August 8, 2020:
I arrived in Copenhagen for some traveling before the start of my second year of business school. Due to the government’s COVID restrictions, I had to spend 6 nights in Denmark.
Since I had a few things scheduled for later on in my stay (COVID test to go to Greenland and a final presentation for my summer internship), I decided to start my stay in Denmark with day trips. The guide books all recommend 3 half-day north of Copenhagen: Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod, Kronborg Castle in Helsingor, and the Louisiana Art Museum in Humlbaek. After realizing that all three were connected by trains in a sort of loop, I decided to combine all three into one long day around the north of the island of Zealand.
Stop 1: Hillerod
My first destination was the Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod. Hillerod is at the end of one of the Copenhagen commuter rails. The trains leave every 20 minutes from a station 10 minutes from my hostel. The ride took about 30 minutes. The highlight of the ride was the beautiful ocean-like blue interior. Very calming.
One in Hillerod, it was a 10 minute walk to the castle. I arrived at 9:30, which gave me some time to wander the extensive gardens before the castle opened at 10.
The gardens are stunning a mix of French-style and a forest. It reminded me a lot of Drottningholm Palace in Stockholm. The forest, it turns out, is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site called “Par Force Hunting Landscape in North Zealand”. The hunting grounds are apparently significant.
At 10, I walked over to the stunning castle.
The castle, which used to be home to the kings of Denmark, has been turned into the National History Museum.
All the best rooms of the castle are preserved and decorated as they were. This includes the chapel
Great Hall, and a few other reception rooms.
The botom floors had the oldest art, but newer things appeared as I climbed up the castle. The top floor had modern work as recent as 2019.
This castle blew me away and I think it was one of the best things I saw in all of Denmark.
After the castle, I stopped briefly in the pretty town for a juice. Then, it was time to head back to the train station.
Stop 2: Helsingor
Trains to Helsingor run every hour. That ride also takes about 30 minutes. I didn’t sleep well last night so I ended up napping the entire train ride.
Helsingor (also known as Elsinore) is a real lively place. The downtown is next to the train station and is packed with pedestrian streets with restaurants and shops. Just north of the downtown is a big warehouse containing an international street food market. I ordered some Syrian tapas.
Just north of the street food market and on the coast is Helsingor’s premier attraction, the Kronborg Castle. The castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Home to many kings of Denmark, the castle is most famous as the setting for Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. It is located at the narrowest point on the strait separating Denmark and Sweden.
The castle is gigantic. To see it all, you have to go on four mini self-guided tours: the royal chambers, the tapestry collection, the church and the underground passages.
I first toured the royal chambers and reception rooms. Compared to Frederiksborg, this castle was decorated very simply- perhaps this isn’t a great comparison because the castles are from different centuries.
Something that surprised me was the bedrooms of the king and queen (separate). They were very small- about the same size as my room in Barcelona and had almost no decorations except for the bed and a fireplace. Apparently, during this period, being able to sleep in a separate bedroom is a huge luxury. The rooms were small to ensure that the room can stay well-heated in the winter.
The most spectacular room was the large banquet hall- nearly 80 meters long! Rumor has it that King Frederik II had wild parties that were known throughout all of Europe- 15th century rager?! Shakespeare was well aware of these parties and perhaps that is why he decided to make it the setting of Hamlet. Maybe he wanted an invite?
The second tour was through the king’s tapestry collection. This took up an entire floor of the castle. The rooms did have uses besides just storing the tapestries: there were studies, meeting rooms and guest bedrooms.
One bedroom was famous because the king’s daughter went on her honeymoon in this room. Imagine that: going on your honeymoon….upstairs….in your parent’s house.
As I walked outside after the second tour, a full-length on-location performance of was beginning. I watched the coronation of King Claudius before heading into the underground passages.
The passageways were mazelike, extensive and very dark. The only way I made it through was because of the candlelit COVID signs pointing me through. As I reached the exit, to my bad luck, the Hamlet play was outside the door. I was considering walking through the door, but this particular scene had Hamlet trying to conjure a ghost. It would have been awkward to suddenly appear right then.
The church was closed, so I left and headed back into town. There was also a maritime museum in town, but I decided to push on to ensure enough time at the next stop.
Stop 3: Louisiana Art Museum
The train to Hummelbaek took just 15 minutes. For the first time, I had my ticket checked. Unlike Hillerod and Helsingor, there was more of a suburb than a real town.
After a 10-minute walk I reached the Louisiana Art Museum, reportedly one of the world’s best modern art museum.
The museum looks small at first, but the museum actually goes many stories into a hillside. It felt like I was in a giant anthill full of art.
Most of the artwork shows are special exhibits. Luckily they were all very good. My favorite was on female surrealists.
The museum also has beautiful outdoor spaces. On one side is a gorgeous lake featuring one of the two Yayoi Kusama installations. On the other side is the ocean. A Calder sculpture occupies a prime spot near the café.
In the middle is a huge lawn where there was a concert (my first since before the pandemic?!?!). The music was very experimental.
I unexpectedly spent over 2 hours at the museum before walking back to the train station via the beach.
From Hummelbaek, it was an easy 30 minute trip back to Copenhagen. I arrived around 18:00.
The itinerary ended up working out very well. All three sights were spectacular for different reasons and the logistics were easy. I truly believe this was a perfect day trip.