The Oldest Amusement Parks in the World
Last month my son and I had the opportunity to visit Sweden and Denmark. During the trip we tried to mix in equal parts culture and amusement parks. Sweden and Denmark have some of the oldest and most historic amusement parks in the world. In fact, Copenhagen has the two oldest in the world.
While it is true that parks like Six Flags aren’t generally the best cultural experiences, the parks I am covering here are as much a part of the history of their cities as any other landmark. From festivals to summer fun, these parks have survived, thrived and evolved over the past century or more. Let’s take a look.
Gröna Lund in Stockholm, Sweden
Our trip began in Stockholm where we enjoyed a walking tour of the Old City and the amazing Vasa Museum. We also couldn’t wait to visit their 132 year old amusement park Gröna Lund. Gröna Lund is a relatively small park that sits on 15 acres on Djurgården island about a 20 minute walk or quick boat ride from the main city
The park is located directly on the water and can be seen from just about everywhere. Known for packing a lot of rides into a small space, we found the atmosphere was fantastic and the rides were wonderful. Among our favorites were the Twister roller coaster (which is impossible to take a photo of because it is buried under so many other rides), the fun house and the throw back “tunnel of love” boat ride.
For years now Gröna Lund has been famous for their concerts. I am told attending a summer concert at the park is sort of a tradition. Many of the biggest names in music have performed here over the years. Thankfully that tradition and others will continue for years to come. In 2006 the park was purchased by a family who is investing to ensure the park is around for generations to come.
Liseberg in Gothenburg, Sweden
Liseberg is the youngest of the parks in this report. At a mere 92 years old, it is a baby. You wouldn’t know that though since the park is full of charm and amazing rides. From the moment we walked in and made our way down the midway, Liseberg and its dense forested landscape stole my heart. For that reason it was probably the most surprising of the four parks for me.
Over the past decade or so the park has made its name in the coaster department. It is home to Balder which is widely considered to be one of the top wooden coasters in the world. A couple of years ago they also opened Helix which sits so high on a hill in the park, that you need to take two sets of escalators to reach the ride’s entrance!
Of course it isn’t all about thrills. From ferris wheels to one amazing looking log flume, the park has something for everyone. At one point in the day we found ourselves just sitting on a bench soaking in the atmosphere. It is that kind of place. Just like with Gröna Lund, Liseberg is also home to several concert venues and exhibition halls. It really seems like the place to be in the Summer!
Bakken near Copenhagen, Denmark
Almost everyone has heard of Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen (the last park I’ll cover), but few have heard of Bakken. Bakken was founded in 1583 at the site of a fresh water spring and is the oldest amusement park in the world. Located in the middle of the forest, it still retains some of the old world charm that has kept people coming for dozens of generations.
Just like when it was founded, Bakken is as much about being social as it is about the thrills. The park is home to dozens of eateries and admission is free. We observed many locals simply taking in the surroundings and enjoying a beer. Of course for those who wish to have a little fun, an unlimited rides pass can be purchased.
In some ways Bakken does feel a little like a carnival. All of the rides are owned by separate entitites and some aren’t the newest or coolest. With that said, we found a ton of unique rides including the very good Rutschebanen, their 83 year old Wooden Coaster. My favorite part of the park was slipping outside of the rides area to find horse drawn carriages and a stunning stream. One second it is modern, the next second you slip back in time.
Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark
Tivoli Gardens is the second oldest amusement park in the world (behind Bakken) and is probably the most famous of these four parks. Its fantastic location in the heart of Copenhagen and the amazing atmosphere of the gardens make Tivoli one of the must see places in Copenhagen for just about every tourist. During our visit we heard everyone rave about this place.
Perhaps Tivoli’s biggest claim to modern theme park fame is Walt Disney. It is said that the park helped inspire Walt Disney during a 1951 visit to Copenhagen. While the Disney connection to Tivoli is nice, it isn’t really necessary. For locals and tourists alike, the concerts, food and the park’s 1914 wooden coaster Rutschebanen are reason enough to visit.
Built into a fake mountain, Rutschebanen is a rare Side Friction Scenic Railway coaster and one of only a couple left where a brakeman riding on the train controls the speed. It truly is a piece of history and is a ride every member of the family can enjoy. During our three rides, we noticed children of almost every age riding. It is tame, but not too tame. Simply fantastic.
There are of course modern thrills as well. From the looping coaster Dæmonen to Vertigo, their crazy plane ride that sits on the end of a huge metal arm, there are some crazy things to do. Of course, Shawn Reece and I did all of them, but also just took some time to stroll through the gardens. A visit as the sun goes down is a must. It truly is one of the most charming places in the world.
Tivoli is a rare place that everyone should visit. Whether you go to have a beer, ride the rides or simply enjoy the gardens, everyone can find something they like. The fact that it is located directly across from the train station in the center of city is also a huge plus. Tour the city, ride a boat on the canals and then end your day in Tivoli. You won’t be disappointed.
I am a huge amusement park fan and thus visits to places like these are special to me. While amusement parks in the U.S. aren’t always very nice, these four parks are examples of historical landmarks. They are living breathing parts of the cities they are located in. Sometimes we visit places as tourists to see museums and monuments and forget to see the life of a city. Each of these four parks contains that life.
While miles & points can get you flights and hotels, always remember that they are just the beginning of the story and not the story itself!