Kronborg is the setting of Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet’ and the most powerful and important castle in Scandinavia. The current castle was finished in 1585. It is located on the coast at the narrowest point of the strait of Oresund with a great view across the water to Sweden. This point is the entrance to the Baltic Sea making it a strategically very important location.
The region that is today southern Sweden has belonged to Denmark for most of history. The Danish king, therefore, also had a powerful fortress on the other side and controlled the passage in and out of the Baltic Sea. The king collected taxes from all the trade ships passing by. Sometimes the taxes financed more than a third of the expenses of the country.
The first castle
The first castle on this spot was built in the 1420s. This castle had the same dimensions as the castle you can see today. When they built a new castle, the old one was not torn down. They just built on top of it. The basement is from the old castle and so are many of the walls that you can see today.
The construction of the current castle of Kronborg
After winning a major war against Sweden in 1563-1570, the Danish king Frederik II enlarged the castle. Frederik wanted to build a magnificent renaissance castle to show the Danish dominance in the region. He named it Kronborg which translates to ‘Crown Castle’. It was finished in 1585. The walls that you see today are from that time.
Kronborg caught fire in 1629 and all the rooms except the church were destroyed. This means that the interior decorations that you can see today are from the renovation that took place shortly after. The Danish King Christian IV renovated the castle in the 1630s and he designed the interior in the Renaissance style that was popular at the time. You will see his initials ‘C4’ all over the castle.
Conquered by the evil Swedes
Kronborg was conquered by Sweden in 1658 in a disastrous war where Denmark lost Southern Sweden and was almost wiped out as a country. The Swedish army was brutal and burnt down many towns all over the country. They also pillaged the castle. Many paintings are therefore missing and are now found in castles in Sweden. The fountain in the courtyard was also taken and melted into cannon balls and church bells which is the reason why there is no fountain today.
William Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet’ takes place at Kronborg and there are speculations that Shakespeare’s himself could have been to Kronborg. This may or may not be true. Some English actors were there but we do not know if he was among them.
Try saying the famous quote: “To be or not to be that is the question” while you are at Kronborg.
Holger the Dane
Holger the Dane is a legendary warrior who appears in legends from the Viking Age. He sits in the basement (the casemates) and is a very impressive and powerful figure. If Denmark is attacked, he will wake up and fight for his country.
How to get there
It is 46 kilometers from Copenhagen to Kronborg Castle. You can either join our tour the GRAND DAY TRIP AROUND COPENHAGEN or you can drive up there or take a train from the Central Station in Copenhagen to the town of Helsingør (Elsinore) and then walk to the castle.