If you’re seeing Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen for the first time, night time is magical. And to see Tivoli after dark at its most sparkling, Christmas time can’t be beat. Fairy lights are on year-round, but the park outdoes itself during the winter holiday season with more
lights and more decorated trees and huts selling anything from toys and Christmas trinkets to glögg and candy.
December was my first visit to Copenhagen and I’d heard and seen a lot about Tivoli, the famous amusement park sitting at the center of the city, just a block from the main train station. It’s been charming Danes and visitors since 1843.
The night time temperature was close to freezing, but there was no wind, which meant no breath-taking blasts of Arctic air. Still, some of my photos didn’t come out – hard to stand still when it’s so cold.
I bought the all-inclusive ticket, since I didn’t know what I’d find inside or whether I’d be there for the 2-plus hours until closing. The woman at the ticket booth told me to make sure I experienced the Flying Trunk ride. To a
regular visitor, the path was perfectly clear, but as a first-time guest at night, some of the paths were hard to find. Eventually, I asked some park workers for help and found the ride – down a slope, behind a building and through an underpass filled with candy vendors. (I’m amazed that the Danes don’t have more of a reputation for rotten teeth, with all the candy kiosks at Tivoli, but I’m told that candy is a once per week treat for them, not a daily indulgence).
The ride had open ‘steamer trunks’ for seating and these swiveled as they moved along rails that carved a swooping path past several scenes from Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. I should confess here that I’ve never been to either Disney park, nor any other
amusement park since I was a teenager. I’m old enough that this means having visited a couple of long-defunct amusement parks in New York (Kiddie City and Freedomland, for any NYC baby boomers out there) and I visited the 1964 NY World’s Fair several times. That said, Tivoli felt like a throwback to that much more innocent time. There were small boats you could steer around a tiny, shallow lake. Bumper boats looked like fun, but didn’t smack into each other with enough force to hurt anything or anyone. Even the ancient roller coaster looked as though it would not have provoked many shrieks.
The newer rides were much more hair- (and dinner-) raising. I followed a group of
students past a giant Chinese dragon onto the Daemonen roller coaster. This isn’t the old wooden one that many people told me about. This was a state-of-the-art loop-the-loop that made me wonder what in hell I’d been thinking when I strapped myself into my first roller coaster ride in more than 40 years. According to Wikipedia, this coaster included ”an Immelmann loop, a loop, and a Zero-G roll” on a ride that I estimated at 90 seconds but is actually 106 seconds. For me, upside down is upside down regardless of the actual trajectory. Having names for looping and corkscrewing is something I associate with divers jumping off a diving board. Or a snowboarder. It was a blast, though, even if I almost lost my ski hat and froze my face! Thankfully, my dinner didn’t go anywhere.
Next on the agenda was a large mug of glögg. They were selling 2 versions. One was sweet, the other, more alcoholic. There were other hot drinks too, probably non-alcoholic for kids. I opted for the high-octane stuff – not sure of the ingredients, but one standard recipe includes red wine, port and brandy. At Tivoli, they added a shot of rum. Cinnamon and cardamom were in there, and maybe other spices. Raisins sat in the bottom of the mug, plump with booze; slivered almonds floated on top. Hot, lethal and delicious. It thawed my frozen face in no time and the ceramic mug was a great souvenir.
For the rest of the night, I wandered around looking at all the buildings. Some were extremely elaborate, like the miniature of Moscow’s St. Basil church, the large Moorish palace, the exotically colored electric peacock that filled the wall near entrance to the park. A pirate ship, a Chinese pagoda, all outlined in colored or white lights which lit up the walking paths as much as themselves. Some of these were just snack stops; others contained indoor rides or live stages. Oblivious to the dazzle, some reindeer settled into their deep hay beds for the night.
The shops dotting the park were filled with all sorts of Christmas goods – decorations for the house or tree, winter hats and mittens, special breads and candies, housewares and toys. Except for the brightly lit lane of candy vendors, nothing felt too commercialized; a nice
change from our American obsession with brand names and the implied command to buy everything and buy now.
The next morning, I walked past Tivoli’s entrance. It was not yet open, the lights were still off and no rides were operating just yet.
But the unlit brick entrance looked less magical under the winter clouds. I’m glad I went at night. Had I come past the gates during the day, I might not gone in. Even so, I think next time I will visit during the day.