All over the world, children and adults alike instantly recognise Playmobil – chunky noseless characters inhabiting cartoon worlds of knights, farmyards, fairytales and other bastions of childhood imagination. This modern classic German toy has been hugely successful since its introduction in 1974; Playmobil figurines cannot hold hands (try it!) but if they could, the resulting chain of every figure ever constructed would circle the globe nearly three times!
But what we discovered only recently is that children of all ages can let their imaginations run riot at the Playmobil Fun Park near Nuremberg, Germany.
Let’s be blunt: Playmobil is essentially the arch-competitor to Lego, and the Fun Park is the German company’s response to the success of the various Legoland Resorts. However, we have recently visited two of the largest Legoland parks (Denmark and Günzburg, Germany) and the truth is… we MUCH preferred Playmobil Fun Park.
The problem with Legoland is it tries too hard to be a theme park (à la Disneyland)*. Those chunky roller-coasters and fairground rides may look exciting, but they detract from the basic premise of Lego itself: free childhood play. By a beautiful contrast, there are no “rides” at Playmobil Fun Park – each themed area simply encourages kids to do what kids do best…
The result is that Playmobil Fun Park is by far the most relaxed park of this type that we have ever visited. The lack of fairground-type attractions and utter immersion of the kids in their fantasy Playmobil world means that the park is refreshingly unhurried and quiet. No rides also means no waiting around in lines (with a handful of exceptions such as the pedal karts), meaning that your little ones can simply spend their time engaged in whatever hand-on activity takes their fancy.
Did you know? All Playmobil toys are made in Europe, at their factories in Spain, Malta, the Czech Republic and, of course, Germany.
The centrepiece of the park is the “HOB”: an immense glass structure with funky tiered seating forming an amphitheatre around a main stage. Life-sized Playmobil figurines stand guard over pits brimming with toys, water features bubble therapeutically in the background, and sparrows (real ones) flutter overhead. It’s a wonderful spot for parents to relax over a coffee or lunch, and a safe haven in case of rainy weather outside.
Outdoors, the park is essentially one giant unbroken playground, structured around various themed areas. The castle and life-sized pirate ship may count among the more physically impressive features, but the attention to detail, ample green spaces and countless smaller activities are what really make Playmobil Fun Park such a pleasure to visit.
TIP: Challenge your kids to find the secret entrance to the Playmobil castle.
The park is sensibly targeted towards the same age group as the Playmobil toys, i.e. 4-12 year olds, and better suited for kids at the lower end of this range. Nevertheless, there is (just about) enough to hold the attention of pre-teens such as Ash; fully-fledged teenagers will surely bore more easily.
It’s no secret that we adore the Germanic / Scandinavian approach to family attractions, with emphasis on outdoor activities, responsible parenting and exposure to just the right amount of risk. Visitors from anglophone countries may initially be surprised (hopefully pleasantly so) at the freedom that kids have in the Playmobil Fun Park. Children may go rafting alone on a lake without a life jacket, climb to dizzying heights in a “spiderweb”, and are actively encouraged to scale the castle walls (some five metres high).
Yes they may tumble and hurt themselves, yes they may fall in and get wet (in fact, Mia did!) but in Germany learning to manage these risks is considered to be merely part of the learning process, a fundamental element of childhood and growing up. In short, young visitors to Playmobil Fun Park are encouraged not only to play, but to climb, run, jump, explore and discover. In our opinion, it is precisely this that makes the park so special.
There’s a hotel at Playmobil Fun Park too, and after a full day of unstructured outdoor play we retired, slightly sunburnt, to one of the coolest (and best-designed) hotel rooms we have ever experienced.
We were meant to leave early the next morning to return to Luxembourg but – guess what? We loved it so much that we snapped up another day pass and let our kids enjoy another day of the simple pleasures of free play, Playmobil-style.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION ABOUT PLAYMOBIL FUN PARK
(Prices / info correct as of April 2018)
- The Playmobil Fun Park is located in Zirndorf (near Nuremberg), Germany and is open from late March to early November.
- Entrance costs a reasonable €12 each for a single day pass (€10 outside peak season) with various discounts / deals available.
- Arriving by car, the park is well-signposted and there are oodles of parking spots available (€5 per day, or free if you are staying in the hotel).
- Street parking is free of charge, if you’re lucky (or early) enough to find a spot.
- Arrival by public transport appears to be somewhat trickier. Nevertheless, bus and train possibilities are neatly summarised here (in German).
- There are numerous water attractions throughout the park; on warm days we recommend packing a towel, swimwear and / or a change of clothes for your little ones.
- There are plenty of places to eat and drink throughout the park, at family-friendly prices (e.g. the kids’ menu in the main restaurant costs around €6, including a toy and souvenir beaker).
- Oddly for Germany, there are no drinking fountains**, but fresh water is available in all the toilet facilities.
- Almost all park information is available in both German and English.
- Foreign visitors may initially be confused by the very Germanic “pfand” (deposit) system operating in the park’s restaurants.
- Upon buying food, you initially pay a “pfand” of €2 on each glass / mug / plate that you use, receiving a token for each.
- Once finished, return the items to the “Geschirr-Rückgabe” with the tokens to receive a full refund.
- Naturally, there is a huge shop full of every type of Playmobil you never knew existed. Prices are surprisingly reasonable too; a good opportunity for your kids to use up their pocket money on a lasting souvenir.
- Surprisingly, the hotel does not have a restaurant; plan accordingly. A sumptuous breakfast (€12 adults, €8 for children) is available in the “HOB” for hotel guests.
This is NOT a sponsored article. We’re writing it simply because we enjoyed our visit to the Playmobil Fun Park and think that other families may too.
Daisy the bus visited Playmobil Fun Park in April 2018.
(c) 2018 Jonathan Orr
*This is perhaps not surprising: Legoland Parks are not actually managed by Lego itself, but rather by Merlin Entertainments, a British theme park company also in charge of attractions such as Alton Towers and Madame Tussauds.
** Not entirely true. We found one, but it wasn’t working. Newly-installed?