“Elsinore”, “Narrow Strait”, “Set of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet”
Moving onto one more last city to visit in this trip, was a choice between Helsingor, north of Copenhagen, or Roskilde at the west. Both very beautiful cities, both home to an UNESCO World Heritage Site, but was decided to be Helsingor for having more places to visit, being a bigger city and because we did have the time for this, enjoying pretty much most of the day before returning to Copenhagen to pick our luggage and fly back to London. And that was a very great choice what we did!
After all, any further days in Copenhagen would have been too much, and bearing few extra sights here and there, we did already see everything in 2 full days. Furthermore, we spent the entire day yesterday in Malmo, Sweden, so this was a perfect occasion to visit something else, leaving for a future trip the visit to Roskilde for example, among other cities.
Helsingor is way smaller than Copenhagen, with not even a fraction of the hundreds of sights you find in the capital everywhere, therefore you can easily plan for time, little over half a day. Once you visit its old town core and harbour and its UNESCO World Heritage Kronborg Castle, the rest will lie in between at easy reach from each other. In theory my original plan was not just visiting Helsingor, but also Roskilde, although as I knew I was with my family and we take more time than when I travel with friends, I preferred to have this day more relaxed than the previous three when we did not stop on and on.
The city is the closest to Sweden, with the car ferry line between Helsingor and Helsingborg across in the neighbour country the busiest in the world on one of the most important and strategic straits in Europe, the Øresund. It became one of the most important cities in Denmark after the introduction in the 15th century of a toll for every ship passing through the Strait. This meant a wealthy cash-flow and one of its key landmarks built by King Eric of Pomarania, the Kronborg Castle. The toll was scrapped towards the end of the 1800s, in time with the Industrial Revolution.
Helsingor continued to flourish during this period, and saw its heyday with the construction of the massive shipyards. Grand buildings from all epochs were built, such as the impressive train station and the many houses for the bourgeoisie. The good growth lasted until the closing of the many factories and the shipyards, becoming a dormant reminder of a once great city catapulted in recession. Its revitalisation took many years to come, since the late 1960 until very recently with the regeneration of the former shipyards into a huge cultural centre and museums, side by side with the masterpiece that is the Kronborg Castle.
Nowadays you will still see much construction going on around the city, but will be surprised to discover a fascinating city often unheard to the tourist, but definitely I can strongly recommend. Truly worth it!
For more information about the city visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Denmark’s currency is the Danish Corona (DKK). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Helsingor:
- Train Station The northern end of the rail line. Built in 1891 in neo-renaissance architecture, it imitates Christian IV’s Dutch Renaissance style buildings from the first half of the 17th century.
- Custom House In the same square of the train station by one of the sides. Completed in 1891 in historicist style. Nowadays it is part of the “Culture Harbour Kronborg” as an exhibition and concert hall.
- Old Town Very small yet charming. Narrow streets with colourful well preserved old houses. It’s easy to navigate and walk through, just by doing few zig-zags through the streets.
-Axeltorv The main square within the old town. Very transited day and night, with market at the weekends.
-Carmelite Priory Established in 1430 is the finest example of a complete monastic complex surviving in Denmark. The convent, church and cloister and all perfectly preserved, retaining the characteristic Hanseatic Gothic architecture visible at the Saint Mary’s Church.
-Helsingor Town Museum Across the road from the Saint Mary’s Church. Also in Hanseatic style, it specialises in everything about the city’s history, past and present.
-Saint Olaf’s Church The most important in the city. Completed in 1559 in Gothic style, was given status of Cathedral in 1961.
- Culture Harbour Kronborg Occupying the entire area once home to the shipyard. Of recent creating, with some works still going on as part of the regeneration of the city towards a more touristy future. It is sandwiched between the old city and the Kronborg fortress and castle.
-Culture Yard (Kulturværftet) This amazing building is the new facade of the harbour.
-Shipyard Museum (Helsingør Værftsmuseum) Right behind the Culture Yard.
-Maritime Museum (Museet for Søfart) Showcases the collection of Danish shipping from 1400 to today. It was before at the Kronborg Castle, and moved to this dry-dock in 2013. The curious fact that it is an underground museum comes from the Kronborg Castle being listed by UNESCO, hence not permitted to built anything at the front or near it.
- Kronborg Castle The highlight number one in the city. The most important Renaissance castle in Northern Europe, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, more known to be the set of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A small medieval fortress built by King Eric VII in the 1420s, being transformed into the glorious Renaissance castle you see today from 1574 to 1585 by King Frederick II. In 1629 a fire destroyed a great part of it but King Christian IV had it rebuilt afterwards, continuing to be a Royal Residence until 1785 when it was converted into barracks for the army. The army stood until 1923, and ever since restored to its former glory and opened to the public.
The nearest airport is Copenhagen‘s Kastrup Airport, the largest of any Scandinavian country, with a great availability of destinations within Europe and across the world. It is located to the south of the capital and easily accessible by commuter train or the metro to the city centre or central train station. Does not matter which one you take, the cost for a single ticket is the same at 36DKK, valid for a period of 60 minutes after validation, meaning you can get on further transportation to your final destination with the same ticket. It is 12 minutes to the Central Train Station of Copenhagen, and 30 minutes to the neighboring city of Malmo in Sweden.
Being that near, Malmo’s Sturup Airport can also be a good option when planning a visit to Copenhagen, Helsingor and any other city in the area. Airfares are definitely cheaper there than Copenhagen in low-cost carriers. Or something you could consider is making an open-jaw by arriving irrespective to Copenhagen or Malmo airport, and leaving back from the airport of the other city. It can save you money and the extra cost for avoiding a train ride across the Oresund Bridge.
From Copenhagen city centre the train ride to Helsingor is around 40 minutes, with trains every 15/20 minutes.
Once in Helsingor, distances are short and although there is a good network of public buses, you do not need to take any public transportation to visit all the sights. Walking is the best way to enjoy the city.
We did not stay over at Helsongor since we came from Copenhagen, our base on a day trip. The chances you will be doing the same are almost guaranteed and therefore this is all the information about Copenhagen instead.
Hotel prices are quite high in the city and overall everywhere in the country. Finding a good deal is difficult, high or low season. The choice is very large in the other hand, so it comes down to you and your budget when having to chose. For both of our stays, this was the same case, and while on our first time we were near the city centre, in this latest occasion we got a great hotel, but in the airport area. Prices drop dramatically depending on the area. So while in the city centre is really expensive, the airport is half the price for top hotels including breakfast. A good side on this is that the airport is only 15 minutes from downtown by direct train and metro.
In our recent stay in August 2016 we stayed at the Hilton, in Ellehammersvej 20, just outside the terminal buildings. Being the middle of high season, this is where we found one of the best deals for a top hotel, including breakfast and all the extra facilities; plus I was coming with my family for which I was looking for something really nice. Just at the base meters away was the metro station with easy and fast connection to the city centre, so we did not mind the location at all. The rooms were larger than average, of course top Hilton standards in comfort and care, great staff very helpful and polite, and the best breakfast of any hotel chain, their famous Hilton breakfast.
In September 2011 we stayed at the First Excelsior, in Colbjornsensgade 4-8. Small and quiet property a block away from the central train station hence great location in the city centre. From here you can walk to everywhere in the city without the need of public transportation, even to the farther sights the Little Mermaid and the Castle. It was basic but good enough to our needs. Nice friendly staff, quiet and comfortable room.