The Second Oldest Amusement Park in the World – Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen

Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

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.

Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

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.

The Peacock - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

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.

Little Russia - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

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.

The Daemon - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

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.

Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

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.

Little China - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

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.

The Lover's Tree - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

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.

Light Show - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

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.

Little China - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

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.

The Lake Lights - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

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.

The Pirate Ship - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

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.

Tivoli Gardens - Smugglers Row - Copenhagen

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.

Tivoli Gardens - Smugglers Row - Copenhagen

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.

Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

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

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!

Cadiz Part III

Clean, refreshed and ready for a full evening I lazily drifted from my room to the common area after a hearty nap.  There, I checked my e-mail, chatted with the other hostel goers and then decided to set out for a snack.  After a leisurely walk exploring the narrow, winding streets around the hostel I eventually made my way back to my favorite greasy spoon.  Just up the alleyway and around the corner from the hostel…the place was a small bustling tapas restaurant with a large wrap around bar showcasing their various tapas options.  With an old style half door into the kitchen three older gentleman worked the bar in a bustle of commotion.  Taking orders, scooping plates of tapas, pouring beers and joking along with the customers. The place was affordable which, combined with it’s diverse selection of seafood/heavy foods, made for a delightful combination.

During previous visits I’d tried their albondigas, beef stuffed cuttlefish and whole wine steamed cuttlefish.  This time I went for something different:

Always one for an adventure I dove into their escargot. The snails were delicious once you got over their appearance and the the realization that they looked just like the garden snails that had plagued our gardens when I was growing up.  I’ve had escargot a number of times in a variety of countries.  Each time, however, they’ve been prepared in very different ways. This was no exception.  They were cooked in a brothy tomato sauce with slight meat undertones not unlike the sauce the local albondigas was served in. With a glass of local beer, tooth pick, plate of green olives and small loaf of bread, I made quick work of the hearty bowl of snails while relaxing and reflecting on the events of the day.

With my palate wet I made my way back into the city and towards the beach where several of the others had mentioned they might be.  After a brief walk I found the beach and before long had stumbled onto a small group – mostly made up of those temporarily working at the hostel.  There I was quickly welcomed into the group as we all sat on a beautiful sand beach, reclining against the seawall while enjoying a beautiful, warm winter day.

One of the guys had brought a guitar, while one of the girls had brought a bottle of champagne. After the guys tossed a ball around for a bit and the rest of us chatted, we cracked open the bottle of champagne, passing it around as one of the guys played a few guitar licks.

After relaxing and enjoying the beach for a while the sun began to set and we all decided it was time to head back to the hostel.  I made my way back where I caught up with the hostelers I knew, met several new faces, and exchanged a variety of horrible, entertaining, delightful and periodically hysterically offensive stories.

Casa Caracol is one of those delightful hostels that’s small enough and personal enough that the owner can usually be found working, socializing, or generally instigating a good time.   Nick – our patron – was usually somewhere to be found and always had fantastic stories, a smart quip for a silly question or a hearty argument for a good debate.

By 7 we had begun to gather, preparing our various contributions to the Christmas potluck. To my relief and as one might imagine, most of those on the road over Christmas aren’t overly religious. The hostel staff and most of my fellow travelers were no exception. Not a fan or believer myself, I was happy to spend the evening with a crowd who took it for what it was. ..A terrific excuse for good food, a great party and camraderie. As people pulled up youtube music videos for music we sat discussing music, shouting out requests and generally teasing each other for our picks.

I conferred with Aaron – a fellow traveler and chef from New York –  on how best to cook the kilo of small shrimp, potatoes, garlic and peppers I’d picked up. I eventually decided on pan frying them in oil.  As I set to frying the small shrimp whole others created a variety of delicious eats.  There was a huge bowl of curry, a platter of taters, green olives, a large bowl of fruit, deviled eggs, a huge Spanish omlette and other foods I can’t recall…not to mention a multitude of Spanish wines and bottles of beer. Even a few pitchers of mojito mix.The following is a quick walk through in the lead up to the meal:

Before long the periodic nibbling gave way to a full onslaught and within 30 minutes we’d left a devastated table behind, cleaned out most of the food and been reduced to a near food coma. With cigarette smoke heavy in the air we all sat around chatting, breaking periodically for spurts of dancing or wildly re-enacted stories.

As the night carried on (and got progressively more ridiculous) the music got louder, the wine stronger and the stories grew more and more comical.  All set to the backdrop of the seasonally decorated hostel mascot (yes, that’s a donkey doll with a beard and Indian headdress on) and Christmas tree.  I learned various Peruvian card games, cleaned up in a few games of B.S. and learned new and interesting facts about France.

Eventually we elected to set off to one of the local bars – as I recall it was about 2AM or so – but not before we picked up and helped Nick carry a large refrigerator box.  With the box in tow on our heads we made our way through the streets towards the heart of downtown….pausing briefly to gift the box to one of the local homeless men that Nick had befriended. Cardboard box delivered we made our way up a small hill before reaching a number of trendy local clubs.  The mixture of people was engaging and the scene was entertaining. We danced, continued to drink and generally had an amazing time. Sometime around 5:30 we eventually found our way back to the hostel and crawled into bed.

By 1 pm I crawled out of my bunk bed. After taking some flack for snoring heavily I washed up, managed to get my shoes on, ate a quick snack and set out into the city.

The city itself is beautiful in an old, compact, historical sort of way.  I started by wrapping along the peninsula’s coast towards the tip where I’d failed to explore during previous forays. As I passed the main Cathedral I quickly rounded the point and came across the paved walkway that hopped from small searock formation to searock formation as it gently curved out towards the city’s main fortress.  However, before making my way out onto the walkway I paused to take in a spectacular sand carving of a dragon at rest.

After enjoying the artwork for a while I continued out along the walkway as the sandy beaches quickly fell away.  Before long I found myself at the locked doors of the fortress surrounded by a small rocky area just above water level on either side of the raised causeway. To my delight the small waves came crashing in, slowly winding through a series of tunnels under the rocks which had been slowly warn away by the tide’s incessant pummeling. In several places the broken waves came rushing in before eventually crashing against a hollowed-out tunnel which forced the seawater up in a geyserlike fashion.  Always eager for a reason to pause and relax I kicked off my backpack and rested for a while.

Moments like that one are the subtle joys of travel that remind you why life is worth living to its fullest.  After my brief respite and musings I wound my way back down the long walkway before finding another spot too good to pass up.  With beautiful white sand beaches, clear blue waters, beautiful weather and gorgeous, clear blue skies I quickly found myself reclining once more…

A bit sandy but feeling positively amazing I wound along the beach taking in the rest of the old port which now stood vigilant guard over a fishing fleet of small boats. From the beach I set off around the tip of the peninsula before eventually cutting back towards the inland side of the point.  Before long I found myself in a large, beautiful park full of well fed cats, beautifully manicured trees cut in giant cones, amazing spirals and a multitude of other shapes. All decorated with blooming flowers and centered around a small park cafe which was open.  For 4 Euro I snagged a quick soda, 2 chicken skewers and a side of potatoes and then set off through the rest of the park.

After leaving the park I continued along the coast.  As the walls were more protected and no longer faced outwards toward the harsh open ocean, the cement breakwaters were replaced by the city’s old, unadorned defensive wall.  All lined by a beautiful tree-lined walkway and decorated with beautiful wrought iron lamps.

Eventually my path led me back into the beautiful inner city streets.  Paved with cobblestones and lined with lamps the city streets sport an abundance of beautiful painted windows, small flower-laden window sills and countless power lines, wires, and laundry lines stretched across the small gaps between the buildings that the streets create.

Eventually I found my way back to the hostel where I settled in for drinks and the usual evening hostel revelries.  Tomorrow I leave for Grenada.

Eager to see more photos of the places outlined in this post?  View the complete album here!

Sevilla – Part II

The following day I was up and ready to explore by noon.  After a quick errand on the computer I connected with a buddy I’d met in Madrid and ran into in Sevilla. We elected to set off together and explore the city. With no particular plan in mind we began our trip by heading south toward the river. I’d been told the previous day that there was some spectacular graffiti down along the river. As we made our way in that general direction we snagged a quick snack and coffee before meandering our way through the warren of bustling cobblestone streets.

Along the riverfront and the sides of one of the large bridges across the river that flows through town, I was delighted to find a wide assortment of well done, vibrant graffiti art. One depicted an old car and a giant shot of the Godfather, another an anti-war and pro-peace shot of ghostly figures walking, another was of a strange alien figure. All told there were easily 20-30 excellent pieces all done in vibrant colors in the small area I explored. The area they were in was industrial and heavily abused. The large square with a skate park next to it was littered dog feces, trash, empty beer bottles and even the remains of a small bonfire. On one side it had the river as a beautiful backdrop, on the other an old heavily damaged warehouse. It was the perfect spot for the graffiti making its contrast all that much more extreme, but, fitting.

As we continued down along the river, we gradually neared more modern and touristy areas. The parks were better kept, the trash less common. The graffiti bled away and was replaced by vibrant trees, people lazily relaxing along the riverfront parks and fisherman with their long river-fishing poles. The poles, unlike conventional American fishing rods, don´t have reels.  Instead, they are long collapsible things not unlike old branch/bamboo rods. The line is tied to the end and is usually only as long as the pole itself. Though not regularly used for mid to large-sized fish, they do catch the occasional one on them. We paused, feet dangling over the sides of the ancient stone walls lining the river and watched the fisherman fish for about 20 minutes, enjoying the warmth of a bright, sunny winter day.

After a rest, and feeling thoroughly recharged, we continued along the river until we reached an old Muslim tower. The tower, with old canons resting in front, was beautifully framed by palm trees, the river, and the bridge it overlooked. The building itself was made of large blocks of stone with middle-eastern and European influences visible – particularly in and around the windows and doorways.

At the tower we elected to begin cutting in to try and track down some grub. The city streets were overflowing with people, some tourists, mostly locals off work for Christmas or enjoying reduced hours. Before long we found our way through the busy streets dodging carriages, cars, mopeds and trams alike. With a quick turn down a side street we found ourselves dumped into the large area immediately surrounding Sevilla´s main cathedral. Beautifully lit by the golden rays of a 3:00 sun, the courtyard around the cathedral was decorated with 10 foot tall freestanding flower holders  covered in bright red Christmas flowers. Combined with the heavily-laden orange trees, tourist carriages and cobblestone streets, the sight was elegant, beautiful and the epitome of how the holiday season should be. After taking in the building´s exterior, I paid the 2 Euro to explore  inside. In classic form, the interior was massive. With spectacular stone arches gracefully stretching across to form the roof stories above our heads and the rainbow-hued light bouncing through the stained glass windows reflecting off the stone, gold and wood that decorated the Cathedral´s interior. The view was fantastic. After pausing to take in the stunning wooden and metal organ which stretched far above my head I found the ramp up the old Moor prayer tower, turned Christian bell tower, attached to the side of the cathedral. The tower was square, with each side having a sloping ramp. To reach the top you had to traverse some 30 plus levels and a small flight of stairs. Though a hearty hike to the top, the view was spectacular. Looking out from the tower the city stretched away in every direction, while beautiful old bells sat as silent guardians above our heads. From the top, I was able to look down into the interior courtyard in the cathedral – a large space with cobblestone and flagstone floors broken only by a small grove of orange trees. As I looked up and out, I could see over the entirety of the cathedral and down into the sprawling ramparts and minarets that decorated the building.

After making my voyage back down and out through the courtyard, I met up with Rick again and we continued our hunt for food. The venue we eventually found was a small tapas bar that had 3 different areas, each at a different level. Though all open to the others, two were half floors one above the entrance level where the main bar was located and the other below it. The place was a great dark drive and had delicious food. After scarfing down a plate of calamari, fried fish, and a delicious seafood salad, we set off back towards the hostel.

Once back at the hostel, and after a quick nap, we settled in and began the evening ritual … starting at the hostel bar, making new friends, exchanging new stories as well as the same old ones I tell to every new group I meet. Eventually 3 o’clock rolled around and we migrated out to the local park. There we spent another 2 hours relaxing, bullshitting, exchanging entertaining travel stories and generally enjoying the city, evening, and experience.

The following day I was dedicated to wandering at random and rounding out the rest of my brief, if spectacular exploration of Sevilla. With no specific direction in mind I set out eager to explore new streets, alleyways and tapas bars. Eventually I stumbled upon a small grungy dive. The place was small, smoky, dirty and had a good mix of old local men sitting around drinking beer. Ready for lunch I sat down and took in my surroundings.

The place was small. A room off of the bar was the kitchen, the area on and behind the bar itself was heavily laden with bottles of alcohol, breads, legs of ham and decorations. The chairs were all painted with small motifs  depicting the ocean, Spain, or other similar images. Due to the size and layout of the place, all of the plates and silverware were set up on a folding table in one corner. With another table supporting a cooler full of deserts. By the entrance there was a sign with the day’s specialties  and a large display cooler which had several large bowls of some sort of local food. Near the bar there were two large casks upended, one of which was set up as a table with a round glass top. The other had the glass removed and a large saucepan full of a steaming rice concoction resting on a bed of newspaper. The guys working the place would wander by periodically stirring the steaming plate and keeping the rice from burning.

The guy took my order, made a few strong recommendations and before long, grabbed a plate off the back wall, headed over to the steaming bowl and filled the plate with the rice, vegetables and large chunks of pork and ham. In retrospect, I think there was really only one option for that course of the meal, as everyone who came in seemed to end up with it. The bowl was excellent, though much to my chagrin, I found an eyelash about halfway through my plateful of goods. It´s my hope that it was mine! Eventually I finished off the plate -sans eyelash- and the second part of the meal arrived …  a large plate of fresh french fries with 4 little spicy sausage links. The fries were great, the sausage a bit too spicy-sour and pungent for my taste, though it was still tasty.

Times up, time to get back to exploring. I´ll pick up where I left off next time with the rest of my last day and evening in Sevilla and a taste of Cadiz soon!