Perched on the very eastern tip of Denmark is the historic port city of Helsingør, or Elsinore as it’s called in English. This windswept town of 62,000 is most famous for Kronborg Castle, the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The castle was built in the 1420’s and Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in 1601. But, Shakespeare never visited Denmark and apparently only heard about the castle from traveling musicians who had been there “on tour”. This, of course, has not stopped the local chamber of commerce from capitalizing on the Hamlet setting and every August the Shakespeare Festival is presented, with open-air performances held at the castle.
Kronborg was the brainchild of the Danish king, Eric of Pomerania. At the time the castle was built, Denmark controlled both sides of the narrow strait (2.5 miles) that served as the entrance to the Baltic Sea through the Øresund, the sound that separates Denmark from modern-day Sweden. Since all ships entering and exiting the sound had to pass through the strait, the Helsingør, King Eric figured this would be a great way to make some dough. So, in 1429, he set up a toll system where every ship transiting the strait had to pay him a fee based upon the cargo they were carrying. This became so lucrative that at one time the tolls accounted for up to 2/3 of Denmark’s entire income. Called the “Sound Dues”, this system continued for the next 400 years until it was abolished in 1857.
Today, the castle is a the main tourist draw for Helsingør, along with the very cool Danish Maritime Museum. And, who says the Danes don’t have much of a sense of humor? Check out these examples seen while walking across the bridge to the castle.
The rest of the town is very relaxed and people just kick back and endure the flocks of tourists who come here each summer.
One of the most dramatic buildings in Helsingør is its central train station. Built in 1891, it is terribly impressive, with turrets, copper-clad spires and marble columns at the entrance. From the outside, one would think this would be a very busy and bustling station. In fact, there are only six tracks, five platforms and you have to buy your train ticket from the 7-Eleven store inside the building. Still, the station is historically protected, and there are several scheduled arrival/departures throughout the day, making Helsingør a great day trip from Copenhagen.