Castles are cool. But they aren’t always exactly what you expect. The Medieval Period during which castles were constructed across Europe spanned a millennia, and the castles constructed near the beginning of that time are entirely different from later examples. And even afterwards, some palaces are referred to as castles, even though they might not look the part at all, nor be fortified to the extent you’d expect from a “traditional” castle. Having now adjusted my preconceived notion of what a castle should be, there are two very interesting Copenhagen castles worth visiting. Both are rather late examples of the fortification and might not be what you’d expect.
But they are both magnificent in their own way, and very much worth seeing while exploring the Danish capital.
Rosenborg Slot was built at the beginning of the 17th century by King Christian IV. It is a magnificent example of a renaissance castle. And it’s right in the middle of Copenhagen, within walking distance of the old town, or an easy stop on the metro. The castle grounds have been turned into a lovely park. Although the castle doesn’t have much in terms of defensive fortification, the surrounding moat is still present.
Far from being a remnant of previous fortification, Rosenbog Slot houses an incredible number of well preserved paintings, sculptures, and furnishings from the 17th and 18th centuries. They exhibit a marvelous attention to detail. Tastes have certainly changed today, moving far away from the busyness of Baroque art, but you can still appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship of the time. I much prefer touring preserved buildings like Rosenborg Castle with period art than going to art museums.
The most impressive pieces, however, grace the Great Hall on the uppermost story of Rosenborg Castle. The thrones of the Danish king and queen are a splendid sight. The king’s chair, used for coronation, was said to be fashioned from unicorn horn. In reality, much of it is made from narwhal tusk harvested from the whales that inhabit the cold arctic waters under Danish dominion at the time. The queen’s silver throne sits adjacent. This was by far my favorite room in the castle.
You can find the crown jewels in the basement level of Rosenborg Slot. They’re worth seeing as well, although not nearly as impressive as the thrones and Great Hall.
Across old town Copenhagen from Rosenborg Castle is Christiansborg Palace. Less of a castle, and far more of a palace, the current palace wasn’t completed until the 20th century. Fire destroyed the previous two. However, the palace sits on the site of multiple previous Copenhagen castles. You can tour a portion of the ruins underneath Christiansborg Slot. I recommend buying the combo ticket that lets you see the palace, stables, ruins, and kitchen.
The palace interior is magnificent. It’s no longer the residence of the Danish monarch, but it is still used for official state functions. You can see the throne room, great room, banquet room, and many others.
Christiansborg Palace also contains the Danish parliament which you can also tour, but you need a separate ticket. Tours are guided.
Copenhagen Castles: Wrapping It Up
As I walked away from Christiansborg Slot, it hit me just how lacking our modern age is in terms of architecture and art. Even Christiansborg Slot, completed less than 150 years ago, is so much more splendid and beautiful than more modern buildings. We’ve lost a cultural richness that used to once exist.
I am thankful I can tour places like Copenhagen’s castles. Whether it’s for the history, culture, food, or natural beauty, travel really is a gift. Seeing places like these helps me not lose sight of that.