Maritime Museum of Denmark

The Maritime Museum of Denmark isn't your typical maritime museum. It takes a modern approach to telling the stories of commercial seafaring.
Seafaring Culture Exhibit at the Maritime Museum of Denmark
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Denmark has a long and important maritime history, going back at least a millennium to the Vikings up the present day with the largest container shipping company in the world. With so much coastline in such a strategically important location, it was inevitable that moving things and people over the seas would play such a prominent role in Danish political and economic history. As you wander around Copenhagen and Helsingør, you can’t miss the huge variety of boats, from historic tall ships to modern leisure craft.

So it came as something of a surprise to walk into the Maritime Museum of Denmark to find it so physically compact and quite narrowly focused.

Its location is good. It sits right on Helsingør’s waterfront, in the shadow of the Kronborg Castle, a world-heritage site often known as “Hamlet’s Castle” because it inspired the castle at Elsinore in that famous play. (For a century, until 2013, the museum was housed inside Kronborg Castle.) So there’s a steady stream of tourist traffic.

And the museum is housed in an eminently apt edifice. Much of it is below sea level because it’s built into what was originally a 1950s-era dry dock that was converted quite recently into an architecturally ambitious museum space.

But for the most part, the Maritime Museum of Denmark isn’t a typical maritime museum. You immediately notice that ships aren’t featured as prominently as they are in some other maritime museums. The museums in Istanbul, Lisbon, and Sydney are examples that come immediately to mind that I’ve visited recently. Istanbul’s imperial barge museum, also in a newly designed space, is filled with ornate watercraft fit for royalty. The Portuguese maritime museum’s sprawling space is crammed with model and real ships and watercraft. And the one in Sydney has a wide assortment of original boats and ships (and parts of ships) that play a prominent role in displaying how the sea played such an important role in Australian history.

The Maritime Museum of Denmark, however, is less about stuff than stories.

That’s not to stay there aren’t any model ships or more typical artifacts on display—there are. But even those that are there are often displayed in a quirky way, as you can see in some of the photos.

Instead, there’s an emphasis on the maritime culture—both its impact on general popular culture and the culture of life at sea. And I have to say, it’s the first time I’ve seen Haribo gummy candy (in this case pirates) used as an intellectual illustration of cultural impact.

As an example, a sizable portion of the exhibit space when I visited was taken up with a temporary exhibit titled Sex and the Sea by film director Paul Greenaway and Saskia Boddeke that takes a broad brush and includes an odd assortment of pornography, sexualized natural objects like double coconuts, gifts for sweethearts and ship’s names, and open discussions of how the lonely and challenging conditions of life at sea can lead to different sexual norms than on land.

Other exhibits focus on the lives of sailors’ wives and the effects of globalization.

Of course, it’s entirely possible to make the argument that not only are these aspects of maritime history important and under-represented and that focusing on them is a decidedly modern approach compared with a stuffy, old-fashioned (or time-honored, depending on your point of view) collection of model ships and maritime artifacts. And I can well imagine that the curators are probably a little tired of people like me expecting something more traditional.

It’s just not what I expected when I walked into the national maritime museum of a country that has traditionally been one of Europe’s maritime powerhouses.

But I came away impressed. Although housed in a relatively confined space, the museum is beautifully designed and presented. And it doesn’t take long to appreciate why the curators have gone in the direction they have—these are important stories that are often overlooked but should be told.

Photos of the Maritime Museum of Denmark

Model Ships Maritime Museum of Denmark
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Maritime Museum of Denmark
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Sex and the Sea Exhibit at the Maritime Museum of Denmark
Ships’ nameplates with female names from the Sex and the Sea exhibit. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Maritime Museum of Denmark
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Model Ships Maritime Museum of Denmark
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Commercial Shipping Exhibit at the Maritime Museum of Denmark
A large model of a Maersk container ship in the commercial shipping exhibit. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Figureheads in the Sex and the Sea Exhibit at the Maritime Museum of Denmark
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Maritime Museum of Denmark
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Sex and the Sea Exhibit at the Maritime Museum of Denmark
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Figurehead at the Maritime Museum of Denmark
At right is a ship’s figurehead. Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Figurehead at the Sex and the Sea Exhibit at the Maritime Museum of Denmark
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Sex and the Sea Exhibit at the Maritime Museum of Denmark
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Sex and the Sea Exhibit at the Maritime Museum of Denmark
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Sex and the Sea Exhibit at the Maritime Museum of Denmark
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com
Commercial Shipping Exhibit at the Maritime Museum of Denmark
Photo © David Coleman / HaveCameraWillTravel.com

What to Know Before You Go

The Maritime Museum of Denmark is immediately adjacent to the entrance to Kronborg Castle. I would say you can’t miss it, except you can for the simple reason that the museum is underground. But if you’re walking towards the main entrance of Kronborg Castle, outside the moat, you’ll find yourself walking directly over the maritime museum over what is a bridge over the dry dock.

It’s relatively compact so doesn’t require an enormous investment of time to do it justice. An hour is probably plenty—two at most.

When I was there, they had a large and impressive Lego workshop set up for kids. I don’t know if that’s a permanent thing or just temporary, but it was a great idea if you’re taking kids with you.

Map

Where to Next?

Guidebooks for Denmark

If you're looking for a guidebook to make the most of your visit, these are some of the most popular ones currently for Denmark. Some are available in both paper and e-book formats.

Lonely Planet Denmark 8 (Country Guide)
87 Reviews
Lonely Planet Denmark 8 (Country Guide)
  • Elliott, Mark (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
DK Eyewitness Denmark (Travel Guide)
32 Reviews
DK Eyewitness Denmark (Travel Guide)
  • DK Eyewitness (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
Rick Steves Snapshot Copenhagen & the Best of Denmark
111 Reviews
Rick Steves Snapshot Copenhagen & the Best of Denmark
  • Steves, Rick (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
DK Eyewitness Top 10 Copenhagen (Pocket Travel Guide)
39 Reviews
DK Eyewitness Top 10 Copenhagen (Pocket Travel Guide)
  • DK Eyewitness (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Travel Insurance For Your Trip to Denmark

I never travel without travel insurance, and I've run into several situations where I've had to make claims. I consider it essential.

But shopping for travel insurance can be a pain and confusing. Thankfully, there are some travel insurance comparison sites that show you a wide range of plans, make it easy to compare coverage, and can save you money at the same time. And the coverage can be much better tailored to your specific needs than the checkbox offering at travel booking sites or through your credit card.

These are some good places to shop for travel insurance for your next trip to Denmark :

Hopefully, you won't need it, but if something goes wrong, you'll sure be glad you have it!

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