Vintage theme park pictures to whirl you back in time

Vintage theme park pictures to whirl you back in time



While today’s theme parks are typically filled with titanic thrill rides and hi-tech attractions there’s a certain charm about the amusements of yesteryear. From a British seaside park in the Roaring Twenties to the early days of Disney, we take a look at some nostalgic shots of our favorite theme parks.



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The fabulously kitsch rides and amusements of Brooklyn’s Coney Island have certainly stood the test of time, with the very first roller coaster, the Switchback Railway, making its debut in 1884. The “island’s” Luna Park, meanwhile, opened in 1903, entertaining vacationers for over four decades before it was ravaged by fire in 1944. Here visitors gather around the entryway, with its flags, turrets, and giant half-moons, in the early 1900s.



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Coney Island continued to boom through the first half of the 20th century, with its seaside location, colorful attractions and daring rides the perfect mix for pleasure seekers. You can barely see the beach or the boardwalk for people in this 1946 shot, which also shows beaming vacationers on Coney’s now defunct Parachute Jump ride.



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Throughout the 20th century, Blackpool, on the west coast, offered everything Brits could want from a family vacation: sun (maybe), sea, sand, and the Blackpool Pleasure Beach, a loud, proud amusement park that dates to the late 1800s. In this nostalgia-inducing snap from the 1930s, park-goers take a spin on the Pleasure Beach’s tumble bug ride.



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The tourist attraction is still going strong, and the Big Dipper, a wooden coaster first installed in the 1920s, is one ride that has become synonymous with the park. Here visitors in the 1950s brave one of the Dipper’s epic drops.



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There was – and is – plenty more beyond the roller coasters and thrill rides at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, though. Here, in the late 1960s, a fun-seeking bunch slip down the park’s mammoth nine-lane slide. Next stop? To a confectionery stand to pick up a stick of Blackpool’s famous rainbow rock.



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As its name suggests, this wholesome family theme park in the Golden State started out as a berry farm. The land, now peppered with rides and attractions, was bought by farmer Walter Knott and his wife Cordelia (pictured) in the late 1920s – they originally made their living by selling berries from a simple roadside stand. By the 1930s they’d struck on something special: the boysenberry, a cross between a trio of other berries that piqued punters’ interest.



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The Knotts didn’t rest on their laurels though, and with the Great Depression posing a major challenge to business owners, the couple decided to add another string to their bow. In the 1930s, Cordelia began selling her famous fried chicken dinner from a tea room on the property, and hungry diners would line up in their hundreds (pictured). Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant is still a top attraction at the park today.



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Inundated with visitors hoping for a taste of Cordelia’s chicken dinner, the Knotts decided they needed an extra way to entertain their many guests. In the 1940s, the Ghost Town, a themed land still beloved by park visitors today, was born – it included attractions such as a blacksmith’s shop, a town jail and livery stables, and succeeded in pulling in further crowds.



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Fast-forward to the 1960s and the park was in full swing. Attractions such as the Calico Mine Ride, which plunges passengers into the depths of a replica gold mine, and the Calico Railroad (pictured left) helped cement Knott’s Berry’s status as one of America’s best-loved amusement parks. Decades later, the park still booms with plenty of thrill rides, live entertainment and even a hotel thrown into the mix.



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Tipped as one of the oldest amusement parks in the world, Wurstelprater (known better as Prater) is a quaint theme park in Austria’s capital. The park has its roots in the 1760s, when the land here was first donated for public use and a medley of snack bars and amusements quickly sprang up. Its crowning jewel, the 200-foot (61m) Riesenrad Ferris wheel, was first erected at the end of the 19th century (though it was reconstructed after the Second World War) – it’s pictured here in all its glory in the 1960s. 



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Proud of its status as the second-oldest amusement park in North America (after Connecticut’s Lake Compounce), Cedar Point – today the self-professed “Roller coaster Capital of the World” – dates back to 1870. In the early days the main attractions were the beach, bathhouse and sunny beer garden, but the park grew into something much bigger. The first roller coaster sprang up in 1892, and this photo shows the mighty Cyclone, a wooden coaster that debuted in the 1920s.



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The park, with its sought-after location on the shores of Lake Erie, went from strength to strength through the 20th century. A favorite attraction throughout the late 1930s and 1940s was Hi De Ho In The Dark, a kitsch fun house filled with mirrors.



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Even today much of the action happens on the Main Midway (pictured), one of the oldest parts of the park. Cedar Point’s Giant Sky Wheel, a vast double Ferris wheel (pictured right) debuted in the 1960s and delighted visitors right up until 1980. Meanwhile, the Centennial Theater (pictured back left) continues to entertain audiences as the Jack Aldrich Theater today.



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While it doesn’t have the same long history as some of Europe’s other parks, Disneyland Paris (first christened Euro Disney) is one of the best-loved of them all. When it opened in the 1990s, it was a microcosm of its American cousins, boasting a Fantasyland, Frontierland and, of course, its very own fairy-tale castle. Pictured are some of the first visitors exploring the park on the eve of its opening in 1992.



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Thoroughly committed to its 1880s theme, Silver Dollar City had its start in the 1950s when the Herschend family set to work creating a replica mining town. In 1960, they opened the attraction, named Silver Dollar City, to the public – it was complete with an ice-cream parlor, a blacksmith’s shop and a general store. The latter is pictured here in the 1960s.



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Alongside the carefully curated Old West-style attractions, visitors to the park could expect plenty of live entertainment. Pictured here is a stomping saloon show in the Silver Dollar Bar – look carefully and you can see the faces of delighted audience members in the mirror.



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By the 1960s, one of Silver Dollar City’s top attractions had been added: a steam train (pictured) that chugs through the leafy Ozarks countryside. But beware: along the way passengers would be (and still are) held up by train robbers that emerged from the woods ready to loot and plunder.



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While Legoland parks are now dotted around the world, it all began in the town of Billund, Denmark. The original Legoland Park opened in 1968, and welcomes millions of visitors per year today. Crowds gather around the park’s vast entrance gates in this depiction from Legoland’s debut year.



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From the very beginning, Legoland’s intricate models made from rainbow blocks pleased visitors. In this picture from 1968, guests marvel at a Lego replica of Denmark’s Dybbøl Mølle windmill as the Lego train rumbles along in the background.



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Often tipped as Europe’s greatest theme park beyond Disney, Dutch site Efteling opened in the 1950s. At its heart is the Fairytale Forest, an elaborate woodland tribute to fairy tales including Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and The Frog Prince, complete with model figures and buildings. Of course, there’s no shortage of roller coasters, either, and the mighty loops of the Python roller coaster are shown in this 1980s shot. Here are seven more reasons to visit Efteling today



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North Carolina’s Carowinds, now in the Cedar Fair Portfolio, began life as a charming park themed around the history of the Carolinas. And, luckily, it had immediate appeal: more than one million visitors poured through its gates in the very first season. While the 1973 oil crisis prevented the park’s growth for a while, it remains a regional favorite today, attracting thrill-seekers from the Carolinas and beyond. The Skyway (pictured) was one of the opening attractions, granting riders sweeping views of the park until the ride’s closure in 1981. 



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Carowinds also boasted a pair of steam trains, which offered gentle rides around the park. This one, which ran from 1973 up until 1977, was affectionately known as “Ole Blue”. The other, named Melodia, operated during the same period at Carowinds, but actually had a long history beginning in Louisiana’s cane fields in the late 1800s. Discover more of America’s top theme parks.



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The story of Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens amusement park begins in 1843, when the King of Denmark gave founder Georg Carstensen permission to open his pleasure gardens. There was a thrill ride here from the very beginning, and the site is still home to one of the world’s oldest wooden coasters. This 1957 shot shows relaxed visitors wandering the park’s pristine paths, with the famous Ferris wheel rising in the background.



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It’s said that the Gardens were a favorite with Walt Disney, who paid a visit in the 1950s and even sought to emulate Tivoli’s atmosphere in his own larger-than-life California park. The serene boating lake, pictured here in the late 1950s, remains the park’s showpiece, despite the addition of mammoth thrill rides and attractions. Here you can spot Copenhagen’s City Hall in the background too.



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For Palisades Amusement Park, historic photographs – and a dinky memorial named “The Little Park of Memories” on the former site – are all that remain. The park existed from the late 1800s up until the 1970s when bulldozers brought its amusements to the ground. Here, in the park’s heyday in the 1950s, visitors cling on as they ride one of Palisades’ wooden roller coasters.



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Any self-respecting park in the 1950s had bumper cars and Palisades was no exception. Here, sometime around 1956, a staff member helps a beginner driver behind the wheel. See more photos of America’s abandoned theme parks too. 



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Kentucky Kingdom may not be a veteran park, but this colorful site has packed a lot into its relatively short history. Opening its gates in the 1980s, the park saw its biggest change with the addition of the Hurricane Waterpark (pictured) in the early 1990s. Here 1990s visitors enjoy the park’s massive wave pool (Big Surf) and its classic Ferris wheel.



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Dreamland’s history may have been rocky – with the war years and devastating fires both taking their toll – but this beloved theme park on the Kent Coast is still something of an institution. The site dates back to the 1870s, with its dance hall and restaurant drawing early visitors. Another of its initial attractions was the Sea-On-Land carousel, pictured here in the 1880s. 



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It was in the 1920s, however, that the park began to take its modern shape. The Scenic Railway – a wooden coaster finished in 1920 – helped seal the park’s success for years to come. It was badly damaged in the fire of 2008, but has once again been restored and remains a Grade II-listed structure. It’s pictured in action during the 1930s. Check out other exciting roller coasters from around the world too



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Perhaps no theme park image is more iconic today than Disneyland California’s Sleeping Beauty Castle – and she looked just as beautiful in the 1960s, when this snap was taken. Created in the image of Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle, the structure was one of Disneyland’s (now Disneyland Park) earliest attractions. Here park-goers drink in the castle’s impressive towers and turrets.



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Another of Disneyland’s enduring attractions is Frontierland, an Old West-themed land that has been part of the park from the very beginning. Here tourists are seen crossing the waters into a land of saloons, cowboys, pirates and pioneers, with early attractions including the Mark Twain Riverboat, which still plows the park’s waters today. This photograph was snapped around 1955, not long after the park’s opening date.



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Fantasyland was also an early part of the park, and it still delights visitors today. Among its whimsical attractions were the Alice in Wonderland–inspired Mad Tea Party ride, with its spinning rainbow teacups, and the Skyway, a gondola-lift-style ride that whisked visitors above the park. Both are in full swing in this 1960s snap.



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Probably the most popular theme park in the world (Disney doesn’t release any official visitor numbers) Walt Disney World Florida actually came after its Californian cousin. The Floridian park opened its gates in 1971 and, just like in California, the castle – this time belonging to Cinderella – soon became a symbol of the park. Here eager visitors wander up Main Street U.S.A in the site’s early days.



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Disney World’s handful of magical lands – including Adventureland, Tomorrowland and Fantasyland – succeeded in pulling in the crowds. Attractions such as the Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat (pictured) – which debuted in the 1970s, but was closed by 1980 – were early hits with park-goers. Discover more about the history of Disney’s theme parks here.



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