When you hear the word “carousel,” the first thing that probably comes to mind is the conveyor belt that spits out your luggage after a flight. But remember the original carousels, with their vibrantly painted horses, shiny brass rings, and enchanting carnival music? Though they were most popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, carousels are still alive and well both in the United States and abroad. Planning a trip around these nostalgia-inducing rides will not only allow you to experience a new destination, but also to revisit one of the most cherished periods of life—your childhood.
In honor of National Carousel Day (July 25), here are nine places where you can ride the flying horses on beautiful old carousels still in operation today.
1. Stoomcarrousel, Kaatsheuvel, The Netherlands
When it comes to carousels, few are as fit for royalty as the Stoomcarrousel in the Netherlands. The 124-year-old merry-go-round is housed in its own palace at the fantasy-themed Efteling amusement park. The carousel features classic painted horses drawing coaches, along with whimsical pigs ridden by carved clowns that thumb their noses at other riders from behind. The ride also provides a chance to hear the tunes of one of the only remaining Gavioli organs in the world, making it a one-of-a-kind multisensory experience.
2. 1911 Looff Carousel, Santa Cruz, California
The oldest ride on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is (you guessed it!) a carousel. The 1911 Looff Carousel showcases two Roman chariots and 73 very expressive horses. Some of the creatures have a gentle demeanor and serious mood, while others grit their teeth with excitement. They all feature unique colorful accents, like flower garlands draped around their necks and tails made of authentic horsehair. One of the most distinctive features of this carousel is its original 342-pipe Ruth & Sohn band organ; the ride also features two other music machines installed in the 2000s. The Looff Carousel is one of just a few carousels with a working ring dispenser. Try to grab one of the shiny brass rings from the dispenser, and then toss it into the clown’s mouth for a fun surprise!
3. Jubilee Steam Gallopers, England
While many carousels now stand on their own, some were once part of larger amusement parks. Carters Steam Fair is reviving that tradition with its traveling fair that takes vintage rides and side stalls from the 1890s through the 1960s through England. One of its most beloved rides is the Jubilee Steam Gallopers. At almost 125 years old, it’s the oldest ride at the fair. Anyone who sees the stunning structure’s whimsical horses, twinkling lights, and shiny poles will instantly recognize the ride as a carousel. However, according to Carters, this ride is actually considered a “gallopers” because it turns clockwise, not counterclockwise as carousels tend to do.
4. Jane’s Carousel, Brooklyn, New York
Tucked away from the glass-and-concrete towers of Manhattan is a reminder of the days of yesteryear: Jane’s Carousel. Located in Brooklyn (with incredible views of the Manhattan skyline), this glass-enclosed carousel is home to 48 magnificently carved horses and two chariots (a patriotic one with a bald eagle, and another with cherubs in the clouds). Co-owner Jane Walentas restored the 1922 carousel by hand, using an X-ACTO knife to remove layers of paint. She faithfully revived its original color palette and replaced its missing embellishments (like faceted jewels and delicate pinstriping), and the result is a carousel that exudes the same magic it did in the last century. Take a spin and see for yourself!
5. Carousel At The Budapest Zoo, Budapest, Hungary
With lions, hippos, camels, and dozens of other species, the Budapest Zoo is a treat for animal lovers of all ages. But one of the newest and most exciting additions to the zoo’s animal kingdom doesn’t have fur or feathers -- it’s a carousel that dates to 1906. This particular merry-go-round has a few unique features that will entice carousel enthusiasts. The galloping white horses face outward toward onlookers, and the carousel was originally powered by real horses in the basement beneath the structure. Travelers can choose to take a ride on the carousel’s wooden chariot, rocking boat, spinning tubs, or (of course) elegant equines.
6. Carousel Of Happiness, Nederland, Colorado
In Nederland, Colorado, travelers will find a classic carousel infused with modern creativity. Renowned carousel maker Charles I. D. Looff delivered one of his rotating creations to Saltair, near Salt Lake City, in 1910; the carousel remained there for 49 years. After the park went bankrupt, the carousel was moved to a state school, where students with disabilities restored the animals in 1976. Ten years later, the wooden animals were sold to a buyer. Inspired by the empty (but still standing) carousel frame, Vietnam War veteran and Nederland resident Scott Harrison, who found peace in the midst of battle by listening to a tiny music box that reminded him of a carousel, decided to revive the ride. Over the next 26 years, Harrison hand-carved a new menagerie of animals. He skipped the classic horses and instead created a variety of exotic animals, including an alpaca, a cheetah, a panda, and a peacock. The ride finally reopened under a fitting new name -- the Carousel of Happiness -- on Memorial Day 2010.
7. Canberra Carousel, Canberra, Australia
Next time you go Down Under, take a spin on the antique carousel in Petrie Plaza, Canberra. To create the pretty ride, which is now 105 years old, maker Herbert Thomson imported the organ, 52 hand-carved horses, and two elephants from Germany and twisted brass upright poles from Scotland. The wooden horses themselves boast tons of character -- each has its own name (painted on a scroll on its neck), mirrored accents on its bridle, funky animal faces on its saddle, and a tail made from actual hair. If a youngster you’re traveling with begs you to ride the Canberra Carousel more than once, indulge them -- no doubt you’ll notice something special about this attraction every time you take a spin.
8. The Flying Horses Carousel, Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts
Martha’s Vineyard has changed a lot over the last century and a half, but the one thing that has remained the same for travelers is the opportunity to ride the Flying Horses Carousel. Considered to be the nation’s oldest platform carousel, the ride was built by Charles Dare of New York Carousel Manufacturing in 1876. It spent just eight short years in New York’s Coney Island before making its way to Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, where it has delighted locals and vacationers alike since 1884. The charming carousel has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
9. Trimper’s Rides, Ocean City, Maryland
Carousel enthusiasts get double the fun at Trimper’s Rides in Ocean City, Maryland -- the amusement park has two glorious antique merry-go-rounds. Its star attraction -- the Herschell-Spillman Carousel -- is reputed to be one of the country’s oldest carousels. A steam engine powered the carousel’s 45 animals (including a cat, a dog, and an ostrich), trio of chariots, and rocking chair before the carousel was switched over to electricity. Later, Trimper’s introduced a sister carousel to its park. This smaller merry-go-round is just as ornate as the Herschell-Spillman, but it’s about 10 to 15 years younger. Trimper’s takes pride in keeping both of these historic treasures in perfect condition for generations of guests to enjoy.