You could approach Denmark’s tenth largest town at least two different ways. For the occasional visitor, the most common way to experience Helsingør (or Elsinore) is perhaps to visit Kronborg Castle – rendered legendary status as the home of Hamlet. One might guess that over the years at least some of those involved in the local tourism industry have had reasons to express their gratitude toward William Shakespeare.
The castle is of course a must-see for many visitors – and for good reasons. Wonderfully situated by the sea, the interiors of the Kronborg Castle bear witness of artistic eras such as the Renaissance and the Baroque. The fact that Hamlet has been performed in the courtyard several times has perhaps also helped create a special atmosphere here.
But a visit to Helsingør need not necessarily start with the Kronborg Castle. There is also another way to approach this charming town on the northernmost part of Zealand (one of the largest islands in Denmark).
Once you arrive in the town center, position yourself at the railway station. It’s close to where the ferries to Sweden berth. Then, when standing just outside the doors to the station, set your sights on one of the smallest of the streets leading from the square in front of you. It will be on your left-hand side. If the street sign says Brostræde when you get there, you will now be close to what many Danes (and Swedes too) consider to be one of the real highlights of a visit to Helsingør: Brostrædeis, or Brostræde ice cream, served in homemade waffles and accompanied with jam.
Afterward, continue along Brostræde (which translates to “Bridge lane”) until you reach Stengade. This is Helsingør’s main shopping street. On a warm summer’s day, chances are you will find it brimming with life. This is a popular destination for Swedes looking for the relaxed “joie de vivre” that Denmark epitomizes to their neighbors on the other side of the Øresund – the stretch of water that separates southernmost Sweden from Denmark.
If you like, sample the local stores and boutiques on Stengade and nearby streets. Then find a cafeteria for a smørrebrød – an open-face type of sandwich that the Danes specialize in. To many visitors, this is what Helsingør is all about.
Finish your stroll in Helsingør with a visit to the old parts of the town (close to Kronborg) and a tour of Hamlet’s castle. When in Helsingør, it would be a tragedy of Shakespearean proportion to miss it.
Smaller cruise ships of up to 460 feet/140 meters in length berth close to the city center. Passengers are tendered ashore from larger cruise ships that anchor in the Øresund. Cruise passengers are welcomed by representatives from the local tourist office, who provide brochures and tourist information.
- The Kronborg Castle is perhaps the main attraction in Helsingør. The history of the castle goes back to the early 1400s, when, in 1420, Erik of Pomerania built a strongly fortified castle on the premises. The intention behind the construction was to facilitate the collection of the dues that ships entering the Øresund had to pay to the Danish Crown. Between 1574 and 1585, the castle was renovated and expanded as it was turned into a Renaissance castle. When visiting Kronborg, don’t miss the guided tour of the vaults. This is where Holger the Dane stands (or, rather, sits) guard. According to popular belief, this warrior will turn into flesh and bone whenever Denmark faces danger in any form.
- Established in 1430, the Carmelite Priory, or Priory of Our Lady, in Helsingør is the finest example of a remaining monastery in Denmark. Nearby is the Helsingør Cathedral, the St. Olai Church.
- South of Helsingør, in Humlebæk, is where you will find the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. With a panoramic view across the Øresund, the museum features a considerable collection of modern art. The easiest and most economical way to get here from Helsingør: by train.
- Marienlyst Castle, just north of Helsingør, was built in 1587 as the summer residence of King Fredrik II (who lived on Kronborg Castle). The garden remains one of the nicest in Denmark, designed by the French architect N.H. Jardin.
- Another castle, Gurre Castle, is situated 4.5 miles/7 kilometers west of Helsingør. Nowadays a romantic ruin close to the Gurre Lake, the building was a major Royal castle in the late 1300s.
- A castle that is still in use is Fredensborg Palace. One of the favorite residences of Denmark’s Royal Family, the baroque castle from the 18th century features one of Denmark’s largest gardens. It is usually open to the public in the month of July.
- Take the ferry to Sweden – and back again. It might not sound like the first thing to do when you’ve just disembarked from a cruise ship, but the ferry is a splendid way to experience Helsingør (and Helsingborg, on the Swedish side) from the sea.
Shore excursions in and around Helsingør can include:
- Tours of Helsingør and Kronborg Castle
- Castle tours of North Zealand, including the region’s Royal Parks and public gardens.
- Seal and speedboat safaris on the Øresund.
Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, is less than an hour away by train. The distance is 27 miles/44 kilometers.
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