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Theme park De Efteling welcomes its hundred millionth visitor

Anton Pieck’s creation increasingly popular

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

KAATSHEUVEL – “Hundred million! That’s six times the Dutch population,” exclaimed an elated Bart de Boer, topman at De Efteling, surprising a family of six as they came through the turnstiles at the largest theme park in The Netherlands. One hundred million tourists have visited the park, designed by famed Dutch illustrator Anton Pieck, since it opened its doors in 1952. Now one of the oldest theme parks in the world, De Efteling has welcomed a record number of tourists this year and has high hopes it may celebrate another milestone before the year is over when it admits its four millionth visitor.

Located near the town of Kaatsheuvel, in the municipality of Loon op Zand, De Efteling originally catered to children with a fairy tale theme. Over the past fifty years, the park has evolved into a full-size theme park along the lines of Disneyland. De Efteling is twice as large as the original Disneyland park and opened its doors three years earlier than the California park. De Efteling now appeals to all ages with its cultural, romantic and nostalgic themes, and its variety of breathtaking amusement rides.

Designed by Anton Pieck, het Sprookjesbos, the Fairy Tale Forest, was opened on May 31, 1952, when it was home to only about ten different fairy tales, all of them brought to life using Pieck’s original drawings alongside ingenious lighting and sound effects designed by the Dutch film maker Peter Reijnders. Displayed in an atmospheric forest, the life-size fairy tales proved to be an enormous success. In its first season of operation, De Efteling welcomed 240,000 visitors.


The success of De Efteling has been attributed largely to its high-quality ride designs and architecture and its pleasant green environments and landscaping. Under the direction of its creative designers, the park has always maintained high standards. When Anton Pieck was asked to design the initial fairy tales for the park, he ensured that the park would live up to his high professional standards, and be devoid of cheap building materials, plastic or concrete. Pieck's style, somewhat grim and dark, yet also romantic and nostalgic, has remained the thematic base on which most future expansions were built.

Pieck worked for De Efteling until the mid 1970s, when he passed his position as chief designer on to young Ton van de Ven, who had already been working at De Efteling for several years. Het Spookslot, the Haunted Castle, which opened in 1978, was the park's first new large ride and the first attraction designed entirely by Van de Ven. Later, he designed many more successful rides and new fairy tales, earning him the reputation as the world's best 'imagineer' after Disney. Van de Ven retired in 2002, and was succeeded by a new team of imaginers.


De Efteling consists of four main sections: the original theme park, the 1992 four-star De Efteling Hotel, the 18-hole golf course, which dates from 1995, and the new holiday park with bungalows. Each division is a separate commercial company, but all shares continue to be held by the non-profit Nature Park Foundation De Efteling (or Stichting Natuurpark de Efteling).

De Efteling currently covers an area of approximately 160 acres or as the Dutch would measure it, 650,000 square metres. This area has changed little over the course of the park’s history. However, the foundation owns a much larger property, covered mostly with young forest, some fields, roads, and an 18-hole golf course.

When the park reorganized its infrastructure in the late 1990s, it added the Pardoes Promenade and a central hub called De Efteling Brink, and changed its area names. North became Reizenrijk, or Travel Realm, West is now called Marerijk, Fairy Realm, East has been renamed Ruigrijk, Rough Realm, and South is known as Anderrijk, Differ Realm.


Built in a rural Brabant district, De Efteling has plenty of pine trees, giving it a 'nature park' feeling well before such parks became fashionable. Together with the large ponds and gardens and their numerous flowers, the park's abundant green space may be rather unique among the world's leading theme parks but blend well with the Dutch approach to green spaces and nature.

Keeping everything green year-round may be easier for Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. Unfortunately, Dutch climate and the reliance on greenery and trees for a huge part of the park's presentation and themes make it hard to remain open year-round. Originally, De Efteling closed for the winter (it opened from April through October), but management, struggling to make the park more financially viable, has been experimenting with a so-called "Winter De Efteling" since 1999. Using loads of pine trees and thousands of Christmas lights during the winter, "Winter De Efteling" has become increasingly popular with thousands of people visiting the park during the Christmas season.