I Could Have Kissed Shakespeare! Elsinore Castle

Helsingor, Denmark

Elsinore Castle

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

I’d been in Copenhagen a few days, aimlessly exploring the city, entirely enjoying myself but also aware that I may be missing things. I decided to be a little more organised and bought the Lonely Planet guide to Scandinavia eBook, to up my game.

A quick virtual flick through revealed that Hamlet’s Elsinore Castle was more than a mere work of Elizabethan fiction, it did indeed exist and it was only a short train journey up the coast, in the town of Helsingør.

As someone who spent five years of her late teens/early twenties living and working in Stratford-upon-Avon, this was most excellent news!  

The train was easy, a 24hr travel pass cost me 130 DKK ($20) from Copenhagen Station and a relaxing 45 minute journey transported me to the surprisingly grand Helsingør Station: for a second I thought I’d alighted into the castle itself!

Helsingor, DenmarkKronborg Castle, to give it its correct, ‘real’ name is just across the harbour from the railway station, a short, pleasant walk where I discovered this huge fish marooned on the waterside. It was made out of plastic flotsam and jetsam: the rubbish we choke our oceans with.

Helsingor, DenmarkI entered the castle grounds over the wide moat then walked around a part of the outer fortifications first before heading into the castle.

Just tucked around the corner from the gate I entered through I found my man: a fine stone portrait of Shakespeare with some text in Danish underneath.

Oh Will, I could kiss you! It was like meeting up with an old friend!

I never imagined when I arrived Copenhagen that I would be looking eye to eye with a stone Shakespeare!

Shakespeare set Hamlet in Elsinore (Helsingør) castle, a tragedy about the Prince of Denmark. In Shakespeare’s time Kronborg Castle was infamous, it was a grand toll house: ships had to pay ‘sound dues‘ to pass through the narrow sound (Sweden is a stones throw across the water) and this brought in untold wealth and riches.

The castle’s fame and grandeur was far reaching, even inspiring our Will to put quill to parchment and weave a tale of indecision and revenge.

Helsingor, DenmarkIn winter the outer ramparts are free to explore, I paid the 80 DKK to go inside the castle which was interesting yet a little sparse. Many of the castles treasures were swiped as Swedish spoils of war, and later the castle was used as a garrison for the army.

I didn’t just discover one familiar character here. One of the rooms was called the Scottish Room, which piqued my interest, so I read the information card: King James VI of Scotland – before he united the nations and became King James I of England – stayed here on his honeymoon with Anne of Denmark.

Anne was the Danish King’s daughter (King Frederick II) and they had married in Oslo. These royals certainly got about!

Down in the casements I found a sleeping giant, a formidable warrior biding his time until his country needs him.

It is Holger Danske, Holgar the Dane, a figure who first appeared in the legends of Charlemagne.

He looked rather fabulous in this dark, subterranean chamber, bathed in a spotlight that glowed brighter as I stepped nearer.

Helsingor, DenmarkSome of the Royal rooms had been restored and showed fine detail on the ceilings. I downloaded the podcast room guides which helped to explain a few things about what I was looking at as I wandered around.

This painting, ‘Allegory of the Öresound’, shows the wealth and opulence of Kronborg in the height of power.

Helsingor, DenmarkThe castle that stands now dates from the early 1600’s, the previous castle was destroyed by fire. The only part that was untouched was the chapel, and here you can see what the old castle must have looked like, with glorious painted and carved beams. 

This Renaissance chapel is quite spectacular and totally different to the rest of Kronborg.

Helsingor, Denmark

Back out into the cold December air I headed back to the station watching a Skandlines Ferry cross the Øresund Sound over to Sweden.

In the harbour, I found this handsome young man, Han. A melancholy mirror to the Little Mermaid down the coast. Apparently he blinks, I wish I’d known that before I went: not everything is in the guidebooks! 

Helsingor, Denmark
I’m so glad I bought the guidebook and found out about this castle, I’d have been really disappointed to have learned about it later. It was great to see Will, and to step into this infamous setting. It would be great to come in the summer though, when there are performances of Hamlet in the castle grounds.

Travel Tip

To buy a 24hr travel pass from the ticket machine in Copenhagen station you need to scroll down the menu to page two to select ‘Zone Tickets‘. It took me ages to work this out!

By Rachel A Davis

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