The Unesco World Heritage-listed Kronborg Slot began life as Krogen, a formidable tollhouse built by Danish king Erik of Pomerania in the 1420s. Expanded by Frederik II in 1585, the castle was ravaged by fire in 1629, leaving nothing but the outer walls. The tireless builder-king Christian IV rebuilt Kronborg, preserving the castle’s earlier Renaissance style and adding his own baroque touches. The galleried chapel was the only part of Kronborg that escaped the flames in 1629 and gives a good impression of the castle’s original appearance.
Kronborg fell upon more bad luck during the Danish-Swedish wars, with the Swedes occupying the castle from 1658 to 1660 and looting everything of value, including its famous fountain. Following the Swedish attack, Christian V bulked up Kronborg’s defences, but the Danish royals gave up trying to make the castle a home. The building became a barracks from 1785 until 1924, when it became a museum (the Swedish government sportingly returning some looted items). Although it costs to enter the interior, you can cross several swan-filled moats and walk into the dramatic courtyard free of charge, or make a circumnavigation of the castle’s mighty sea barriers (open daily until sunset) – a good picnic spot.
The Royal Apartments are rather empty today: the king’s and queen’s chambers, for example, have little in them but marble fireplaces, a few sticks of furniture, and some lavish ceiling paintings, although occasional modern-art exhibitions add an interesting dimension. The most impressive room is the ballroom, the longest in Scandinavia when it was built in 1585. Banquets held here consisted of 65 courses, and each guest was given their own vomiting bucket. Seven of the tapestries that originally adorned the walls – in excellent condition, and with interesting explanations alongside – can be seen in the adjoining Little Hall.
The chilly, low-ceilinged dungeon, which also served as storerooms and soldiers’ quarters, stretches underneath a surprisingly large area of the castle. It’s suitably dark and creepy, although you’ll make better sense of its empty rooms if you read up on barracks life before heading downwards. Delights include nesting bats, and a statue of the Viking chief Holger Danske (Ogier the Dane), who, legend says, will wake and come to Denmark’s aid in its hour of need.