Hej everyone! Even though I’m no longer living in Copenhagen, I know a lot of you reading this blog are prospective DIS students! I could not be more passionate about the city of Copenhagen and the amazing cultural opportunities I had here. So I want to keep posting about my time in Copenhagen, in the hopes that these posts can help you all decide if Copenhagen is the place for you, and perhaps even be a resource in helping you plan fun things to do in Copenhagen!
One of the best parts of living in Europe is the chance to explore histories, spaces and artifacts we simply don’t have in the United States–a prime example of this being castles.
Castles played a huge role in my study abroad! Part of that was, naturally, a result of living just 2 train stops away from a castle (the inspiration of this post)
When I had a friend visit from France, she was stunned by just how beautiful the castles here are, and just how many of them exist! And so, I figured I would provide my definitive ranking of the best castles in Copenhagen–or I should say, Copenhagen and its surrounding suburbs (Castles in Copenhagen just has a ring to it that I had to make it the title). During my time in Denmark, I managed to see Christiansborg, Kronborg, Rosenborg (from the outside), Frederiksborg, and the Hermitage (I should note, though, that I never went inside Amalienborg, where the Royal Family currently resides. I have heard though that it’s a little underwhelming, and that watching the changing of the guards is the prime draw). Out of the castles I have visited though, I’ve reviewed and ranked them down below. Hopefully when you all are living my dreams living in Copenhagen next semester or beyond, this list will help you prioritize where to go first (or also–which castles you should prioritize paying to visit the museums often housed inside!).
5. The Hermitage
At the heart of in Dyrehaven, or the popular Deer Park (it quite literally translates to the Deer Park), lies the Hermitage! To be perfectly honest, it’s a little underwhelming. So much so, that when I went with my host family, we chuckled at the “majesty” of the Palace, and then went on our way to see the deer without even taking a photo. They didn’t even tell me there was castle at the Deer Park before we went–it’s simply not enough of a draw on its own to bring people in. I was there my last weekend in Denmark, and I do remember though, taking a moment to smile at the fact that in this place I could stumble into a castle without intending to. Dyrehaven is truly wonderful though–I recommend going when the weather’s nicer, taking a stroll, and getting lost in the Danish countryside! Dyrehaven is located at Lyngby, a quick ride on the S-tog from DIS! (There’s also a mall there if you’re looking to do some shopping outside Stroget!). Though I will admit that, after watching videos of the interior, it is quite pretty on the inside. So in summary: go to Dyrehaven, and see The Hermitage while you’re there, but don’t expect to be wowed.
But seriously–go to Dyrehaven!
Granted, I haven’t actually visited the museum in Rosenborg, but judging by its outside I wasn’t particularly impressed. It’s a pretty small castle compared to some of the others on this list (it shares that with The Hermitage). Though the interior is beautiful, it simply doesn’t quite hold up against the castles later on this list. BUT the Rosenborg Castle Gardens are absolutely beautiful, and they’re located right by Nørreport Station (meaning: right by DIS). You can walk around the Castle Gardens for free, and take in the beautiful, Painted Lady-like backdrop made by some quintessentially stunning Copenhagen buildings. For that reason the castle is definitely worth a visit! And if you aren’t too worried about your budget, take a look inside! It truly offers a solid castle experience.
But seriously–go to the Rosenborg Castle Gardens! And visit the University of Copenhagen Botanical Gardens while you’re in the neighborhood. Not quite a castle experience, but an absolutely stunning and photographable greenhouse garden with a student discount! There’s also an outdoor park surrounding the botanical gardens that’s not to be missed 🙂
I loved Kronborg! It’s very different from the other castles on this list. Unlike the castles whose manicured interiors I’ve raved about, Kronborg is a little bit rough around the edges. Its interior is made up of either stone or more basic wooden floors and white walls (depending on what floor you’re on). So why did it fare so well in my ratings? Atmosphere, variety, and history my friends.
Kronborg is situated across the Øresund Strait in Helsingør, on the border between Denmark and Sweden. This means the castle contains stunning views of Sweden, which can be seen from the top tower of the castle. Complete with rolling green hills, cannons, and a stunning coastal backdrop, the outside of this castle is atmospheric to say the least (beyond just being a castle–it was also a revered fortress!) You can also go underneath the castle and see the tunnels which once housed Danish troops, and even meet Holger Danske! Holger Danske is more myth than historical figure, but a symbol of Danish patriotism. His statue sits in the barracks of Kronborg, and depicts him asleep of all things. Legend has it if Denmark is ever in danger, Holger will rise from his slumber to protect the Danish kingdom. This is also the castle where Hamlet (allegedly) was set! It’s rumored (but unconfirmed) that Shakespeare heard about the elaborate parties in Kronborg and elected to write a play about the castle! This castle has been through a lot. Like most things in Copenhagen, it has caught on fire at some point and also been conquered by the Swedes.
Seriously though–this castle has something for everyone. You can even make a day trip of it and visit the Louisiana Museum, also located in Helsingør, or take the ferry into Sweden. On Saturdays you could even take what locals jokingly refer to as “the party ferry”, where Swedes often spend the day on the ferry, riding to and from Denmark, drinking the cheap Danish liquor (Sweden has strict laws which make liquor expensive and sometimes even difficult to get!)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Rating from my host sister: 4/10 (she clearly doesn’t love history as much as I do)
After my experiences at these aforementioned castles, I became quite the castle snob. I couldn’t imagine another castle living up to the experiences I’d had. And then, the day before DIS got shut down, I visited Christianborg with my Danish class. And it was phenomenal. On the outside it doesn’t look like much–it’s a sort of grey slab in the neighborhood of Slotsholmen (slots/borg both translate to castle in Danish!), so right in the middle of the bustle of Indre By (the inner city or city center). Christiansborg is the home of Danish parliament, so it is a living and breathing appendage of the Danish government. It also houses stables (with horses!), a truly stunning interior of both old and new architecture and art, a church, the highest view in the city of Copenhagen, underground ruins, and a room to make book lovers swoon. My Danish teacher teased me for how much I was enjoying it, but I truly cannot imagine every growing old of views like this.
Definitely see this castle! Though if you’re enrolled in Danish Language & Culture, hold out and wait to go with class. You get the whole experience–from the church to the stables, for free!
1. Frederiksborg Castle!!!!
I know I’ve already blogged about this castle extensively. I know. I’m sorry guys, but this castle is the best one in Denmark and you simply can’t convince me otherwise. I may be terribly biased because this is the castle two train stops away from my homestay, but it’s absolutely breathtaking. The interior is the best out of all these castles by far–it’s as stunning as the best rooms in Christianborg, but there are THREE floors of it! (Larger than the other castles by FAR). The rooms are extremely varied in color, style, and decoration, signaling the fact that they had been occupied by multiple generations of Danish royalty until 1859, when of course (a trope in Danish history), there was a fire that destroyed the castle. Since 1859, Frederiksborg was rebuilt to house the National Museum of Denmark. The rooms take visitors through various epochs of Danish history, recreating the sensory experience of being Danish royalty at every turn. Complete with a Great Hall and by far the most beautiful Chapel I have ever seen, the interior of this castle is amazing and incredible photogenic.
There is also a baroque garden outside, and though it is quite barren in the winter, I imagine it must come alive in the spring. But beyond the tended grounds, behind the castle there are a series of paths through the woods that capture small-town living at its finest–and that elusive and specifically Danish feeling of hygge, or at least, what hygge has come to mean to me. Walking across bridges and paths enshrouded in twisty branches and seas of green, you can’t help but feel like you’re in your own version of a Danish fairytale. This castle is a MUST-SEE. I love it so much I saw it twice.
The rating of this one is particularly bittersweet, because it comes with one of my favorite stories from my time in Denmark. My host parents and I paid a visit to one of their friends living in Roskilde. We told him that my host sister had rated Kronborg Castle a 4/10 and he AGREED. I was absolutely shocked. I explained to him that when asked I give almost everything a 10/10–including a school trip to Sweden that was more than slightly chaotic (you can read about that misadventure here).
“Danes never rate anything a 10/10. There’s always room for improvement! And I can’t believe you rated that a 10! You hated the food! Your bus broke down on the side of the road!” I shrugged in response. The conversation kept going and he asked me what other castles I had been to, and I responded, gushingly, that I had just been to Frederiksborg. He responded:
“That castle is incredible. You know what…that castle is a 10!”
I think my rating goes without saying.