The gardens at Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens

By Yvonne Horn
This item appears on page 64 of the February 2010 issue.

When Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens opens for the season in the spring of 2010, its ornate gates will swing wide for the 168th time, providing, as from Tivoli’s first days, “a magical place for recreation and fresh air.”

That is how Tivoli’s creator, Georg Carstensen, a publisher of periodicals, described what he had in mind when he approached King Christian VIII to ask for permission to realize his dream. He topped off his proposal by mentioning that “when the people are amusing themselves, they do not think about politics.”

Spring tulips border Tivoli Lake, once part of the city moat. Photo courtesy of Tivoli Gardens

With that, Carstensen was granted the use of roughly 15 acres of fortified land just outside the city’s Vesterport (West Gate). On Aug. 15, 1843, Tivoli Gardens opened.

At that time, Tivoli was out of town, on the far side of the city walls. Today it is in the center of the city and surrounded on four sides by busy boulevards, with the Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square) right next door and Central Station across the street.

Along with remaining true to its premise as “a magical place for recreation and fresh air,” Tivoli maintains another of Carstensen’s considerations: providing something for everyone.

For this “everyone,” me, I was not interested in having the pants scared off me on the recently opened roller coaster thrill ride, The Demon, nor embarking on its relatively benign, 1914-built wooden counterpart, Rutschebanen, one of the the oldest roller coasters in the world, especially when told that an onboard brakeman keeps it from running away from itself. Ditto for being swung around in open space by what Tivoli claims is the world’s tallest carousel, Himmelskibet, opened in 2006.

The “something” for me was Tivoli’s gardens, 15 gardens large and small — romantic gardens as well as pleasure gardens designed to please the eye, provide vistas and add restful places to stop.

The gardens have always been an important Tivoli component. Their presence ties the amusement park’s diverse attractions together: its exotic-style buildings (such as the Chinese-style Pantomime Theatre, built in 1874, with a mechanical stage curtain designed to look like a peacock’s tail); the tranquility of Tivoli Lake, left over from the city moat; restaurants and open-air cafés; bandstands and stages for musical events, and, topping off the “something for everyone” promise, two amusement areas, with rides ranging from “okay for little tykes” to “scare your pants off.”

Of the amusement rides, one I did consider was that in the Vintage Car Garden, a miniature rail trip through hills and over water in a surrounding garden inspired by areas of China where wild rhododendrons grow.

Tivoli’s most treasured garden is the Parterre, at the end of Tivoli Lake, with a view of the Copenhagen Town Hall clock. Created by internationally acclaimed landscape architect Gudmund Nyeland Brandt in 1943 to mark the park’s 100-year anniversary, in 2006 the garden was renovated, with its basic plan of oval beds and distinctive concrete vessel fountains kept intact but with updated plant selections in keeping with modern-day requirements.

Chief among those modern-day requirements was low maintenance. Today but 11 gardeners and one head gardener take care of the park’s landscaping, with each assigned a particular area.

Another requirement is that selected plants must look good through the entire five-month Tivoli season, from bud to flower to seed pods and foliage color, coupled with the goal that each garden must appear as if what is planted would grow naturally in that place.

So it is that the Japanese Garden contains clipped shrubs and stylized trees along its stone steps; the Hanging Garden’s wooden buckets are abundant with such edible plants as chard, beans and parsley, and the maze-like Columbine Garden wanders a circular route through marigolds, dahlias and trumpet flowers.

Tulips are the springtime show­off, with the planting of the bulbs in September an annual event. Anyone who cares to participate is invited to do so. Hundreds arrive to wait in line to plant one tulip bulb, with gardeners standing by to indicate where it should go. Participants receive a certificate and a bulb to plant in their own garden, with most, I was told, rushing back to the end of the line to do it all again.

Eighty thousand tulip bulbs are planted, with each year a special tulip chosen as the bulb of the year. Blushing Beauty was so honored in 2009. In May, those sitting on the benches around the Center Fountain Garden in front of the entrance to the Tivoli Concert Hall found themselves literally embedded in blooming Blushing Beauties.

More than 300,000 Danes hold Tivoli season passes. Many are regular visitors. Accordingly, they come to know when garden beds are due to be changed and arrive armed with plastic bags to collect the plants as they are removed. Treasured bits of Tivoli again carried home.

Tivoli’s planners, whether considering the latest frenzied ride or how the park might become more energy efficient, march a fine line between tradition and innovation designed to attract new generations of visitors. Given that, Tivoli will never be finished but will always remain true to its guiding lights as an evolving “magical place for recreation and fresh air” and a place providing “something for everyone,” including garden lovers.

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens (Vesterbrogade 3, Copenhagen 1620, Denmark; phone +45 3315-1101, is open from 11 a.m. to midnight daily from the first weekend in April through August. Halloween is celebrated Oct. 9-18. From mid-November until the last days of December (closed Dec. 24 & 25), the holiday season is celebrated. Entrance fees are DKK95 (about $19) adult and DKK45 ($9) child (3-11). Rides are priced individually.

Hotel Nimb (phone +45 8870 0000, e-mail or visit, a superluxurious boutique hotel of but 13 rooms, is situated within Tivoli in a restored building that was originally The Bazaar. Rates average $937 per room (packages available).

For my August ’09 visit, I stayed at the nearby Grand Hotel (Vesterbrogade 9, Copenhagen 1620, Denmark; phone +45 3327 6900, e-mail or visit, where rates average $129.