There is so much to see and do around Copenhagen, but one thing you definitely cannot miss is experiencing Hamlet at Kronborg Castle. Hang on.. Hamlet, that’s the play with the skull and the oft quoted phrase “To be, or not to be”, right? Yes, and the reason why you should learn more about Hamlet at Kronborg Castle (and not anywhere else) is because the play was actually set right here! We recently went on a day trip to Kronborg Castle as we had a bit of free time on our hands and it was one of the best days we’ve had this year! If you are considering to visit the castle or to actually have the whole Hamlet experience, read on below. We have compiled practical tips and our own impressions of spending a day with Hamlet at Kronborg Castle for you!
Why to Visit Kronborg Castle
Kronborg Castle lies in the Danish town of Helsingør, only about 50 km (or a 40 min train ride) North of Copenhagen. The original structure dates back to the 1420s, but the castle as we know it today is predominantly Renaissance in aesthetic. In fact it is considered to be one of the most important Renaissance castles in Northern Europe and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. It’s a beautiful castle in its own right, but it owes much of its fame to William Shakespeare. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is a Shakespearean tragedy written between 1599 and 1602 in which the protagonist’s home happens to be Elsinore, the anglicized version of Helsingør. Much has been done to capitalize on this fact and visitors today are presented with many ways to follow in the footsteps of Hamlet at Kronborg Castle.
Act 3 / Scene 1HAMLETTo be, or not to be: that is the question:Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to sufferThe slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,And by opposing end them? To die.
When to Visit Kronborg Castle
The castle is open to visitors all year round, but if you want to experience Hamlet at Kronborg Castle, we strongly recommend that you come during the summer. We generally advise against travel during peak season, but we’re making an exception in this case. First of all, Kronborg Castle has extended opening hours during the summer which makes it easier for you to plan. Secondly, between June and August scenes from the play are performed all around the castle grounds throughout the day, a performance known as Hamlet Live. Thirdly, in addition to Hamlet Live, Hamletscenen puts on an open-air theater every summer with new interpretations of Hamlet. It’s still worth visiting the castle during the other seasons, but only during summer can you get the full experience of Hamlet at Kronborg Castle.
Personally we recommend that you visit in the evening. Firstly, you’re less likely to encounter hordes of tourists who usually stick to the morning hours. Secondly, the casemates are just so much more intriguing after sunset. And thirdly, the castle looks spectacular when illuminated. During the summer we recommend that you arrive between 15:30 and 16:00. This will give you about 2 hours to explore the castle and you’ll be there late enough to see the castle illuminated. Note that opening hours are shorter during the winter.
How to Get to Kronborg Castle
Getting to Kronborg Castle from Copenhagen is relatively easy. We recommend that you visit the castle by train. From Copenhagen Central Station (København H) take any of the trains heading towards Helsingør. They depart every 20 minutes approximately. A 24h tourist ticket for all the zones costs 130 DKK. You can plan your journey here. On your way you will pass Louisiana Museum which is definitely worth a visit if you still have time! Get off the train at Helsingør and walk along the water until you reach the castle gates. Note that the tickets are sold in a small cottage to the left, before you actually enter the castle. Admission to Kronborg Castle is 140 DKK (130 DKK for students; free with Copenhagen Card).
Exploring the Castle & Hamlet Live
We started our self-guided tour in the impressive court-yard and after taking a couple of pictures moved on to the main exhibitions inside the castle. As you enter you learn about Frederick II and the rich history of the castle. There are some cute video installations which give you an idea what a Renaissance feast at Kronborg Castle must have looked like which made us wonder whether perhaps we had been born during the wrong century 😉
After a little while we came upon the King’s chambers which were my personal favorite Here the curators have carefully picked props to illustrate the king’s work desk. I could hardly choose which of the items was the most intriguing, but the feather quills were lovely! We moved on through more of the minimalistic yet imposing rooms until we finally reached the castle’s famous Ball Room. The ball room was the location of the illustrious balls and feasts we had read about before and it is a truly impressive room!
We happened to arrive just when one of the Hamlet Live performances had started, The Duel. It was wonderful seeing the act played out in the ball room and I must say the actors delivered a formidable performance!
Act 5 / Scene 2KING CLAUDIUSSet me the stoops of wine upon that table.If Hamlet give the first or second hit,Or quit in answer of the third exchange,Let all the battlements their ordnance fire:The king shall drink to Hamlet’s better breath;And in the cup an union shall he throw,Richer than that which four successive kingsIn Denmark’s crown have worn. Give me the cups;And let the kettle to the trumpet speak,The trumpet to the cannoneer without,The cannons to the heavens, the heavens to earth,‘Now the king dunks to Hamlet.’ Come, begin:And you, the judges, bear a wary eye.
After a big round of applause, we ventured deeper into the castle. One entire floor is dedicated to various Hamlet productions, but first and foremost those performed at Kronborg Castle throughout the years. We moved on to see rooms containing valuable tapestries depicting scenes of every day life in Helsingør and at Kronborg Castle. Towards the end the time was running out so we hurried up in order to explore more corners of the castle.
The Canon Tower
Luckily we cut our tour around the castle’s rooms a bit short, because the canon tower was about to close for the day. It took us quite a bit of effort to climb the dozens of steps to the top, but we made it in the nick of time. We reached the top and took deep breaths of the howling wind around us as we looked out to sea. One can only imagine what the castle must have looked like under siege and canons actually being fired from this tower. A few snapshots later we were already being escorted down by a staff member. The tower closes at 17:00 during the summer!
We briefly touched on the casemates before, but they do deserve their own section! They were something we had not expected beforehand and quickly turned into our favorite part of the whole castle! A long corridor leads you down into the dungeons beneath the castle and your surroundings become darker and darker with each step. We loved the torches which were barely just illuminating the rooms as we walked further and further. When we reached a staircase which led into a practically pitch-black room, we decided it was time for us to head back. But alas, a staff member informed us that the entrance was closed and we had to walk all the way through the dungeons to get out.
So down the rabbit hole we went, and it was a super special experience I’m glad we didn’t miss. I mean really, it is just a very large and very dark basement, when you really think about it, but the sun setting outside and the torches illuminating our path to freedom just made it special. Don’t miss it when you come, but be sure to wear comfortable shoes as navigating the uneven ground in the dark is difficult enough in flats!
Watching a Performance of Hamlet at Kronborg Castle
The main reason for which we had come to Kronborg Castle that day was to watch a play performed by Hamletscenen in a small open air theater just outside Kronborg Castle. This had been on our bucket list ever since we had decided to move to Denmark and to say we were excited for it would be an understatement.
After leaving Kronborg Castle with the gates closing right behind us we took a small stroll around Helsingør and popped into one of the taverns for some traditional smørrebrød and a glass of beer. We then made our way back to the castle for the main event: a performance of Hamlet at Kronborg Castle! Finally! We had purchased our tickets online beforehand for 360 DKK each. Actually we were lucky to still get the tickets as it was the penultimate performance of the season.
Upon entering the theater grounds we realized that we were probably the least prepared visitors that evening. It was a cloudy day and with the sun setting it got rather chilly. Never mind the impending rainfall that had been predicted! People around us were putting on rain pants and rain ponchos which made us wonder whether we’d be able to enjoy the performance. It didn’t rain at all during the performance and we were very thankful for that!
The performance itself was amazing and worth every penny for the tickets. The play was performed in English with Danish surtitles. It was also very easy for us to see the stage even though we had not splurged on some of the more expensive front-row tickets. The time flew by very fast as we were drawn into the world of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
But in the meantime we had started to feel a little chilly and were glad for the brief 20 minute intermission. Again we were reminded of how unprepared we were when the people around us started taking out cakes, coffee, sandwiches, and more. The lady sitting next to me must have taken pity on us because she finally offered us some hot coffee which invigorated us immensely. We were more than grateful for her Danish generosity. I don’t think in Finland a complete stranger would have offered us coffee, tea, and cake like here. Wherever you are, thank you Friendly Danish Lady!
After the intermission we watched as Ophelia drowned herself, as King Claudius accidentally poisoned his wife, as Hamlet and Laertes dueled. We were impressed with the actors’ performances who made us feel as though we had magically been transported into the 16th century. After a standing ovation we left with a memory which will last us for the rest of our lives.
Now, what do you think? Is watching a Hamlet at Kronborg Castle on your bucket list? What is your favorite castle you have visited? Do you like open air theaters? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below! Let’s stay in touch!