The Top 10 Theme Parks in the World

Cinderella Castle inside Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla

© Walt Disney World

There are some wonderful theme parks throughout the world but how might one select the best of the best? Some might argue that those generating the most attendance should get the nod. Using the number of visitors as the criteria, the Disney theme parks would dominate the list. As the most popular parks on the planet, they regularly occupy eight of the top ten slots on annual attendance charts.

To broaden the scope, we are using a different metric. Every two years, the amusement and theme park industry honors one of its own with the Liseberg Applause Award. Named after Sweden’s Liseberg park, where the award originated in 1980, a panel of international experts recognizes parks for their excellence, originality, aesthetics, success, and other standards. The award is presented at the IAAPA Expo, the world’s largest trade show and gathering of professionals in the parks and attractions industry.

A preponderance of the Liseberg Applause Award recipients are located in the U.S. Therefore, many on the following list, which represents a sampling of award winners, are U.S. parks. They are presented in no particular order.

01 of 10

Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida

Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom

© Walt Disney World

Address
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32836, USA
Phone +1 407-939-5277

The first park to receive the Liseberg Applause Award, the Magic Kingdom is also the most popular park in the world, generating more than 20 million visitors every year. The East Coast version of Walt Disney’s original park, Disneyland, it features classic attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and the Jungle Cruise. It also offers more thrilling rides that are part of its “mountain range,” including Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, and The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Before your visit, you will want to familiarize yourself with MyMagic+, Disney World's advance planning program that includes the ability to make ride reservations.

02 of 10

Europa-Park

View of Rust, Germany from the top of Europa-Park observation wheel at dusk

Courtesy of Europa-Park

Address
Europa-Park-Straße 2, 77977 Rust, Germany
Phone +49 7822 776688

The huge park features 15 lands themed to European countries including Russia, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. There are sophisticated dark rides, such as Pirates in Batavia and Atlantic Adventure, along with 13 wild coasters like the launched Blue Fire Megacoaster and the indoor Eurosat-CanCan Coaster. Founded by the Mack family—which also operates the design and manufacturing company, Mack Rides—Europa-Park serves as a proving ground and a showcase for its coasters and other attractions. The destination resort also includes six hotels and a campground.

03 of 10

Silver Dollar City

People on a twisting roller coaster at Silver Dollar City

Courtesy of Herschend Family Entertainment

Address
399 Silver Dollar City Pkwy, Branson, MO 65616, USA
Phone +1 417-336-7100

Something of a hidden gem outside of the Midwest U.S., Silver Dollar City offers world-class coasters, Broadway-quality shows, and some of the best food served at a theme park (try the heavenly Family Feud Succotash at Buckshot's Skillet Cookery). The park is themed to 1880s America and includes period craft demonstrations. Among the standout rides are the incredible "controlled spin” coaster, Time Traveler, and the new-age wooden coaster, Outlaw Run. Consider touring Marvel Cave, the natural wonder that gave rise to Silver Dollar City.

04 of 10

Cedar Point

Large red steel coaster, Maverick, at Cedar Point
Craig Lloyd/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
Address
1 Cedar Point Dr, Sandusky, OH 44870, USA
Phone +1 419-627-2350

Cedar Point is more an amusment park than a theme park and yes, there is a difference. Dating back to 1870, Cedar Point has expanded and evolved considerably and is now considered one of the world’s must-visit parks for roller coasters. Among its record-breaking, highly heralded thrill machines are the wooden-steel hybrid coaster, Steel Vengeance; the 420-foot-tall, 120-mph Top Thrill Dragster; and Magnum XL-200, the first hypercoaster to break the 200-foot threshold. The park sits on a picturesque peninsula along Lake Erie and also includes a separate-admission outdoor water park, an indoor water park resort, other accommodations, a beach, and a marina.

Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10

Efteling

two familys on a amusment park ride where two costumed performers are doing a waltz

Courtesy of Efteling

Address
Europalaan 1, 5171 KW Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands
Phone +31 416 537 777

A near-Disney-level park, Efteling features some extraordinary and elaborate dark rides, including the royal palace-themed Symbolica; a boat ride to the far corners of the Middle East, Fata Morgana; and a journey to an enchanted forest, Droomvlucht. Among its impressive collection of thrill rides are the themed dive coaster, Baron 1898 and the twin-track, powered coaster, Max & Moritz. Nestled in the countryside, Efteling embraces a fairytale forest theme. The destination resort includes hotels, holiday homes, and an 18-hole golf course.

06 of 10

Dollywood

Dollywood grist mill

Arthur Levine

Address
2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863, USA
Phone +1 800-365-5996

Dollywood, operated by the same folks that run Silver Dollar City, was also known as Silver Dollar City until 1985 when Dolly Parton got involved, and the park became an ode to the beloved icon and a celebration of her Smoky Mountain home. The park features some tremendous coasters, including the world’s first launched wooden coaster, Lightning Rod (which is one of the world’s best rides); a wonderful, separate admission water park; and delicious dining options, including sumptuous meals at full-service restaurants. But what really distinguishes Dollywood is its incredible lineup of live music. It also offers an ambitious schedule of special events, including its Smoky Mountain Christmas holiday celebration.

07 of 10

Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando

The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Islands of Adventure

Universal Orlando 

Address
Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL 32819, USA
Phone +1 407-224-4233

The younger sibling park to Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure had already established itself with groundbreaking attractions such as The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and wild coasters such as the Incredible Hulk. But in 2010, the park took it to the next level with the debut of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The jaw-dropping land conjures the popular Potter mythology with extraordinary detail, and invites visitors to experience the mind-blowing, immersive attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and the equally beguiling and thrilling, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Coaster.

08 of 10

Puy de Fou in Les Epesses, France

Recreation of a Roman Gladiator battle in Puy de Fou park in France

Courtesy of Puy de Fou International

Address
85590 Les Epesses, France
Phone +33 820 09 10 10

One of the most unusual theme parks in the world, Puy de Fou does not have any roller coasters. Or a carousel. Or really any rides at all. Instead, it features a collection of highly elaborate and immersive stage shows and spectacles such as "Le Signe du Triomphe,” which includes ancient Roman gladiator battles, chariot races, and wild animals. There are also shows themed to Vikings, a French naval officer, and trained birds. After dark, Puy de Fou presents the epic “Cinéscénie,” which traces seven centuries of history.

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

Knott’s Berry Farm

Knott's Berry Farm Calico Mine Ride
© Arthur Levine.
Address
8039 Beach Blvd, Buena Park, CA 90620, USA
Phone +1 714-220-5200

It began as a roadside berry stand, evolved into a hugely popular Chicken Dinner Restaurant (which remains popular today), and eventually morphed into one of the world’s first theme parks. Its Old West Ghost Town, with its gunslingers and saloon, remains the heart of the park. Its classic attractions, the Calico Mine Ride and the Timber Mountain Log Ride, still delight, but the park also offers incredible coasters such as GhostRider and HangTime. Harking back to its boysenberry farm and chicken dinner restaurant roots, Knott’s is highly regarded for its dining.

10 of 10

Busch Gardens Williamsburg

people walking in a manicured garden at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Address
10165 McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612, USA
Phone +1 813-884-4386

Offering lands based on Italy, Germany, and other European countries, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is often considered one of the most beautiful theme parks. It offers some world-class coasters, including the glass-smooth hypercoaster, Apollo’s Chariot, and the launched ride, Verbolten. Influenced by the cuisines of the cultures it represents, Busch Gardens Williamsburg also has some inspired dining choices.

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The 10 Top Theme Parks in the World