It’s the most wonderful time…of the year… Truly. This year, Christmas will be a little different for our family with diplo-husband’s departure, but I’ve just resolved to make it Christmas to the max this year. The lights and decorations help put a bit of glow where it otherwise would be more dark than I care it to be.
Luckily, Copenhagen does Christmas right and they get on it early. There was definitely a time when I probably would have though that starting Christmas in November was borderline crazy, driven only by commercialism and conspiracies… but after a few years here in Scandinavia, I’ve become fully supportive of the “earlier is better” school. The sun is setting right at 4pm now, with still daylight left to lose, so having the festivities to look forward to, especially in the absence of traditional Thanksgiving here, helps the run to close out the year look a little brighter. Vienna and Salzburg will always be the Christmas King and Queen in my heart probably forever, but Copenhagen is coming up as a strong second with each passing year.
Tivoli Gardens opened up this weekend, which is hands down my favorite for Christmas. I think Tivoli is one of the things we’ll miss most about Denmark when our time is up. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m enjoying it more because I’m not “8 months but feels like 11 months” pregnant this year, but I think they’ve improved it even more. The decorations are a lovely collection of pastels and forest greens, with “snow” sprinkled throughout to really make you feel like you’ve entered winter. The temperatures are still relatively mild so you can stay comfortably outside for longer. And the goods and gifts in the little huts, as well as the food, seem to have gotten better this year. Let’s just say, even though this was our first visit of the season, it won’t be our last. We have an annual card for our family and it nearly pays for itself with our holiday visits alone.
That being said, I recently talked to a few people who aren’t that crazy about Tivoli so I got to thinking about what makes it a little easier to love this place as much as we do – here are a few tips for your holiday visit to Tivoli Gardens:
- Aim for the afternoon: We like to aim to arrive about 3pm or so and stay through early evening, and go Sunday-Thursday if you can. When you arrive, it will still be crowded, but people will quickly fade out as it becomes dark, and as most go inside for their six pm dinner… Earlier in the day, plus big weekend days like Friday and Saturday get crowded – which means lots of people, lots of kids, and lots of lines. Translation: no fun for anybody. With the late afternoon arrival, you can still catch some of the park in the light (get photos!), plus watch the lights really come to life as dusk sets in, have a good snack and light dinner around the park and be out in time for kiddie bedtime (which usually comes easily as they’ll be exhausted).
- Layer up!: Since nearly everything is outside, the temperature starts to matter. Don’t forget good socks, a thin thermo underneath, hats, gloves, scarves…There are little warming stations about the park for your hands, but there aren’t that many places to go inside. Staying warm is definitely key to a good outing. Keep in mind that we are in a very humid place – the temperature isn’t necessarily that low per se, but once the sun goes down, you really will start to feel the cold much sooner than you otherwise would.
- Warm up with a beverage: This goes hand in hand to the above, but hot chocolate and warm glogg help keep you feeling cozy (maybe sometimes too cozy depending on how much you have of the latter). Our first year here I was surprised at how hard it was to find glogg at Tivoli, it was only in a couple of huts and you nearly had to hunt for it. But this has really taken off more and more each year, and this year it’s not hard at all to find a bit of that spicy warmth. You can even get it in commemorative mugs, German/Austrian market style.
- Review the schedule: The lights and decorations are a treat in and of themselves, but the park offers plenty beyond that. While Tivoli is relatively small, you can’t always figure it out on the spot, so be sure to look at their program online or around the park to see when the band is marching through, when the light show is, when the fireworks are…there is lots to be enjoyed – a little advance planning will ensure you don’t miss it.
- Don’t be in a rush: The whole point of this park is unhurried nostalgia…the time to come is not when you have to be across town at a dinner reservation in an hour…It’s best enjoyed when you have time to walk and browse and look and enjoy. Enjoy the glogg…look at ornaments…ride the kiddie train with your kids…take the photo with Santa…this is the time to really take in a little bit of that Christmas magic.
- Put on a little make up: Speaking of that photo with Santa, take one. Even if you don’t have kids. So put on a little lipstick – or not – but don’t miss the photo just because “oh i’m not ready”. If you’re only visiting Copenhagen, this will be a great little souvenir, and if you live here, it’s fun to collect the photos over the years to see how much everyone has grown. They’re not that expensive in the end (at least not compared to the highway robbery pricing of an American mall) and it’s a sweet memory. But even if you don’t get a photo, you can still go see Santa – there’s truly no obligation. Plus, you’ll get a chocolate .
- Plan for a few indulgences: While Tivoli is not at all the pound you on your head commercialism that some amusement parks have become worldwide (ahem, they know who they are), there are temptations about, especially for little ones. Decide in advance to relax the rules a little bit – maybe it’s candy canes, maybe it’s balloons, maybe it’s a toy…but have a little flexibility and a little bit of budget set aside to make it fun. You and your children will remember this as a special place; don’t let them remember it as the place where there was an argument over an extra lollipop. It’s Christmas, have fun with it.
- Don’t assume you have to have kids to enjoy Tivoli: It’s true that much of Tivoli is oriented towards children, but it doesn’t have to be. And if you follow tip #1, then you’re most likely to around the least amount of kids. Enjoy a few roller coasters, if you like them, and take a stroll through the park (cue yet another plug for glogg or hot chocolate). And if you don’t like rides (and I’m not a huge roller coaster person), then my favorite way to either conclude or enjoy Tivoli is from the windows of the warm, candlelit Nimb Brasserie bar, champagne in hand. The magic of Christmas isn’t just for kids you know, don’t miss out on this place just because you might not believe in Santa anymore – after a visit here, you’ll wonder why you ever stopped.