I love a good theme park. Take a lot of stuff that people enjoy but can’t replicate easily on their own (enormous thrill rides, disgustingly delicious junk food, and bored teens in elaborate costumes) and put it all in one place for easy enjoyment — what’s not to like? Especially as, once the domain of children and beleaguered, slightly bored parents, in recent years theme parks have increasingly catered to the entire family, so you can enjoy them as an adult, without stigma.
On the other hand, the theme park experience can be kind of generic. You find many of the same basic concepts in just about every one of them, from roller coasters, to water slides, to whirling teacups. If your interests go beyond Disney, thrill rides, and standing in long lines, the typical theme park experience might leave you a bit cold.
But there are more theme parks in heaven and earth than you ever dreamed of — so if you’re looking for an experience that speaks to your specific interests, you may be luck. Here are 10 of the best extremely niche theme parks you can visit.
Sanrio Puroland, Japan
Are you a Hello Kitty superfan? Then the trip to Tokyo will be well worth it. This theme park is dedicated to — and populated by — Sanrio’s beloved characters. And not just Hello Kitty, but also Gudetama, My Melody, Aggretsuko, and Cinamoroll. There’s a character boat ride where you float through a story about all these characters planning a party, the chance to walk through and explore Lady Kitty’s house, several parades every day, and stage shows. It’s a full-service theme park on the model of Disneyland, so there are also plenty of food options and basic services. And it’s in Japan, so it’s likely the cleanest theme park you’ll ever visit.
Land of Oz, North Carolina
This theme park was once fully operational but shut down in the 1980s. Many of its rides were demolished, but the Oz portion remained intact. Today it opens on certain days every year, so you have to check the web site and plan ahead. But if you or your kids are huge fans of L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels (and the films they inspired) then it’s worth the extra effort. You can explore Dorothy Gale’s farm in Kansas, experience a tornado, follow the Yellow Brick Road, visit the Emerald City (which is built new every year), meet Dorothy and the other famous characters from the stories, and enjoy live performances.
Hershey Park, Pennsylvania
Do you love candy and chocolate with a passion that is at times unseemly? Then this may be your best reason to visit the great state of Pennsylvania. Located in the town of Hershey, this theme park is dedicated to all of the Hershey corporation’s products. Every single ride, event, and performance is themed in Hershey’s candies — there are even life-size candy bars walking around and interacting with you, which is either amazing or terrifying, your choice. It also features a robust slate of rides, including roller coasters, water slides, and more sedate rides for the littler ones.
Ferrari Land, Spain
If you’re into sports cars and speed of all kinds, why not visit beautiful Catalonia, Spain and check out a theme park dedicated to everyone’s favourite Italian sports car? The biggest draw for speed freaks is undoubted Red Force, which launches you from 0 to 112 mph in five seconds. But there are also regular roller coasters, a racing legends 3D ride, and a racetrack where you can drive a toy Ferrari. There’s a water park nearby, too, if all that speed overheats the familia.
If you were a kid who loved to play with toy trucks and create elaborate dig sites in your backyard, this is the reason to visit Kent you’ve been searching for. Here you not only get to enjoy rides modelled on and inspired by heavy trucks and machinery, you get to operate heavy trucks and machinery — including full-size, very real equipment including backhoes, dump trucks, and excavators. It’s like playing with toy trucks in real life. The park also offers water-themed activities to help you cool off when you’re done living out your backhoe fantasies.
Love Land, South Korea
Jeju Island in South Korea has been a honeymoon destination for South Korean newlyweds for years, so its association with love and eroticism is well-established. So why not create an entire, extremely weird theme park focused on love and sex? Why not, indeed. If you’re an, er, eroticism enthusiast, this is the place for you. It’s filled with striking and sexy sculptures, is open deep into the night, and offers refreshments and even educational films that will answer the many, many questions you’ll have after viewing the exhibits.
The Governor’s House, Vermont
If you’re a huge fan of Jane Austen’s fiction, Bridgerton, or any other regency-themed entertainment you can find, good news! You can visit a literal Austenland. This is a fully immersive weekend event where you stay at Governor’s House, a period-accurate country home. There are plenty of era-appropriate activities like riding, hunting, sewing, and tea (and movies, just in case you can’t detox completely from the 21st century). It’s your choice how deep you get into the cosplay, but if you want to get the most out of the experience, it’s probably best to dress the part.
Soviet Bunker, Lithuania
Have you ever wondered what it was like to be persecuted in Stalinist Russia, sent to the gulag, and disappeared? Who hasn’t? If that’s what tickles your fancy, this immersive theme park is the ideal experience. With elements of Orwell’s 1984 included, you’ll get to experience all the terror and deprivations of the regime, and even eat a Soviet-era inspired dinner. If you’ve always dreamed of being oppressed and possibly tortured, book your flight to Lithuania, stat.
Republic of the Children, Argentina
Have you ever dreamed of being a giant? Well, this theme park in Argentina is going to be the best money you ever spent. Built in the 1950s and reportedly the inspiration for Disney World, this is a complete city built at a child’s scale, which means everything will appear miniaturized to the adult. Although conceived as a way of teaching children about civics and republican principles, kids can also enjoy a world that’s scaled perfectly to them, while adults enjoy stomping around like giants in a fairytale-ish place — you can even be arrested for your stomping activities and tried in a very tiny court. You can ride a narrow-gauge railway through the city and enjoy the meticulous architecture of the buildings, many of which were inspired by famous edifices around the world.
Popeye Village, Malta
If you’re a fan of Popeye, you’ve probably seen the 1980 film starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall. The full-size set of Sweethaven Village built for the film has been preserved ever since, transformed into a theme park for Popeye superfans, which are people we assume exist. The set has been augmented with a full range of theme park attractions, including rides, performances, and actors dressed as Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Bluto. No word on whether you can eat a hamburger today and pay them next Tuesday, however.