The north of Zealand, Denmark is called “The Kings’ Northzealand” and is the Danish equivalent to the French Loire valley, which is dotted with spectacular castles and palaces. The north of Zealand too.
Dating back to the Middle Ages, the first castles were built. Søborg castle was the base of operations for the kings back in the 1100 and Gurre castle was King’s seat when Valdemar Atterdag (directly translated Valdemar YetAnotherDay) reigned in the 1300. But it wasn’t until Frederik the 2nd (1534-1588), that The Kings’ Northzealand was created the way we know it today.
Frederik was an eager huntsman, and inspired by the “par force” hunting style, which he acquired a taste for while visiting the French king, he created a hunting area in the north which allowed him to both satisfy his sport and the court’s taste for meat. Today, the Par Force Hunting Landscape, which comprises of “Store Dyrehave”, “Gribskov” and “Jægersborg Dyrehave”, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Another World Heritage Site is Kronborg castle in Helsingør, which is immortalised in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Like so many other castles it had a troubled childhood before it looks as it does today. Before Kronborg became a castle, it was first erected in 1426 as a fortress called “Krogen”. Together with Helsingborg castle on the other side of Øresund (which then was also Danish) it controlled the Baltic Sea and filled the pockets of the Danish kings, which could demand toll from the passing ships. The aforementioned Frederik the 2nd rebuilt the medieval fortress from 1574 to 1585 and turned it into the magnificent Renaissance castle we know today and was renamed Kronborg castle.
It’s magnificence and legend was known across Europe – even across the sea to the west, where in the beginning of the 1600 on the British isles there sat a poet called William Shakespeare who used Kronborg castle as a literary backdrop for his play “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark”. And the rest is theatre history.
2016 marks 400 years of Shakespeare’s death and to mark the occasion, Kronborg is yet again used a live backdrop for actors. Visit the castle before August 21st to get the full theatre experience.
While this medieval monastery isn’t linked to the kings, it is itself a king among Danish monasteries (of which there are not so many). Founded in 1151 by the request of Archbishop Eskil it was only the second Cistercian abbey in Denmark and was a daughter house of the famous Clairvaux Abbey in France.
The monastery was a religious stronghold for more than 500 years, before the Reformation dismantled the catholic possessions and gave them to the king.
Today, the old abbey buildings house a museum, café, shop and they arrange a number of festivals and events throughout the year.
Denmark’s Museum of National History resides in this beautiful Renaissance castle and portrays 500 years of Danish history in perfect, historic settings.
The renaissance castle as we know it today, was built by the renaissance king Christian IV in the first decade of 1600 as a sign of his power, wealth and sophistication. Christian IV was the longest reigning king in Danish history and one of the most productive – building wise. He is the man behind “Rundetårn”, “Rosenborg Slot”, “Børsen” and many other architectural masterpieces in and around Copenhagen.
A dramatic fire in 1859 destroyed large parts of the interior. The Herculean rebuild of the castle was funded by national donations, lotteries and a generous donations from the founder of the Carlsberg Brewery, J.C. Jacobsen. Today, the castle functions as Denmark’s National History Museum and is yet again one of Europe’s most beautiful renaissance castles – both inside with 500 years of historical paintings, art, furniture and stunning rooms and outside with its symmetry and wonderful gardens.
Frederiksborg Castle Chapel is a grandiose space with its original decoration dating from the time of King Christian IV, but it also contains historical treasures, as it was luckily unscathed by the devastating fire in 1859.
During the period of absolute monarchy (1660-1848) the Kings of Denmark were anointed in the Castle Chapel, and since 1693 it has been the Knights’ Chapel for the Orders of the Elephant and Dannebrog. Ever since Christian IV’s day, Frederiksborg Castle Chapel has served as a parish church, and still does today.
Price of admission to the inside of the castle and museum is DKK 75,- per adult, but it’s free to admire the castle from the outside, visit the surrounding buildings and the baroque garden.
This baroque castle is one of the Danish queen’s most favourite, and the royal family spend much time here in spring and autumn. The elegant, white building date back to 1720 and was built just after the Great Nordic War, and was thus adequately named Fredensborg – “Castle of Peace”.
In the summertime – when not used by the queen – you can take a guided walk inside the lavish rooms, the greenhouse and castle church. The peaceful palace gardens (with free admission) are one of the largest historic gardens in Denmark, and you can walk or jog for hours in the gardens and surrounding wood that dips it roots in Esrum lake.
What the kings of Denmark throughout the centuries have built, burned down, remodelled and rebuilt are well looked after by this generation, and the Danish queen herself is both proud and humbled by her heritage. It’s therefore a real delight to walk through the historic castles, palaces and gardens, which the royal family opens to the public when they not use it themselves, to share their and our history with everyone.