A 40 minute train ride north of Copenhagen lies the pretty seaside town of Helsingør. There are two main reasons people come to visit. The first is due to location. Situated at the narrowest point of the Øresund, the water separating Denmark from Sweden, Helsingør has a ferry terminal and receives hundreds of booze cruisers a day. Apparently, at least to some one, alcohol in Denmark is cheap. Despite, or perhaps because of this element of its income, the town centre is lively and well-kempt with a wide variety of interesting independent shops and cafes as well as a large supermarket and modern shopping mall.
The second reason for the town’s popularity is Shakespeare. Helsingør, and its imposing sea-facing fortress, Kronborg Slot, have been labelled as the inspiration for Hamlet’s Elsinore, although the bard himself never visited. The town has embraced the connection and plays host to an annual Shakespeare festival. The presence of cultural tourists has also led to other civic benefits such as a purpose-built arts centre on the harbour, complete with an excellent glass walled restaurant from which to admire the view. Seating is also available outside, with complimentary blankets and fire pits in the colder months.
For those less interested in its literary heritage, Kronborg Slot is still well worth a visit. You can wander the extensive battlements for free or pay to enter the castle proper which includes a maze like network of state and private rooms, a display of royal tapestries, an immense ballroom and ornate chapel. Inevitably, one room is given over to Hamlet and the many productions that have used the castle as a backdrop.
One of the best parts of Kronborg Slot is the opportunity to walk through the dimly lit warren of cellars that lie beneath it. Here is where you will find the imposing statue of Holger Danske, Denmark’s answer to King Arthur, who, so legend says, will awake from his slumber to protect the country in its hour of need.
Our ticket to the castle entitled us to 20% off entry to the newly opened Danish National Maritime Museum and, if you want to visit both, that is the order to do it in as admission to the museum is the more expensive. Cleverly built in to a dry-dock, close to the castle, architecturally it is interesting but it is a classic case of style over substance when it comes to content. The artfully arranged displays were heavy on the visual stimulus but short on information. We toured the whole museum in less than half an hour and left feeling slightly short-changed. But this was just a minor blip on an otherwise sunny day of sightseeing. Today’s Helsingør is certainly hard to reconcile with Hamlet’s gloomy Elsinore.