Places We Love

Your Perfect Christmas in Copenhagen? It Begins at Tivoli Gardens


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By Helen Russell

A million fairy lights twinkle and dazzle against the black night sky and a heady aroma of cinnamon, roasted almonds and mulled wine wafts for miles around. Red hearts hang from the trees of a fairy-tale kingdom and candlelight flickers from a Japanese pagoda, all reflected in the mirror of a vast lake. Plumes of water are lit up spectacularly as they leap and dance to Tchaikovsky - and soaring overhead is a 100-year-old wooden rollercoaster. At the heart of the magical park is a paddock of reindeer, snuffling and hoofing at the snow underfoot as their boss, Santa, holds court in the stunning 19th century Pantomime Theatre. It’s enough to win over even the most cynical Scrooge types.

This is Tivoli Gardens - an institution in Denmark and the place that’s synonymous with Christmas for most Danes. The gardens first opened in 1843 and today, with rides, illuminations and a world famous Christmas market, Tivoli attracts a million visitors a year over the holiday season - from 15 November in 2014 until 4 January 2015.

As well as Father Christmas and a Fantasia-style spectacle (what, you need more?) Tivoli has it’s very own roaming ‘Pixie Band’, performing in various spots around the park. In addition to the rollercoaster, there are a whole host of rides to enjoy, including The Demon, The Golden Tower and Vertigo for big kids and The Flying Trunk, The Little Dragon and The Vintage Cars for smaller visitors.

If all this excitement leaves you in need of something a little more soothing, you can take a stroll around Tivoli’s traditional Christmas village - tiny wood cottages festooned with spruce garlands, with chimneys puffing out real smoke. Market stalls sell classically Danish festive fare including pastries, pølsers (Danish hot dogs), roast pork sandwiches, gløgg (the Danish version of mulled wine), and other tipples to keep you warm. Muffled up in hats and scarves, clutch a piping hot cup of chocolate or gløgg, there’s just time to catch the annual fireworks festival and watch the sky explode with pyrotechnics.

From 20 November, The Nutcracker opens at the Tivoli Concert Hall showcasing a bespoke production of the Christmas classic with sets and costumes designed by none other than Queen Margrethe of Denmark. In Tivoli’s version of the ballet, the story has been adapted now takes place in Copenhagen with Clara’s dream world as—of course—Tivoli Gardens.

For those who fancy something different for New Year’s Eve, Tivoli is now taking dinner reservations to welcome 2015 in the Danish capital. From seasonal New Nordic Cuisine at the seriously stylish Nimb, to traditional Danish entrees at the 131-year-old Grøften, or smørrebrød (open rye bread sandwiches) at the hygge  Færgekroen Bryghus - a replica of an old fisherman's cottage - there are eateries to sate every appetite.

And once you’re done? Well, there’s always one more go on that famous rollercoaster before bed. There’s never a dull moment at Tivoli Gardens.

Helen Russell, is a journalist and author of The Year of Living Danishly published by Icon Books, January 2014