North Brabant : Efteling
Efteling  is a theme park in Kaatsheuvel, North Brabant, The Netherlands. It's themed around fairy tales and is the largest theme park in the Benelux. It's said that it can measure itself with Tivoli Gardens (Copenhagen) and Disneyland Paris.
Although very suited to families with children, it is not childish: Efteling provides more that enough to do for any age category for at least an entire day.
Originally Efteling catered towards children with a fairy tale theme, nowadays Efteling appeals to young and old with its cultural, romantic and nostalgic theme and its variety of amusement rides. In over fifty years, Efteling has evolved from a general nature park with playground and unique Fairy Tale Forest, into a full-size theme park along the lines of Disneyland.
Efteling is famous for its great attention to detail, the green atmosphere and excellent dark rides. With four million visitors annually, it's in the top of European theme parks right after the Disney parks in France and Europa Park in Germany.
The base for the park as it is now was created in 1950. Artist Anton Pieck and inventor Peter Reijnders set out to create a quality fairy tale forest. Pieck's remarkable, nostalgic style combined with Reijnders' ingenuity and the use of "real" materials created an enchanting forest that immediately profiled Efteling as a national attraction upon its opening in 1952. The style set by Pieck has been the base for many developments after that, setting the park apart.
The most important milestones in its development :
The opening is 365 days a year. The park opens at 10 am (march-november) or 11 am (november-march). Closing time was 21:00 in July and August, but has been 20:00 since 2011 for unclear reasons. Closing time in July/August is 24:00 on Saturdays. 18:00 is the closing time in the rest of the year, with exceptions in some winter weekends and Christmas Holiday: 20:00. There's also a Winter Efteling that opens between november and march, see the web site for exact details.
Efteling is reachable in the following ways:
The entrance fee is €32 off-season and €34 in the summer (2011). Discounts are available for tickets bought through their website or at resellers like all Albert Heijn supermarkets. Such prepaid tickets can save you a queue at the entrance on busy days. There's also a combination train+bus+entrance ticket, which is a good deal, but this can only be ordered from the NS website in advance. Children 0-2 are free of charge.
Once inside, all attractions and shows are free (except for the Game Gallery).
Dogs are not allowed in but there's a kennel at the entrance building.
Once inside the park, everything can be done on foot. It's about 65 ha big, that's around 20% larger than Disneyland Paris. Wheelchairs are available for free, and carts to take kids around kan be rented for €3.
The park is divided into four realms: Fairy Realm (Marerijk), Travel Realm (Reizenrijk), Rough Realm (Ruigrijk) and Alternative Realm (Anderrijk).
There's a (real) Steam Train that services one station in the Marerijk and one in the Ruigrijk and provides a scenic tour around the park.
A division between see and do is not entirely clear for a theme park, but attractions will be considered under do.
The park itself is set in a real forest, and that shows: there's a lot of green to see, and the small army of gardeners bring in large quantities of flowers each season. There's also a collection of tame animals like peacocks, ducks, geese and other birds.
Also to see are the shows and wandering entertainment. During the summer there's a free show in the Efteling Theatre multiple times a day. Besides that, the park features lots of smaller shows which change by the season, and wandering theatrical entertainment. For an up-to-date list, be sure to catch the information leaflet when entering.
A remarkable figure around the park is Holle Bolle Gijs (see image below), a sturdy character similar to Humpty Dumpty, that is insatisfiable in his hunger for paper. He keeps on asking "Paper Here", and thanks visitors that feed him their waste.
When the park has reduced opening in the winter time, a yearly changing large-scale musical production is set in the Efteling Theatre.
Below are the most important attractions in the park; either because of popularity or because of notability. They are divided by realm.
Fairy Realm (Marerijk)
This is where it all started with the fairy tale forest and playground. This is also the place where the style of founder Anton Pieck can best be observed.
Travel Realm (Reizenrijk)
Adventure Realm (Ruigrijk)
Alternative Realm (Anderrijk)
All in all there's more than enough for at least an entire day of fun.
Spread around the park are merchandising stores which sell items related to the attractions as well as general convenience items.
At the Anton Pieck square, there's also three historic vending machines: a chicken, a goose and a little blacksmith. When a coin is inserted, they shortly come to life and produce some kind of small toy – it's a surprise what it will be.
Unfortunately, exquisite food is not Efteling's strong point. The park excels in snack food though, with lots of places to buy fries or pizza. Try the typical Dutch fries with Mayonaise at the Smulpaap in Marerijk. Also available are the Dutch "snack wall" vending machines that give you a warm snack when money is inserted.
Apart from snacks, there's two self-service restaurants: Witte Paard (white horse) in Marerijk and De Ballonvaarder in Reizenrijk. Next to the latter is also a waited restaurant Welkom, and one in the theatre near the entrance. There serve relatively simple dishes and special children's menus.
Recommended is Het Poffertje across the Caroussel palace. Here you can eat authentic Dutch poffertjes -- very small pancakes served with butter and sugar.
In contrast to many other theme parks, bringing your own food is perfectly allowed. Although smoking is allowed in open air, tobacco is not sold inside the park.
Of course there's lots of places to buy a cola or a coffee. The restaurants also sell beer and wine. Want to hang around after closing time? Try the bar of the Efteling Hotel.