If you ask the average foreigner what comes to mind when they think of Denmark, they will probably include “environmentally conscious”, “bicycles”, “Danish pastries” and “Hamlet” among their top phrases. The latter has been immortalized in the minds of millions by the great Shakespearean quote “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”.
While I’m not sure the statement is true (I think the country functions pretty well), the setting for Hamlet is the magnificent Kronborg Castle, a Renaissance fortification situated in the coastal city of Helsingør 45 km north of Copenhagen. The most famous of Danish castles, it is more commonly known outside of Denmark by its Shakespearean name Elsinore although it is not clear Shakespeare ever visited it.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the castle dates to the 1420 and played an important strategic role during Denmark’s golden age. Situated at the narrowest point of the Øresund between Denmark and Sweden (3 kilometers), the castle provides commanding views of all shipping traffic entering and leaving the Baltic Sea. With control of the southern Swedish region of Skåne (Scania) at that time, Denmark had complete control over all shipping, extracting lucrative “Sound Dues” or fees for passage in and out of the Baltic.
In subsequent centuries, the castle has morphed from strategic fortification to royal palace, military barracks to prison (with some overlaps). The most famous features of the castle include the magnificent Ballroom, once the largest hall in Northern Europe (60 x 12 meters; ~180 x 36 feet) and the Casemates. The latter are famous as home to a sleeping Holger Danske. Legend has it that if Denmark is ever threatened militarily, he will awaken from his slumber to protect the country from its agressor.
Other notable features of the castle include the Royal Apartments, Chapel and costal Batteries. The batteries give superb views out over the Øresund and towards the Swedish city of Helsingborg. Following centuries of conflict, today these two cities are connected by innumerable ferries which depart every few minutes with a crossing time of only 20 minutes.
The castle capitalizes on its Shakespearean connections, hosting a major Shakespeare festival every August with live performance of some of the Bards greatest plays. Past actors have included greats such as Richard Burton, Christopher Plummer and Jude Law in plays such as Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet, just to name a few.