Helsingør (sometimes spelled Elsinore) is an attractive market town located some 28 miles north of Copenhagen on the Øresund coast. The town is rich in history, with a well preserved medieval center and modern waterfront development. Its biggest claim to fame however is Kronborg Castle, the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Cannons outside Kronborg Castle. — Photo courtesy of Poom! / Creative Commons
Getting to Helsingør is incredibly simple, with a direct train connection (the ‘Kystbanen’) running three times an hour and taking 45 minutes. The alternative drive up the coast road takes about the same amount of time and offers great coastal scenery.
With the Øresund sound at its narrowest point between Helsingør and its Swedish neighbor Helsingborg, Helsingør also provides an alternative connection to Sweden than that served by the Øresund Bridge. The ferry crossing takes about 20 minutes and is operated by Scandlines.
Allow yourself an entire day to take in Helsingør’s attractions. Kronborg Castle, by far and away its biggest draw, is situated a short walk northeast of the old town center, perched on a jut of land overlooking the sound.
One of the most magnificent Renaissance castles in Northern Europe, 16th-century Kronborg has remained almost entirely intact, with a moat, turrets and – at 203-foot – the longest ballroom in Europe. Hidden deep within the castle vaults is the statue of mythical hero Holger Danske, who, according to legend, will rise again should Denmark ever need it.
Kronborg has the longest ballroom in Europe. — Photo courtesy of Westher
Fans of Shakespearian tragedy should visit during Kronborg in early August, when international theater companies are invited to interpret Hamlet in an authentic, outdoor setting. (In 2009, this included Jude Law).
For families and others looking to spend time on the beach, Helsingør’s beaches start at Kronborg and continue north towards the glitzy Marienlyst Hotel and Casino. Also found here is the small, saltwater Øresund Aquarium, open daily all year round.
The town center is well worth strolling around; check out particularly the old medieval buildings on pedestrian street Stengade and parallel street Strandgade, or its busy marketplace on Axeltorv Square on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings. The city was founded by Erik of Pomerania, who briefly united Denmark, Norway and Sweden for 40 years at the beginning of the 14th century. In 1429 he introduced the sound dues, imposing tolls on those crossings the Øresund, making his kingdom – and Helsingør in particular – rich and prosperous. He was deposed as monarch of all three kingdoms in 1440 and died a commoner.
Helsingør's Cathedral is Sct Olai Kirke, an imposing redbricked gothic building from the 1500s best known for its enormous altarpiece, one of the largest in Denmark. The town’s museum meanwhile is just three blocks away on Sct Anna Gade, housed on the site of an old Carmelite monastery formerly used as a sailors’ hospital and next door to the 14th century church of St. Mary (Sct. Mariae Kirke). It’s possible to take guided tours of both churches.
Sct Olai Kirke, Helsingor's cathedral. — Photo courtesy of Giam
Helsingør’s most recent development is its waterfront. The old docks, once filled with the noise and workers from the shipbuilding industry, has now been transformed into the town’s ‘Culture Yard’.
At the center of this is an exciting new building designed by world-acclaimed architecture group BIG currently being erected to house the Danish Maritime Museum, previously a small add-on to Kronborg’s attractions. Access will be from bridges suspended above the dock space and visitors will descend gradually down into the museum’s subterranean exhibition space in a slightly sloping spiral. With interactive, digital displays on everything from Denmark’s historic trade routes to sailor tattoos, the museum is slated to open to the public in 2013.
Nearby, the male counterpart to Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid was unveiled in June 2012. The polished stainless steel sculpture ‘HAN’ echoes the Little Mermaid in its portrayal of a young boy alone on a rock, and is the work of headline-hitting Norwegian/Danish art duo Elmgreen & Dragset.