David Whitley eschews high tech rollercoasters and Disney schmaltz for old-fashioned charm at Tivoli and Bakken.
Tivoli in Copenhagen city centre
Within a few footsteps of Copenhagen’s central station, the piercing screams of terrified children ring out. It’s a little disconcerting, until you realise that the anguished cries are emanating from’s most popular tourist attraction.
Tivoli is remarkable in more ways than one. For a start, there’s how long it’s been open for. It’s the second oldest amusement park in the world, and dates back to 1843. Its founder, Georg Carstensen, got permission to build it after convincing the Danish king that people who are kept entertained aren’t thinking about politics.
Secondly, there’s its position. Most such theme parks are created in the middle of nowhere. They’re either built on the land of country homes (such as Alton Towers in the), or knocked up from scratch on spare land (such as those on the Gold Coast or in Florida). Tivoli is smack bang in the centre of Copenhagen, between the town hall and the main train station. It’s a slightly odd sight to stroll down Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard and see the tops of rollercoasters to your left.
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But the main surprise is how charming it manages to be. There are the thrill rides here – a few rollercoasters, a horrible thing that shoots riders upwards at extreme G-force and nightmarishly high spinning swings – but these aren’t the main focus.
For many people, it’s all about the gardens. They’re extensive, and incongruously pretty next to pirate ships and fairground side stalls. There’s also a vast range of cafés and restaurants, all of which seem genuinely pleasant and far removed from the usual theme park fast food fare.
And that’s the key – it doesn’t feel like a theme park. There’s none of the all over-plastering of Coca Cola or McDonalds branding. The food on offer is of proper restaurant standard, rather than the E number-packed slop usually encountered in such places. No fat kids slavering over super-sized candyflosses and buckets of fizzy drink here.
But while most visitors to Copenhagen will end up at Tivoli at some point, not many will get as far as its older cousin.
Bakken – the world’s oldest amusement park
The only amusement park in the world that’s older than the Tivoli is Bakken, and it can be found in Klampenborg, which is now effectively a suburb of Copenhagen. Its history dates back to the discovery of a spring in 1583.
The waters were quickly regarded as having healing properties, and people flocked from miles around to drink from them. They were joined by entertainers who sensed an opportunity to make money, and sideshows were created from chipped bowls. Throw the ball at them, knock them down, win a prize – the principle is a rather old one.
From there it has developed into what it is today – a quaint, low key version of Tivoli. Although, that said, Tivoli was largely based on Bakken rather than the other way round.
At Klampenborg station, the hordes spill off the train and veer off into a gigantic park. This is Dyrehaven, an 11 square kilometre lung for the city.
It’s a former royal hunting ground, and still has herds of deer ambling around in the more forested areas. The moment the sun even looks like shining, families spill into Dyrehaven with their picnics, junior footballs and Frisbees.
Stroll past them, and you reach the gentle, slow-burning entrance to Bakken. It almost merges into Dyrehaven, and the rides take distinct second place to a long row of little cafes. Most have outside seating, and the most common scene is contented dad tucking into a hearty steak and chips.
Unusually for Denmark, which to a certain extent uses English as much as it does Danish, the menus outside the eateries are rarely translated. There’s no real attempt to push Bakken to foreign visitors – it’s a distinctly local place, and again there’s none of the insidious branding blitz that would be practically obligatory anywhere else.
Instead of a Coke stand, staffed by a man in a mouse costume, there’s a traditional beer hall staffed by girls in tradition serving wench dress. The runaway mine train isn’t linked into a movie or TV cartoon – it just has a totally incongruous picture of a wolf on it.
Old school theme park
The rides, of course, are hopelessly old-fashioned, but it doesn’t seem to matter that the technology isn’t up to scratch. The wooden rollercoaster, for example, is pathetically tame and would struggle to scare a doddering old grandmother. And the log flume is just hopeless – the drops are tiny.
But who cares, when you can go on a boat ride, firing water guns at each other? Or line up at the side stalls, seeing how hard you can kick a football? Or have a couple of beers?
If only everyone could do theme parks like the Danes do. Tivoli and Bakken may not be able to compete with the Disneylands and Dreamworlds in terms of cutting edge thrills, but they’re infinitely more loveable. The world’s oldest are possibly its most charming.
Getting to Tivoli: The train from the airport goes to Copenhagen Central in under 15 minutes. Tivoli is just outside.
Getting to Bakken: Klampenborg is on the train line between Copenhagen Central and Helsingor – expect to get there in 20 minutes from the central station. Bakken isa 10 to 15 minute walk through Dyreshaven from Klampenborg Station.
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