InterPark takes a trip to Efteling to see exactly why the theme park has been voted the best in the Netherlands.

Efteling theme park has been welcoming visitors for almost 60 years. The park, located in a large forested area in the southern town of Kaatsheuvel, opened its doors as Fairy Tale Forest in 1952 – predating the original Disneyland park in California by three years.

Since its opening, Efteling has evolved to become a leading European theme park, attracting visitors both young and old with its cultural, romantic and nostalgic themes and a wide variety of amusement rides.

In October 2013, visitors to the European holiday site Zoover voted Efteling the best amusement park in the Netherlands. It received a rating of 8.7 out of 10, with visitors praising the "magical effect" the park continues to provide.

Indeed, the park's visitor numbers speak for themselves. In 2007 Efteling welcomed more than 3.2 million visitors, making it the most popular theme park in the Netherlands, while in 2009 this figure surpassed the four million mark, making the resort the country's most popular tourist daytrip destination of all categories.

Most of the visitors to the park are Dutch, but Efteling's proximity to Belgium and Germany helps to bolster its catchment area.

The Dutch Disney

The owners of Efteling have a good relationship with the Walt Disney Company. Disneyland Paris consulted Efteling during its construction and design phase, in order to adapt the American park to European culture.

As a token of appreciation the Disney Company gave Efteling a small statue. Ton van de Ven, who designed many of Efteling's attractions, is also reportedly a good friend of Tony Baxter, senior vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering.

The relationship between the two parks was emphasized when Efteling won the 2004 Thea Classic Award, the highest honour awarded by the Themed Entertainment Association: Efteling had, as it turned out, been nominated by Tony Baxter.

Rides and attractions

Since opening its doors in 1952, Efteling has evolved from a nature park with a playground and the iconic Fairy Tale Forest into a full-sized theme park. It now caters to both children and adults, and the companies who have completed installations at the resort reads like a who's who of leading manufacturers.

The Fairy Tale Forest itself completely encapsulates the traditional theme park ideal. The 15-acre area in Efteling depicts a number of well-known fairy tales using amusing (and sometimes spooky) animated statues and buildings.

Most of the figures are inspired by the much-loved tales of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Charles Perrault, including Sleeping Beauty, the Frog King, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin.

The Fairy Tale Forest has 25 scenes in total. Some include specific events such as Little Red Riding Hood at the door of her grandmother's house, while others are more general, such as Dwarf Village. In some cases, the tale is presented via electronic voice-over, and in other cases the tale can be read from a book provided nearby.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s a number of new attractions were added to Efteling, including the Children's Railway; Anton Pieck Square, which features a range of nostalgia rides; and the Steam Carousel.

As theme park operators began to realise the possibilities brought about by new ride technology, the Efteling owners opened the Haunted House in 1978, followed by the Vekoma-manufactured Python, a double looping roller coaster, and the Gondoletta tow boat ride in 1981.

The 1980s also saw the opening of the Pirana lazy river ride, Intamin's Bob Track roller coaster, the Pagode observation tower and Monsiur Cannibale teacups ride.

More recently, Efteling has continued its expansion, with the Bird Rok indoor roller coaster being installed in 1998, The Flying Dutchman dark ride (2007), George and the Dragon wooden racing coaster (2010) and the Ravelin theatre (2011).