If we are true to ourselves, we cannot be false to anyone.William Shakespeare – Hamlet
The laughter and music from the great halls of Kronborg Castle echoed across the strait. Stories of the decadent life of the 17th century Danish court even spread across the English Channel and inspired William Shakespeare to write a play. Little did he know that his invented story about Prince Hamlet in Kronborg Castle would become the world's most famous and performed play.
The castle in the horizon
The first time I saw Kronborg Castle was during a visit to Sofiero castleoutside Helsingborg. A fisherman stood casting a fly on a rock in the strait and out of the haze on the horizon a castle emerged. A castle with pinnacles and towers right on the banks of Öresund. A real fairytale castle, which burned itself onto my retina. At that time there was no Google maps, so it took me a while before I managed to figure out which castle was in front of me. It was Kronborg Castle. One of Northern Europe's most magnificent Renaissance castles.
Since that day at Sofiero, I have seen the castle from a distance several times, but it wasn't actually until this year that I visited the castle for the first time. Like so many other sights right in front of your nose, you don't realize how magnificent they are until you put on your tourist hat and go there. Because Kronborg Castle really deserves the designation "Outstanding Universal Value” by UNESCO.
Tolls in the strait
But why was this magnificent royal castle built here? During the 15th century, the Danish king Erik of Pomerania came up with the brilliant idea of introducing customs duties in the Oresund. Every small vessel that passed would pay a toll to the king. To collect the money, the king built a fortress at the narrowest passage of the Öresund. After 100 years in the service of Öresundstullen, the fortress was considered too small. A larger building was needed to protect the strait.
In 1574, King Fredrik II therefore began the construction of Kronborg Castle. Thanks to the large income from the customs, no expenses were saved. White sandstone from Skåne covered the castle's walls and beautiful copper roofs were built with pomp and show. And just like a vision of a ring of fairies in the early morning mist of the strait, a magnificent Renaissance castle rose.
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.William Shakespeare – Hamlet
The fire at the castle
Kronborg Castle was nothing short of impressively beautiful. The castle was loved by the Danish court and they invited visitors from all over Europe to party with the royal family. The imported Chinese crockery was set for lavish 24-course meals of wild boar, pheasant, oysters, bear and puddings. And if the guests were to get thirsty, there was always a 10-liter jug of wine by their side. But all the joy and decadence came to an abrupt end in 1629, when two workers accidentally set the castle on fire.
The fire could not be stopped. Everything made of wood and all the fixtures burned up, leaving only the castle's foundation. The only thing that survived the flames was the castle church. The current king Christian IV immediately started building the castle again and in 1637 the building was finished, this time with some modern baroque details.
The war and the Swedes
We are walking around the castle in the early morning sun. Past moats, walls and large red wooden gates. Today, there is not the slightest trace of the Swedes' plundering and siege of the castle in 1658. Not a single bullet hole bears witness to the castle's three-week siege.
The middle of the 17th century was an eventful period in Danish-Swedish history, with the peace of Roskilde in 1658 and countless smaller wars even after that. Kronborg was left to its fate by the royals and became a Danish military facility and prison for almost 300 years. It wasn't until the 1920s that the renovations that have given the castle its current glory began.
For a visitor to Helsingör, Kronborg Castle should not be missed. As the city's guardian, the castle rises in the strait just a few minutes' walk from the city center. Kronborg is one of Denmark's most popular attractions and visitors flock not only for the beautiful Renaissance castle and Hamlet, but also for the story of Holger Danske. According to the legend, Holger was the son of King Gudfred and apart from killing a giant, he stood alone against Charlemagne. A real Danish fairy tale hero, who according to legend sleeps in the basement vaults of Kronborg Castle, ready to wake up when Denmark needs to be protected from danger.
Book your visit
Kronborg Castle is open to visitors every day during high season (May-October) and almost every day (Tuesday-Sunday) during the rest of the year. You can visit the castle with its Renaissance halls, the castle church and the casemates where Holger Danske is said to rest. In addition, there are a large number of guided tours with different themes every day, so make sure you read what time your favorite starts. The shows about Hamlet are usually popular.
Don't visit the castle before 11 o'clock in the low season - then the castle has not opened. But you can always take a beautiful walk around the castle park and admire the view of the castle and the Swedish coast.
Book your ticket and read more about the castle at Kronborg's website
But what about Shakespeare?
We know very little about Shakespeare's life and life in 16th century England, but one thing is pretty certain. Shakespeare did not write Hamlet sitting in Kronborg Castle. Most likely, he never even visited the castle. Despite that, he manages to write a fascinating play about life at court, seasoned with sudden death, ghosts, revenge and tragedy.
How do I get to Kronborg?
The castle is very centrally located in Elsinore on Zealand, just a few minutes' walk from the center of Elsinore. You can reach Elsinore easily with a 20-minute ferry ride ForSea from Helsingborg.
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The rest is silence.William Shakespeare – Hamlet
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