Copenhagen's amusement gardens, the second oldest in the world, have been serving up joy since 1843. A local entrepreneur called Georg Carstensen was granted permission to open up a pleasure garden just outside the city's Western Gate (as a distraction from the everyday political situation), and thousands have been flocking daily ever since. Tivoli remains a genteel treat rather than a white knuckle thriller, although big rides exist for those who crave heights and speed. It's this mix that's helped keep Tivoli amongst Europe's top five busiest theme parks, this and its ridiculously convenient location in the heart of a capital city between its main square and its main railway station. [8 photos]
Opening hours: 11am - 11pm (until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays) Summer opening: April-September (also 3 weeks for Hallowe'en and 7 weeks for Christmas) Entrance: £16 weekdays, £17 weekends, £24 Friday evenings Entrance with unlimited rides: £46 (or individual rides £4-£11)
Our busy schedule meant we had to visit on a Friday evening, so we got to pay full whack, plus we hadn't read the smallprint which said that rides start closing at 9.45pm, which didn't leave long. The higher admission price is because Tivoli hosts a big open air concert at 10pm every Friday evening in the summer, so the place was packed out with Danes come to enjoy the music. It was so packed that we never made it to the centre of the gardens and could only walk around the rest, but at least that's where all the rides were. Basically we could have picked a much better time to visit. We did our best.
The ride I really wanted to go on was the Rutschebanen, which is Danish for rollercoaster. This is one of the world's oldest operational wooden rollercoasters and still requires a brakesperson to ride aboard the carriages to dampen the speed on the descents. Now there's a job! The coaster has a mountaineering theme, which means careering round (and inside) two unconvincing peaks and circling an Alpine cow at the top of the first climb. The drops are good but relatively short, and the mechanical rattle adds a frisson you just don't get on more modern rides. When we entered darkness towards the end I worried we might be heading for an unseen drop, then I remembered they didn't do that kind of thing 100 years ago and was proved correct. And then I went round again.
Other rides include a dinky ferris wheel, a cyberpunk 3D waltzer and several tall swirly things. The Star Tower is the tallest swirly thing on site, its golden globe easily visible across the city, intermittently seen with tiny people spinning underneath on individually threaded chairs. The Demon is a 'proper' floorless rollercoaster with three inversions (and a VR headset) to satisfy the most demanding fairgoer. But there are also a whole load of milder rides aimed at children, or rather families with children, making this a theme park local residents love to return to. It's not daytrippers frequenting the many sit-down dining locations across the gardens, it's those with a full season pass.
At dusk the whole place lights up (which at this time of year is very late in the day). Thousands of bulbs brighten the buildings, rides and walkways, with the area around the boating lake singled out for exceptional illumination. Danish artist Olafur Eliasson has been drafted in to add 33 flying triangular things in the trees, but it was already fairylandenough without them. What really struck me about Tivoli is how classily everything's done - the very antithesis of Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland - and you can fully understand how Walt Disney might have been inspired by a visit to go away and build something similar.
Most of the music acts which perform on Friday evenings are local and/or minor stars. But last Friday evening an absolute superstar turned up, namely Sir Tom Jones, and proceeded to deliver a storming 1¾ hour set to an audience of thrilled Copenhageners. They poured in early to fill the seats on the lawn in front of the stage, and all the paths and piazzas roundabout, indeed every single cranny with a view, and numbered several thousand well before curtain up. We couldn't see a thing, but still hung around for a listen.
It was great to be able to wander Tivoli's illuminated outskirts with Delilah ringing out across the lake. Sex Bomb had one lady in the heart of the crowd waving a pair of red knickers overhead. What's New Pussycat encouraged the loudest singalong from the audience, even the under 50s. The lights on stage turned purple for a lively rendition of Kiss. The Green Green Grass Of Home proved an exhilarating pre-encore. But the song I was waiting for was It's Not Unusual, which Sir Tom eventually delivered with gusto, which means I can now claim to have heard the song which was number 1 on the day I was born sung live by the man who originally sang it. It's proper memorable is Tivoli.