Kronborg Castle is a Renaissance castle built at a strategic position between the North Sea and the Baltic.
Located at a narrow stretch of water called the Sound, it allowed Denmark to control the passage into the Baltic Sea and extract a toll from the passing ships. Kronborg was a combination of a fortress and a richly decorated palace-castle. The current castle dates from 1574, but had to be almost fully reconstructed due to a fire in 1629.
Map of Kronborg CastleLoad map
My visit to Kronborg in August 2021 was not the first one: I already went there in 2009. That time, though, we had not calibrated our trip too well: it was the end of March and, basing in Copenhagen, we came from a visit to the Louisiana museum in Humlebæk, so that an arrival at 17/18 proved to be too late (of course) for the castle. But somehow we found the entrance to the inner yard open and shared it only with the local crows. We even rang a small hanging bell! This does not appear to be possible anymore, as I suspect they are closing the gates from the moat now (I don't know if Ian meant this with "being locked out" already in '11/'12). I promised myself I would come back someday for a better, more complete experience, and so did I more than 12 years (yikes!) after!
This time I came by car on the morning of a sunny day (which was later graced by many a downpour). The castle does not appear immediately coming from land, as it is partly concealed behind its defensive fortifications. During all this time, things have changed and markedly improved: the industrial landscape witnessed by Els has disappeared (I remember extensive works on my first visit), now there's the architecturally notable cultural centre Kulturværftet, a brand new museum of seafaring, a nice path going around the castle with views over the old city... all highlighting old, good Kronborg. This second time I much more appreciated its fancy Renaissance architecture, partly of Italian inspiration, and, I think, so typical of the XVIth century, a crazy century. The more I looked, the more I enjoyed the remarkable uniformity and harmoniousness of style attached to such a monumental and sturdy building: a fearsome fortress extorting the notorious "sound tax", though in a classy way. It may have suffered mishaps like fires which have destroyed a good part of the interiors (apart from the chapel), but the overall structure has kept an original and coherent appearance, and as far as I have understood this is one, if not the main reason, for outstanding universal value and inscription... and rightly so! Personally, I cannot remember similar examples of great architecture between early Renaissance (like Sforza's castle in Milan, albeit it was heavily restored) and the Baroque to come (like Frederiksborg in Hillerød). It may well be that my experience in this field is limited and leaning more on the Medieval side, but anyway I feel that this combination of unique (?) architecture, preservation, scenic positioning and associative symbolic values form a good mixture that can have its place on the List. So my evaluation falls slightly over the mean value.
I agree with other visitors that the interiors of the castle are rather bare, but they are still of some interest and at least are not completely faked as can be seen in more than one European castle or palace (the most egregious example that comes to my mind is the palace of the Grand Dukes in Vilnius). The oversized banquet hall surely has its loftiness (and some nice paintings), but to me the heart of the apartments route was the tapestry room, with big, precious tapestries imaginatively depicting Danish kings old and new, like Waldemar the Great (some tapestries of this series are to be seen elsewhere, as in Frederiksborg, if I am not mistaken). There are also some sparse exhibitions about Hamlet and other historical events tied to castle; during my visit there was especially an ongoing exhibition of artistic, impactful photographs reinterpreting key moments of Danish history. It is maybe questionable that the true historical section about the castle be confined to a rather marginal room next to the souvenir shop, but it is well done at least: there you learn of the many quarrels with English and Dutch, and that the Øresundstold (the sound dues) formally ceased to be only in 2007, for good and all! Another surprisingly impressive feature that I greatly recommend are the dungeons: enormous, labyrinthine, dark, they seem perfectly suited for a fantasy tale, and in fact they host the famous (concrete) statue of Holger Danske (or Ogier the Dane, or also, in Italian, Uggeri Spatacurta!), slumbering, but ready to come again to Denmark's rescue when it will be most needed (there are a few small panels about his significance in Danish collective imagination here and there, difficult to spot and read in the darkness). If you fear too much descending into the bowels of the castle, you'll find a copy (the original, actually) of this statue outdoors at the Marienlyst hotel, 1/2km NW of the castle on the coast!
Beyond its architectural/artistic value, but tied to its exceptional image and importance, it so appears that Kronborg has long acted as a magnet for Danish-related folklore: Shakespeare decided to relocate the old legend of Amled here, which is probably a more "marketable" place than moler landscapes in a fjord; and of course the knight Ogier, though in the chansons about him he never does anything in Denmark (some say he was not even a Dane, le danois, but came from the Ardennes, l'ardennois), nor falls into slumber (he is abducted by Morgana to Faerie and has a good deal of fun there), has been moved here only in modern times. So both these links are completely fictional and late. Kronborg seems to be a sort of imaginary counterpart to Roskilde in fact of Danishness.
Logistics, visit and surroundings
Kronborg castle and the train tickets to come here are included in the praiseworthy Copenhagen card, which makes a visit even more attractive. In fact, I would say that the entry would be worthy just to see the inner yard, where the castle really shines: look for all the details and shapes, starting from the richly decorated "dark gate". All in all, a ponderate, full visit of the castle took me all the morning and the first part of the afternoon, so around 4 hours, after which I had a very late lunch; but I tend to get lost in the details. If you are driving to/from Copenhagen, I also suggest taking the coastal road 152 (starting from Østerbro) instead of the highway: you will have a view to the sea ad pass through pleasant resort towns, and also next to the excellent art museum Louisiana, which might be visited on the same day. In Helsingør, I found surprisingly ample free parking opportunities in the docks, just few meters beyond the pay parking where everybody seems to end up (which has the only "advantage" of lying inside the core zone!).
Helsingør itself deserves a visit. At the tourist office in the Kulturværftet free, very complete booklets with a nice "cultural promenade" along the attractions of the centre are available, many of them tied to the sound dues era. Among the most interesting sites are St. Mary's church and its cloister, and the hoary half-timbered house from 1577 in Strandgade 27, in a preserved typical neighbourhood. In the former industrial zone between the centre and Kronborg the new M/S maritime museum of Denmark opened in 2013 and is an example of the new, audacious generation of museums popping up everywhere in the country: this one is underground and occupies the old drydock! I had only one hour to visit it, but I felt it can be a reasonable time without spreading out too much into details: in the end I found it all glamorous and enjoyable, though I am not sure it taught me too much, the best part being the last one about international shippings and huge containers. It is also included in the Copenhagen card, so, why not? And since all these visits make hungry, as mentioned by others one of the best price/quality/atmosphere choices is the værftets madmarked, the food hall in the docks, teeming with "street" food!
Where next? Apart from Copenhagen, North/Eastern Sjælland is a big WHS hotspot: par force huntscapes, Roskilde's cathedral, Stevns klint... Or let's just cross the strait and explore Sweden! Its nearest WHS is Grimeton radio station. Also in Sweden, but nearer, a non-WHS, more exotic attraction (and probably irresistibile for Mathematicians and the like...) is the tiny island of Hven (explorable by bike with day packages and reachable also from Copenhagen), the former private realm of astronomer Tycho Brahe, whom history's whims eventually brought to Prague, where he met Kepler... but this is another story!
August 2020 - before biking from Copenhagen to Berlin we spent 3 days in and around the city. After visiting the Parforce hunting park we took the train at the north entrance further to Kronborg. We got kicked out of the train, as our ticket was not valid and the bikes not included. But luckily the next train came 20min later. In Kronborg we walked a bit around the castle, took an obligatory hamlet picture and visited the near food hall with around 20 street food stands. I had been on a sailing trip in the Kattegat in 1999, so had been here before. The revisit was very pleasant though
I tried my best to really enjoy this castle, I achieved middling success. After already visiting Frederiksborg and Rosenborg, my efforts to visit even more castles were not filled with much excitement. Nevertheless, I started the day walking to Copenhagen Central station and getting on the train to Hillerød. After the exquisite Fredericksborg, we took the train to Helsingør.
We spent about 2.5 hours at Kronborg. The views from the tower were stunning and one of the prime locations to understand OUV as the layout and elaborate fortifications were all on display. The next primary site of interest for me was the sub levels of the castle, in which food/drink was stored, protection during a siege, and some of the oldest components of the castle. You can enrich your visit to this portion of the castle by waiting for the guided tour.
Lastly, I should mention the Hamlet connection. Actors are usually on-site. There are scenes that are (somewhat) spontaneously orchestrated throughout the castle interior and exterior at different times. We viewed one scene by the fountain, and I would say it was enjoyable enough and added a bit of fun to the visit.
Most of the interior of the castle is not particularly interesting, and little is on display. Once again, the castle is covered with the Copenhagen Card, which is convenient. Kronborg is very much worth visiting, but it suffers in comparison with other Danish castles both in North Zealand and Copenhagen.
Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.
We came to Kronborg in January 2016 by train from Copenhagen and spent a night in this small, quiet city. The castle being the supposed setting of Hamlet, the gift shop sells novelty Yorick skulls. It was cold enough that seawater had frozen to the rocks, making for a picturesque view (and to answer Ian Cade's musing, you can indeed see Sweden).
Inside the castle it was fairly typical of European palaces, though not as impressive as sites such as Brühl, Würzburg or Blenheim. There were plenty of local paintings on the walls and some mocked-up royal bedchambers, but overall it was quite bare, with no ‘knockout’ ceiling frescoes or the like. The chapel was nice, but difficult to photograph internally.
A good idea of somebody’s was to put photographs of the famous actors who have played Hamlet at Kronborg in what has become a well-established annual tradition.
Read more from Tom Livesey here.
I visited this WHS in June 2011. This castle is believed to be the Elsinore Castle, the setting of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Opposite the series of cannons, there is an unobstructed view of Sweden's Helsingborg.
Kronborg Castle is one of the national symbols of Denmark and probably the most famous castle in Northern Europe. It stands guard over the Öresund and was notorious for the Sound Tolls it collected from all ships entering the Baltic Sea. Today it is a major tourist attraction and an easy train ride away from Copenhagen. Combined with a ferry ride over to Sweden and a visit to Malmö (followed by a train ride over the Öresund Bridge), it makes a great day trip. The castle has many historic features, including a chapel and very dark underground corridors with a statue of Holger Danske, and there is an interesting maritime museum, for which a new building is due to open in 2013 outside the castle. I found Kronborg very interesting, but somehow I suspect that it would not have made the WH list without its association to Shakespeare and Hamlet.
New Year’s eve and New Year’s day are always awkward times to visit world heritage sites, and for the third year in a row I found myself locked out of a chilly northern European WHS. I know that it will be like this, and I have actually started to enjoy these half visits.
2011/12 led me to Kronborg castle, walking over its ramparts and spying its impressive interior across its moats and through a rather romantic blanket of fog.
Obviously I can’t claim to have seen the best of the site, or offer a full review, but it was actually very enjoyable to be locked out of this impressive fortress, and certainly feel I can count it as a visit, having done a lap and ducked into any open facility in order to warm up.
The castle is located at the tip of the little town of Helsingør. I would assume on days with better viability you could see Sweden, just across the narrow stretch of water. This slender channel was the reason for the castle’s creation, as it was essentially a very early and fearsome toll both, collecting taxes on good shipped to and from the Baltic. It is good to see the role of taxes and duties still plays a strong role in the economic life of the city, as the centre is full of shops selling alcohol to Swedes who made the short hop on the ferry. It does make you think though about cost of living if you have to go to Denmark! for cheaper booze.
Helsingør is easy to reach from Copenhagen by regular trains that take about an hour. It was a rewarding place to visit, even if I did miss out on seeing the inside of it.
[Site 3: Experience 4]
I agree that it is location that makes this castle special, although far from unique. There are more spectacular castles around the coast of Scotland (non-WHS). But the view from the Helsingborg ferry is outstanding. And I did the tour of the battlements, the dungeons and the Royal Chapel too.
After reading few of the reviews i was not expecting anything special on this site, but the castle is very nice. The location is strategically very good.
The most special for me was the Maritime museum, with a lot of models of ships.
Castle Fredriksborg near is nice too (but for me a bit overdecorated) and you can see both of them if you are doing a trip from Copenhagen by train. Be sure you buy the "right" train ticket, it is always worth to buy the 10klip ticket as it is cheaper and you can combine 4*2 klips as one 8klip ticket. Ask the ladies in the counter on railstation.
Perhaps the fact that Kronborg Castle has not yet been reviewed on this site tells one something – that its Shakespearean fame as the site of Elsinore, the “Home of Hamlet” somewhat exceeds the reality of this mainly 17th century structure.
Shakespeare wrote the play around 1600 but Hamlet was a legendary figure whose “exploits” had been recorded as early as 1200CE and which probably go back to the sagas. His “connection” with Elsinore appears to have been solely in Shakespeare’s imagination. The existence of a castle at this spot goes back to at least the 12th century and a significant fortress was built around 1420 to support the levying of tolls on shipping passing through the straight. The castle however reached its greatest magnificence in 1585 (which perhaps explains Shakespeare’s use of it as a location 15 years later). The structure we see however dates from rebuilding following a fire and strengthening from 1620 to 1685. Its position (photo) is attractive enough but all I really remember of its interior was its rather large banqueting hall (Els’s review struck a chord there!). That is not to say that, as castles go, it is not worth seeing, but “of universal value”? Whatever that phrase really means, this must be pretty marginal!
Even the ICOMOS review seems somewhat concerned about building up the case for accepting the nomination and, to misquote Shakespeare’s Hamlet (III, ii, 239) itself:- “The reviewer doth protest too much methinks”!
It states “Other examples of this type exist elsewhere in Europe; however, Kronborg is of special significance by virtue of its location, which has an exceptional value in strategic, commercial, and symbolic terms. It is a symbol of the kingdom of Denmark, built to impress and to assert Danish control over ships passing through the very important seaway between the North Sea and the Baltic. It is also relevant to mention the fact it is the "Elsinore" of Hamlet, the most celebrated of Shakespeare's tragedies. Kronborg Castle is not unique: there are many contemporary Renaissance castles and palaces in Europe, such as those in the Loire Valley and in central Europe. However, its symbolic and strategic importance endows it with special significance which transcends its significance in purely art-historical terms.”
Hmmm? Unless you are a great castle enthusiast or you will only “count” a visit if you go inside the building it is probably enough to see it en passant during the ferry ride – the view from the sea in my view best captures what the site is about anyway!
There are still signs of the former shipyard that is mentioned in the ICOMOS report. Although Kronborg can be seen from the train station of Helsingor, you have to cross some industrial heritage to reach its main gate.
The castle has been strongly fortified, with walls, bridges and canals that could withstand attackers.
Inside, you can visit the Maritime Museum and the Apartments. The spacious apartments are decorated with Dutch paintings and tapestries depicting hunting scenes. The major drawcard here is the banquet hall, where a good party could be held.
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Bureau - needs plan for the removal of the major part of the disused shipyard
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