This blog post was updated on July 21, 2023.
Like many other tourist attractions, carousels have gotten bigger, bolder, and more extreme over the years. You can find everything from aquatic carousels to double-decker carousels these days! However, there’s something to be said about old-fashioned carousels. They can date all the way back to the 1800s. And, they often showcase things like steam engines, brass rings, organ music, and hand-painted wooden horses. Riding them can bring back all kinds of nostalgic memories from childhood, too.
If you’d like to revisit the days of clutching old-fashioned merry-go-rounds poles with sticky, cotton candy fingers, here are just a few vintage carousels that you can still ride!
Located in Efteling, a fantasy-themed amusement park in The Netherlands, the Stoomcarrousel is a relic of the past in more ways than one. It was constructed sometime in the 1890s and powered by a steam engine. By the 1970s, it had been converted to electric power, but its old-fashioned gears and mechanics are still visible on the ride, giving it an almost steampunk look. It also boasts music from one of the last Gavioli pipe organs in existence. Taken all together, a spin on the Stoomcarrousel will feel just as magical and out-of-time as the park itself. You’ll definitely feel like you entered a fantasy realm!
Jubilee Steam Gallopers, England
The Jubilee Steam Gallopers is part of Carter’s Steam Fair, a traveling English “funfair” filled with vintage rides from the 1890s to the 1960s. It’s just as charming as it sounds, offering a mobile trip down memory lane to anyone who wants to climb aboard a horse or chariot. Like the Stoomcarrousel, it was built on steam power, but it still uses its steam engine to this day. It also boasts one of those ultra-rare Gavioli pipe organs that’s way more impressive than your typical carnival music. Last but not least, it runs in a clockwise direction: regular merry-go-round horses turn counterclockwise.
San Francisco Carousel, California
This vintage ride has been in operation since 1914. However, it hasn’t always been in San Francisco. It’s toured the country from Portland to Treasure Island, and it was even featured at the 1939 World’s Fair; black-and-white photos show kids and adults alike grinning from atop their perches. The San Francisco Carousel menagerie includes horses, tigers, dragons, camels, ostriches, and giraffes. There are also a few benches with beautiful, colorful illustrations that evoke feelings of childhood whimsy. If you’re looking for good dose of nostalgia, keep this attraction in mind if you plan to visit San Francisco with your kids!
The SeaGlass Carousel, Manhattan
The SeaGlass Carousel in NYC’s Battery Park is a modern marvel. Sure, it’s not an old-fashioned carousel, but it combines traditional architecture with contemporary technology to create something both new and old all at once. Everything has an “under the sea” theme, and riders crawl into large, three-dimensional fish with holes carved out for seats. As the carousel turns, ethereal music plays, and the fish appear to shimmer and glow like sea glass. The experience is not unlike being submerged underwater with bioluminescent creatures. If you’ve always wanted to live like Ariel, the SeaGlass Carousel is your chance to get your Little Mermaid on!
Flying Horses Carousel, Massachusetts
Another ride that will send you soaring on clouds of fancy, the Flying Horses Carousel is so old that it’s actually been designated a National Historic Landmark. It was originally part of a traveling carnival in the 1870s before settling into permanent residence at a park on Martha’s Vineyard. The claim to fame of the Flying Horses is that its horses are suspended to the central platform by chains; it’s the oldest operating carousel in the U.S. to still have this feature. Back in the old days, it was also turned by a real, living horse, and its music was played by a hand-cranked organ. Today, the ride has been automated, but it still retains its old-fashioned charm and style.
You may also like: Headed to the Big Apple? Here’s Where to Bring Your Kids!
B&B Carousell, Brooklyn
The Coney Island Boardwalk in Brooklyn is one of the greatest boardwalks in the world and a beacon of classic summer fun in the Big Apple. Resting in Coney Island’s Luna Park is the B&B Carousell, a signature piece of the historic boardwalk since 1906. Considered a prime example of the craftsmanship of the golden age of carousels, the B&B was designed by William F. Mangels. Incorporating a Bruder Gebruder organ into his plan, Mangels used the B&B Carousell to pioneer a new gear system that vastly improved the experience for riders on non-stationary carousel horses.
Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this attraction has 50 horses and two chariots designed by the famed woodcarver Marcus Illions. One of the most preeminent woodcarvers of the era, Illions favored a concept of carousel design that called for horses to be carved in dynamic, expressive poses. Many of the horses on the B&B Carousell thus appear to be in mid-gallop with their manes flowing in the wind. Relocated several times throughout its storied history, the B&B Carousell was refurbished to its former glory when it was moved to its current location in Luna Park in 2013.
Carousel at the Budapest Zoo, Budapest
One of the most unusual carousels in Europe can be found at Budapest Zoo. Ornate and brimming with artistic sophistication, the Budapest Zoo’s carousel is a merry-go-round of immense historical distinction. When the carousel first opened in 1906, it was powered by real horses who pulled gears in a room directly below the ride. Mechanical ingenuity aside, visitors to Budapest will remember this carousel for its one-of-a-kind layout and masterful artistic qualities.
Horses in the outer row are uniquely positioned to face perpendicular to the carousel as riders enjoy the added bonus of being able to rock back and forth on a spring mechanism. While horses in the outer row are carved in a galloping stance, horses in the inner row are depicted in mid-jump or in a prancing pose. The carousel’s inner row is further a testament to the artistic prowess of the carousel’s designers. Chariots adorned with angels holding trumpets welcome riders, while guests hoping for a quieter experience can hop on one of the rocking boats that are also available to visitors.
Did we leave your favorite old-fashioned carousel off our list? Tell us about it in the comments below!