Just like Australia's Gold Coast, the Lake Garda region in Italy's north is home to an abundance of theme parks and one of them, Gardaland, has become a family favourite in our household. Gardaland is like a smaller Italian version of Disneyland (or even Australia's Dreamworld) with lots of rides, rollercoasters and shows to suit all ages. Other theme parks around Lake Garda include Movie Land Studios, Caneva World (think Wet 'n' Wild) and an animal-themed park, Parco Natura Viva.
Gardaland and the other theme parks mentioned above are all situated around Peschiera del Garda at the southern end of Lake Garda. If you're not staying around the Lake itself, the theme parks are only an hour away by train from Milan and two hours from Venice, making them easily accessible.
Our first visit to Gardaland was in 2000 when our kids were five and eight years old. When we returned to Lake Garda five years later, it was top of their minds - we had to go back again! On another visit to the region in 2008 we were tossing up whether or not to go back to Gardaland. The days were very hot - well over 35C - and I couldn't stand the thought of lining up for rides in blistering heat.
However, the local representatives at the holiday park we were staying at offered us free tickets - previous guests had bought two day tickets but only used them on one day so the tickets were going begging! When I also found out the park stays open until 11pm during summer, it was all go. We arrived at Gardaland around 5pm, just as the hottest part of the day was passing, and stayed until closing.
I'll admit on my first visit to Gardaland I was a bit apprehensive as to how we would manage as we don't speak any Italian but I needn't have worried. Gardaland attracts lots of international visitors (Lake Garda is a popular holiday resort for Brits) so park maps were available in English, as were signs and announcements, and most of the food vendors and shop assistants we dealt with also spoke English.
Useful info about Gardaland
- Gardaland is open daily from April 1 until the end of September each year with limited opening days from October until January. From late June until early September the park stays open until 11pm.
- The Gardaland Hotel is located right next door to the theme park if you like to stay close to the action. We've always stayed in holiday parks at Lake Garda and it's been really easy to get to Gardaland by car.
- If you don't have a car, a free shuttle bus service operates every 30 minutes between Peschiera del Garda railway station (on the main Milan - Venice line) and the park.
If you're staying in the area, particularly if you are travelling with children or teenagers, I'd definitely recommend a visit to Gardaland. There really is something for everyone - even for those who aren't rollercoaster fans (like me!) - and it's a great way to mix up your holiday sightseeing. After all, churches and museums do start to look the same after a while.
Are you a theme park fan? Please tell me your favourite European theme park.