Kronborg castle

Kronborg Castle UNESCO World Heritage Site Review

What has Hamlet’s castle Kronborg, to offer? Globazine rates the home of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in its UNESCO World Heritage Site Review. Continue reading to know if we advise you to travel to Kronborg Castle, situated close to Copenhagen, Denmark.

History

Kronborg Castle is situated at the very edge of Denmark, close to Sweden. It guards the Øresund and thereby controlled this entrance way into the Baltic Sea. Eric of Pomerania, King of Norway, King of Denmark and King of Sweden built the first stronghold in 1420. King Frederick II transformed this fortress into a Dutch-Renaissance style castle in 1574. Fire destroyed this castle in 1629, leaving only the chapel standing.

Kronborg maquette


King Christian IV reconstructed the exterior of the castle exactly as it was before. But the interior would never regain its former glory. The Swedes conquered the castle in 1658 and plundered most of its art. This forced the Danes to fortify the castle much more. So afterwards they added extra defensive works and ramparts to the castle. The castle served as a prison from 1739 until the 1900s.

This castle is also known as Elsinore. This is the anglicized name of the surrounding village Helsingor. Elsinore is also the name that Shakespeare used, when he situated his famous play ‘Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’ in the castle. And thereby making Kronborg Castle the most famous castle of Denmark.

Review

Read more about how we rated the Kronborg Castle and other sites at our UNESCO World Heritage Site Review.

Beauty 3.5/5

Kronborg interior


The castle has a nice Dutch renaissance style to it. It’s position overlooking the Øresund provides a beautiful backdrop. You have great views when the weather is clear. The interior of the castle is less stunning. Most rooms have simple decoration and fail to differentiate from other castles.

Uniqueness 2.5/5

Europe is littered with castles and this late-Renaissance example isn’t that extraordinary. But it still is in good shape without too much alterations. As an alternative you can visit Frederiksborg Palace or Rosenborg castle in Copenhagen. Both places are built in a similar style, but have much more lavish interiors. Nearby countries such as Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands also provide many alternatives.

Experience 4/5

Kronborg courtyard

Kronborg is a large castle divided into separate visiting areas. This makes your experience of the castle more focused and helps with the flow of visitors. Visitor numbers are especially high during the summer, so come early or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. The separate areas add a bit of extra time since you have to exit to the courtyard and re-enter at a different wing. There is an audio guide available which adds depth to the story of the castle. The variation in the interior keeps the different rooms interesting. And the tour through the scarcely-lid underground dungeons adds to the mystery of the castle.

Disability:

Only the courtyard is accessible by wheelchair. The audio guide can also help the visually impaired. The lack of signage makes a visit less interesting for deaf people.

Value for money:

The entrance fee is like that of other castles and sights in Denmark. If you have bought the Copenhagen Card, then entry and transportation to the castle is free. Visiting the castle, the dungeons and the surrounding area will take around 2 hours. So, it’s good value for money.

Location 4/5

The castle is an hour away from Copenhagen by train. Trains run 2 or 3 times per hour depending on the day and time. Trains also stops at Humlebæk, there you can visit the excellent Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. This makes for a good combination as a day trip from Copenhagen.

Overall 3.5

Kronborg castle is a good-looking castle but apart from its location not so special. Still, it provides visitors with an interesting experience easy accessible from Copenhagen. This all leads to an overall score of 3.5.

Kronburg Castle
Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle: an UNESCO WHS Review

History of the Himeji castle

First, a fort was built on the site of the current castle in 1333. This fort was demolished in 1346 and a castle was built to replace it. In the 16th century this castle was remodelled into Himeji castle. Some more extensive remodelling followed in the early 17th century. Apart from some demolished corridors and outer defensive, the castle has remained unaltered since then.

Luckily the castle was spared demolition in the Meiji period, a time when many Japanese castles were demolished because they were considered to be obsolete. And although it was hit by a firebomb in World War II, that bomb didn’t explode, so the castle also escaped destruction then. As a result, Himeji is one of the few remaining original castles in Japan.

Review of Himeji castle

Read more about how we rated Himeji castle and other sites at our UNESCO World Heritage Site Review.

Beauty: 4

Himeji castle is the picture-perfect Japanese castle. Recently renovated and restored, it once again shines in the sun and honours its name of ‘White Egret Castle’. Although the outside is beautiful, the inside is more bland. This results in an appreciation of 4 out of 5 for beauty.

Himeiji castle

Uniqueness: 4

Considered as one of the 12 remaining original Japanese castles, Himeji castle is quite unique. Especially since much of the different defence systems are still intact. This gives the opportunity to gain full insight into the defensive workings of a Japanese castle. Many other castles, either original or rebuilt, are just a Donjon or main tower with a gate and some outer defences.

A possible alternative would be Matsumoto castle, where the Donjon is also still in its original form, but that castle has far less outer defence systems. Japanese castles are quite unique and different from other castles. A big difference is the fact that they are mainly built from wood. This makes original castles like Himeji rare because of the dangers of fire, lightning and attack. All of this results in an appreciation of 4 out of 5 for uniqueness.

Experience: 5

At Himeji castle, there are different options available to enhance your experience:
– Free English language tours are provided by volunteers.
– An interactive augmented reality app which provides insights into the function and workings of different rooms and objects.
– Signs and explanations in Japanese and English
– Most of the grounds and buildings are accessible to the public.

Himeji city

Disability:

The main keep is not accessible for people in a wheelchair. But other areas are open for visitation. Guide dogs are allowed in the main keep but they can have trouble with the very steep stairs, especially when descending. So please keep this in mind when you plan your visit.

Value for money:

The cost of an entry ticket is in line with what you pay for other castles and historic sites in Japan. An average visit will take around 1,5 hours, which can be easily extended if you go for a walk through the castle grounds and take in all the information provided. So, a visit to Himeji castle is definitely good value for money.

Location: 5

Himeji lies a 45-minute train-ride away from Kyoto and makes for an easy half-day trip. The Shinkansen train station lies 15 minutes from the castle by foot, but there are also very frequent buses between the station and the castle, halving this journey in time.

The castle also lies on the route to Okayama, Hiroshima and the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku, which makes Himeji castle an ideal stop on your journey to other places in Japan. At the same time Himeji offers a wide selection of accommodations, so you can also stay for the night. This all leads to a score of 5 out of 5 for location.

Overall rating: 4.5

If you’re in Japan, you should definitely visit Himeji castle. It’s beautiful and quite a unique site. This world heritage site provides its visitors with a great and insightful experience for a price that is average compared to other castles and monuments. The location is easily accessible and should be able to fit into most travellers’ itinerary of Japan.

Curious about other Japanese castles? Read our article about original and restored Japanese castles to get some other suggestions.

Should you visit Himeji?
Okinawa beach

Okinawa – Stranded on a tropical island

We had it all planned out, ending our month-long tour of Japan with some well-deserved days off on the tropical island of Iriomote. Then our phone rang: Booking.com told us that our tropical bungalow had just cancelled because of on incoming tropical Cyclone. At the airport, this sad news was confirmed as our connecting flight was cancelled.

So, there we were, no JR rail pass left, a flight back to Tokyo in three days’ time from Naha, the capital of Okinawa and an incoming tropical cyclone. Our preferred way of travelling is to be always on the move so we board our plane to Naha and start looking for things to do while we’re crossing the East China Sea at 900 km/h.

When we land we’re told that the waves are more than 7 metres high and no ferry will leave the harbour for the next couple of days. With the sea and island hopping off limits, we focus our attention to Okinawa. Stupidly we forgot to get an international drivers licence, so we are limited to public transport to go to places. As the dark clouds were racing above our heads, we were trying hard to find a little ray of sunshine.

First day | history

On our first day of exploring, we wanted to learn more about Okinawa’s history and especially the dark episode of the American invasion. This three-month battle destroyed much of the southern part of the island and killed almost 150.000 Japanese civilians, half of the original population of the island.

Shuri castle

Shuri castle
Shuri castle


Among the cultural casualties of this battle was the Shuri castle, the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which served as a Japanese military HQ during the battle and was shelled for 3 days after which it burnt to the ground. In 1992, it was decided to rebuild the complex, so we could explore this great site and learn about the Ryukyu kingdom and Okinawan culture and the bridge it formed between China and Japan from the 15th until the 19th century. As we were drinking our tea and enjoying local sweets in Sasunoma, originally the waiting room for princes, the wind was rattling the screen doors.

After this insight into the local history of the island, it was time to explore the more recent darker history. For this we had to make our way to the southern tip of the island, where we can find the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum and The Cornerstone of Peace. To get here we had to change buses at Itoman bus terminal which was abandoned. But we found a sign with our connecting bus and at the described time a bus driver appeared from nowhere and we continued our trip through a mixture of rural and suburban landscapes.

Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial

Peace memorial
Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial

Almost two hours after we departed from the palace, we arrived at the peace memorial park. As we checked the time for our next bus we found out that we had only one hour before we had to take the next bus to make it to our last stop before closing time.

As we walked towards the memorial centre we were greeted by solemn rows of memorial granite stelai that make up the Cornerstone of Peace, remembering the more than 240,000 people from both sides who lost their lives during the battle for Okinawa. The monument lies on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean, even though we had almost blue skies, the wind was blowing fiercely and meters high waves were crashing against the cliffs drowning out all other noises. Another part of the site houses the memorial museum which tells the story of the events leading up to the war, the battle itself and the suffering it caused.

Underground Headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Navy

Naval HQ
Naval HQ


Out of time we hastily returned to the bus stop to bring us to the former Underground Headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Navy. Here 5.000 soldiers under the command of Rear Admiral Minoru Ota made their last stand. Many of them committed suicide when the battle was lost. Much of the bunker complex is still intact and it vividly tells the story of the grim battle fought here. On top of the bunker is a viewpoint which gives you a 360 degrees view of Naha and the surrounding area and the sea.

Second day | nature

Although we had a very interesting and educational first day, we were still missing the tropical island feeling. To remedy this, we booked a bus to the Ocean Expo Park, two hours to the north. The first hour was more of the same, sprawling suburban and industrial zones. But then the constant stream of traffic slowed and with it the landscape. The highway was closed in by all kind of trees and we had the occasional ocean view. The final part took us along the coastal road for some nice views of the sea.

Ocean Expo Park

Churaumi Aquarium

The Ocean Expo Park has a couple of different attractions but the main attraction is the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. The aquarium houses many different tanks with a broad range of sea creatures from different habitats. The main tank is huge and houses a couple of whale sharks in it, the largest fish in the world. These are magnificent big animals and it’s a unique opportunity to see them up close, although it’s in captivity. Two other tanks worth mentioning are the shark tank, with many different species of sharks and the deep-sea water tank, which replicates the deep sea surrounding Okinawa.

After all this time in the darkness, it was finally time for us to explore Emerald beach. The sand was bounty white, the palm trees fill the background and summer music is playing in the background. This is the feeling we came for and when we dive into the sea, it’s clear to us that it’s not too bad at all to be stranded on a tropical island..

Do you want to get more inspiration for a journey to Japan, read our 4 week itinerary

Okinawa