There is no evidence that Shakespeare ever saw this sandstone-and-copper Dutch Renaissance-style castle, full of intriguing secret passages, but he made it famous in Hamlet. If Hamlet had really lived, it would have been centuries before Kronborg was built (1574-85). You're to be forgiven if you suddenly burst into Richard Burton's famous soliloquy of "to be or not to be." After all, Hamlet is the most frequently performed drama in the world, a historical challenge to all great actors such as Sir John Gielgud and Lord Laurence Olivier. Count yourself lucky if you missed Mel Gibson's pathetic attempt to play the Mad Dane in the 1990 movie directed by Franco Zeffirelli, who should have known better. Except for "Mad Mel," the film had a great cast, with Glen Close as Gertrude, Alan Bates as Claudius, and Paul Scofield as "the Ghost."
The castle, on a peninsula jutting out into Øresund, was restored in 1629 by Christian IV after it had been gutted by fire. Other events in its history include looting, bombardment, occupation by Swedes, and use as a barracks (1785-1922). The facade is covered with sandstone, and the entire castle is surrounded by a deep moat -- but no dragon. You approach the castle via a wooden bridge and by going through Mørkeport, a gate from the 16th century. Here you'll see an octagonal tower, the Trumpeters Tower, one of the landmarks of town. This will lead you to the main courtyard of Kronborg.
Note: Instead of entering the castle at once, you can walk around the moat to the waterfront, where you can view a spectacular vista of the Swedish coast. At the platform -- backed by massive bronze guns -- Hamlet is said to have seen the ghost of his father, shrouded in pea-soup fog.
The starkly furnished Great Hall is the largest in northern Europe. Originally, 40 tapestries portraying 111 Danish kings were hung around this room on special occasions. They were commissioned by Frederik II and produced around 1585. Only seven remain at Kronborg; the rest have disappeared except for seven in the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen. The church, with its original oak furnishings and the royal chambers, is worth exploring. The bleak and austere atmosphere adds to the drama. Holger Danske, a mythological hero who is believed to assist Denmark whenever the country is threatened, is said to live in the basement. That "hero" didn't emerge when Nazi storm troopers invaded Denmark on Hitler's orders, but the legend, like the legend of Hamlet, still persists. Also on the premises is the Danish Maritime Museum (tel. 49-21-06-85), which explores the history of Danish shipping. Unless you're really nautical, you might skip this if you're rushed for time. However, that would mean you'd miss seeing the world's oldest surviving ship's biscuit, dating from 1852. There is also an impressive collection of model ships and other sailors' memorabilia. More intriguing are relics of Denmark's colonial past in the West Indies (Caribbean), West Africa, Greenland, and even India.
Guided tours are given every half-hour October to April. In summer you can walk around on your own. The castle is less than a kilometer (1/2 mile) from the rail station. On November 30, 2000, Kronborg was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List.