One of the oldest theme parks in the world is in Europe, and it's way better than Disney World. Here are 10 reasons it beats the US competition.
My family of three visited one of the oldest theme parks in the world, Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens.
The green spaces were beautiful, and I found it to be more affordable and low-key than Disney World.
I prefer the Danish park for its relaxed atmosphere, healthier dining options, and ride selection.
Growing up in Florida, theme parks and Disney were often a part of special celebrations.
My first big, group trip to Magic Kingdom was for my eighth-grade graduation. I remember that trip fondly, as it was the start of Disney parks becoming the go-to for special gatherings, from birthdays to soccer championships over the years.
I wouldn't label myself as a theme-park fanatic, but I have been to my fair share of them, including Disney World, three Legolands, all three Dinosaur Worlds, Universal Studios, and several other parks throughout Europe and America.
I thought nothing would ever compare to the magic offered at Disney World, but that changed when I discovered Tivoli Gardens on a family trip to Denmark in 2019.
I've visited Tivoli Gardens twice, and both times it gave me the impression of a country-club version of Disney World.
Tivoli Gardens opened in 1843 as a garden and amusement park, and is one of the oldest-operating theme parks in the world, at 180 years in business as of 2023. It's also said to have been an inspiration for Walt Disney in the creation of Disneyland, as he visited the park several years before opening the California theme park.
When I first visited Tivoli Gardens, I saw the majority of the park is made of dozens of green spaces and beautifully landscaped gardens. The rides, shops, and restaurants are spread out between the gardens and connected by decorated walking paths.
I've been to Tivoli Gardens in the summer and fall, and both were fun experiences. And although these two visits can't quite compare to the more than 20 times I've been to various Disney parks, I've already experienced several things that made me grow to prefer Tivoli Gardens.
My experience of Tivoli was that it's smaller, less complicated, and less character-driven than Disney World.
Tivoli Gardens is in the middle of buzzing Copenhagen, so to me it felt more like a peaceful retreat from the city than other theme parks I've been to in the past, which aren't always as relaxing or convenient to get to.
As soon as I entered the park, its abundant greenery and whimsical attractions made a good first impression.
Instead of movie-themed experiences and casual eats I've come to expect at other theme parks, I found Tivoli to have more fine dining, high-end gift shops, fancy leisure areas, and tastefully designed rides with a vintage feel.
I thought the ticket prices were extremely reasonable, especially compared to the Disney parks.
Before I visited, I thought that because Tivoli Gardens was in the middle of Copenhagen, it would be an overpriced tourist attraction with a few rides and gardens.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the park's prices are quite reasonable, in my opinion, especially when compared to Disney World, where tickets start at $109 a day as of March 2023.
Tivoli Gardens' entrance tickets are set prices that vary by age, and are slightly more expensive on weekends than weekdays. I noticed this was different than at Disney, where date-based price differences can vary constantly.
At Tivoli, as of March 2023, kids under 3 enter for free, ages 3 to 7 for 70 Danish kroner, or around $10, and 8 and up for 155 kroner, or about $22. When my family visited, we paid about $10 for our 7-year-old and around $22 each for me and my husband.
Another perk of the tickets at Tivoli was that we didn't have to pay extra to go on rides unless we wanted to.
We also learned that at Tivoli, ride passes can be purchased separately from the entrance ticket. On the website, there are options to buy just an entrance ticket, or a combined entrance ticket and ride pass.
There are also several different ride passes based on the type of attraction, like the pass costing 169 kroner, or around $24, for access to only smaller rides, and the most expensive pass that's 299 kroner, or about $42, for access to all rides.
I thought this was incredibly fair because I almost never go on the rides at theme parks, while my husband and son love to enjoy the rides nonstop, so they were able to buy ride passes and I didn't have to.
For me, a whole day at a theme park at a fraction of the cost of what I'm used to in Florida was an awesome value. It's money well spent in my mind for a day full of adventure.
At Tivoli, we didn't experience the parking drama that's been typical for us at other parks.
On my family's first visit to Tivoli Gardens, we walked to the park from our friend's house in the city. We were happy to discover that there was no expansive parking lot to navigate, no trolley transfer required, and no monorail, unlike what we're used to at Disney World. Arriving on foot, it was as simple as walking up to the gate and buying our tickets.
On our second trip, we drove in from across town and parked just a few steps from the park's entrance in an APCOA parking lot, as Tivoli Gardens doesn't have its own parking. It cost us around $40 for the whole day. I later read on the website that park guests can get a 50% discount at APCOA lots near the park by using the parking app, which I plan to do next time we go to save even more.
Introverts like me will love the absence of character interactions and parades while exploring the park.
Unlike Disney World, Tivoli Gardens wasn't filled with costumed characters and massive parades. I remember loving interacting with Disney World characters as a child, but my 7-year-old son is not so into that, so while this may be a con for some visitors, it was a plus in my book.
There was live entertainment at Tivoli Gardens when we visited, but it was less in-your-face and extravagant than what I've experienced at Disney. For example, we watched a costumed character show on the park's outdoor stage that was less boisterous and over-the-top that what I usually see at other theme parks. I still thought it was entertaining, and the kids I saw watching seemed like they loved it.
As an introvert, I appreciated that we could seek out the character interactions and entertainment we wanted, instead of it being everywhere and coming to us.
On our second trip, I also learned that Tivoli plans hundreds of concerts, cultural and seasonal events, and theatrical performances each year. My family decided we want to return for Tivoli Illuminations, a lights show, and to catch a ballet, like "Snow White."
I was impressed with the dining at Tivoli, especially since we never experienced waits or long lines during our visit.
Both visits to Tivoli Gardens impressed us when it came to dining. I saw more healthy food options than I've seen in other theme parks, including a fresh juice shop.
There were various sit-down options in the park, like a more casual food hall and some nicer restaurants, as well as dozens of snack and refreshment stalls. The Tivoli Food Hall had 15 stalls with global-inspired cuisine like burritos, salads, pizza and pasta, sushi, Indian food, burgers, seafood, and more. I thought the variety was great to accommodate big parties looking to find something everyone likes to eat.
During our first trip to Tivoli in 2019, we opted for the food hall and all ate something different. The food hall had a lot of vegan options at the time, so it was an easy choice for my vegan family. During our most recent trip in 2022, we didn't see as many vegan options in the hall, so we decided to eat at a popular chain restaurant, Wagamama, which had a full vegan menu.
Throughout the day, we snacked at a delicious gelato stand and drank coffee at another stand with open seating. At the time of our visit, we never experienced any wait times or lines when it came to dining, and just walked up to where we wanted to eat, although some of the restaurants do take online reservations.
I thought the park's ride selection was impressive, with both whimsical options and coasters for thrill-seekers.
Due to Tivoli's noticeably smaller size, I thought there wouldn't be many rides or that they wouldn't be as big or thrilling as those at Disney theme parks. After visiting, I discovered the opposite.
The ride selection was impressive and their design was outstanding, in my opinion. There were 32 rides and attractions to choose from, ranging from slow rides to coasters and drop-towers. While Magic Kingdom has 61 attractions and rides, according to the website, I thought Tivoli's number of rides was commendable considering its size.
Tivoli's rides had minimal lines and wait times, so my family was able to ride favorite rides over and over, which isn't often doable with long lines at Disney parks.
Even though Tivoli is noticeably smaller than The Magic Kingdom, we didn't run out of things to do. During both trips to the park, we stayed all day and into the night. One of the major perks for my family was being able to ride the rides over and over, with very minimal wait times compared to the usual at Disney World.
While at the park, I did go on one ride, The Flying Trunk, which became my favorite out of those at all the theme parks I've been to. It's a slower ride that goes through and narrates 32 fairy-tale scenes based on Hans Christian Anderson's works. The ride layout gave me familiar feelings of Disney's It's a Small World, and I thought it was so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes.
Another thrilling ride was Aquila, which gives riders an idea of what it might be like to be a bird. My son and husband entered their individual bird-inspired capsules, and the ride spun them into the air and flipped them upside down. They told me after that it gave them the feeling of soaring. This was another ride my family loved and went on multiple times.
The gift shops weren't at the end of every ride, but they did have knick-knacks that I thought were tasteful and traditional.
At Tivoli, we weren't funneled into a gift shop at the end of a ride like at some theme parks we've visited. I personally like to wait until the end of the day at a park to buy something special to avoid having to carry it around, so I appreciated that Tivoli didn't have gift shops at the end of every ride.
There were 11 gift shops throughout the park, several of which I thought were amazing. Some were more standard knick-knack shops, but others had what I thought was a more tasteful selection of traditionally designed Danish and Scandinavian items, like handcrafted jewelry, toys, and garden figurines. There was also a charming, old-school candy shop.
I've brought home nesting dolls, holiday decor, books, a necklace, a holiday candle, and a T-shirt, among other items, from my two visits to Tivoli. I typically don't like shopping, but I found the park's gift shops irresistible.
The relaxed, whimsical vibe of Tivoli made me never want to leave.
I simply loved the vibe of the park, and thought the decor and design elements throughout were both beautiful and tasteful.
The layout was set up in a way that my family found it easy to stroll, eat, and relax between games and rides. As someone who is easily overwhelmed, I liked the low-key and luxury-feeling surroundings.
It didn't hurt that everything from restrooms to seating areas
, was woven into the park's landscape. The lights that flanked the walking paths were also a special touch, which I felt showed how much thought was put into every detail of the Tivoli experience.
I especially enjoyed the leisure garden areas throughout the park as well. While my husband and son were enjoying rides, I spent time at the shops, sipped coffee in the various gardens, and played arcade games that reminded me of a vintage fair ground.
My family's second trip to Tivoli confirmed for me that I preferred the unique, garden-themed park to Disney World — even though they're very different.
I personally like Tivoli Gardens more for a few standout reasons. It was easy to get to and enter the park, more affordable for my family of three, and more enjoyable for me as an introvert, since I found leisurely things to do instead of going on rides.
It was also more fun for my husband and son who loved the rides, since there were hardly any lines or long wait times. We appreciated the vegan and healthy food options, and I was blown away at every turn by the park's whimsical, detailed design.
All in all, I would pick Tivoli Gardens over Disney World for my preferred theme-park adventure. I think many visitors — especially families with kids and people who like to balance thrills with leisure — would have a memorable adventure at this 180-year-old park, just as I did.
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