Visit: 3rd January 2016
Kronborg Castle was the second of the two WHSs Natalie and I visited on our New Year weekend trip to Denmark. It is a historic royal palace, most famous globally for being the castle in which Shakespeare set the play Hamlet. Indeed, the play about the Danish prince is based upon a local legend about a prince called Amleth. Shakespeare simply moved the ‘h’ from the end of the name to the start.
Kronborg Castle is situated on a man-made peninsular beside the town of Helsingør. In English we call it Elsinor, and that is the name you will find is used by the Bard. Elsinor is a 30 minute train ride north from Copenhagen, and sits at a strategically important position on the west bank of the narrow Øresund strait that separates Denmark from Sweden. Putting aside the twentieth century Keel and White Sea-Baltic canals, Øresund is one of only three routes that shipping can take to get from the Baltic Sea to the rest of the world.
In 1429 King Eric of Pomerania (a major character in the history of that other WHS we visited that weekend, Roskilde Cathedral) came up with a plan to charge a toll to traffic passing through the three straits. This worked immensely well for the Danes, so much so that by the 16th and 17th centuries shipping tolls made up some two thirds of Denmark’s state income. Kronborg Castle – the site at which captains were required to make payment – was built lavishly with the proceeds.
We had spent the prior night in a hotel in Elsinor, so were up at the castle bright and early – easily in time for its winter opening hour of 11am. It was bitterly cold, with an easterly wind transforming the -4°C actual temperature into a ‘feels like’ at least 10°C lower. We walked around the perimeter of the castle and stood by the shoreline where the seawater had frozen solid to the rocks and shrubs.
Inside the castle it was fairly typical of European palaces, though not as impressive as fellow WHSs 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 well established as an annual tradition. We watched a 1948 Lawrence Olivier film version as preparation for the trip, so it was interesting to see that he had also played the Dane in Elsinor itself, as you can see above. Other Thespians who have graced the castle’s lawns include Derek Jacobi, John Gielgud and Michael Caine (the latter as Horatio). I was temped to buy a novelty skull in the gift shop for a cheesy photograph, but it was just too cold for larking around outside!
Upon finishing our self-guided tour of the castle (the colourful outbuildings above contain cafes and other modern facilities) we headed for the station and a train back to Copenhagen. I had been planning for us to walk through one of the parks that make up the newly-inscribed multi-site WHS, ‘The par force hunting landscape in North Zealand’, but our late-running train skipped the stop in a bid to catch up to its schedule, so that idea was rapidly canned. On the plus side, though, this gave us time for an unplanned visit to see the famous Little Mermaid statue on Copenhagen’s chilly waterfront.
It is about the size I had imagined it to be, and easier to access. You could climb up to it and touch it if you wanted to (and I believe some people, including vandals, have done). Sitting there gazing out across the Øresund towards Sweden, it possesses a serene and dignified beauty. I was glad we saw it, I thought, as we walked back along the city’s quiet streets to the central station for our airport train.
The flight back was with a new airline for me: Norwegian. I was impressed with its modern 737 and low fares (it cost only £20 per person for our flight back to Gatwick). On arrival I was expecting a fairly miserable trip home because the London-Brighton line that passes through the airport was suspended for engineering works. We were therefore surprised to find out how quiet the replacement bus services to East Grinstead station were: we boarded a coach that had just pulled up at the airport only for it to be immediately despatched with the two of us as the only passengers aboard!