Tivoli Gardens Garden of Wonders

Tivoli Gardens has for more than 150 years been a family entertainment wonderland with amusements, concerts and dining. There is something for everyone in this illustrious garden in the heart of the bustling city.
By Ellen Dahl

Tivoli Gardens is Denmark’s most popular tourist attraction and also the guardian of 150 years of heritage. As one of the oldest existing amusement parks in the world, Tivoli Gardens inspired the likes of Walt Disney to create Disneyland, and more recently the Tivoli brand itself has been franchised to Kurashiki in Japan where the enchanted gardens bring magic to millions. With its mere 82,717 m2, Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen is nevertheless the third-most visited amusement park in Europe – and little wonder. No matter the season or the time of day, a visit to Tivoli Gardens is always a fairytale experience.


The early days

Tivoli Gardens was founded in 1843 by Georg Carstensen (1812-57), who sought inspiration for his establishment in the many romantic 18th century gardens he visited in Europe. You would be forgiven for thinking that the name Tivoli was borrowed from the classical romantic gardens of Tivoli outside Rome – gardens famed for their 1000 fountains and the ruined villa of Hadrian. Yet the original name of the Copenhagen gardens – Tivoli & Vauxhall – was more directly derived from parks by the same names that Carstensen had experienced in Paris and the London district of Vauxhall but which are now mere phantoms of history.


When Tivoli Gardens was established, Denmark was still ruled by an absolute monarch, King Christian VIII. In his application to the King, Georg Carstensen described his prospect establishment as a fairground of music, performance, entertainment, catering and amusements – and with a grand fireworks finale at dusk. It is rumoured that the absolute monarch was finally convinced of the legitimacy of the gardens by Carstensen’s assurance that “When the people are amused they forget to politicise.” Permission was granted in 1842, and the inauguration of the gardens was held on 15 August 1843.


Due to its location just outside the then fortified perimeter of medieval Copenhagen, royal permission for the amusement park was only granted on the condition that its structures were to be temporary so they could be swiftly removed in the event of war. Accordingly, the first structures in Tivoli Gardens were made of wood and canvas, and despite the ravages of W II (1940-45) and 150 years of constant reinvention, several buildings even today bear witness to the fairground pavilion style that once characterised the gardens.


In the 1880s, Copenhagen rapidly expanded beyond its city ramparts and the once rural setting of Tivoli Gardens was forever transformed – with the current Tivoli Lake as a small remnant of the once grand city-circumventing moat. Today, Tivoli Gardens rubs shoulders with the Town Hall (1905) and the Central Station (1911).

A playground of design

Tivoli Gardens has always been a haven of quality architecture, design and art. A prime example is Poul Henningsen, designer of the iconic PH lamps, who created a number of commissioned lamp designs for Tivoli Gardens, including the lakeside spiral lamp and unique blackout lamp, which was invisible to overhead bomber aircraft and therefore allowed the gardens to remain open in the evening during the early years of WW II. Indeed, illumination is a central feature of Tivoli Gardens where more than 25 custom-designed styles of incandescent lamps bring light and sparkle to the gardens with a total of 120,000 individual bulbs.


Tivoli Gardens has always nurtured a predilection for romantic Orientalism, such as the Chinoiserie-style Pantomime Theatre (1874) and Chinese Tower (1900) and the Byzantine-inspired restaurant Nimb (1909), which are all creations of such illustrious architects as Vilhelm Dahlerup, who designed the Royal Danish Theatre (1874) and Hotel D’Angleterre (1875), and Knud Arne Petersen, who in his day doubled as both managing director and resident architect for Tivoli Gardens.


Rollercoaster heaven

When Tivoli Gardens opened in 1843 there were a mere two amusements to choose from: a horse-drawn carousel and a rollercoaster. Today, there are 25 feature amusements, which are constantly updated or replaced by new fairground thrills. Four of the amusements are rollercoasters, of which the oldest from 1914 was for decades the most popular amusement of them all. Each summer more than 1.3 million visitors brave this landmark spectacle, which with its 625-metre whirlwind circuit has brought shrieks and excitement to generations of fun-seekers. Today, this historic attraction is one of the world’s oldest wooden rollercoasters still in service.


The newest rollercoaster, The Daemon, is from 2004. With a maximum speed of 80 km/h, this fiendish contraption hurls you through three loops along the almost 600-metre circuit to reach a height of 28 metres at its pinnacle, making it Denmark’s tallest full-circuit triple coaster. Adding to the thrill, The Daemon is bottomless to give a dizzying mid-air sensation during the ride.


Culinary delights

Sharing a meal is always a good way to meet the Danes, and Tivoli Gardens certainly appeals to all palates with a wide range of restaurants and eateries to choose from, serving international cuisine, traditional Danish fare and convenience food.

The two oldest restaurants are Café Ketchup – formerly known as Divan 1 – and Divan 2. The word ‘Divan’ is Turkish and means ‘A council of state’, and both restaurants were originally pavilion cafés – and hotbeds of coffeehouse politics, no doubt. Today, they are both exclusive restaurants. The Chinese Tower – originally called the Japanese Tower – opened in 1900 as a tea room. Today, the tower lives up to its current name by serving popularised Cantonese cuisine.


The only Wagamama franchise in Denmark is also to be found in Tivoli Gardens where their instant noodles have become instant hits. Another British contribution – albeit of an entirely different culinary calibre – is the garden’s only Michelin-starred gourmet restaurant, The Paul, owned and run by the English-born gastronomic globetrotter chef Paul Cunningham.


Live entertainment

Tivoli Gardens is also a major player within musical entertainment. The principal venue – the Tivoli Gardens Concert Hall – hosts symphonic concerts with the Tivoli Gardens Symphony Orchestra. The smaller concert venue, Glassalen, stages jazz concerts in addition to shows and performances from some of the city’s leading theatres.

Tivoli Gardens also boasts three open-air stages and bandstands. The largest, Plænen, stages a popular Friday evening music event throughout the summer, starring international entertainers such as Sting, Texas, the Bloodhound Gang as well as local crowd-pullers.

The annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival is featured at Tivoli Gardens with a host of concerts, and performances have included entertainers Randi Crawford, Diane Reeves, Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett and the legendary Ray Charles.


A garden for all seasons

Tivoli Gardens is open throughout the spring and summer season, traditionally opening in late April or early May with exuberant spring flower displays. The gardens close in early autumn, but only for little more than a month or so of grooming and preparation.

Tivoli Garden reopens in late November or early December with one of its most popular themed events, the amazing Tivoli Gardens Christmas market, which draws large crowds of seasonal shoppers to its traditional yuletide stalls. Many amusements reopen and a host of family entertainment shows are staged, such as sweeping performances of *The Nutcracker*. A recent pre-Christmas addition to the garden’s theme events is Halloween where Cinderella pumpkins and spooky amusements abound.


Located in the heart of the capital and as Danish as can be, Tivoli Gardens nonetheless embraces the world with its unique magical charm.