Denmark falls into a common trap for countries with famous capitals. People all over have heard about Copenhagen and its undeniable beauty. But when it comes to other places to visit on a trip to Denmark, they’re left scratching their heads. That’s why day trips from Copenhagen are such a good idea. They allow travellers to easily get a better feel for places long stuck in Copenhagen’s shadow. Helsingor is one such destination, which is why I’ve put together this Helsingor guide.
Located at the northern end of the island of Zealand, Helsingør is just one of the reasons I listed this part of Denmark as one of this year’s best regions in Europe. When planning out my day trips, there was little doubt that I wanted to spend one day in Helsingor. I’d often seen the city on the map and was determined to see what it had to offer visitors. Turns out quite a lot, with the best places to visit in Helsingor easily filling one or more days. So if you’re thinking of embarking on a day trip here, allow this to be your Helsingor sightseeing guide. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the city as much as I did.
City of Helsingor
So, what do you need to know about Helsingor? Since most people have only heard of Copenhagen from Denmark, chances are it’s mostly unfamiliar to you. Nevertheless, many people end up visiting Helsingor from Copenhagen as it’s one of the more common day trips from the capital. That’s because it’s a small coastal city due north from Copenhagen with plenty of history an endearing seaside feel about it. Visit Helsingor and you’ll know you’ve left the big city behind, that’s for sure.
Sometimes known in English as Elsinore, King Eric founded Helsingør back in the 1420s to tax foreign ships passing through the Øresund Strait. To do that they needed a big castle, which you can read about below. The city’s economy has long revolved around the sea, whether it be industry or transport. Now though, Helsingor is in the process of redefining itself as the cultural hub of the North Zealand region. That new focus on culture and tourism makes Helsingør the perfect kind of destination for those visiting Denmark.
Most visitors to Helsingor do the exact same thing upon arriving in the city and that is head to Kronborg Castle. This seaside castle is the city’s most famous landmark, both because it’s beautiful and because of its classic literary connection. This is the castle made famous by Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet”, although in the story it’s known by the name Elsinore. But don’t worry, you don’t need to have read the play to appreciate a Kronborg Castle visit.
Before you’ve even set foot inside the castle, Kronborg makes a strong impression. Following the harbour you’ll see the castle popping up over the immense fortifications that were added later to turn it into a stronghold. Once you’ve crossed the moat and entered its gate, you’ll soon be in its main courtyard and able to admire its Renaissance architecture. While the exterior and castle grounds are nice enough, the best bits are found inside. Trust me, a tour of Kronborg Castle makes a Helsingor day trip worthwhile all on its own.
As you walk around the castle, you’ll have the chance to see many halls, the castle chapel, the crypts and views from the rooftop. Most of this dates from 1629 when Christian IV rebuilt the castle after a devastating fire. Throughout the castle halls you’ll see historic furnishings, including several well-preserved tapestries. What really made this tour interesting to me was that the staff at the castle often stopped as they walked through to offer information about a room or advice. That kind of enthusiasm is rare to find.
M/S The Maritime Museum
A sign that you’ve had a good time in a museum is the feeling that you easily could have spent longer there. I say that because I easily could have spent longer at the M/S Maritime Museum. The fact that I hadn’t even planned to go there originally speaks to how much I enjoyed it there. It’s honestly one of the best and most underrated things to do in Helsingor.
Located in an old dry dock along the waterfront outside Kronborg Castle, it’s not the kind of place you’ll easily miss. The modern design of the museum has the building zigzagging through the dry dock, with plenty of space for exhibits. At the M/S Maritime Museum, the exhibits explore the topics of sailing, navigation, sea trade and naval warfare. Inside you’ll learn what life was like for sailors and even a place for kids to design their own temporary tattoos. Then there’s the maritime warfare section set inside a submarine-style room.
There’s also a section on the modern world of shipping and cargo freight which is more entertaining than it sounds. Not only do you get to understand how this industry underpins much of the modern world, but it also tackles subjects like waste and consumption. Overall, a really well put together, family-friendly museum.
Views of Sweden
The only thing separating the island of Zealand, which Helsingor is on, from Sweden is the narrow Øresund strait. While travellers often pop over the Øresund Bridge to visit Malmo from Copenhagen, the two countries are even closer up at Helsingor. In fact, it’s pretty easy to see the Swedish coast from the city’s waterfront, especially from the roof of Kronborg Castle. What you’re seeing is the city of Helsingborg, a confusingly similar sounding place that has always tripped me up.
The fact that you’re so close to another country makes it awfully tempting to go visit. If you feel like popping over it’s not hard, ferries run back and forth every 20 minutes. I didn’t go over to Helsingborg and have no idea what’s over there to see. Nevertheless, you can if you want.
Getting Lunch in Helsingor
Beyond where to go sightseeing in Helsingor, another thing worth knowing is where to have lunch. That’s especially true if you’re doing a day trip from Copenhagen as your time will be limited. With so much to do down by the waterfront, the restaurant at the Kulturværftets Culture Centre is an ideal place to stop. Serving up delicious smorrebrod and hot meals, it’s both tasty and convenient. The restaurant’s not just for tourists either, with plenty of locals having a beer outside when it’s sunny out.
Streets of Helsingor
No matter where I go, one thing that’s always on my itinerary is time to walk about. Helsingor is perfect for a wander as the city centre has quite a few pedestrian streets. The city’s main streets are lined with shops and restaurants and don’t particularly stand-out, but the side alleys are a different story.
Whenever possible, duck down they side alleys as that’s where Helsingor’s charm shines through. Whether it’s spots like Anna Queens Stræde or Kirkestræde, you’ll see some of the city’s historic character. You don’t have to worry about getting lost either, Helsingor’s not that big.
A particularly memorable part of Helsingor’s Old Town, at least for me, were the houses along the Strandgade street. On this street you’ll find some of the oldest houses in the city, as the area used to be Helsingor’s old waterfront. Yes, while it may be several streets back today, hundreds of years ago it was a different story. For instance, that white house seen above dates back to 1577.
I know most of this, not through information boards or research, but thanks to to a friendly local who stopped for a chat. He actually lived in the street and was heading off for a bike ride, but he spotted me taking photos of the lopsided house and decided to stop. Once he found I was Australian, he was more than happy regale me with the street’s history. Just one of many instances of generous hospitality during my trip because of my nationality.
You’ll find many historic houses along Strandgade, making it one of the prettiest places in the whole city. Best of all, it’s only a short walk from the train station, so you really have no excuse not to visit.
St. Olaf’s Church
Up to this point I’ve neglected to mention Helsingor’s churches so let’s fix that. The first place in Helsingor I came across was actually the Carmelite Monastery from the 15th century, but it requires pre-booking and a service was happening at the time. So instead, I decided to visit the city’s nearby cathedral, St Olaf’s Church. The tower of St Olaf’s is hard to miss among Helsingor’s low-lying buildings, making it quite easy to find.
Once you’re there, you’ll find a relatively normal brick church before you. Much of the character of this 16th century church is instead found inside, so you’ll surely want to venture in. There you’ll see some ornate frescoes, an immensely pretty pulpit and other Baroque touches, all standing out against its plain white walls. It is a Lutheran church after all.
When it comes to getting to Helsingor, the easiest option is to just take the train from Copenhagen. Trains run every 20 minutes and only take 50 minutes to get there. Best of all, if you’re using the Copenhagen Card (which you really should), the train travel is free. Not only that, the Copenhagen Card gives you free entrance to Kronborg Castle, the M/S Maritime Museum and the Helsingor City Museum. I saved quite a lot of money using the card and think it’s definitely worth it if you’re actively sightseeing in Zealand. And no, I’m not sponsored for or affiliated with this recommendation at all.
Now, while I chose to visit Helsingor as a day trip, that doesn’t mean you can’t stay overnight if you like. The only trouble is that there are very few places to stay in the centre of Helsingor, with Hotel Skandia likely your best option.
Were you surprised to learn about these best places to visit in Helsingor? Where would you start when sightseeing based on this Helsingor travel blog post? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Now, if you’re looking for a guide to this part of Denmark, then you should really look at this Lonely Planet guide. I’ve often travelled with Lonely Planet guides and they can really make life easier.
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