that part of Europe), you have to put Efteling on your itinerary. Here’s why, and a guide to spending a day at the park.
What is Efteling?
Efteling World of Wonders is modeled after famous fairy tales by the likes of Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, and Charles Perrault. It opened its doors in 1952, which incidentally is three years before the first Disneyland. Located in the southern part of the Netherlands (which is usually incorrectly called Holland), it takes a little over an hour to drive there from Amsterdam, and about an hour and a half from Brussels.
Traveling around the Netherlands, I’ve yet to meet a local who didn’t have wonderful memories of Efteling. Unlike Disneyland which costs a fortune, Efteling is reasonably priced and an integral part of Dutch upbringing. Many make regular trips to the park as they grow up, and they all have their favorite rides and attractions. When they heard I was going to the park for the first time, they were quite excited for me and wanted to hear back on what I liked the most.
I can’t really figure out why I hadn’t heard of Efteling, as it’s the third most visited theme park in Europe! Only Disneyland Paris and Europa Park in Germany are bigger, and Efteling is just shy of second place. So far, Bakken in Copenhagen has been the only other amusement park I’ve been to in Europe.
How to Get to Efteling
Efteling is located in the town of Kaatsheuvel, which is north of the city of Tilburg. If you’re driving, you can pay to park at Efteling’s large parking lot for a fee. Driving from Amsterdam is roughly 60 miles and should take about an hour and 15 minutes. Rotterdam is less than 40 miles away and takes less than an hour.
If you prefer to use public transportation (which will probably be cheaper if you factor in the car rental, fuel, and parking), take a train to Tilburg. From there, buses are running every few minutes to the park. There’s a city bus that takes longer, or a shuttle bus without any other stops. The bus leaves from the furthest stand outside the train station. Public transportation from Amsterdam takes about two hours, but only about one hour from Rotterdam.
Usually, when I would go to Disneyland, I would try to get there as close to the opening at 7 a.m. as I could to make the most of the day. On my first trip to Efteling with a group of other bloggers, we left Rotterdam Central Station by private shuttle at 9 and arrived at the park around 10:30. Efteling doesn’t usually open until 10 so we didn’t miss much.
Behind the Scenes at Efteling
On that first visit to Efteling, we went in through the staff entrance and received a behind-the-scenes briefing about the park. That’s where I met Pardoes, the mischievous jester mascot who teased every member of our group. When not getting distracted by Pardoes’ antics, I learned about the history of the park, how it’s been designed over the years, and how it’s a mainstay of Dutch culture.
Efteling certainly isn’t as complex as Disneyland, where the security force is larger than the police force of the city it’s in (Anaheim, California). Then again, the attention to detail is just as high. Anton Pieck himself designed much of the park until he passed away in 1987, and his successor Ton van de Ven carried on his legacy for many more years. To this day, Efteling has a magical, fairytale feel, unlike anything I felt at Disneyland. It’s certainly not just another “tourist attraction.”
I teamed up with half a dozen other Dutch bloggers who were already familiar with the park. That’s my first tip: go with a local. Most likely they’ve been there many times and know the best rides. Then again, the real trick is to try to get onto every ride in the park in a single day, which I was mostly able to do in all my visits.
The Thursday we went to the park, it was overcast and scheduled to rain…a typical day in the Netherlands. I was excited. I used to try to time my visits to Disneyland in the same way, going during the week when the weather would be bad. I don’t mind a bit of rain, especially when some of the rides get you wet anyway. As it was, we did get a bit of light rain, but most of it was shortly after going on the rafting ride which also got us quite wet.
We certainly got lucky on the park attendance that day. I was told about how lines for the attractions could get as long as two hours…just like at other amusement parks. The longest we had to wait for a ride was about 25 minutes and thus were able to visit nearly every attraction in the park.
Exploring Efteling in a Day
Efteling has a great app you can download to get real-time wait times at each of the rides, a schedule for all the shows, and also your location in the park. This will help to plan out your day and get to all the rides and attractions. Granted, a couple of the shows are for a younger audience, and there are also a couple rides that are more extreme, so you might not have to do every single thing in the park in a day. Then again, you could always go back if you miss something.
Holle Bolle Gijs
The first “attraction” in the park you might encounter is called Holle Bolle Gijs. It’s a strange character with a big, open mouth built into the wall and repeatedly saying something like “Give me your paper.” Basically, you stick your trash into his mouth and he’ll say “Thank you.” Slightly creepy, but a famous face at the park. The first Gijs was built in 1958 to deter visitors from visiting, but now there are ten members of the Gijs family spread across the park.
Rides at Efteling
There are dozens of rides, attractions, shows, and other activities at Efteling. This article would be far too long if I described them all, so I’ll just mention the highlights. There are some other relaxing rides, like the pagoda that rises above the park, the swan boat ride on the natural lake in the center of the park, the train ride around the park, etc. There are also a few kid rides that I didn’t go on. Honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to do everything at the park in a single day.
Droomvlucht, or Dream Flight, was my very first ride at the park, and still my favorite to this day. We went through an indoor, enchanted kingdom full of elves, goblins, and other fairytale creatures. I loved how much artistic detail went into the scenes, although the same can be said about the entire park.
Carnival Festival is Efteling’s version of It’s a Small World. It’s definitely an interesting ride depicting cultures around the world. I’d heard a rumor that the ride was considered racist by some critical journalist, but I honestly have no idea what they were referring to. I would just say it might be targeted at a younger audience than the other rides.
Vogel Rok is a very fast ride through a nearly pitch-black room. There are a few lights here and there, but otherwise, there’s not a lot to see. It’s almost like Space Mountain at Disneyland, but with less of a starfield.
I suffered a slight mishap on Vogel Rok during my first visit. The attendant at the beginning of the ride forgot to tell me to take my sunglasses off (or maybe I didn’t understand the Dutch). Just as the right started, my head whipped back and they flew off into the mechanisms beneath the ride. They were long gone, but luckily I didn’t have to worry about the sun for the rest of the rainy day.
Symbolica: Palace of Fantasy
I think it’s safe to say that Symbolica: Palace of Fantasy is the main attraction in the park. It’s underneath the Alice in Wonderland-esque palace in the center of the park. It was similar to Carnival Festival with its swivel car layout but completely unique in that cars would take different routes and intermingle around each other. Thus, you could do the ride three times and have a different experience each time.
Efteling’s white water rapids ride is called Piraña. You sit in a raft with several other people and hope you’re not (or are) on the side that’s going to get a wave coming over to drench you. In other words, you’re almost guaranteed to get wet. I’m just glad my Samsung S8 phone was waterproof and that I didn’t drop it! Be warned: the ride doesn’t have any place to keep possessions dry.
Baron 1898 is the newest ride in the park. It’s easily my favorite, and by that I mean the most thrilling. The 18-seat roller coast starts off with a 123-foot verticle drop into a mist-filled hole in the ground before zipping around loops and twists. It only lasts a few seconds, but those are a few seconds of pure adrenaline. Maybe you can tell by the look on my face.
De Vlegende Hollander a.k.a. The Flying Dutchman
De Vliegende Hollander is reminiscent of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, but water-based on a large boat-style carriage. It starts off with a dark ride through various scenes. The difference is the final small plunge into the lake. It’s not particularly scary and you don’t get wet, but it’s still one of my favorite rides.
Python probably matches Baron 1898 as the most exhilarating ride in the park. It’s a proper roller coaster with four up-side-down loops. Again, it’s over almost in the blink of an eye, but it certainly gets the adrenaline flowing! I’ve only been at it once, and I’ve often seen the longest rides waiting to get on it, especially when it’s a school holiday.
This an Arabian-themed ride, similar to Droomvlucht but based on the 1,001 Arabian Nights. Along with Carnival Festival, it’s the longest ride at the park, lasting nearly 8 minutes. You ride around in a small boat, akin to Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. It’s safe to say this is my second favorite ride at the park. I love seeing the detail in every scene, although it’s hard to get great photos in the low light.
One of the strangest rides at Efteling is the cursed Villa Volta. This wild attraction really got me spinning, literally. It’s hard to describe, but two rows of tiered benches face each other, and swing back and forth as the room rotates around them. Confused? So was I! It’s like those spinning tunnels you can walk through in illusion houses, only wilder.
On my first visit will fellow bloggers, they talked me onto Halve Maen, the massive boat swing. It’s not that I found the ride scary, but a swing that goes back and forth a few dozen feet just makes my stomach a bit queasy. Luckily, it had been a couple hours since we’d had a small lunch of kroketten (Dutch croquettes) and frites (fries) at the Steenbok restaurant.
Shows at Efteling
Raveleijn is the main fantasy show at Efteling. It started back in 2011 and essentially shows four warriors harnessing the elements to defeat the forces of evil. The props are not over-the-top. Simple pyrotechnics and jets of water, and a huge mechanical dragon for the final battle. My favorite aspect of Raveleijn is the equestrian element, reminiscent of Cavalia.
The show happens several times a day at the north end of the park (left side of the park map). There are plenty of seats, but I’ve also seen every seat full on busy days. Thankfully, the show won’t be canceled due to bad weather. All the dialogue is in Dutch, but it’s easy to follow along. I could have sworn I once watched the show with an English audio guide, but that wasn’t available on my last visit.
Aquanura is Efteling’s water show every evening in the huge pond near the entrance. The show combines over 200 fountains, 900 lights, pyrotechnic displays, and music for 12 minutes. It’s definitely better to see the show on a day when you can be at the park after sunset. The park closed at 6 p.m. and before the sun had set on a couple of my visits, but the times I got to see the show at dusk were magical.
On my fourth visit to Efteling, I finally got to see CARO. Now I can say it’s my favorite attraction at the park. It certainly blew my expectations out of the water. I’ve seen most of the Cirque de Soliel shows, Cavalia, and several in Las Vegas, and this show was on par!
I don’t want to spoil the show, so I’ll just say it compliments the magic of Efteling perfectly. The storyline, set design, props, and skillful performers combine for an evening you’re not likely to forget. I suppose being one of the largest theaters in the Netherlands also helps make CARO such an epic show.
CARO is the only show in the park that’s not included with the regular park ticket. As of this writing in 2023, tickets are €26.50 (about $30), although guests staying overnight at Efteling get them for €12.50 (about $15). The show lasts 70 minutes without an intermission. Believe me, it will end too soon while feeling it was much longer than it was.
Efteling’s Fairytale Forest
The main attraction at Efteling is the Fairytale Forest. In this enchanted woodland, there are 28 different fairytales depicted with little cottages, small and large figures, and various scenes. Each scene has the tale printed out to read, and some are even read aloud in four languages!
One of the most recognizable characters is from the tale The Six Servants, which I had completely forgotten about for years. Sitting on a rock surrounded by a little pond is a man whose head stretches up a couple dozen feet into the air. The head is on a motorized shaft and goes up and down as the story is read out over speakers.
What to Eat at Efteling
Efteling has plenty of places to eat around the park. Some are mere takeaways or coffee stops, while others are dining areas with multiple options. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food at Efteling. This is an amusement park after all. But then again, there are some incredible dishes in the Netherlands, and the park keeps the standard. Even the frites (fries) are wonderful. The prices are also very reasonable; nothing like what you would be paying at Disneyland.
My two favorite locations are Het Witte Paard (The White Horse) and Station de Oost (East Station). These are indoor food halls where you can find a selection of different dishes…and possibly a power outlet where you can charge a phone if you need it. There are some healthy options if you want, but I’m particularly a fan of frikandel, kroket, and frites.
Visiting Efteling World of Wonders
If you’re in the Netherlands or even just in Europe, I can’t recommend Efteling enough. I don’t really think one day is enough to explore the park. I’ve already visited four times in five years, and I can’t wait to go back, especially since the park has such a magical significance to me now.
The park is open all year and has the Winter Efteling theme in the colder months. Opening hours are usually from about 10 a.m. to sometime in the evening (ranging from 5 to 10 p.m.), depending on the day. When buying tickets, you will first need to select which ticket you want, and then reserve your day. The most expensive ticket (about $50) allows you to reserve any day, while the cheapest ticket (about 40) only has a few days available. There’s also an evening ticket for about $30 and a parking ticket for about $15. But check the Efteling website for current times and prices.
Also, don’t forget to download the Efteling app. It provides all the information about attractions, restaurants and even wait times on an interactive map.
Click to Pin It
In case you missed them, here are all the links to my other articles concerning Rotterdam.
- Is Dutch Chocolate Better Than Belgian Chocolate?
- Getting Back to My Family Roots in Rotterdam, Netherlands
- Exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site Kinderdijk
- Hostel ROOM: The Best Place to Stay in Rotterdam for a Weekend Break
- 12 of My Favorite Activities in Rotterdam – A Better City Than Amsterdam
This post may contain affiliate links. These links help give me the wherewithal to continue traveling at no additional cost to you. For more information, click here.