If you have just one day for the most exciting side-trips possible from Copenhagen, here’s a plan for a wonderful day.
Leave Copenhagen by train at 8:00, arrive in Roskilde at 8:30, and wander through the town to be at the cathedral when it opens at 9:00. At 10:00, after an hour in the cathedral, stroll down to the harborfront to tour the Viking Ship Museum. They can call a taxi to take you back to the station for a 13:00 train back to Copenhagen. (Buy a picnic lunch at Roskilde station, and munch it on the train.) In Copenhagen, catch the next train to Hillerød (around 14:00), from where you catch the bus to Frederiksborg castle — arriving at 15:00. This gives you two hours to enjoy the castle before it closes at 17:00. Browse through Hillerød before catching a train at 18:00 back to Copenhagen. You’ll be back at your hotel by 19:00, having seen the highlights of Zealand.
Frederiksborg Castle sits like a fairy tale on an island in the middle of a lake in the cute town of Hillerød, 50 minutes north of Copenhagen. This grandest castle in Scandinavia is often called the “Danish Versailles.” Built from 1602 to 1620, Frederiksborg was the castle of Denmark’s King Christian IV. Today it houses Denmark’s Museum of National History, taking you on a chronological walk through the story of Denmark from 1500 until today that comes to life thanks to the excellent iPod tour that comes with your admission. The countless musty paintings are a fascinating scrapbook of Danish history — it’s a veritable national portrait gallery, with images of great Danes from each historical period of the last five centuries.
Vik literally means “shallow inlet,” and “vik-ings” were the people who lived along those inlets. Roskilde — and its award-winning Viking Ship Museum— are strategically located along one such inlet (half an hour west of Copenhagen). Centuries before Europe’s Age of Exploration, Viking sailors navigated their sleek, sturdy ships as far away as the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Americas. This museum displays five different Viking ships. These vessels were deliberately sunk a thousand years ago to block an easy channel into this harbor, and were excavated only in modern times.
Roskilde’s imposing, 12th-century, twin-spired cathedral houses the tombs of nearly all of the Danish kings and queens (39 royals in all). It’s a stately, modern-looking old church with great marblework, paintings, and woodcarvings. The nave is ringed by chapels, each one with a king’s tomb. This rather austere tomb holds the body of one of Denmark’s least austere monarchs, King Christian IV.