I swapped Disneyland Paris for this quirky alternative and saved £1,000

In these straitened financial times[1], the prospect of splashing out on a family theme park holiday can be daunting, but there are several lesser-known European alternatives that your bank manager would be interested in. Among them is Parc Asterix, 45 minutes' drive north of Paris. Its packages stack up well against Disneyland Paris[2], but how does work out for a family of firm Disney fans who've already enjoyed a brilliant French break with Mickey and Co?

Disneyland Paris and Parc Asterix, of course, offer a very different experience across their accommodation, rides and restaurants. But, on a straight package comparison, the lesser-known option is hugely tempting. A two-night stay this month for a family of four at Parc Asterix starts from EUR546 (GBP470), including three-star accommodation in La Cite Suspendue, breakfasts (meals on site range from around EUR10/GBP8.60 to EUR40/GBP34.50 per person) and park tickets.

At Disney, a similar grade of hotel, the three star Sequoia Lodge, costs from EUR1,600 (GBP1,373). Day passes tend to be cheaper for Parc Asterix too: standard day entry for Parc Asterix is EUR62 (GBP53.20). Disneyland Paris is GBP97.21 for entry to one park, GBP120.36 for both parks.

However, special offers are often available for both online.

The affordable and French way to do Disneyland, with chic rooms near the park for less than GBP30pp

"I don't want to go anywhere else. I want to go back to Disneyland Paris," insisted Tara, my 16-year-old daughter, backed up by a defiant 13-year-old Emma. My wife Jenny also looked unconvinced about France's homegrown alternative, a rite of passage for French children that celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.

Parc Asterix heaved open its gates in 1989 and has become a firm favourite with French families. It was built on virgin forest-covered countryside, with major investment from Barclays, costing 850 million French Francs. The site was chosen for its proximity to the motorway (it has its own junction) and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Conceptualised as a homage to Asterix, its theming also encompasses the Romans and the Egyptians. In 2021, the park closed its dolphin and sea lion enclosure to focus on rides, introducing Toutatis, a rollercoaster which it claims is the "fastest attraction in France" in 2023. The vibe is more historic than Disneyland Paris, with half-timbered houses, faux medieval streets and vaulting turrets.

And always, in the background, the forest. Parc Asterix had a record year in 2023 with more than 2.8m visitors, though that's just a fraction of Disneyland Paris's 14m annual visitors. When Parc Asterix first opened, only 7 per cent of visitors came from outside France, but that has since doubled.

We found that most visitors were French families, swirled in with teens seeking the thrill rides, but also met British visitors in the hotel and the park. I was concerned our daughters might not enjoy it, and that would just wish they were at Disneyland, which is a temptingly close 50km south-east. I had my own wobble as we pulled off the motorway just north of Paris.

However, I was instantly reassured by our hotel, the three-star La Cite Suspendue, which, like the brace of four-star hotels, lies amid thick forest.

The writer's family explores the hotel (Photo: Robin McKelvie)The writer's family explores the hotel (Photo: Robin McKelvie)

Our two-bedroom room had chunky timber beds and muted colours to make the most of the forest setting - more Brothers Grimm than Asterix. Simple, comfortable and homely, with a balcony offering a retreat in the trees. Birds chirped all around as we eased into reception, where we were greeted in English and checked in.

Throughout our stay, there was no problem with the language barrier. The only thing that the girls couldn't understand was the shows, but pirates and their slapstick tales are universal. I had also feared my girls wouldn't be au fait with Asterix and his merry band of Gauls, given life by the books of Albert Uderzo and Rene Goscinny.

The park is themed on comic book character Asterix (Photo: Parc Asterix)The park is themed on comic book character Asterix (Photo: Parc Asterix)

"We know who Asterix is dad, everyone does," scolded Tara.

He is not Mickey Mouse, though, and they don't overdo him across the park's half a dozen themed zones around parts of the world and civilisations that broaden the appeal. Emma added that she liked Asterix anyway -he is, "more French". La Cite Suspendue was a joy.

As its name suggests, it's elevated in the trees, its chunky wooden lodges connected by elevated walkways. We had plenty of space in ours. The highlight was a terrace with a table and chairs that herons glided by.

Surrounded by wildlife and trees, it felt more Jurassic Park and was a delight compared to many other theme parks I've visited. The buffet restaurant served lashings of fresh, healthy dishes - not a hamburger in sight. Proper food.

The girls tucked in as we enjoyed a glass of Chablis at our outside table. We almost forgot we were in a theme park, but made the most of our two full days there. As hotel guests you can arrive earlier than the general public, which is also the case at Disneyland Paris.

There is only one park compared to Disneyland's two, so navigating is easy. Parc Asterix can't compete with Disney's sheer breadth of rides, but there's a good balance.

One of the park's water-based rides (Photo: Arnaud Sobczyk)One of the park's water-based rides (Photo: Arnaud Sobczyk)

We splashed out on "Gold Filotomatix" fast passes for EUR45 (GBP40) each that enabled us to skip the queues across the 50 rides and shows, cheaper than Disney's equivalent Fast Pass that costs around double. It was Easter time and it felt as busy as our summer holiday visit to Disneyland Paris, but with the wide walkways and forest setting, it never felt too much.

The pass let us cover the "proper big rides" Tara was after withouth wasting time in line. I had feared that Parc Asterix would really cater more for younger children, - which it does brilliantly with lots of imaginative play areas and bijou rides - but it goes for it with rollercoasters, too. Two blew Tara away.

Goudurix is a seven-loop steel rollercoaster and when it opened in 1989 it held the European record for the greatest number of inversions. "You really feel everything," she beamed about a ride that was a little rough for dad. Toutatis topped it for Tara though: the coaster reaches speeds of 110 kph.

Emma was less keen on getting hurled around at the speed of an express train. Here Parc Asterix delivered with a sweep of watery thrills that are less jolty and don't loop any loops. The Menhir Express reminded me of the log flumes I enjoyed as a child at Blackpool's Pleasure Beach.

The Toutatis area at night (Photo: Sylvain Cambon Photographe) The Toutatis area at night (Photo: Sylvain Cambon Photographe)

Eating well at a theme park can be tricky, thankfully not at Parc Asterix.

With those hotel buffets to fall back on at dinner there were the usual fast-food outlets you would expect and, of course, being a French theme park, spot-on crepes at every turn. Then there is the Restaurant du Lac, with its relaxed bistro vibe and outdoor terrace overlooking the lake, it serves the best food I've had at a theme park. A delicious salmon tartare set the tone for spot-on bistro food you'd expect at a Parisian restaurant.

The highlight was wild boar (sourced within 200km of the park) three ways - a peppery, rich sausage, kebab and chop - washed down with cold draught Kronenbourg. Lunch for four cost us less than GBP30 a head.

The salmon tartare (Photo: Robin McKelvie)The salmon tartare (Photo: Robin McKelvie)

Another concern was that Parc Asterix might be a little stuck in the past at a time when Disneyland Paris is innovating again, with a huge revamp and rebrand at one of its parks. For this season, Parc Asterix has the new "Gaulish Musical" in the 600-seat Panoramix Theatre and a "Gaulish Parade".

Tara loved the new Tower of Numerobis, which soars you up 40m-high, then rotates you around for jaw-dropping views over the forest and park - a handy way to plan your next move. There is talk of new hotels too, as they try to keep up with Disneyland Paris. Easing away from Parc Asterix, I had three happy passengers.

But the big question remained - which of Paris's big hitting theme parks would get the vote from our spokesperson Tara? She summed up the mood in the car. "I liked it - really liked it, but I really like Disneyland Paris too," she smiled. "Can we go to both next time?" How to get thereParc Asterix is 35km north of Paris and is close to Charles de Gaulle Airport.

The writer flew with easyJet[3], which offers direct flights from 10 UK airports and one-way tickets starting at GBP15.99. From Eurostar, take the RER from Gare du Nord to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, then the bus direct to the park. Visiting thereParc Asterix[4] offers accommodation and entrance packages from EUR68.25pp.

General admission from EUR42.


  1. ^ straitened financial times (inews.co.uk)
  2. ^ Disneyland Paris (inews.co.uk)
  3. ^ easyJet (www.easyjet.com)
  4. ^ Parc Asterix (www.parcasterix.fr)