One of the wonderful things about Europe is the train lines. Trains are cheap, fast, and frequent, making it easy to sightsee nearby cities and get around. This is a definite bonus when you only have weekends to explore!
I decided to take advantage of the first sunny weekend in almost a month to do a day trip to Helsingborg and its Danish sister city Helsingør. The two are only a half hour north by train making them a perfect day trip!
Although sunny it was still February in Sweden, so knowing how cold sightseeing could be we decided to take it easy and reach Helsingborg around 11 so as to be out in the warmest part of the day. This was a wise decision! We actually saw everything, a church and a recreated fortress, within about two hours and so by 13.00 we were snuggled into a café taking a well earned fika—coffee break. Although not the most exciting city, Helsingborg is cute—almost too cute as this was the weekend before Valentines day and there were extensive decorations everywhere!
After fika we decided to head across the water to Helsingør. The two cities are at a narrow point in the channel between Sweden and Denmark, a very strategic point as it is the entrance to the Baltics from the North Sea. The strategic position means that there was a castle on each side facing each other, but it has to be said, the Danes had more style! The mouth of Helsingør harbour is guarded by the impressive castle Kronborg, featured in Shakespeare’s Hamlet as Elsinore.
On arriving in Helsingør my first impression was how much more alive it felt. There were people everywhere walking, laughing, tying up boats. It felt like a place full of life, unlike Helsingborg, which just felt like a place full of plastic hearts. Somehow it felt warmer on this side of the waves. As we wandered along the cobbled streets toward Kronborg Castle we passed the library and museum. These are on the innermost protected area of the harbour with a view of Kronborg in one direction and the channel in the other. The harbour walls at this point have levels with chairs to sit and watch the water, and a fire to warm up by! We took a moment to warm our hands and stare at the cluster of Danes who were sunbathing.
Looking around the castle grounds you can see why this was the seat of power in Denmark. Although not very high, the land is so flat that the slight elevation the castle does have looks ten times as impressive. This was once Elsinore, the most beautiful and sophisticated court in Europe, and although its power has waned, it is still breathtaking. The interior of the castle has suffered the most, it was destroyed by fire in 1629, then rebuilt and restored, only to be plundered by invading Swedes from 1658-1660 (Danishnet). It never really recovered from that; in fact, once the castle was reclaimed by Denmark it was mainly used for strategic purposes and army barracks were built on the grounds.
Now the castles interior has been restored to close to its old Renaissance splendour and tours are given by a man dressed as Horatio from Hamlet, one of the few characters to survive the play. Meanwhile, in the old army barracks outside, an artist colony has sprung up with a mixture of glass workshops, painting, sketching, metalwork, sculpture, and even a film and dramatic arts studio! Most of the studios are open and have a front shop area for visitors to look around, but some, like the film studio, are closed to visitors.
By the time we had circumnavigated the castle the sun was sinking low and a cool breeze was coming in off the water. It was time to go home. Stepping onto the ferry we were greeted by the familiar tobacco scent of the duty free, tobacco and liquor are so much cheaper in Denmark that Swedes often take trips to the border to buy from the ferry duty free shops, or the ‘Border Shops’ just on the other side. The border is quite relaxed; we were not asked for ID either time, and although there is technically a legal limit on imports it seems for all intents and purposes to be however much you can carry. Stepping off the ferry we took one last look at the sun sinking low over Denmark before hopping a train home. After all, it gets cold after sunset!
Danishnet. “Kronborg Castle.” Kronborg Castle – Helsingor. Danishnet.com, 28 Mar. 2015. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.