Despite its status as a busy ferry port, Helsingør is a quiet, likeable town with some major historical attractions. Its position on the narrow strip of water linking the North Sea and the Baltic brought the town prosperity when, in 1429, the Sound Toll was imposed on passing vessels. Today it remains an important waterway, with ferries to Swedish Helsingborg accounting for most of Helsingør’s through-traffic and innumerable cheap booze shops.
Helsingør’s well-preserved medieval quarter is dominated by Stengade, the main shopping street, linked by a number of narrow alleyways to Axeltorv, the town’s small market square and a nice place to enjoy a beer. Near the corner of Stengade and Skt. Annagade is Helsingør’s cathedral, Skt. Olai’s Kirke, while beyond is Skt. Mariæ Kirke, whose Karmeliterklostret, built circa 1400, is now the best-preserved medieval monastery in Scandinavia (guided tours only; arrange via the church office). Its former hospital now contains the Town Museum, which displays an unnerving selection of surgical tools used in early brain operations.Read More
The town’s great tourist draw is Kronborg Castle, principally because of its literary associations as Elsinore Castle, the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. There’s no evidence Shakespeare ever visited Helsingør, and the tenth-century character Amleth on whom his hero was based long predates the castle. Nevertheless, the Hamlet souvenir business continues to thrive here. The present castle dates from the sixteenth century when it jutted into the sound as a formidable warning to passing ships not to consider dodging the toll, and it remains a grand affair, enhanced immeasurably by its setting; the interior, particularly the royal chapel, is spectacularly ornate. Beneath the castle are the casemates, gloomy cavernous rooms that served as soldiers’ quarters during times of war.
National Maritime Museum
National Maritime Museum
The big new attraction just south is the revamped former shipyard area where the recently opened National Maritime Museum is now one of the country’s premiere places to learn about Denmark’s seafaring past and present. Set underground in the old dry docks next to the castle, the structure was built to a cost of 130 million krone. Inside, the technologically advanced, well-curated collections are dedicated to the country’s maritime history, with informative exhibits that include relics from Denmark’s conquests in Greenland, India, the West Indies and West Africa, as well as the world’s oldest surviving ship’s biscuit (1852). The area is also the site of the Culture Yard, a theatre, concert venue, library and café-restaurant housed in an innovatively designed glass-steel structure created from old wharf buildings. Its attached Varftsmuseum gives an insight into local maritime heritage.