park with rides and attractions
Travel topics > Activities > Amusement parks

Amusement parks are destinations where there are grouped rides and attractions, with the aim of having as much sensible fun as law, safety and common sense allows.

A famous Disneyland in Anaheim, California

An amusement park can be a small venue within a town, the main attraction of a resort, or even make up a resort town in itself.


Knott's Berry farm ghost town, 1941

The concept of a "pleasure garden" (in some form), is thought to be as old as antiquity, but it was during the late 19th century, and early 20th century that amusement parks evolved as fixed locations, where various attractions could be enjoyed.

By the 1920s, a number of amusement parks had already been established in Europe and North America. In the United Kingdom, major seafront resorts also had pleasure beaches, initially bringing in attractions from travelling fairgrounds, with many innovations of their own.

A theme park is a concept of the mid-20th century, where venues have a similar theme; sometimes with similar parks in different states or countries. Early theme parks include a false ghost town constructed at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park (California) in 1940 and a Santa Claus village established 1949 in North Pole (New York). Many others opened in the post-war era. Although it was not the first, "the happiest place on Earth" opened in 1955, changing culture for good, and paving the way for franchise-based theme parks and fiction tourism.



For the best attractions, and some popular ones, be prepared to queue. You can spend most of your time in line but you don't have much choice. Some parks will also operate fast-pass schemes which unfortunately are prone to abuse.

What to expect

Map of Amusement parks

Amusement parks often have a particular theme which directs the attractions that it would offer. Disneyland for example offers characters from Disney children's cartoons (such as Mickey Mouse), and rides from some of the studio's related studio films such as 'Pirates of the Caribbean'.

Some parks offer 'Dark Rides' where you sit in a 'car' and pass through a series of enclosed and lit tableaux. Depending on the ride these can vary from simple effects, through to multi-million-pound interactive experiences. The British 'Ghost Train' remains a firm favourite dark ride at some seaside parks in the UK.

Others offer thrill rides ranging from cutting edge roller coasters, to scaled up versions of carnival or fairground favourites. The types of thrill ride can be as varied as the themes.

Top Tier


The Top Tier parks are those that attract the most visitors, and which frequently implement the cutting edge in attraction design.

  • Universal Studios - Started off by providing tours on Universal's backlot in California, but has since expanded into a fully-fledged movie-themed amusement park. It has at 5 locations: 2 in the United States, 1 in Japan, 1 in Singapore and 1 in China.
  • Disney parks are widely regarded as being in a category of their own. For these see the individual articles. It has 6 locations: 2 in the United States, 1 in France, 1 in Japan, 1 in Hong Kong and 1 in China.



Of special note:

  • 1 Dyrehavsbakken (Klampenborg, Denmark). Officially claimed by many to be the oldest amusement park in operation, has with updates been in operation in its current form since at least the mid-19th century. It has its basis in a spa resort and hunting park as far back as the mid-16th century. The modern attraction has rides, and presents a live Circus Revue during the summer season.    
  • 2 Efteling (Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands). This European park opened as a 'pleasure gardens' with a fairy-tale theme in 1952. Its first major rides were a miniature railway and a carousel (later joined by others!) Today it has a good mixture of moderate thrill rides, and some beautifully created dark rides.    


Legoland Billund




Linnanmäki amusement park




  • 18 Europa Park. Perhaps the country's biggest, themed with "countries" and located close to France and Switzerland thus rather full-on respective national holidays, including a Bastille Day Parade.    
  • 19 Heide Park (Soltau).    






Gröna Lund amusement park

United Kingdom


Resort parks



  • The Pleasure Beach (Blackpool, England).
  • 29 Drayton Manor (near Tamworth).    
  • Lightwater Valley (North Stainley, near Ripon).  
  • 30 Diggerland. An unusal amusement park, where rides and attractions are derived from modified construction plant! At 3 locations in the UK, Strood, Durham and Castleford.    




  • 31 Shanghai Disneyland.    
  • 32 Universal Studios Beijing.    

Hong Kong

  • 33 Ocean Park.    
  • 34 Hong Kong Disneyland.    





Japan has a number of amusement parks, often utilising cutting edge technology, including:





South Korea



  • 45 Leofoo Village Theme Park.    



North America


Given that in North America, amusement parks of varying levels of quality are widespread, the interested traveller should consult region or city articles, to find parks in any given locality.

Of particular note however are:-

  • 49 Knotts Berry Farm. Attested by many as America's oldest theme park with the first ride attraction, the Ghost Town & Calico Railroad opening in 1952. Knott's Berry Farm has accomplished and set many technological milestones in the amusement industry with its unique ride and attractions. The Calico Mine Ride, introduced in 1960, is commonly recognized as one of the first themed amusement park attractions in the world. It has been owned by Cedar Fair since 1997.    
  • 50 Coney Island. Home to one of America's first 'modern' amusement parks, Coney Island has something of an undeserved reputation for being more than a little seedy. That said if you keep your wits about you, and keep within the boardwalk, you should enjoy the rides and side-shows (including some that proved controversial). The Cyclone is a wooden coaster, which although not hyper thrill, is now a listed landmark.    
  • 51 Kennywood (West Mifflin, Pennsylvania). One of only two parks listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.    
  • Six Flags. A well-regarded chain of amusement parks which is known for its innovative roller coasters, with multiple locations throughout the United States, and a few in Canada and Mexico.
  • Universal Parks.
  • Disney theme parks. Disney and Universal originated in the Los Angeles area in California, though each now has a second, bigger location near Orlando in Florida: Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World.
  • Cedar Point. Like Knott's Berry Farm, this is owned by Cedar Fair, another well-regarded chain, which owns multiple locations in the US and one outside the country (Canada's Wonderland in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada).

See also

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