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A summer day in Denmark.

One of the advantages to visiting Helsingborg on the west coast of Sweden is the opportunity to include another Scandinavian destination with its close proximity to Denmark.

In a short twenty minute, two mile ferry ride crossing the Öresund Strait, the town of Helsingør awaits with its own abundance of Danish charm, culture, architecture and history. We hopped on the ferry after breakfast under overcast and drizzly skies to spend the day in the storybook town.

Founded in the 1420s by Danish King Eric of Pomerania, Helsingør's quaint character and marina overlooking Sweden provide a stunning backgound for Kronborg Castle - a UNESCO World Heritage Site that inspired Shakespeare to write Hamlet.

In order to fund the construction of Kronborg Castle along the shoreline, King Eric instituted a tariff system in 1425 called the Sound Dues for foreign ships passing through Öresund Strait from the Baltic Sea to reach Western Europe.

In return, he provided the ships with coastal beacons, buoys and royal protection against pirates. The dues contributed to two-thirds of Denmark's state income and documentation of the Sound Dues, safely kept at the National Archives in Copenhagen, offer insight into the trade and life in Helsingør up until the collection of dues was abolished in 1857.

Over the course of 400 years, it is estimated that 1.8 million vessels paid dues for passage.

Kronborg Castle

Denmark is one of the world's oldest monarchies and Kronborg Castle has played a key role in the country's history. The first section of the castle - named Krogen at the time - built between 1420 and 1570 by King Eric consisted of thick walls and three stone buildings housing the royal residence, the banquet hall and a chapel. The kingdom stretched across to the other side of Öresund - now Sweden - allowing the king to control shipping from both coastlines.

King Frederik II transformed the medieval palace from 1577 to 1629 adding majestic towers and impressive spires, acquiring new canons and fortifying the walls, extending the buildings, replacing the roof tiles with a copper one and renaming the castle as Kronborg - all to establish himself as the most powerful king in Scandinavia. He hosted lavish parties well-known throughout Europe with invitations to artists and scientists and Shakespeare - as a distinguished guest - chose the castle as the stage for his famous play Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

Kronborg Castle Chapel

Development of the Chapel began under King Frederik II in 1577 with a grand inauguration held in 1582. The statues guarding the arched doorway at the entrance, the intricate wood panels in the coffered ceiling, the exquisite features of the royal coats of arms on the ends of the pews and the marble detailing of the altar provided a beautiful backdrop to services and weddings.

In September 1629, a fire burned the majority of the castle down leaving only the Chapel virtually untouched offering future generations a glimpse of the magnificent changes made during the reign of Frederick II.

His son, Christian IV, decided to rebuild the palace despite the country's dwindling finances demonstrating the symbolic strength of the castle for the Danish monarchy. Construction was once again covered by Sound Dues that the new king doubled and the castle was redesigned to its former appearance through 1658.

Following wars with Sweden from 1658 to 1688, Denmark lost control of the land across the strait and the royal family made little use of the castle from the late 1600s. In 1785, it was taken over by the military and turned into barracks until the military moved out in 1924. Undergoing a major restoration under the guidance of architects, areas were gradually opened to the public and in 2000, Kronborg Castle was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Town of Helsingør

Beyond the walls of the castle, Helsingør encompasses a variety of specialty shops, outdoor cafés and restaurants in an incredibly picturesque setting. Considerable conversation efforts have been made over the years and nearly 75% of the current old town center buildings were present in 1801 marking Helsingør as one of Northern Europe's best-preserved historical cities. From copper rooflines and mini gardens, it is fascinating to round a corner and discover dates from 1512 or 1781 still inscribed in cast iron on the front of homes or carved in stone over doorways.

With the rainy weather we encountered in the morning turning into bright patches of sunshine by early afternoon, we took our time to walk around the colorful façades and down brick and stone streets, wandering into shops comparing products and pointing out the differences and similarities between the Swedish and Danish languages.

Making our way through a narrower side lane off of the main bustling area, a flurry of Danish flags surrounding an old arched door flapped in the light breeze calling attention to the entrance of a little antique shop - Bror & Søster - filled with finds we picked up for the shop back home.

So many experiences in one summer day in just one lovely area of Denmark with more adventures to explore on our next trip through Scandinavia.


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