Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen shines brightest at Christmas. Glasses of hot glögg, sugared almonds roasting in the street, canal-side Christmas markets and the magical, illuminated world of Tivoli Gardens wraps the city in a blanket of ‘hygge’ (that elusive Danish feeling of cosiness).
If you want to soak up such an atmosphere, make sure you visit no earlier than November 19 – that’s when Tivoli opens for the festive season. It’s an old-fashioned amusement park in the centre of Copenhagen, dating back to 1843, with rides (our favourite is the charming Flying Trunk, themed around the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen), theatres, carousels, a concert hall and what must be thousands of twinkling fairy lights, strung around every tree and fairground ride in sight. There’s even a Christmas illumination show in the evening, when the lake comes to life with lights, lasers, fire and music from The Nutcracker.
As for the food, prepare to be surprised. Yes there are still hot dogs, as you’d expect from an amusement park, but they’re quality sausages that come from the Baltic Bornholm Island and the bun is bespoke, baked specifically for Tivoli. Velvety soft-serve ice cream – try the marzipan flavour – is made by the Hansen Brothers, whose farm is just 30 minutes away; firm, pearly white fish (for fish ‘n’ chips) is dipped in an organic beer batter and fried in organic oil (the stallholder prepares every fillet to order); and even the chips are made from potatoes harvested in Sweden – “it’s the only place we could find that would do organic for us!” says René Kristensen, head of Tivoli food and beverage.
There are 50 places to eat at Tivoli, and they all follow the same ethos. Try a pork sandwich (last year they sold 60,000 over the Halloween and Christmas period alone) stuffed with relish, red cabbage and cucumber pickle; and leave room for a plate of Danish æbleskiver, puffy little donuts made from what looks like pancake batter, with a chunk of apple inside. Get yours hot and with jam from The Waffle Bakery, which has been run by the same family since 1906 (they also sell their own potent glögg, made with red wine, port and a splash of rum).
Some of the stalls are pop-ups, designed to give up-and-coming food producers a chance to shine. Our favourite (which has now been offered a permanent spot) is Emma Bulow’s marshmallows – chewy, dense squares of pink sugar, like nougat, flavoured with sour lemon, vanilla and berries, or covered in chocolate laced with excellent liquorice. Emma is, after all, the sister of Johan Bulow, creator of those delicious liquorice balls (‘Lakrids’, also on sale at Tivoli) that we first tried at London’s Snaps and Rye restaurant.
Hardly anything is thrown away, either. Tivoli recycles 99% of its waste, and we love what they do with drinks – you return each plastic cup via an exciting machine that gobbles it up, washes it, and sends it back to the kitchen; a trick that saves Tivoli 10 tonnes of waste every year. While we’re on drinks, do try one of their exclusive beers – there are three, each one named after a Tivoli ride and inspired by herbs or flowers growing in the park. Vienna Note, brewed with honey, pumpkins and apple, is a light and crisp pilsner, with delicate bubbles that make it joyfully easy to drink.
It’s not just what they call ‘easy food’ on sale at Tivoli. There are sit-down restaurants, too (including, apparently, the busiest Wagamama in the world) and the most impressive of which are part of the onsite Nimb Hotel. Nimb Vinotek is a stylish, modern wine bar decked in charcoal grey and lit with candles and glowing wine cabinets, home to 1,500 bottles. Here, you can buy everything from an eye-wateringly expensive glass of vintage Champagne to a meal of house stew and crème brûlée for around £25.
If you are visiting at Christmas, don’t miss the traditional Julefrokost served in Fru Nimb restaurant, with its bright white walls, light wooden chairs and Scandi-skinny floor lamps. Julefrokost is basically a beast of a Christmas lunch, eaten in Denmark from mid-November onwards with friends, family or colleagues – apparently it’s a must at the office Christmas party (especially if schnapps is involved).
It starts with a pretty plate of rye bread toppers – horseradish herring; yolky eggs with fresh, pink Greenland prawns; and curried herring with apples and onion – before a fish course of butter-fried, crumbed plaice and, right next to it, a neat little ensemble of soft, rich smoked salmon with scrambled eggs royale. Next, the meat: tender roast pork, warm liver and bacon pate and confit of duck drumsticks, all on the one plate, with pickles on the side. By this point, you’ll be sweating. But dessert is the most traditional dish of all, and cannot be missed – ris a l’amande is a mountain of whipped cream, pudding rice and almonds, drowned in warm cherry sauce.
As if there wasn’t enough to eat here, next November (2017) will see the opening of Tivoli Corner, a brand new food court, shopping area and extension of Nimb hotel. Perhaps the most exciting addition will be Kiin Kiin Thai restaurant, run by Michelin chef Henrik Yde. Henrik opened the original Kiin Kiin, on Guldbergsgade, just over 10 years ago (it was the first Thai restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star) and since then it’s been fully booked every single night. If you can’t wait until November, or your budget doesn’t extend to the Guldbergsgade Kiin Kiin, try Henrik’s newly-opened Kiin Kiin Bao Bao on Vesterbrogade instead, a 20-minute walk from Tivoli.
It’s a beautiful, shimmering room that blends Thai and Danish design: soft grey walls, sleek tables and chairs, rounded sofas, globe lanterns and intricate teak panelling. The menu is tapas-style (food is served when ready) and there are over 25 small plate options – try the classic milky, fluffy bao with braised pork, peanuts and sweet hoisin sauce; a bowl of crispy kale chips with vibrant miso and pea mayo; fat, creamy Norwegian scallops in a mild ginger broth; and the 62 degrees egg, so silky and soft, with XO sauce and dried shrimp. Henrik’s food is intricate, delicate and thoughtful, and will make the foodie offering at Tivoli complete – here’s to our visit next year!
Return flights from London Luton to Copenhagen cost from £9.99 one way (easyjet.com). Double rooms at Tivoli Hotel cost from DKK 1110 (£127), b&b (tivolihotel.com). More info: visitdenmark.com and tivoligardens.com