Travel Story Visiting Kronborg Castle: Home of Shakespeare's Prince Hamlet

Photo of Mogens Johansen

To go or not to go is, that is the question... 

Sometimes when you travel you just get lucky. Today, the weather is perfect and we just about have an historic castle all to ourselves. 

We are visiting Kronborg Castle in Denmark. The castle is, perhaps, best known as Hamlet’s castle after Shakespeare used it as the setting for his fictional play about the Danish Prince Hamlet who lived at the castle.

Kronborg Castle is by the town of Helsingor (Elsinore in English), about 45km north of Copenhagen at the narrowest point of the sound separating Denmark and Sweden.

The sound was and still is an important shipping route linking the Baltic Sea with the North Sea, so it was the perfect place for the early Danish kings to collect taxes from merchant ships passing through. By the end of the 1500s, Denmark had become the most powerful kingdom in Northern Europe and officials and traders came to see the powerful King Frederick II at Kronborg.

King Frederick II had transformed the original medieval castle called Krogen (The Hook) into a magnificent, imposing Renaissance castle with majestic towers and spires. The castle was heavily fortified so there was no way for ships to avoid paying the tax for passing through.

We join a small group of other tourists for a brief history lesson about the castle before roaming the interior and exploring its treasures on our own. Excellent displays are well signed and give a clear understanding of how the royals lived, worked and played.

We admire a large collection of tapestries that adorn the walls of the ballroom. King Frederick II had commissioned a series of 43 valuable tapestries depicting Danish history and its rulers to outdo his rival, Swedish King Eric, who had a series of tapestries depicting his royal lineage.

Actors in period costumes make cameo appearances as we make our way through the wings of the castle. Prince Hamlet stops to talk to a small boy about his FC Barcelona shirt. He asks what kind of shirt it is, the boy explains that it is a football shirt. “Back in my day we didn’t have things like that,” Hamlet says before moving on to chat with other guests.

In a large hall we watch queen Gertrude and Ophelia perform a dance. Later, outside in the courtyard, we quietly listen to Ophelia and her father performing a pop-up scene from Hamlet. 

But the tranquillity and the moment is disturbed by a busload of loud tourists who burst into the courtyard and hijack the performance by taking selfies with the actors. “Words, words, words”, it clearly means nothing to them so we leave them to their selfies and move on in another direction.

Sometimes you get to hate mass tourism but on this occasion we could at least escape the madness and go and explore a different part of the castle.

To go or not to go is not the question — don’t miss it if you are in the neighbourhood. 

If you are lucky enough to be in Denmark during August, you may even witness a performance of Hamlet. HamletScenen is an international performing arts theatre based at Kronborg. 

The theatre has the oldest Shakespeare performance tradition in the world and has drawn stars such as Laurence Oliver, Richard Burton, Michael Caine and Jude Law to play the starring role as Hamlet.

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