Japanese pagoda in Tivoli Gardens Copenhagen
Lasse Salling

Copenhagen’s hottest food destination is also its most unexpected

Tivoli just turned 180, and celebrations involve visiting Michelin chefs, new permanent restaurants, and summer farmers’ markets

Last month, on a day that can only be described as peak-spring, I found myself in the heart of Copenhagen, sipping Champagne and slurping oysters. Specifically, Ruinart Champagne and Gillardeau, the “Rolls Royce'' of oysters – so fancy their shells come stamped with a logo. But I wasn't at one of Copenhagen’s many storied restaurants; I was, in fact, at an amusement park. Surrounded by its many rides and flower-decked gardens, this felt like an unusual indulgence in itself, but it was just the precursor – to a 12-course tasting menu courtesy of one of Spain’s most exciting restaurants.

Restaurant at Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen’s top tourist attraction, is known for many things: its romantic gardens, century-old wooden roller coaster, and come dusk, its transformation into an illuminated wonderland. This grande dame of amusement parks has been attracting visitors since the 19th century, making it the second-oldest operating park in the world. What’s less known is that it’s also a compelling dining destination. “Great food has always been in the DNA of Tivoli Gardens, almost since its opening in 1843,” Mikkel Ustrup, Senior Director at Tivoli High End, told me. “As early as the 1920s, Tivoli was hosting culinary festivals.”

Even as regular amusement-park fare goes, Tivoli churns it out with particular flair – liquorice soft-serve, anyone? – but rubbing shoulders with its rides and food stalls, are some of the most quietly respected high-end restaurants in the city. There’s Fru Nimb with its vast smørrebrød menu (50 different kinds!), the historic Grøften that has retained its good vibes since 1874, and the brasserie at resident luxury hotel Nimb, with its seasonal French classics and an unbeatable view of Tivoli’s open-air stage. To top it all, since the summer of 2021, Tivoli has hosted a slew of Michelin-starred heavyweights – Copenhagen’s AOC, Koks from the Faroe Islands, and Reykjavík’s Dill among others – at pop-up dining events that have become standard-bearers for its contemporary food program.

Food festival at Tivoli Gardens, CopenhagenLina Ahnoff

There’s more to come in 2023 as Tivoli marks a milestone birthday: its 180th. Amid a myriad of festivities, a third season of pop-ups kicked off by Suculent, a Barcelona restaurant known for its ambitious, flavour-first menu and lively atmosphere. For the month of May, head chef Antoni Romero (an alumnus of elBulli) and his team set up shop at the Japanese Pagoda, a Fritz Hansen-designed dining room with Hans Wegner chairs and a large-scale, suspended sculpture by paper artist Veronica Hodges. It’s an extraordinary setting, framed on one end by the Dæmonen rollercoaster with its famous loops and turns and shrieking riders, and a lake on the other for less hairy boat rides. Over two hours, we were treated to modern interpretations of classic Mediterranean and Spanish dishes adapted to seasonal Nordic ingredients, like squid tartare and almond milk with caviar and Norwegian langoustine ceviche with avocado and corn. There was a course dedicated to white asparagus, spring’s fleeting treat, and plenty of cava. Outside, the Dæmonen continued its practised dance; inside, we somehow found room for a slice of Brie cheesecake.

Andreas Krolik of Lafleur, at the food festival in Tivoli Gardens, CopenhagenRedondo Bueno

Later that evening, heady with happy hormones, I took my seat at what I hoped would be the start of a round of rides. As it turned out, what I had assumed was a standard carousel, was in fact, a climbing-swinging version of one. As the wind flattened my face, making me both scream and laugh, I suddenly became very aware of how much food had been consumed. I made a mental note to postpone all other rides until the morning – and retire, instead, to the Nimb bar with its crackling fireplace and digestif menu.

Food festival at Tivoli Gardens, CopenhagenLina Ahnoff

What not to miss in 2023

  • In June, chef Andreas Krolik from the two-star Michelin restaurant Lafleur in Frankfurt in Germany will visit the Japanese Pagoda to serve his vegetable-forward gastronomy. The emphasis will be on sustainability and Krolik’s signature mastery over complex flavours. (2 June-2 July)
  • Come August, a pop-up will honour culinary legend Auguste Escoffier with a classic French cuisine menu. (Escoffier visited Tivoli Gardens on several occasions in the 1920s for culinary festivals and fell head over heels in love with both Tivoli Gardens and Copenhagen.) Teaming up to lead this are Nicolas Sale, who has led several Michelin Star-awarded restaurants and Yves Le Lay from Copenhagen’s À Terre.
  • This winter, the Japanese Pagoda will welcome Restaurant Knystaforsen (one Michelin star), a unique restaurant located deep within the Swedish forests. The food at Knystaforsen is made almost exclusively from ingredients found in the wild and cooked over an open fire. (17 November-31 December)
  • Kilden is Tivoli’s brand new green-cuisine restaurant that combines gourmet dining and sustainability. The cuisine is Danish-French, plant- and seasonal-based—and entirely unorthodox.
  • Crowd-favourite Fru Nimb has a new menu with modern interpretations of cherished Danish classics, some of which date back to the 1800s when Tivoli Gardens first started to offer restaurant experiences.
  • Keep a lookout for: summer produce markets, wine tasting-led dinners, and live cooking events as part of Tivoli’s 180th birthday celebrations, which will also include concerts, ballets, and fireworks.