Welcome to the World’s Oldest Amusement Park
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because cotton candy will never lose its foul, inexplicable spun-sugar hold on you.
By Laura Secorun Palet
In our screen-addicted lives, even amusement parks have turned into fancy virtual reality experiences with holograms and 3-D everything. Luckily for those who wax nostalgic for old-fashioned clowns, rickety rides and ginormous candy apples, there are still some places left on Earth to indulge your inner child. Like Copenhagen.
Bakken is the world’s oldest operating amusement park. We’re talking really old. This attraction opened its doors in 1583 as a “pleasure garden” offering live entertainment, fireworks, children’s games and modest amusement rides. Today, the park continues to draw thousands. Among its 150 attractions you’ll find the classic bumper carts, haunted houses and duck water slides. But the crown jewel is an 85-year-old wooden roller coaster, the Rutschebanen — a beautiful but imposing 24-meter-tall ride with a single steep drop, a handful of fast turns and a dark tunnel sure to give you thrills (along with a little bumpiness). It’s been awarded Coaster Classic status, which requires historical coasters to meet certain design criteria, by the American Coaster Enthusiasts Association.
There’s even a 19th-century-style version of “The Strongest Man in the World” game, complete with a comically sized hammer.
The park is located in the woods of Dyrehaven, a small seaside town 20 minutes north of Copenhagen. From the train station you can take a horse ride for $14 or walk for 10 minutes along a beautiful avenue flanked with trees. Then simply follow the children’s excited screams to the main entrance. Park entry is free. Then you can pay for rides individually or get an all-inclusive wristband for $37. Walking around is like traveling back in time, with classic clowns and face-painted tigers roaming about. There’s even a 19th-century-style version of “The Strongest Man in the World” game, complete with a comically sized hammer.
But there’s one distinct thing missing from this vintage amusement park: tourists. Besides a handful of Swedes and Norwegians, most people strolling around are Danes. While hordes of foreigners flock to Tivoli, Copenhagen’s better-known amusement park, Bakken is packed with Danish mothers chasing after sugar-high children, groups of Danish seniors buying hot dogs and packs of snarky Danish teenagers pretending not to have fun.
The food will evoke memories too: An old-fashioned candy shop sells ice cream sundaes and cotton candy. But there are also cafes, terraces and restaurants — from Thai to Italian. In the Postgaarden, a gourmet restaurant in an old post office, you can enjoy a candlelit dinner, a good glass of wine and vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate sauce (trust us, you must). “I loved coming here as a child and l still do,” says Vandilis Lund, a visitor from Copenhagen. “Just look around! Everybody looks so happy.” To thrill-seekers, though, Bakken is likely to be a letdown. “The rides are quite boring,” says Adriano Bueno, a 24-year-old tourist from France. So if you’re looking for heart-stopping rides or emotionally scarring haunted houses, you’d be better off at Magic Mountain.
But if it’s good old-fashioned fun you’re after, Bakken is the way to go. And psst … it’s best to go on a cloudy Wednesday when rides are half price and there are no queues. On a sunny Sunday you may have to wait for hours to get on that wonderfully creaky coaster.