I have written before about my love of Disney. Specifically, I have written about my love of Disney theme parks, and how fittingly, the first card/membership that I owned in France was my annual pass to Disneyland Paris. I still have that annual pass, but this will be my last year. Disney recently announced their new line of annual pass memberships, and I can’t bring myself to pay twice as much for half the benefits. Thankfully, Disney is not the only option for theme park enthusiasts in France. I recently visited Parc Astérix for the first time, and it only took a couple of minutes for me to know that it would not be my last. Not by a long shot.
A Comic of Gauls and Romans
Parc Astérix is a theme park based on the characters from the Astérix comic strip and media franchise. Never heard of it? Don’t worry. I hadn’t either until I moved to France. And even today I have yet to read a single story or watch one of the many movies or television shows based on this comic that have been produced over the years. But I really should. Astérix is a cultural institution in France. In fact, more than one of my French friends have told me that the Astérix characters are more popular and familiar to them than the Disney characters. Which is astonishing to me.
The Astérix stories follow the adventures of a group of Gauls in 50 BCE who fight against the Roman Republic. The main characters are the titular Astérix and his sidekick Obelix, and their village is the last remaining part of Gaul not under Roman occupation. The original comic strip was very French-specific in its humour, which made later translations quite challenging. But it has been translated into English on several occasions, and the stories have been published around the world. However, their popularity abroad has never come close to the cultural importance they hold in France.
Parc Astérix is Born
Astérix eventually became so popular, it inspired an entire theme park. Parc Astérix officially opened in 1989, and it quickly became one of the most popular sites in France. Today, over 2.6 million people visit every year. In comparison, Disneyland Paris counts over 14 million annual visitors, but that park is open year round. Parc Astérix is only open full time during the summer, making its visitor numbers all the more impressive.
The park is divided into several themed lands, all based on places and times in history. There’s Gaul, the Roman Republic, and Ancient Greece and Egypt, as well as an area dedicated to the Vikings. The park is home to over 50 different attractions, including almost a dozen rollercoasters. In fact, the park is famous for having the highest concentration of rollercoasters in the country. The park also features several live shows, including parades, dancing, water spectacles, and fireworks displays.
It’s Not All About Disney
Confession time. I have known about Parc Astérix since I moved to Paris. However, it took me nine years to finally visit, mostly because I had somehow got it in my head that Parc Astérix was nothing more than a faded amusement park. Well, I’m here to tell you that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Parc Astérix is a beautifully designed, fully immersive theme park. It is full of incredible rides, including the only rollercoaster that has managed to truly terrify me. And it is a wholly and distinctly French experience. I didn’t hear any other languages being spoken the entire time I was there, and I was the recipient of more than one curious look whenever I spoke English. If you want to experience a theme park with the locals, Parc Astérix is the place to be.
In many ways, I will always be a child of Disney. But I’ve also accepted that my time as an annual pass holder at Disneyland Paris is coming to an end. I’d be lying if I said that that didn’t make me sad. But now I have a whole new park to discover and explore. A park that is just as large and beautifully designed. One that is full of incredible attractions, shows, and spectacle. And you know what? I can’t wait to go back and experience it all.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.