Tucked away in Helsingør, in eastern Denmark, is a castle that is believed to have inspired the setting of the Bard’s iconic play Hamlet. Rupali Dean makes a short trip
I stop for a moment to gaze at the castle towering over me, its turrets starkly framed against the cloud-darkened sky. I can almost hear the night guards in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which is believed to be set here, whisper as they spot a ghost: “Peace, break thee off; look, where it comes again!”… “In the same figure, like the king that’s dead.”
The Kronborg Castle, made famous as Elsinore in Shakespeare’s legendary play The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is located in Helsingør, in a serene corner of eastern Denmark. While the castle is the town’s most popular attraction, there is a lot more you can do here on a day’s trip from Copenhagen.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the castle is a sprawling Renaissance masterpiece topped by baroque-style green-copper spires and guarded by moats and fortifications. Only 45 minutes from Copenhagen by train, it overlooks the narrowest part of the strait between Denmark and Sweden. It is said that in the earlier days, the Danes kept guard here, monitoring ships entering the Baltic Sea and collecting taxes from them.
As I approach to the castle, I admire the impeccable manner in which the architectural marvel was reconstructed by king Christian IV, almost exactly like the original, after a devastating fire in 1629 had burnt it to the ground. The fire had left the castle church untouched, and looking at its elaborately painted and engraved beams, I can imagine the opulence of the castle in its heyday. I enter through the gigantic red gate and am mesmerised by the courtyard, framed by high walls. I take a minute to let it sink in that I am standing where the often recited soliloquy from Hamlet, “To be, or not to be…”, was set. Inside the castle, in the king’s chambers, the royal work desk is on display with its elaborate paraphernalia, including exotic feathered quills. One can also tour the Great Hall, which was, during that time, considered to be the largest of its kind in Northern Europe, and was believed to host a large number of guests.
Situated in a former shipyard, just a short distance away from the castle, is a street food market replete with high ceilings and a line-up of shipping apparatus, including old boats. I take in the view of the fortress, the marina, and the not so faraway Swedish coast, as I dig into the popular Danish rye bread, smørrebrød and apple cider.
Stomach happy, I embark on a walk around the harbour, taking in a few other sights. The most captivating among them is the M/S Maritime Museum of Denmark, a structure that loops around an old dry dock between Kronborg Castle and The Culture Yard. The museum, constructed by the popular Danish architectural firm BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), is an architectural masterpiece. The museum’s rich collections are dramatically exhibited alongside video projections that describe the splendid architecture. I am spellbound by the glass and aluminium stairs and bridges intersecting at the top, which give the museum the silhouette of a
Soon, it’s time to head back to the train station. Along the way, I behold from a distance the male version of the world-famous Danish icon, the little mermaid. A glittering stainless steel statuette at the waterside quay, the “Merman” sits in the same position as the mermaid, its shiny surface reflecting its medieval surroundings: the spires of Kronborg Castle, the ferries and old wooden boats.
I stop by in the cobblestone town square encircled by edifices, which date back to almost 300 years ago. The green spire of the Helsingør Cathedral Skt. Olai, completed in 1559, looks stunning contrasted against the vibrant blue, orange, white and yellow porticos of the neighbourhood. More proof that the Danes have a flair for bringing diverse elements together, be it in food or architecture, to create an enthralling mix.
The author is a senior journalist and the views expressed in the article are her own