The Castles and Palaces of Denmark

October 1, 2009 by

Europe, Suggested Itineraries

Who among us can honestly say that the idea of living Happily Ever Afterâ„¢ as a fairytale Prince or Princess in a bejeweled castle holds no appeal? Not I, good reader, not I. After years of vicarious tabloid-browsing and a steady diet of Handsome-Prince-Marries-Accidental-Princess stories since childhood, the idea of donning glass slippers and going to the ball has always held a magical appeal for me. So, on a recent visit to Denmark, home to one of the world’s oldest royal families and jam-packed with castles and palaces, it seemed only right that I indulge my fantasies and visit a royal residence or three.

Copenhagen offers up several for public viewing – Amalienborg, Rosenborg, and Christiansborg being the three biggies. For those able to venture a little further afield, there is a host of castles and palaces to see, including the impressive Kronborg Castle, immortalized as “Elsinore” in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Fredensborg Palace

Fredensborg Palace

For over 1000 years the Houses of Oldenborg and Glücksborg have reigned over their Danish subjects, the present day royalty being direct descendants of the latter clan. Living in the manner of Kings and Queens (not surprisingly), they preside from the comfort of a royal flush of palatial residences, making their selection depending on the season or their regal fancy. Some palaces were built for purposes other than actual occupation, such as the Hermitage Palace, which is dedicated mainly to feasts after royal hunts. And some of them, such as Schackenborg, where Prince Joachim and Princess Alexandra reside, are not open to the public at all. But the majority of royal properties at least offer sections for public viewing, most of which have sensational gardens attached that can be visited year-round.

Amaliensborg Palace

Amaliensborg Palace

Amalienborg

The current winter residence of HM The Queen and HRH The Prince Consort is Amalienborg, located conveniently within a stone’s throw of the bustling tourist district of Nyhavn. Consisting of four palaces centred around an open courtyard, this stunning monument to Rococo design has been the royal winter residence since 1794. An enduringly popular tourist pastime is to bear witness to the changing of the guard, which takes place daily at midday.

Two of Amalienborg’s four palaces are open to the public, Christian VIII’s Palace and Christian VII’s Palace. The former offers a museum of the Glücksburg dynasty, while the latter, used by the Queen to receive foreign heads of state, offers occasional guided tours and special exhibitions. Amaliehaven, the stunning sculpted garden adjoined to the residence, is always open.

Kastellet

Kastellet

A nearby green space well worth a visit, is Kastellet, one of the best preserved fortifications in Northern Europe, still a functioning military garrison, a cultural museum, and a park. In my humble opinion, the best evidence of the effectiveness of this pretty fortification comes from the army of snapping swans loitering in the hope of snaffling tourist snacks. Be warned!

Rosenborg Palace

I have waxed lyrical about Rosenborg Palace in a previous jotting (link to Copenhagen Top 10 blog), so I won’t repeat myself. Except to reiterate that it is a must-see for any Royalophile blessed with a half decent imagination. When I was there, I was a spoilt Rococo princess for an hour. I pictured myself straddling the silver lions flanking the royal thrones, scenting myself with delicate oils in the hand-painted bathroom, and chucking a palatial-sized tantrum in the china room. Just for the heck of it. Wonderful fun.

Rosenborg Palace

Rosenborg Palace

The Palace and its adjoining gardens, Kongens Have, are open most days from 10am – 4pm. Admission to the Castle and Treasury is free for children and 70DKK for adults. Guided tours of the regular and special exhibitions are available for a whisker under 1000DKK and must be booked at least two weeks in advance.

Christiansborg Palace

Christiansborg Palace is the home to the Danish Parliament (or “Folketing”), the office of the Prime Minister and the Danish Supreme Court. The Royal Reception Rooms, the Queen’s Library, and the Palace Chapel can also be found there. Located on the islet of Slotsholmen in central Copenhagen, it is open to the public year-round. Visitors can attend when the Folketing is in session, or partake in guided tours. Admission to parliament and the chapel is free. Seeing the Royal Reception Rooms will set you back 70DKK (35DKK for children), but it is well worth it, if just to see the stunning Queen’s tapestries decorating the walls of the Great Hall, depicting Denmark’s colourful history, from the Viking Age right up to the present day. There is even one depicting the future. Not surprising given the Danes’ propensity for modern design.

Fredensborg Palace

Take a train from Central Station to Hillerød, then change to the local PP005 train and in no time, you will be in Fredensborg, location of the Royal Family’s most frequented palace. A baroque inspired masterpiece built in the 18th century, Fredensborg Palace is where Queen Margarethe, Prince Henrik and their regal brood spends spring and autumn. The stunning gardens are the jewel in the botanical crown of the royal estate, being one of the finest examples of baroque landscaping in Denmark.

Rosenborg Palace - Silver Lions

Rosenborg Palace - Silver Lions

The imposing state function rooms are the site for many of the state visits and royal events, and the palace church is where Crown Prince Frederik was confirmed in 1981 and his daughter Princess Isabella was christened 26 years later. Maybe it’s just me, but I find there’s something comforting in the thought of generations of royals attending the religious rites of passage of their children and children’s children on common ground. Unless you’re desperate to pop in when the royals are at home, the best time of year to visit is in July, when they are at Marselisborg or GrÃ¥sten, meaning that Fredensborg’s reserved gardens right next to the palace are open to the public. The rest of the garden is open year-round, a special feature of which is the eerie assembly at Nordmandsdalen (Norwegian Valley) of 70 statues of Norwegian and Faroese peasants and fishermen. Distributed evenly across three sharply profiled grass terraces, the peasants stand as if guarding the striking amphitheatre. Don’t blink or they might attack…

Frederiksborg Palace

While no longer a royal residence, Frederiksborg Palace is today the site of the Danish Museum of National History and still a fine example of a Renaissance palace. In fact, it is Scandinavia’s largest… if superlatives and quantifiers are what floats your boat (on your moat). The oldest parts of the castle were constructed in 1560 when King Frederick II was in power.

Frederiskborg Castle

Frederiskborg Castle

Today, apart from viewing the museums collection of portraits, decorative art and furniture, you can also meander through the gardens, past the Bath House Castle (today used by Her Maj for occasional luncheon parties) and Christian IV’s fabled stone which he evidently laid as a melancholy memory of the day he was refused admittance to his wife’s boudoir. Do pop into Café Havehuset for a sandwich and a coffee when your legs need a rest. The setting on a sunny day is fit for a king (on a page’s wage).

Kronborg Castle (Hamlet’s Castle)

If it is superlatives you’re after, look no further than Kronborg Castle, known world-wide as Hamlet’s Castle “Elsinore”, and one of the most important Renaissance castles in Europe. For 90DKK you get access to the royal apartments, chapel, Danish Maritime Museum and the Telegraph Tower. My advice is to skip the latter two and instead buy a 65DKK ticket covering just the apartments and chapel. Oh, and take your walking shoes. Because this is a castle designed in times before access ramps were a necessity. Filled with steep staircases, narrow hallways, and a myriad other tripping hazards, you need to watch where you’re going, and be in fairly good shape to get there. But that all adds to the fun, in my opinion. Particularly stumbling into the dangerously dark nooks of the underground cellars which house, among other things, a fabulous statue of sleeping Holger the Dane. The myth tells us that when the kingdom is under threat from a foreign enemy, Holger will pull a Pinocchio and turn to flesh and blood, bounding up with a Viking roar ready to defend the fatherland. Stumbling across him in the gloom, the myth isn’t half as unlikely as it sounds.

Hamlet Castle

Hamlet Castle

If you’re looking for an end to this fairytale, there really isn’t one… the list of Denmark’s castles and palaces go on and on like the Tin Soldier’s drumbeat. There’s not a high probability you’ll be able or willing to visit every one of them. Let’s face it, seeing how the other half lives when they live so damned well can hold a limited appeal. But do make time to visit at least one or two of them. Because who’s to say a Handsome Prince(ss) won’t pluck you form obscurity? Just look at Princess Mary…

-Maggie Rays

Planning a trip to Denmark? Browse Viator’s Denmark Tours, Sightseeing & Things to do, from a City tour of Copenhagen to a Copenhagen City and Harbor Tour, or wander further in the Danish countryside to discover Denmark’s Castles. Or take a Sweden Day Trip from Copenhagen to enjoy Helsingborg, Lund and Malmo.

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