Associate editor Carla M. Clark explored the castles of Denmark
on a recent visit. Her report follows:
Copenhagen, Denmark -- There certainly was something rotten in
Denmark the morning I boarded a bus out of Copenhagen -- the
weather. But the cold air and shrouding fog set the stage perfectly
for a day tour of the Castles of North Sealand.
The Copenhagen Excursions tour book said my bus would go to
Elsinore first, the site of Kronborg Castle that William
Shakespeare chose as the setting for "Hamlet."
Then we would wind our way through the hillsides to see Fredensborg
Palace (the Danish queen's summer residence) on the way to
Frederiksborg Castle, which serves as a national historic museum of
paintings, furnishings and tapestries.
The coach was full of people of different nationalities, from
diverse settings such as Germany, Asia and the Mediterranean as
well as a fair portion from the U.S. The tours were mainly
conducted in English, with occasional translations by our
Upon leaving the city, we headed north along the eastern
coastline, with the Oresund strait -- the mouth of the Baltic Sea
-- just to our right, and beyond that a misty view of Sweden.
The 95-mile drive to Elsinore was tempered by the guide's
commentary about the surrounding sites, from the navy barracks and
industrial area on the city's border to the manor houses and former
royal summer house farther north.
Upon first seeing Elsinore, there was a bit of disappointment.
Rather than finding a castle standing out on the landscape, there
emerged a bustling port town -- the castle sits on its edge. Set on
the narrowest point in the Oresund strait, Elsinore is in a
strategic position and acts as a gateway to the region.
Today, there are ferries and trains crossing the waters between
the town and Sweden. But when Kronborg Castle was built in the 15th
century, the site was more a fortification than a gateway. The
castle and its inhabitants were well armed to monitor and charge
traversing ships as well as provide defense against then-enemy
Crossing the double moats and circling the castle swept time back
to that period, and the bustle of the modern town disappeared. The
sea, the mist and Sweden were all that was in view as I passed
through the entryway.
There is an engraved stone between entry gates in the likeness
of Shakespeare, commemorating the honor he did the castle.
(Although there was never a Prince Hamlet at the castle, legend
holds there was a Viking prince of Jutland named Hamlet.)
The fancy renaissance renovation of Kronborg in the 17th century
was designed for King Frederik II and his wife, Sofia. The main --
and enormous -- courtyard features many stone-carved facades
showing an entwined "S" and "F."
Although most of the rooms are bare, the church retained its
original ornamentation, and a few paintings remained in the queen's
gallery, which is the hallway leading from her chambers to the
ballroom. The ballroom itself is of note as it was, in its time,
the largest in northern Europe.
I was particularly swayed by seven original tapestries displayed
in a room off the ballroom. They are only a few of the many that
once adorned the castle's hall of kings, and are the same type
through which Hamlet mistakenly stabbed Polonius in the play.
Another highlight in the castle is its catacombs, or dungeon.
The passages are dark, low and winding, and end in a
triangle-shaped room in which prisoners were tortured by darkness,
claustrophobia and deprivation -- and out of which they never
Emerging into modernity again was a treat, as a smorgasbord
lunch was arranged at a small restaurant on the property.
Everything from salmon to sausages to desserts was available on the
all-you-can-eat table for about $15.
After an ample rest period, we drove westward through farmland
and rolling hills, with beechwoods and mustard fields streaking
The tour was running a bit behind schedule, so we only paused
briefly for picture-taking at the royal family's summer residence
at Fredensborg. The palace is in the middle of a park bordering
Our final stop on the day was Frederiksborg Castle, built on
three islands connected by brick and iron bridges.
We piled back in the bus, grateful for the chance to let the
visions of the past sink in on the ride back to present-day
The Castles of North Sealand tour lasts from 10 a.m. to 5:30
p.m. and costs $50, not including lunch.
It runs Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays May through
mid-October; Wednesdays and Sundays October through April, and
Wednesdays only in January.
City and harbor tours also are available as well as tours with
themes such as Legoland, Hamlet, the Vikings and Hans Christian
Tours are conducted on a show-and-go basis, but advanced
bookings and commissions are available for groups.
Phone: (011) 45-32 540-606
Fax: (011) 45-32 574-905