The decision to travel internationally at Christmastime isn’t something we take lightly. After all, the holidays are a time for food, friends, and family; jumping on a plane and flying halfway around the world doesn’t sound too Christmasy.
Unless, of course, you’re visiting someplace truly magical -- someplace like Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. While it’s billed as one of the world’s oldest amusement parks, Tivoli Gardens has little in common with the frenzied fairgrounds that most Americans associate with the term.
Here’s why Tivoli Gardens deserves a spot on your holiday wish list.
1. It Inspired A Great Work Of Literature
The park opened its doors in 1844, and needless to say, there weren’t many comparable destinations at the time. One of its first guests was so overcome by the gorgeous gardens and fanciful attractions that he wrote a fairy-tale inspired by them.
That guest was Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, and the fairy-tale was “The Nightingale,” one of his most well-received works. Walking through the park, it’s easy to see why the writer felt so inspired.
2. It Inspired Another World-Famous Amusement Park
In 1951, an American animator paid several visits to Tivoli Gardens, marveling at the charming ambiance and family-friendly attractions. As attentive readers might have guessed, that animator was Walt Disney.
Disney reportedly spent his time poring over every inch of the grounds, writing down notes about everything he saw. His friend Art Linkletter believed that Tivoli Gardens was the inspiration for Disneyland.
3. It Comes Alive At Christmastime
From mid-November through early January, the magic of the Christmas season is alive at Tivoli Gardens. Food stalls sell mulled wine and Danish donuts, while more than a million twinkling lights add a lustrous glow to the festivities. On some nights, fireworks light up the sky, creating a charming, romantic atmosphere.
Throughout the season, visitors can take twilight tours to explore the grounds, and the aromatic scent of fir garlands spreads through every inch of the park. While the gardens are enchanting year-round, the holidays bring out something special; you’ll truly feel as though you’ve stumbled through a secret portal to the North Pole.
4. There Are Carnival Games Throughout The Park
Granted, carnival games might not seem especially festive, but the game booths at Tivoli Gardens have a distinct charm. Most are quite simple, with hand-painted designs that hearken back to the park’s origins.
Pay a small fee to see whether your skills are up to snuff (and don’t worry -- while these games are difficult, they’re not rigged). Toss cans, fish for ducks, or spend a few frantic minutes at the shooting gallery -- all of the games are worthwhile, and even if you don’t win, you’ll undoubtedly have a few fantastic photo opportunities.
5. Its Restaurants Serve Traditional European Christmas Dishes
What’s cozier than a big bowl of figgy pudding? We have no idea -- we’ve never tried figgy pudding; we’ve just heard about it in “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” It sounds delicious, though.
That said, if you’re in the mood for some traditional Christmas fare, you’ll have no shortage of options at Tivoli Gardens. The park’s restaurants add a variety of sweet and savory items to their menus during the holidays, including classic local Christmas dishes like roast duck, marinated herring, roast pork with red cabbage, and (of course) chocolate cake.
6. The Rides Are Only Part Of The Allure
Granted, Tivoli Gardens has attractions for thrill-seekers, as the screams generated by its three formidable roller-coasters can be heard for miles around. Even so, the park boasts a variety of family-friendly activities throughout the year.
Christmas attractions include Honey Cake Castle, where visitors can buy honey cake hearts and decorate them to their hearts' content (pun intended). Santa Claus also makes regular appearances at the park, and several theaters run holiday-themed shows, including plays and ballets. In short, you’ll have plenty to keep you occupied, regardless of how you feel about roller-coasters.
7. The Local Christmas Market Is Unbelievable
While Tivoli Gardens is a fine place to spend a few days, most travelers will stop by the park while spending time in Copenhagen. If you’re in a festive mood, that’s not a bad idea, since Copenhagen’s Christmas market is legendary.
The best place to start is undoubtedly Stroget, one of the longest pedestrian areas in all of Europe. Browse local craft markets or simply stroll the streets with a cup of mulled wine in hand. Street performers play Christmas tunes while strings of lights light up the skies, creating a perfect atmosphere to enjoy on your way to (or from) Tivoli Gardens.
Whether you’re a fan of all things Christmas or you’re hoping to regain your excitement for the holiday, Copenhagen is a truly outstanding destination. There’s a feeling of wonder permeating the city, and the magic is most palpable in Tivoli Gardens. Few amusement parks have the charm -- and downright coziness -- of this not-so-hidden gem, and travelers who stop here will have no trouble finding the spirit of the season.