It was 8:30 am when we arrived in Copenhagen. The Central Station was bathed in silence, the streets were deserted, and the only sound we heard was the crackling ice under our feet. Covered in white, the Danish capital was still asleep.
When we walked out of the station and crossed the street to our hotel The Square, we glimpsed at a monumental entry gateway bearing the word “Tivoli” on its arch. Although it was still closed in the early morning, the Tivoli Gardens looked wonderfully enticing. Like a timeless Nordic fairytale land shifted out of the 19th century.
Modeled after the Jardin de Tivoli in Paris and the Vauxhall Gardens in London, the Tivoli Gardens is the second-oldest amusement park in the world. Opened in 1843, it is believed to have inspired Walt Disney to build his famous theme park. However, Tivoli is nothing like Disneyland, or any other modern theme park that we had ever seen before.
That same day, when we finally got to walk through the majestic arch of Tivoli’s main entrance, we immediately felt that we were entering a lyrical park.
Imagine a maze made of promenade paths, outdoor glass pavilions, exciting rides, romantically-lit coffee shops and restaurants, and delicatessen stores. Hundreds of twinkling Christmas trees and numerous cozy little booths selling keepsakes, woolly knitwear, homemade sweets and hot drinks were luring us towards them.
But Tivoli’s traditional Christmas ballet The Nutcracker was the reason why we traveled all the way to Copenhagen. So we swiftly walked past the wonderfully illuminated willow trees around Tivoli Lake to reach the park’s concert hall. Co-produced by the Royal Danish Ballet, this show is performed (almost) every night during late November and the last day of December.
The second act of The Nutcracker took us to an imaginary place where dancers from all over the world joined Clara in her dream. We were most captured by the Peter-Pan style choreography of the dozens of children, traditionally known as “pages”. In Tivoli’s version, they were dressed all in black, and wore a yellow lantern on their head that looked like a fairytale mushroom: a perfect match with Tivoli Gardens’ marvelous Christmas decor.
The enchanting atmosphere of the ballet was not over after the show. As the sky turned darker, the whole park became a magical land, illuminated by over 120,000 incandescent light bulbs. A specific low light intensity ensured a soft glow, providing a cozy, diffuse and romantic touch.
One of Tivoli’s most iconic buildings is definitely the Nimb. Inaugurated in 1909, this Moorish style palace is a free interpretation of the Taj Mahal. More than a five-star boutique hotel, the Nimb complex also contains a luxurious Brasserie, a ballroom-sized Bar with chandeliers and a log fire, as well as several restaurants serving gourmet food.
In front of the Nimb unfurled a pond with lit swan sculptures that seemed to glide upon darkness. We marveled at the poetic imagery, but then a bone-chilling wind rose. It was time for us to stir, unless we wanted to become ourselves ice sculptures.
We stopped at several Christmas stalls, frantically seeking for heat, and increasingly became friendly with “Glögg”. Similar to the German Glühwein, this Scandinavian winter beverage is made from mulled wine, mixed with liquor, nuts and spices. It truly tasted like Christmas. The landscape became blurry, clouded, and more and more mysterious. The Glögg seemed to sing out of its cup. Even Hans Christian Andersen himself could not have imagined a better drink.