'The Happiest Place on Earth'? Disneyland may lay claim to the cheesy slogan, but we like to think that Denmark's Legoland, though considerably smaller, may give it a run for its money.
Legoland is, after all, a theme park celebrating the 'toy of the century' (title courtesy of Fortune magazine) in the country in which it was invented: Denmark, 'the world's happiest nation' (according a Gallup World Poll). So you've got to believe this place will be something special. And it is.
Opened back in 1968, Legoland is located in Billund, a small town in regional Denmark that was the birthplace of the toy bricks. Billund is some 260km west of Copenhagen; handily, the airport that was built here by the Lego company in the mid-1960s has grown to become the second largest airport in Denmark. Public transport to the park is excellent.
Once here, your heart will be warmed by the sight of 59 million plastic bricks imaginatively put together to create Lego-heaven, and possibly by so many happy Scandi families - just how many wholesome blondes can fit inside a theme park? You might feel a little underdressed if you're not accessorising with your own excited offspring, but don't be put off - this place all but begs you to embrace your inner child.
For anyone above the age of, say, five, the highlight of Legoland is Miniland - 20 million plastic blocks snapped together to create miniature cities and replicate global icons. You can't help but marvel at the brilliant Lilliputian models of the Kennedy Space Centre, Amsterdam canals, the Bergen waterfront or a Scottish castle and loch, and you'll no doubt vow to head home and drag your Lego out of storage to see what masterpiece you can create (surely it's not that hard?).
In Miniland you can also do some advance sightseeing of Danish landmarks including Copenhagen's tourist magnet Nyhavn; the country's oldest town, Ribe; or the royal palace of Amalienborg. Kids can take a mini-jeep safari through an African wildlife park (lions, zebras and giraffes built from Lego, of course). All ages can take a miniboat trip past landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, the Acropolis, and Abu Simbel Egyptian temple. The reconstructions are on a scale of 1:20 to 1:40 and the attention to detail is incredible. The park's largest piece, a model of Mt Rushmore with the four American presidents, is built with a staggering 1.5 million Lego bricks. (The smallest piece? A dove in Miniland, built of four small white bricks.)
Be sure to pick up a park map to assist with further exploration. The park is divided into themed areas, including Legoredo Town, a Wild West area; Knights' Kingdom, where a medieval castle awaits; Pirate Land, which hosts ships and sword-play; and Duplo Land, with safe, simple rides and activities for toddlers.
Legoland's rides and activities are mostly geared to pre-teens and families. For wilder rides suited to older kids, it compares unfavourably to somewhere such as Copenhagen's Tivoli. Still, adrenaline-junkies should seek out X-treme Racers, a roller coaster that cranks up to a speed of 60km/h, then head to the nearby Power Builder to defy gravity on a Terminator-like robotic arm.
For some downtime stop by Atlantis, a large aquarium built around Lego models of divers and submersibles. For the chilled park-goer there are rides aplenty to keep the blood pressure down, from merry-go-rounds to a tranquil train ride. Once the entrance fee is paid, all rides are free. Happy indeed.
Make it happen
Opening hours: The park's season is from April to October; check the website, as there are a handful of closed days in April, September and October.
Admission: adult 299kr (€40), child aged 3 to 12 years 279kr (€37)
Park facilities: Inside Legoland you'll find numerous restaurants, food outlets, a bank, ATMs, lockers, baby room, pushchair rental and almost anything else you might need. Do we need to mention there's a huge Lego shop?
Accommodation: Hotel Legoland (www.hotellegoland.dk) is right by the park and continues the theme, with brilliant Lego figures and fabulous pirate, princess or knight-themed rooms.
This article was published in September 2011 and refreshed in January 2013.