Visiting a theme park is the quintessential vacation for many families, and there are dozens around the world showing off new cultures through rides, games, shows, parades and food. From classic theme parks in the United States to famous animated character-themed parks in Japan, we’ve rounded up the best theme parks in the world.
Best International Theme Parks
Universal Studios Japan is a must for any trip to Japan, especially for theme park fans. Even though the park has many of the same attractions as its Florida and California counterparts, there are a few rides and shows that are specific to the Japanese park. Dining here can also be similar to the stateside parks with restaurants like the Three Broomsticks and Hog’s Head, but some restaurants are distinctly Japanese like Hello Kitty’s Corner Cafe, which serves up steamed buns themed after Hello Kitty herself!
1. Universal Studios Japan – Osaka, Japan
Hotel Recommendation: Universal Studios Japan has seven official resort hotels near the entrance to the park. For travelers who have never been to Japan, The Singulari Hotel and Skyspa at Universal Studios Japan brings together a luxury hotel with traditional Japanese values and culture. The resort’s rooms and a top-floor pool offer sweeping views of Osaka. Comfortable jersey-knit pajamas are available for free, along with free Wi-Fi for all guests.
2. Gröna Lund – Stockholm, Sweden
Traveling to Stockholm, Sweden, and need a theme park fix? Gröna Lund brings together Swedish culture and the theme park experience in a unique and thrilling way. The park offers over 30 thrill rides and concerts, available April through September. Having opened in 1883, It’s one of the oldest theme parks in the world, so your family will be stepping back in time when you walk through the gates of the park.
Hotel Recommendation: Hotel Hasselbacken is located just a short walk or Uber ride to Gröna Lund. The hotel features upscale rooms with plenty of space for the entire family, and a restaurant onsite for meals before or after a visit to the park. It’s also just a few minutes away from the nearest tram stop to explore even more of Stockholm.
3. Tivoli Gardens – Copenhagen, Denmark
Not to be confused with the Tivoli Gardens in Italy, Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark, is a national treasure. Founded in 1843, it provided creative inspiration for Hans Christian Anderson and Walt Disney. The park is part garden, part communal eatery, and part theme park. At night, the park is transformed with colorful lights, making for the perfect fairy tale backdrop for a fun family night out. The most popular ride at the park is a wooden roller coaster from 1914, which is one of only seven roller coasters in the world with a brakeman on board the train.
Hotel Recommendation: The Copenhagen Marriott Hotel is about a 15-minute walk to the Tivoli Gardens, and is located right on the river that runs through the city. It’s also just a few minutes’ walk to a statue depicting the transformation from mermaid to human from the story of The Little Mermaid.
4. Tokyo Disneyland – Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo Disneyland brings all of the nostalgia of the Disney parks from the United States and combines them with the culture of Japan. Technology is a big deal at this park, with attractions like Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and parades like Dreaming Up! Tokyo Disney is home to many classic Disney attractions as well, such as it’s a small world and Big Thunder Mountain.
The park is known for their numerous flavors of popcorn, which is not to be missed, along with the character steamed buns that can be found at restaurants throughout the park. One thing you’ll notice about Tokyo Disneyland that’s different from the rest of the parks is how kind and courteous guests are to other guests, even though the mad dash in the morning to get to top-tier attractions can be a little nerve-wracking.
Hotel Recommendation: If you’re going to Tokyo Disneyland, the best spot to stay is the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel. The hotel has a Victorian feel in the public spaces and exterior, and the rooms have some major Disney theming. Some rooms are even as detailed as the attractions in the park, with themes like Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland. Some rooms face the park, which is great for families so kids can watch the fireworks from their room and not have to fight the end-of-the-night crowds.
5. Tokyo DisneySEA – Tokyo, Japan
Often considered the world’s best theme park, Tokyo DisneySEA features attractions that are unlike any other at a Disney theme park, including Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Soaring: Fantastic Flight. Tokyo DisneySEA is also known for their multitudes of merchandise lines and offerings. Many guests bring an empty suitcase on vacation here just to bring back merchandise! The most popular lines are anything with Duffy the Disney Bear, and passholder purses that look like different characters.
Hotel Recommendation: The Hilton Tokyo Bay is just a short shuttle and monorail ride away from Tokyo DisneySEA. There are five restaurants and bars throughout the property, making it a fun spot to spend an evening away from the park. One major perk of staying here is that any guest has guaranteed entry into Tokyo DisneySEA, which is great since many days the park reaches maximum capacity.
6. Sanrio Puroland – Tokyo, Japan
For anyone in your family who loves Hello Kitty, you must visit Sanrio Puroland in Tokyo, which is a dedicated Hello Kitty theme park! The park features a variety of parades and shows where the ideals of Hello Kitty are put on full display, including making memories and celebrating life’s small moments. You can also meet some of your favorite Hello Kitty characters like Cinnamon Roll and Little Forrest Fellow, along with Hello Kitty! Attractions at the park are more like Instagram moments that have been seen in pop-up museums lately, but kids will love exploring the areas.
Hotel Recommendation: The Royal Park Hotel Tokyo Shiodome is located right on Tokyo Bay and a quick taxi or train ride to Sanrio Puroland. The resort offers spacious guestrooms with views of the bay or the city. Free Wi-Fi is available for all guests and the breakfast buffet is something to take advantage of before heading out to the park for the day.
7. Efteling – Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands
Efteling is a quintessential European theme park, with rides and shows that reflect fairy tales and myths of old. It’s twice as large as Disneyland Park in California, and is the third most visited theme park in Europe! There’s a little something for everyone in the family here, from little kids who want to explore an actual forest filled with characters from beloved stories, to older kids looking for a thrill ride where you take a free-fall plunge at almost 56 mph!
When it’s time to eat, check out one of the two restaurants that are dedicated to pancakes! Polles Keuken makes sweet American-style pancakes for breakfast and crepe-style pancakes for lunch and dinner, both of which can be topped with a variety of toppings and treats!
Hotel Recommendation: Stay in the middle of the enchantment by staying at the Efteling Hotel right on the Efteling theme park property. The resort is just a five-minute walk to the resort and features rooms themed to some of the most popular children’s stories like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Snow White. There are also suites available for the family who wants more room to spread out. Character meet-and-greets happen in the resort every day, so there’s no need to search them out in the park when you can spend more time riding the attractions.
8. Alton Towers – Staffordshire, England
Alton Towers is England’s biggest theme park in the United Kingdom and sits on the grounds of the Alton Towers private estate. The park boasts dozens of attractions, split almost down the middle between thrill rides and family-friendly rides. The thrill rides include quite a few coasters, including one where visitors are told to lay on their stomach to be strapped in and ride through like a superhero in flight.
There are quite a few new rides coming to Alton Towers this year, but one that caught our eye was Gangsta Granny: The Ride, where riders are loaded into a carriage and are expected to help pull off a jewelry heist that granny is planning.
Hotel Recommendation: The Alton Towers Hotel is right on the grounds of the theme park, and about 3 miles from the Alton Towers Castle. The resort offers restaurants, bars, and a full-service spa, all themed around exploration. To get started on the right foot, before heading the the park, be sure to get over to the breakfast buffet and eat a good meal so you’re fuller longer and can enjoy more rides while the lines are shorter in the morning.
9. Shanghai Disneyland Resort – Shanghai, China
Disney’s newest theme park is Shanghai Disneyland, which holds up to its theme of being “authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese” in more ways than one. Throughout the park you’ll find nods to ancient Chinese traditions, including tea rooms. The park features a massive castle that’s bigger than any other Disney park castle in the world, and attractions that can only be found at Shanghai.
One attraction that every guest rants and raves over is Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure. This twist on a Walt Disney original brings you right into the battle for pirate treasure with Captain Jack Sparrow! Another attraction not to be missed is TRON Lightcycle Power Run, which puts guests on bikes to zoom over and around Tomorrowland.
Hotel Recommendation: The Shanghai Disneyland Hotel is just across the lagoon from the theme park and offers the magic of Disney storytelling with a luxury resort. Inside you’ll find Mickey and the gang greeting you, and touches of Disney in each room, including pixie dust on the headboard of the bed brought to you by Tinkerbell. Rooms either look out to the garden in the front of the resort or to the lake with a view of the park.
Best Theme Parks in the U.S.
10. Disneyland Park – Anaheim, California
Disneyland Park features dozens of original attractions such as The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Peter Pan’s Flight. The park is always in a state of innovation, especially inside Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, where you can pilot the Millennium Falcon on Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and sip on drinks inside Oga’s Cantina.
Hotel Recommendation: If you’re planning to visit Disneyland Park, you’ll want to stay as close to the magic as possible, which is why we recommend staying at the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Playground. It’s directly across the street from the entrance to Disneyland and is the closest hotel to Disneyland Park—even closer than the three Disney-owned resorts!
11. Disney California Adventure – Anaheim, California
The sister park to Disneyland Park is Disney California Adventure. This is where you can feel like a star in the heyday of Hollywood, rustle up friends and explore Pixar Pier, and even feel like you’re one with nature at Grizzly Peak Airfield. Don’t miss the nighttime spectacular World of Color, which takes place at the Pixar Pier lagoon on select nights.
Even more excitement is on the way with the projected July 18, 2020, opening of Avengers Campus. The new land will open with a brand new Spider-Man themed attraction, character meet and greets, live shows, and a bar and restaurant themed to Ant-Man and The Wasp.
Hotel Recommendation: To get as much out of Disney California Adventure as possible, be sure to check out Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa for a place to stay. The resort has an entry right into the park for the easiest access to all the fun, and the restaurants at the resort are a great spot for a date night for parents.
12. Disney’s Magic Kingdom – Orlando, Florida
Disney’s Magic Kingdom is an icon when it comes to theme parks. In fact, it was the model for Tokyo Disneyland, with an identical castle and hub and spoke layout. The park features multiple themed lands, with some of the same attractions as Disneyland Park, but with distinct differences, so they’re definitely worth the ride. Magic Kingdom also features some of Walt Disney World’s most unique dining locations in Be Our Guest, where families can dine inside Beast’s castle, and Skipper Canteen, which is themed after The Jungle Cruise attraction.
Hotel Recommendation: To stay as close to the park as you can, check out Disney’s Contemporary Resort, which allows you to walk to and from the Magic Kingdom gates in just a few minutes. The resort also offers one of Disney’s most beloved character dining experiences at Chef Mickey’s in the atrium of the resort.
13. Disney’s Epcot
Epcot is widely considered Disney World’s more “adult” park, where guests tend to enjoy drinks and eats from around the 11 countries represented at World Showcase. But families can find a lot to do at Epcot, including learning about sea life at The Living Seas With Nemo and Friends or learning more about our planet at The Land pavilion’s new Awesome Planet film.
The park will also be welcoming a brand-new family-friendly attraction to World Showcase this summer. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is set to debut in the France pavilion. The attraction will whisk riders away to Paris with Remy to see what it’s like to be a rat in a human world. Along with the new attraction, a new restaurant will be opening in the France pavilion, La Creperie de Paris, which will be a fast-casual dining experience serving up a variety of traditional French crepes.
Hotel Recommendation: If getting to the park with ease is your family’s top priority, you might want to look into staying at Disney’s Beach Club Resort. The resort is within walking distance to the World Showcase entry of the park, which makes it easy to come and go as you please. The rooms are spacious, and the resort has a sand-bottom pool kids will love. There’s even a fun character dining experience with Minnie and her friends!
14. Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Orlando, Florida
Disney’s Hollywood Studios just completed a massive three-year overhaul of the park. The park puts families right in the center of their favorite Disney films and shows including Toy Story, Star Wars, and Frozen. Be sure to check out the recently opened Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and get to the parks early to snag a boarding pass for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance!
The most recent attraction to debut is Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which officially opened March 4, 2020. The ride puts you right in the middle of a Mickey Mouse cartoon short, where just about anything can happen. There’s also a very catchy theme song that your family will be singing for days to come.
Hotel Recommendation: The best hotel to stay at to experience all that Disney’s Hollywood Studios has to offer is Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. There’s a walking path between the park and hotel, or you can take a relaxing boat ride to the park. Either way you go, staying here is a great way to increase your chances of getting the coveted boarding pass for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
15. Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Orlando, Florida
Disney World’s largest park is Disney’s Animal Kingdom. If you have kids who love being able to get up close and personal with a variety of animals and nature, this is the park you have to visit. The park features some world-class shows themed after The Lion King and Finding Nemo, and original attractions not found anywhere else in the world in Expedition Everest and Flight of Passage.
The most recent addition to Disney’s Animal Kingdom is Pandora – The World of Avatar, which is also home to the park’s best quick-service dining location, Satu’li Canteen. The restaurant offers customizable bowls big enough to share between two people.
Hotel Recommendation: For even more animal fun, consider staying just a few minutes from Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. The resort offers rooms with a view of live animals, fun activities throughout the day for kids, and a nightly open-fire marshmallow roast for the whole family.
16. Universal’s Islands of Adventure – Orlando, Florida
Islands of Adventure is part of Universal Orlando Resort, and is the home of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade, Jurassic Park, and Marvel Super Hero Island. Families can board the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley and back to Hogsmeade to tour Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and even eat traditional British fare inside Three Broomsticks.
The latest attraction to open at Islands of Adventure is Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure, which is great for older kids and adults. The attraction is set during one of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures classes and along the way, you might run into a few of the most famous magical creatures including unicorns and centaurs. Depending on where you sit in the train and what part of the car you pick—motorbike or sidecar—your experience will be completely different.
Hotel Recommendation: To get even more out of your trip to Universal’s Island’s of Adventure, stay at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, where you can jump on a boat or walk to the parks in under 10 minutes. This resort also has the added perk of extra park hours for resort guests.
17. Universal Studios Orlando – Orlando, Florida
Feel like you’re in a movie at Universal Studios Orlando, part of Universal Orlando Resort. The park features some of this generations favorite films and TV shows including E.T., Despicable Me, and The Mummy. Universal Studios Orlando is the perfect park for kids and parents who are into thrill rides since there are so many of them.
When you walk into the park you’ll also notice the relatively new TODAY Cafe, which is serving up grab-and-go breakfast items, fast-casual lunch and dinner, and delightful snacks. Try the elderberry croissant, which is light, airy, and filled with sweet and tart elderberry jam.
Recommended Hotel: Staying close to Universal Studios Orlando is a big part of getting the most out of your day, and if you stay at one of the Universal-owned resorts, you get the benefit of additional hours in the parks for resort guests only! To take advantage of this and stay on a budget, you might want to consider Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites, where rooms start at just $79 a night!
18. Knotts Berry Farm – Buena Park, California
A theme park set on a farm that once sold boysenberries is a pretty cool origin story if you ask us! Knotts Berry Farm now has dozens of family-friendly and thrill rides for kids and adults to enjoy. The park also features quite a few restaurants serving up tasty treats that include boysenberries, with everything from a boysenberry cake shake to a boysenberry Philly cheesesteak! The fall brings a family-friendly Halloween festival to the park, and an entire season dedicated to celebrating the Peanuts characters.
Recommended Hotel: The park has its own hotel right on property, the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel. The resort features hundreds of rooms, and tickets can be bundled into your room package! Some rooms even have a view right into the park, where kids will love seeing the coasters come to life with trains going by each morning.
19. SeaWorld Orlando – Orlando, Florida
SeaWorld Orlando has taken some incredible steps to become a Certified Autism Center, and offers a variety of places for families to explore together, including the newish Sesame Street Land, where kids will love playing and seeing all of their favorite characters from the timeless television show. For older kids and adults, thrill rides are plentiful at SeaWorld Orlando. The latest of the thrill rides to open is Infinity Falls, where you board a raft and experience class IV river rapids before plunging from the tallest chute drop of its kind in the world.
Soon to debut is Ice Breaker, SeaWorld’s first launch coaster. The ride will have four airtime filled launches, one reverse launch, and a vertical drop with a 93-foot-tall spike and 100-degree angle!
Hotel Recommendation: Located adjacent to SeaWorld Orlando and its sister waterpark, Aquatica, the Doubletree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld is a great spot to crash each night after a day of fun in the sun riding roller coasters and checking out sea creatures. The resort features free Wi-Fi, lounges and restaurants, and the ease of getting to and from SeaWorld quickly and efficiently.
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