Destination: Copenhagen, Denmark
Though it's been around forever -- since 1843 -- and is as much a simple pleasure garden as it is a thrill-ride attraction, Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens still regularly appears on 10-best lists of amusement parks. Profuse flower beds, fantasy pavilions, tiny twinkling lights illuminating it at night -- the entire fairy-tale effect is magical, just what you'd expect from the homeland of Hans Christian Andersen.
Perhaps even more so than its Vienna counterpart, the Prater, Tivoli Gardens is woven into the life of its city. Tivoli is right in downtown Copenhagen, between the city hall and the central railway station. While much of Tivoli is devoted to gardens, restaurants, theaters, and a tiny lake for pleasure boating, there are 25 fanciful rides, spangled with lights day and night. The kids can try out a merry-go-round of tiny Viking ships, a Ferris wheel with cars shaped like hot-air balloons, a set of dragon boats, and the Flying Trunk, where you wheel past wooden-doll scenes from Hans Christian Andersen stories.
There are not one but two drop rides, one of them scaled for toddlers -- two-thirds of the rides, in fact, are suitable for younger children. For older kids, the new steel roller coaster here, the Demon, is the biggest in Denmark, and though it only goes 49 mph, it does have three vertical loops; there's also an exciting wooden coaster, the Rutschebanen. The Star Flyer is Europe's tallest swing ride, bedazzled with stars and planets in tribute to the great Danish astronomer Tyco Brahe.
Between the rides, just strolling around Tivoli is delightful. An Arabian-style palace, with towers and arches, houses more than two dozen restaurants (including a Hard Rock Café!) in a range of prices. Try to time your visit to coincide with the parade of the red-uniformed Tivoli Boys Guard, looking just like toy soldiers, on early weekend evenings (also Wed); their regimental band gives Saturday afternoon concerts on the large open-air stage at the center of the gardens, where at night you can see tumbling clowns, acrobats, and aerialists.
Information: Vesterbrogade 3 (tel. 33-15-10-01; www.tivoligardens.com).
Nearest Airport: Copenhagen's Kastrup Airport
Accommodations: Hotel Ansgar, Colbjornsensgade 18-20 (tel. 45/33-13-19-13; www.ansgarhotel.dk). Sofitel Copenhagen, Bernstorffsgade 4 (tel. 45/33-14-92-62; www.sofitel.com).