Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens
The Tivoli Gardens might well be the most famous amusement park in the world. It’s certainly one of the oldest, having opened in 1843. While much has changed since then, you can still get a pretty strong dose of the Victorian age when you wander through. We were slightly on the fence about whether to go at all, because the park gets mixed reviews and is kind of pricey. Our entrance tickets cost about £14 each, but entrance does not include any of the rides, entertainment, or food; so you’re paying quite a fee just for the privilege of walking around. But since it’s the TIVOLI and it’s COPENHAGEN … we decided to go for it.
We arrived shortly before 8pm on a Friday night, and while we were expecting mass crowds of teenagers, it really wasn’t too bad. There was enough light when we first arrived to see a few of the fountains, although my overall impression was of a slightly dingy park from the 1950s. They may have upgraded some of the rides, but they obviously haven’t spent any money on a landscaping or architecture in decades. In many ways the Tivoli reminded me of the Old Elitch Gardens in Denver, which I suppose is not surprising since Elitch’s was based heavily on the Tivoli. If I didn’t know I was in Denmark, I could have been in North Denver.
Unfortunately we arrived starving of the hunger, which is never a good way to begin an evening expedition, so we promptly set about searching for food. I’ll write another post about food and costs and eating in Scandinavia, but this was our one night to splurge on a nice dinner in a restaurant. While we are typically very dedicated to trying new and local foods when we travel, I have to admit that we succumbed to exhaustion and cold and had dinner at Wagamama. (For those who don’t know, it’s a chain restaurant that serves a pan-Asian cuisine, mostly delicious noodles in soup.) It was perfect for what we needed, and while the costs were higher than they would have been back home in London, it wasn’t too exorbitant, even with two glasses of wine.
I suppose I should explain the bit about the wine. We weren’t going to drink on this trip, because alcohol is particularly pricey in this neck of the woods. But on our second day in Copenhagen, when we arrived at the Tivoli, the woman who sold us our tickets told us that there had been a news alert published at about 5pm that afternoon, warning all Copenhageners (?) not to drink the water. Apparently they found E.coli bacteria in the city’s water supply. So she recommended that we drink beer or wine instead! This was a bit of a shock, especially since we’d been drinking the water the day before and that morning at the hotel. But fearful travelers we are not – and so blithely continued on our evening at the Tivoli.
After we had dinner, we walked around the park. It’s pretty amazing that the place is packed into the center of Copenhagen – there are tall brick walls around, but you would never know that just on the other side is a busy street. Many of the rides seem built almost on top of one another – but the benefit is that you never have far to walk for the next bit of entertainment. Of course, it was around 10pm when we started our circumnavigation of the lake, and even this far north it was quite dark at this time of night. But in some ways, I think this made the Tivoli better. I didn’t see any litter or cigarette butts, I couldn’t see the bare patches of grass or slightly rusting metal fences. Instead all I saw were vague shadows and twinkling lights. Alex commented at least twice that no park the US would ever be able to operate with such minimal lighting – at one point I was afraid we were going to walk right into the water! But the darkness cloaked the disagreeable, and the brightly colored lights were charming.
I would not recommend the Tivoli to anyone who loves theme parks, however. I am not that ugly-American traveler who thinks “Americans can do it better” for every single thing they see. (In fact, most times I feel the exact opposite.) However, just this once, I have to admit that Americans saw and loved the Tivoli back in the day, and they’ve improved upon it. The fact that your entrance fee doesn’t cover any rides is pretty annoying, as are the ridiculous prices for fast food once you’re inside. The rides were decent, but I’m sure anyone who has been to any Six Flags would be disappointed. Perhaps that explains why so many Americans give the Tivoli Gardens negative reviews on TripAdvisor. But you have to remember that this is the original — this is the first theme park. Of course it’s not going to be similar to the later ones. You have to go to the Tivoli with low expectations (and at night, and with a fat wallet) and then you’ll be delighted.