On my first full day in Copenhagen, I hopped a train for the hour-long ride north to 600-year old Kronborg Castle, the setting of Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Strategically located in Helsingør (Elsinore) at the eastern edge of Denmark, the castle overlooks the Sound, a stretch of water separating the country from Sweden.
Kronborg's resident royalty grew incredibly wealthy by levying a toll on the estimated 1.8 million ships that passed by in route to the Baltic Sea from 1429 to 1857.
As a result, Kronborg became one of the most important castles in Northern Europe during the Renaissance.
In 2000, Kronborg Castle was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Let's take a closer look at the castle so grand it was featured in one of William Shakespeare's most famous plays.
Entering the Castle
It was a chilly, overcast fall morning when I arrived at Kronborg Castle. The steely-grey sky set the mood for a trip back in time.
Entering Kronborg Castle grounds happens in stages. First, there's the two small bridges over a wide moat leading to the main gate.
Then, there's a short walk around a smaller interior moat (pictured above) before passing through a thick exterior wall (below) where tickets are purchased.
The cost of admission ranges from $15 in the low season to $22 in the high (summer) season.
Free 30-minute guided tours are available from September through March; however, I was too excited to wait for one.
Instead, I walked through to the spacious courtyard, which has hosted more than one live performance of Hamlet over the years.
The tragic play was first performed here in 1816 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.
During my first trip to Europe after college, I have fond memories of attending Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing in Kilkenny Castle's courtyard in Ireland.
If you have the opportunity to see Shakespeare performed at Kronborg, or any other European castle, I highly recommend it.
Kronborg Castle's grandeur is all but apparent in the courtyard.
Tall towers, sandstone walls, and copper roofing have been beautifully restored and kept in pristine condition.
The Royal Apartment
I began my exploration of the castle's interior in the Royal Apartment, where the King and Queen lived, on the north wing's first floor.
The King's Chamber is one of the castle's most important rooms, as it was here that the King would meet with noblemen to discuss how to run the realm.
The room was also used for entertaining, such as hunting dinners, which King Frederick II enjoyed greatly during his reign in the late 16th century.
An accidental fire in 1629 led to the near complete destruction of the castle.
The exterior was rebuilt almost the same by Christian IV. The interiors, however, were rebuilt with less of a likeness to their original form.
Two tiny bedrooms are on display, one for the King and one for the Queen.
At the time, having one's own bedroom, warmed by a fireplace, was seen as a sign of wealth and privilege. Smaller rooms were easier to keep warm.
By comparison, those of lesser means may have had an entire family sleeping on a single bed.
Like the King, the Queen had her own chamber for dining and entertaining guests.
Opened in 1582, Kronborg's chapel was the only structure not significantly damaged by the fire of 1629.
It's a modest space, richly decorated with original religious art and furniture.
One of my favorite scenes at Kronborg was not of the castle itself but the view out toward the Sound.
From the vantage point shown above, it's easy to see how well defended the castle was from attack by sea.
Berms, walls, moats, and cannons offered layers of protection for the royal family.
Today, the castle can be rented for private and corporate events, such as weddings and concerts.
It's even possible to fire the cannons!
Quirks of Castle Life
As you move around the castle, there are small glimpses of what it'd have been like to live there, such as the steep spiral staircases and basic toilet.
In Little Hall, you'll find seven tapestries from a series of forty depicting Danish kings.
The tapestries were made around 1580 at the behest of King Frederick II.
“According to a legend linked to Arthurian myth, a Danish king known as Ogier the Dane (Danish: Holger Danske), was taken to Avalon by Morgan le Fay. He returned to rescue France from danger, then traveled to Kronborg castle, where he sleeps until he is needed to save his homeland.”Wikipedia
Toward the end of my visit, I went below ground to walk through the cellar, which once housed everything from the King's wine collection to prisoners in shackles.
In the casemates, passageways within the thick castle walls, rests Holger the Dane, a Danish national hero.
The original bronze sculpture was created in 1907 by Hans Pedersen-Dan for Hotel Maienlyst.
Despite the used plaster mold being placed under the castle, it became more popular than the bronze sculpture itself.
In 1985, the plaster mold was replaced with a concrete sculpture to ensure Holger the Dane would safely live on for centuries.
Getting There and Away
Kronborg Castle is easily accessible from Copenhagen by train or car.
If traveling by DBS train, as I did, it's a 45-minute ride from central Copenhagen Central Station (or any other downtown station), plus a 15-minute walk from the Helsingør Station to the castle.
If driving, it's about 45 minutes to an hour north via the E47 highway.
Whichever way you choose, I highly recommend a stop at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art on your way back to Copenhagen.
It's about a ten-minute walk from the Humlebæk Station, and taxis are available should you need a lift to the museum or back.
This story is brought to you in partnership with ETIAS.