How do you take a picturesque city with beautifully colored buildings, elegant canals, and wide pedestrian streets and make it even more picture perfect? You add snow. At least, that seems to be the approach Copenhagen takes a couple of times a year. Despite its northern location, Copenhagen’s close proximity to the sea and placement along the Gulf Stream keeps it surprisingly warm and snow free for most of the year. Over the last week, however, a cold spell hit the country dumping more than 20cm of snow across parts of Denmark. While it also meant that temperatures plunged below 0 Celsius, the result has been worth it!
Eager to enjoy the city before the snow melted or got too dirty, I bundled up and headed out into the cold to capture these photos and shoot the above video. As I walked the city center the snow periodically alternated between large light snowflakes and small slow-falling flakes that were few and far between. Combined with the colors of the streets, the warm yellow glow of the street lamps, and the overhead lighting of the holiday lights that decorate many of the larger pedestrian streets, the snow left me feeling as though I’d been transported into a magical snow-globe. Pinch me, I am really here.
Despite the cold I still found the streets crowed with tourists wandering the city and locals out doing their shopping. A few of the buskers had suited up and decided to brave the cold, casting the haunting notes of clarinet, accordion, and violin drifting across streets that date back to the 1400s and 1500s. In other areas the rich smells of freshly made crepes (pancakes as the Danes call them) and caramelized almonds offer a feast for the senses that leave passerby’s stomachs rumbling.
Despite the snow and black ice most Danes still bundle up, layer on their scarves, and then hop on their bikes. It’s an amazing sight to see and definitely more than a little inspiring. I guess it makes sense, if I’m silly enough to enjoy walking around in the snow, biking in it isn’t all that different…right?
Still, not everyone is up for a snowy bike ride home, especially after a night out at the bars, which contributes no doubt to the piles of snow-covered bikes that line the city’s streets. This dogpile was especially messy. Apparently a few bikes had been double-parked during the weekend and then fallen over, knocking the others into a giant confused and snow-covered jumble.
Copenhagen takes its holiday decorations seriously and has beautiful heart-shaped lights that hang over most of the larger streets. It also has a collection of wonderful Christmas markets. The one located near Christiansborg Slot at Amagertorv is one of my favorites! You can also find other markets in nearby squares and along Nyhavn.
The market stalls in Amagertorv are solidly built, have beautiful facades, and a wonderful traditional holiday feel to them. They’re a mixture of random goods, warm-weather gear, food, and of course, Gløgg/Mulled Wine.
I found Danes and tourists alike huddled together, hands wrapped around smoking cups of Gløgg, eying hot dogs and other delicious meats as they cooked in nearby stalls on circular suspended grills.
The market even boasted a tiny Santa ride for little kids. Little more than a giant train set, the ride made a very tight circle around the Christmas Market’s central Christmas tree. What the ride lacked in size, it made up for with ornately decorated cars and a vibrantly decorated tree.
Another thing that always surprises me is the flower stalls. Despite the cold weather, there are several small street stands that stay open year round. In the photo above you can see the wide variety of roses and flowers they offer, all beautifully covered by a soft layer of snow.
Beyond cut flowers, they also offer live flowers waiting to be planted. Perfect holiday gifts which are somehow perfectly resistant to the cold weather and damp kiss of half-frozen snow.
I finished my stroll with a quick walk past a traditional Danish bakery with its windows full of stacked fresh bread, deserts and delicious Danish treats.
Cold, and ready to retreat back to the warmth of my apartment, I found myself playfully walking through the snow…a light near-skip to my step. There’s something about Copenhagen that always leaves me charmed. The more time I spend here, the more I fall in love. It is an amazing place and an incredible feeling. If you get the chance, don’t just assume that Copenhagen is a summer city. It has a lot to offer no matter what time of year it is!
One of Copenhagen’s central tourist attractions, Tivoli Gardens, doubles as a regular destination for locals as well. The amusement park, which is semi-seasonal, is open between mid-April and the end of December each year. It boasts a variety of wonderful (and comprehensively decorated) themes that change with the seasons while offering a more historical amusement park experience than many visitors may have experienced in the past.
Despite having arrived in Copenhagen back in July, I’m embarrassed to say this was my first trip to Tivoli. I can’t say I have any good reason for the delay other than that due to my housing and visa woes I missed the initial trip most of my friends and classmates took when we first arrived. Now that I’ve finally made it, I’m definitely sorry it took me as long as it did to make it to the park, and that I’ll have to wait until April to return. Though, to balance out the long delay, the magical ambiance that went with the holiday decorations and firework show definitely left me with an extremely memorable first time to the park – but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk a bit more about the park and its fascinating history.
While it may be old news to amusement park aficionados, most readers will probably be surprised to learn the Denmark is home to more than just the original Lego Land. In fact it not only boasts Tivoli, which was founded in 1843 and is the second oldest amusement park in the world. It also serves as home to Dyrehavsbakken located a few miles to the north which is the world’s oldest park with a history dating back to the 1580s, and which I hope to visit (and share with you all) this spring.
As the story goes Tivoli was initially launched under the rule of King Christian the VIII as an initiative to nurture citizen’s goodwill. Initially located just outside of the city’s western gate in Vesterport, as the city has grown the park has slowly been incorporated into Copenhagen’s historic downtown. Throughout its history the park’s owners have consistently focused on maintaining the park’s ambiance and historical allure while working creatively within the park’s limited space to add modern rides and attractions. It currently boasts twenty five rides, four of which are roller-coasters. No small accomplishment for a park that takes up just over 20 acres of land.
Throughout its rich history, Tivoli has left its mark on the entertainment world. The park served as a heavy inspiration for Walt Disney when he set out to create Disneyland, inspired Hans Christian Anderson as he wrote The Nightingale, and is said to have played a central role in composer Hans Christian Lumbye’s musical career. With its fantastic charm, romantic ambiance, and rich vegetation it’s guaranteed to leave its mark on all who visit.
My introduction to the park began just after dark (which comes far too early in Copenhagen in December). The weather was crisp, but tolerable, and the sky largely cloudless with a beautiful crescent moon. It was the 29th of December, one day before the park was scheduled to close down until April. I’d arrived after dark to see the park at night, and to make sure I had the chance to see Tivoli’s famous firework show which is put on the last week of December. The plan was to connect with a classmate and her boyfriend who were both Danish and had offered to introduce me properly to Tivoli. However, eager to spend some time wandering the park on my own I arrived a few minutes early to snap a few photos and some video.
As I waited for Jonas and Margrethe to arrive my attention was immediately stolen by the rich, deep, sparkling blues of the Pantomime Theater. The theater is designed in an oriental style, and features a brilliantly colored peacock with sparkling tail. Built as an outdoor theater, it was designed by Vilhelm Dahlerup who also designed the Royal Danish Theater. While the theater is known for the peacock’s mechanical tail, which serves as the front curtain, I was immediately distracted by a large stable set up immediately in front where I presume the chairs would normally sit. In their place a rustic stable had been built served as a temporary home for Santa’s reindeer during daylight hours. Long since put to bed, a rumbling recording of roaring snores reindeer snores echoed out from the hut, serving as an amusing contrast to the pristine plumage and diamondesque elegance of the Peacock Curtain that served as its backdrop.
From the theater, I quickly wound down through small free standing shops and past Tivoli’s Moorish Palace, which serves as home to the Nimb Hotel and Restaurant. Then past little Russia with its vibrantly colored buildings, and out into one of the park’s open areas. The open space serves as home to two of the park’s large carousels: the Music Carousel and the Swing Carousel, both of which are vibrantly lit at night. It is also home to the world famous Star Flyer, and the heart tree/kissing tree.
To my delight the crescent moon fell squarely amidst the naked branches of the heart tree. Naked of leaves the large tree cut an impressive silhouette while supporting a number of large, glowing red hearts. All of which surrounded a beautiful, brilliantly bright crescent moon in the background. It was delightful, if a bit lonely – definitely one of those places and moments made for a stolen kiss, music to remember and a beautiful travel companion.
Leaving the tree behind, I quickly met up with Jonas where we mad our way immediately to one of the small concession stands for steaming cups of Gløgg/Glögg. Gløgg is a staple of winter life in Denmark. It consists of mulled red or white wine, often with almonds and raisins in it, is served steaming hot out of large cauldrons. In many cases it is further fortified with a few shots of hard alcohol. Jonas opted for the spiced rum, and I followed his lead. With blood slowly returning to my fingers, we wound into little China Town, beneath the Daemonen – Tivoli’s largest roller coaster – before pausing along Tivoli’s fairly large lake.
As Jonas explained some of the park’s history to me we were greeted by a stunning view. The lake’s water was almost perfectly still and the lit buildings, trees, and roller coasters that sit along it cast vibrantly colored reflections. Just as Margrethe arrived music began to play, the lights changed, and fog rolled out over the lake. Then, to my absolute (and perhaps slightly childish) delight a laser and fountain show began. It combined a fun mixture of fog, light, laser webs, music, and even a bit of flame for an enchanting performance that had water, and light dancing across the surface of the lake. We stood mesmerized for the length of the show, despite the cold.
I mentioned it briefly already when talking about the heart tree, but it bears reiterating. The old trees that decorate Tivoli are fantastic. Especially in winter, devoid of their leaves, and decorated in brilliant arrays of Christmas lights. The trees along the lake cast stunning reflections while simultaneously seeming to be lit by thousands of small, glowing lake fairies.
Eager to find something for Margrethe to drink, and nearing the bottom of our cups of Gløgg we made our way down and around the far end of the lake, which took us past the park’s impressive pirate ship and then across towards the aptly named Smuggler’s Row.
Smuggler’s Row has a fun, eclectic feel and serves as home to a number of permanent food stands and small shops. As the photo suggests, it has a delightful mixture of oddities and fantastical decorations.
The crowds had begun to build, and eager to warm up we ducked into a small beer garden that had liter steins of Paulaner beer and just as importantly large heat lamps. There we sat, chatted, and exchanged stories while warming up and preparing for the evening’s main event. The firework show.
As we finished our beers and made our way back towards the open space with the heart trees we were shocked to see how much the park had filled up. In the seemingly brief time we had been away, wandering the park, the entire area had filled – shoulder to shoulder – with eager onlookers. We quickly found a small spot with a great view and settled in. Now, I’m not sure what you might be familiar with for firework shows back home, but after spending the holidays and new years here in Denmark, I can promise you that regular residents take their fireworks very, very seriously. As a result the bar is set pretty high for a professional show like Tivoli’s and I’m happy to say they more than delivered. You’ll have to watch the video which is embedded earlier in this post to see them. I’m afraid I was so busy enthralled by the fireworks and recording video I failed to pause and snap a few traditional photos. The backdrop was gorgeous with little Russia to our left, old street lamps in front of us, and the colorfully lit dome at the top of the Star Flyer as the backdrop. The show rivaled anything I’ve seen the city’s put on for the 4th of July back home. The fireworks were colorful, plentiful and of course loud!
My trip to Tivoli was an evening spent in a magical fairy tale land. The park is an absolute delight and has its own unique charm which I thoroughly enjoyed. If you find yourself in Denmark, make sure you set aside an afternoon – or evening – to explore the park and all it has to offer. As an interesting side note, you have different options when purchasing tickets. There is a cheaper, non-ride based ticket which gives you admission to the park – perfect for evenings like mine. Or you can opt for a ride pass which is good throughout the park, and ideal in warmer months when fast rides and daring drops call! For more information you can view their site at Tivoli.dk.
Have your own experiences, or fun facts from Tivoli? Feel free to share them in a comment. As always, thanks for reading, and please make sure to subscribe for future updates!