Kronborg Castle 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 (Scania) 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. At times, these taxes financed more than a third of the expenses of Denmark.
The first castle
The first castle on this spot was built in the 1420s. This castle had the same dimensions as the castle you see today. When they enlarged the castle, this old one was not torn down. They just built on top of it. The basement that you see today is from the old castle and so are many other walls that still exist.
The construction of the current Kronborg Castle
After winning a major war against Sweden in 1563-1570, the Danish king Frederik II enlarged Kronborg Castle. Frederik wanted a magnificent renaissance castle to demonstrate the Danish dominance of Scandinavia. Sweden had enlarged their biggest castle in Kalmar, so Frederik II, naturally, had to make sure that Kronborg Castle was larger.
The castle was renamed ‘Kronborg’ which translates to ‘Crown Castle’. The enlargement was finished in 1585 and the castle has not been changed much since then. So what you see today is basically the castle as it looked after the enlargement in 1585.
Unfortunately, Kronborg caught fire in 1629 and most of the rooms except the church had their interior destroyed. The rooms were then renovated in the 1630’s by King Christian IV. The interior decorations and the paintings in the ceilings are from that time. You will see the 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. (To save our national pride, it should be noted that Sweden only won because they got lucky that the sea froze over and they could walk across the ice). 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 Castle and the nearby town of Elsinore (Helsingør in Danish). There are speculations that Shakespeare’s himself could have been here. This may or may not be true. Some English actors were there as entertainment for one of the royal weddings in the early 1600’s but we do not know if he was among them. But if he was not, he must have at least known someone who had visited Kronborg Castle as there are surprisingly many very accurate details about the castle in his play.
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 to Kronborg Castle
It is 46 kilometers from Copenhagen to Kronborg Castle. The easiest way to get there is to take a train from the central station in Copenhagen to the town of Helsingør (Elsinore) and then walk to the castle. The train ride takes 45 minutes and the walk is another 15-20 minutes. The timetable for the trains can be found here.
Another way to get there is to join our tour the GRAND DAY TRIP AROUND COPENHAGEN. This tour includes a full visit to Kronborg Castle as well as the other major historical sites in the Copenhagen area and it is the only way to see all of them in one day.