Our top priority when we visited Copenhagen, Denmark was a day at Tivoli Gardens, which is widely considered the original inspiration for Disneyland. In this post, we’ll share our experience at the amusement park, share photos of the design, rides, and whether we think it’s worth your time if you’re visiting Scandinavia.
Located in the heart of Copenhagen within walking distance of the Central Station, Tivoli Gardens is one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Denmark. The theme park was founded in 1843, and is now considered the world’s second-oldest park (after Dyrehavsbakken in nearby Klampenborg, Denmark). Locally, Tivoli Gardens viewed as a national treasure thanks to longevity, charm, and popularity with native son fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen (who is immortalized in an attraction).
Tivoli Gardens’ appeal is predicated upon it offering something for everyone, with significant multi-generational appeal. This was easy to see from the moment we entered the park. The main courtyard and entrance area of Tivoli felt like an upscale public park with a barrier to entry and ongoing entertainment. We sat and watched a band and folk dancing group perform for a while before wandering past a roller coaster, quaint boat ride, fairytale dark ride, and other attractions. Tivoli had very clear shades of old school Disneyland, particularly Carnation Plaza Gardens and the Rivers of America…
Of course, the Disney connection is why we found ourselves at Tivoli in the first place. Lillian and Walt Disney were keen on European travel, and Walt is said to have visited Tivoli several times prior to Disneyland’s creation. The most well-documented of these visits was in 1951 with Art Linkletter, who later reported that Walt spent extensive time making notes about the park.
While there were many inspirations for Disneyland, Tivoli is purported to have played a seminal role because of its clean nature and inviting design. In that regard, Tivoli still has a lot going for it. The public spaces are lovely, and the landscaping seems far nicer than what you’d expect to find at a regional amusement park. (I waiver back and forth as to whether Tivoli is a theme park or “just” an amusement park–it features elements of both.)
As far as the park elements go, Tivoli reminds me a bit of Busch Gardens Williamsburg, which is a park I used to love visiting for the way it integrated rides with foliage and quaint European design. Much as the architecture at Busch Gardens Williamsburg was foreign, so too is that of Tivoli. While there’s plenty of Baroque and Classical design at Tivoli, there’s a smorgasbord of exotic styles, ranging from Chinese to Mughal.
The center and far perimeters of Tivoli Gardens are meticulously landscaped, offering nice areas for leisurely strolls and wonderful venues for concerts and other live entertainment. There are also ponds and a number of fountains and other water features.
Along these lines, one thing that struck us was the inordinate number of exotic birds in Tivoli Gardens. The most noteworthy of these were a pair of peacocks that were wandering in guest paths, but these weren’t the only exotic birds…I just can’t identify the others.
It was neat to see so many birds, and we spent a lot of time just walking Tivoli’s meandering paths, bird-watching. To be honest, we probably spent more time fixated on the birds than anything else at Tivoli (a sure sign we’re getting old). We really enjoyed this, although I wonder whether this cornucopia of exotic birds would fly in the United States.
The entertainment, particularly the musical programming, at Tivoli is really top notch. Tivoli’s Summer Classical series features superlative classical music performances, including concerts by Tivoli’s own symphony orchestra, Tivoli Copenhagen Phil.
Then there’s Mundo Monday with international music, Tuesday Tunes with Danish songs, and Jazzy Wednesday, Friday Rock, and Saturday Swing (all of which should be self-explanatory based upon the names).
Aside from bird-watching, listening to the open-air concerts were what we spent more time at Tivoli doing than anything else. We were really pleased that these performances were all included in the base price of admission, which was only around $20 US.
Rides at Tivoli were a different story, and much more of a mixed bag. Most of what we saw was dated amusement park fare, like what you might find at a pier-side amusement park or a state fair. It was almost jarring to see these in a park that was otherwise so pleasant and relatively upscale.
The amusement park attractions also require paying an upcharge of a few dollars each (you can also purchase ticket books that include attractions). Between that and the sketchy appearance, we largely passed on these.
There were a few that were clever and unique, most notably the Flying Trunk, which is an it’s a small world-esque attraction, except based exclusively upon Hans Christian Andersen stories.
We think the best strategy would probably be going in the mid to late afternoon when the bulk of the entertainment is scheduled, sitting for a few performances, and then wandering the other areas and potentially doing attractions. You could spend as little as an hour in Tivoli or the rest of the afternoon and evening.
If you ran out of things to do in a short amount of time, you could always leave for dinner or further exploration in Copenhagen (remember, the park is in the center of the city) and return later in the evening when the park comes alive with beautiful and romantic popcorn lights, as well as a nighttime spectacular.
You don’t necessarily have to leave for food. Tivoli has a ton of restaurants, and a diverse array of cuisine. Tivoli’s selection of restaurants includes everything from traditional Danish bakeries to French bistro to Thai haute cuisine, including Kiin Kiin Piin To from Michelin-starred chef, Henrik Yde.
While Walt Disney is known for having said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world. It is something that will never be finished. Something that I can keep developing and adding to.” Tivoli’s founder Georg Carstensen made the following concise statement nearly 100 years earlier: “Tivoli will never, so to speak, be finished.”
It’s easy to see this sentiment play out at modern-day Tivoli, as the park continues to have one foot in the past while modernizing and pushing forward to the future. Even during our visit, portions of Tivoli were being redeveloped and re-imagined, with the goal of the park continuing to offer something for everyone. While it’s not perfect, Tivoli pretty well succeeds in this regard.
Ultimately, we would recommend doing Tivoli Gardens, but probably not making an entire day of it. Base admission is relatively inexpensive, and there really is something for everyone. How much there is for you is probably an open question, and with so many compelling things to do in Copenhagen, it’s tough to allocate a lot of your limited time to an amusement park, but Tivoli is definitely worth some of your time. Even if you have zero interest in rides or thrills, Tivoli is an enjoyable experience.
Have you visited Tivoli Gardens? What did you think of it? Did it remind you of Disneyland, or any other theme parks you’ve visited? Does Tivoli interest you, or would you rather do other things in Denmark? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!