I could kick myself for taking two years to go to the Efteling. This fairy tale theme park is located in Tilburg, which is a whopping 10 minute drive from our house. Truth is, I first heard about this park long before we moved here from a Belgian woman while I was at The Hideout in Wyoming! She had 20-year-old twin boys and told me stories about their first trip to the Efteling. I decided then and there that if a place could have that big of an impression on someone 20 years later- I had to check it out for myself.
What is the Efteling
One of the oldest theme parks in the world, it is very famous in Europe- and rightfully so. It’s different from you’d expect- and if you’re unfamiliar with the fairy tales- all the better. Be surprised! Impressive variety of rides (for all ages), live shows, high-quality animated houses, statues and exhibits and well manicured gardens and shrubbery are all part of the trip. The fairy tales are true to their origins and can be a little on the darker side. Just prepare yourself (and your kids) for creepy witches that look awfully realistic! Open year round- the Winter Efteling is an entirely different experience draped in white for the season.
As our first trip we missed quite a few things, so I know we’ll be back before long!
Why I liked it better than Disney
Our last trip to Disney was in October of 2012., right before we said goodbye to the USA. I suppose that in my mind I was bracing myself for Europe’s version and boy was I proved wrong. This was not Disney. Not even close.
Quick entry. We arrived about a half hour after the park opened and got in line. We were laden with a stroller and went right through. For better or for worse- there isn’t a security check and no one searches your bags.
It’s not as crowded. It’s cleaner – really! A friend on Fb asked how that was possible- and I can only say that it is. I credit the fact that there aren’t cart after cart selling things with wrappers thus filling up garbage cans to overflowing. Tasteful brown wooden baskets and ‘Big Mouth’ keep all of the litter off the ground and out of sight.
No gimmicks. Yes, there are gift shops- but there aren’t a billion of them peddling toys. Your kids aren’t yelling ‘I want this!’ at every turn. What you see and what you appreciate is the scenery and the (possibly) unfamiliar characters from the fairy tales of Europe. I also didn’t see people walking around dressed in costume as a character. Personally I liked this as I always think of the poor hot sweaty people trapped inside- ha!
Little kid playgrounds, blend into nature and are everywhere.
I didn’t feel that the snacks were as expensive. For example, I got a Belgian waffle and coffee for around €4. The boys had a big tub of cotton candy for €2. Lunch (for me) was pricy (cafeteria style) but that didn’t shock me. Overall, I felt that if you bring your own lunch and just have a treat you’ll not be too worse for wear.
We liked the rides very much- with manageable wait times (35 minutes tops). We didn’t attempt the bigger roller coasters where waits could last an hour or more, but they sure do look fun. We loved the wolf and the kids (albeit a dark story) but by far and away we best enjoyed the walk through the Sprookjesbos:
The Sprookjesbos (Fairy Tale Forest) is a 15-acre wooded section where a number of well-known fairy tales and fairy tale figures are depicted by animated statues and buildings. Most of the figures are inspired by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Charles Perrault.–from Wikipedia.
I probably wouldn’t have really known about it but for a local friend told me about the forest walk. Basically, upon entry to the park head to the left. You will see a giant black wrought iron gate- walk through that and you’re on your way. You never know what you’ll see. We easily enjoyed strolling through here and took about two hours doing so (!).
- Dress comfortably (shoes!) and in layers. Unless you live here and understand what it’s like to experience all types of weather in a matter of hours- just take my word for it.
- Bring your own food (yes! you can bring your own lunch/drinks/etc).
- Download the app and keep track of line waits.
- Don’t fret! Everyone we ran into spoke English (and were friendly, smiling, genuinely happy people) and there are menus/signs/etc. all in English too.
- Watch for discounts! We bought our tickets this past summer at Albert Heijn during a promotion.
- Parking is €10 but the lot is very well-organized and there’s no need for a tram or train. Additionally, our exit was smooth and relatively quick as the park was closing.
- There are hotels and a golf course too if you want to stay over.
- I scoffed at the idea that one 8-hour day would not be enough. It isn’t! We missed Langnek– so will absolutely be going back.
- In the gift shop near the exit- buy the Efteling’s Fairy Tales (€24 and in a variety of languages). It’s a lovely hardcover book to take home and read the stories you’ve seen during your visit. So glad we did- we’ve been reading one every night.
Best of all, I say go in not knowing exactly what you’ll see. I purposely didn’t give you a play by play of the exhibits as it was really fun being surprised! You really, really have to go here if you’re an expat. I promise- you’ll regret it if you don’t!
All photos taken by me. Nothing sponsored, just awesome.