The Republic of the Children is rumored to have been the inspiration for Disneyland. // © 2015 Creative Commons user solitary_man1
Feature image (above): Mini-Europe in Belgium represents roughly 80 European countries. // © 2015 Mini-Europe
If you’re tired of Disneyland or Universal Studios, why not try something a little stranger? The following seven theme parks are some of the weirdest in the world and feature everything from child-sized public trials to miniature versions of Mount Vesuvius and Big Ben.
Have you ever dreamed of operating a crane on a construction site? Diggerland, which has four locations in England and one in the U.S., can help make your dream come true. The theme park allows guests to operate real, full-sized construction machinery, such as a Dumper Truck or a JCB 3CX, in addition to riding the Sky Shuttle and Spin Dizzy. But if you need a break from driving, Diggerland also offers an indoor and outdoor play area, sandpits and coin-operated rides.
Gruto Parkas, Lithuania
Tired of bright and cheery theme parks? Then head to Lithuania’s Gruto Parkas, where guests can learn what it was like to be held in a Soviet prison camp. Colloquially referred to as “Stalin’s World,” Gruto Parkas teaches visitors about the history of the gulag and Soviet communism while faithfully recreating the prisons’ conditions. The “guards” around the park will even hurl abuse at you like you’re an actual prisoner. Unlike the real labor camps, however, Gruto Parkas also features a merry-go-round, restaurant and zoo.
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is the largest indoor theme park in the world and the first (and only) Ferrari-branded park. It also houses the world’s fastest roller coaster, Formula Rossa, which reaches 149 mph in less than five seconds. If you’re a fan of cars, Ferrari World is the place to be — guests can hone their racing skills in an actual Ferrari California or in a motion-based simulator, as well as learn about the history of the Italian brand by touring its factories and Galleria Ferrari, which features models dating all the way back to 1947.
Instead of trekking the continent to visit each European country, why not just get it all done in Belgium? The Mini-Europe theme park lets guests visit 350 of Europe’s most famous monuments, such as Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, and represents roughly 80 countries in the European Union — all miniaturized at a scale of 1:25. If you’ve ever wanted to see a baby Roman Empire or a tiny erupting Mount Vesuvius, Mini-Europe is the place to go.
Republic of the Children, Argentina
Legend has it that the Republic of the Children was an early inspiration for Disneyland. The park takes the form of a city that’s sized proportionally for children. And, like a city, it’s full of bureaucratic institutions such as courthouses, government buildings and a parliament. The park was built by Eva Peron Foundation in order to teach kids about democratic institutions, so, in lieu of rides, visiting children can fill out fake loans, elect politicians and sit in on mock public trials.
Shijingshan Amusement Park, China
If you search Shijingshan Amusement Park online, don’t be surprised if it looks like slightly familiar. The owners of Shijingshan have faced many lawsuits citing copyright infringement from companies such as Disney, noting that many of Shijingshan’s mascots resemble famous characters including Mickey Mouse and Snow White. Since the lawsuits, most of the copyright infringements have been removed (although the park’s buildings still resemble Disney landmarks such as Cinderella Castle.) Considering all of this fuss, why go to Shijingshan? As its old motto said, “Disney is too far to go.”
Perhaps due to all those lawsuits, the theme park no longer has its own webpage.
Wunderland Kalkar, Germany
Germany’s Wunderland Kalkar is located on the site of a former nuclear power plant — in fact, the park uses the plant’s old cooling tower to host a 130-foot-tall climbing wall, swing ride and log flume. Interested in going but worried about your health? Don’t be. The nuclear power plant was never actually used. After the Chernobyl disaster, German officials decided not to put the plant into production. Besides the rides inside the cooling tower, Wunderland Kalkar has 40 other attractions for families and a few hotels scattered around the property.