When it comes to theme parks, most people tend to think of places such as Disneyland, Six Flags, and Universal Studios. But what about parks that delve into more niche interests or unusual themes, such as Buddhist beliefs, heavy machinery, or the "marital arts"?
Yes, these are all real theme parks located around the world. They and other quirky parks draw scores of visitors each year to play mini golf in a former salt mine, experience what life was like in Soviet Lithuania, and even participate in a faux illegal border crossing. No matter how obscure your interest, believe it or not, there's probably a theme park that will satisfy your curiosity.
With unique activities and attractions, these 11 strange theme parks from around the world provide hours of fun (well, depending on your definition) and are a far cry from your run-of-the-mill roller coasters and Ferris wheels. To develop this list, Stacker explored Fodor's Travel, Culture Trip, and other sources to compare the many strange theme parks out there and see which ones stand out from the pack.
These parks range from thrilling to thought-provoking, odd to confusing, and amusing to mildly concerning. But these descriptions will only take you so far—to fully experience these strange spots, you might just want to plan a visit to see them for yourself.
Located in Singapore, Haw Par Villa walks visitors through Chinese folktales—the good, the bad, and the ugly—via more than a thousand sculptures and hundreds of dioramas. If you're traveling with kids, be advised that not all of these scenes are appropriate for young eyes. Some exhibits depict beheadings and other gruesome happenings, particularly in the park's most famous attraction, the 10 Courts of Hell (it's exactly what it sounds like).
But don't worry if you or your travel companions are on the squeamish side; Haw Par Villa has several different experiences catered to visitors' interests, including a guided tour that delves into the park's past life as the Tiger Balm Garden. You can also grab a bite to eat or a quick pick-me-up at The Sixth Milestone, a small bistro perched on the edge of the Pagoda Pond.
Set in a Soviet Union-era bunker near the Lithuanian capital city of Vilnius, Išgyvenimo Drama will give you a theme park experience you're not soon to forget. This park takes visitors a few decades back in time to 1984 Soviet Lithuania, showing what life was like for citizens living in the USSR. Along the way, you'll have to wear gas masks, watch your belongings be confiscated, and learn the Soviet national anthem, among a variety of other activities. Like most Lithuanians at the time, you'll also have a good chance of being subjected to interrogation.
Your prize for surviving a day in the Soviet Union? A period-authentic meal, plus a certificate and souvenir from the era.
Visitors to this Danish amusement park can expect a day of traditional family-friendly activities, complete with roller coasters and tasty theme park food like pizza, hamburgers, and ice cream from the on-site restaurants. This might sound like a fairly standard theme park experience so far, but BonBon-Land is on this list for good reason.
Its unusual animal statues, like vomiting rats and farting dogs, are guaranteed to raise at least a few eyebrows. As odd as they may seem, these peculiar critters are mascots for the theme park's creators and owners, the BonBon candy company whose confection names (like Seagull Droppings and Ear Wax) are bodily inspired. If you want to see the Crazy Tortoise or Henry Hundeprut in person, try to visit on a clear day since some attractions may close for rain or strong winds.
If you couldn't get enough of playing in the sandbox as a kid, Diggerland should be on your must-visit list. Advertised as the only construction theme park and water park in the United States, this New Jersey spot allows kids of all ages (including kids at heart) to live out their dreams of playing with heavy-duty equipment like backhoes, farm tractors, and forestry claws. All these machines are the real deal, bringing that childhood sandbox experience up a notch.
During summer months, visitors can also go for a swim or glide down waterslides in the Water Main section of the park. When you start to feel peckish, themed restaurants like The Pit Stop and Fork Lift Cafe serve up all the fuel you'll need for your adventures. Those across the pond, meanwhile, can choose from four different Diggerland locations in the United Kingdom.
Putt-Putt, bowling, and a Ferris wheel all fall within the bounds of typical theme park activities. But when those activities take place 120 meters belowground, that's a different story. The Romanian theme park Salina Turda is set within a former salt mine that was excavated during the ancient Roman era and opened to tourists in 1992.
Besides trying out the mini-golf course, visitors can also partake in salt-focused spa treatments and go for a boat ride across a tranquil underground lake. It might not be for anyone suffering from claustrophobia, but Salina Turda is certainly a theme park unlike any other. Plus, the atmosphere itself is supposed to bring good luck and health benefits, so this might be one of the few theme parks in the world that improves your physical well-being.
Located on South Korea's Jeju Island, Loveland depicts many different ways to get down and dirty—in graphic detail, no less. Originally conceived (pun intended) as a fun way to provide sex education in a nation with a historically low birthrate, Loveland now sees visitors from all over the world. Guests come to admire the variety of sculptures and other exhibits, which include a self-pleasure bicycle and sex-ed films.
If you happen to be visiting Jeju with kids, you will probably end up hanging out at the children's lounge with rides and books for those below 19 years old. Then, you'll be free to go on a relaxing stroll down a path decorated with phallic imagery.
In El Alberto, Mexico, eco-tourism-focused Parque EcoAlberto offers standard outdoorsy activities like kayaking, guided nature hikes, and zip-lining. But its biggest draw is a bit more unexpected: a so-called "night walk," which consists of a strenuous four-hour hike meant to simulate an illegal border crossing between Mexico and the U.S.
Parque EcoAlberto launched this "attraction" in 2004 as a means of discouraging El Alberto locals from attempting an actual border crossing. But these days, many participants are international tourists eager to undergo this one-of-a-kind experience. Guests start in the park's Catholic church for a pep talk before joining a gruff guide for a lengthy trek through the dark, dodging law enforcement and natural hazards along the way. An extreme version of the hike is available and takes more than six hours to complete.
Anyone seeking a thrill ride can easily satisfy their need for speed at Ferrari World, located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. This theme park features the world's fastest roller coaster, which can accelerate from 0 to 150 miles per hour in a matter of seconds.
There's also a zero-gravity ride, parallel roller coaster tracks where you can cruise around at a cool 59 miles per hour, and much more. You can also get behind the wheel of a Ferrari or ride shotgun around the park with a trained driver. Naturally, Ferrari World's restaurants serve Italian cuisine, but there's also a variety of other international foods represented here.
Located in Ho Chi Minh City, Suối Tiên is an amusement park purportedly geared toward visitors of all ages. Its theme, however, might leave you wondering whether or not that's true. Suối Tiên is all about Buddhism, with exhibits that take you through, for example, different places in Buddhist hell (contrary to its name, the Palace of Unicorns is not for kids).
In defense of Suối Tiên, though, it's not all about grotesque depictions of afterlife torment. In addition to many photo-worthy sculptures throughout the park, there's also a zoo, Buddhist temples, and a handful of small rides perfect for kids. Visitors can also cool down from the relentless tropical heat at Biển Tiên Đồng – Ngọc Nữ water park, the site of the first artificial beach in Vietnam.
At this Darwin, Australia theme park, real-life monsters are the main attraction. The park is home to the world's largest collection of Australian reptiles, though top billing at Crocosaurus Cove is given to the famous saltwater crocodiles.
Intrepid visitors can dive with the crocs in the invitingly named Cage of Death, which consists of a clear chamber semi-submerged in the crocodiles' enclosure. Other experiences allow you to get up close and personal with juvenile crocodiles, go "fishing for crocs," and snap a picture with a baby crocodile.
If you're really passionate about these prehistoric reptiles, book a guided VIP tour, which runs for about 90 minutes and includes feeding some of the park's biggest crocodiles, behind-the-scenes access to the aquariums, and a helpful guide who will dispense information on all the reptiles at Crocosaurus Cove.
South Korea's Imsil Cheese Theme Park dedicates 32 acres to celebrating its namesake dairy delight. Visitors can learn about the history of cheese, try their hand at making cheese, and, of course, eat plenty of cheese themselves during their time in this popular park.
Enthusiastic cheese lovers can book a stay at the park's three-floor pension rooms, named after various kinds of cheeses, of course. Before you wrap up your visit, don't forget to say "cheese!" and snap fun pics pretending to be on the banks of Venice or high in the sky with a wedge of cheese in the park's Trick Art room. Wander around the park and take a few photos of the adorable mascots and statues across the park. Or, better yet, grab a wedge or two as a souvenir to take home.
Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Tim Bruns. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.