A trip to Bornholm would not be complete without a visit to Hammershus, the largest ruined castle in northern Europe.
It is Bornholm’s most popular attraction and has been enthralling visitors to the island for decades. Local residents are also fond of showing the castle ruins to visitors from far and wide.
It is a unique experience to stand among the old buildings and soak up the atmosphere of the ruins and the foamy sea far below. It is easy to imagine people going about their everyday life here at the castle centuries ago. Particularly imaginative visitors may even picture a ‘Game of Thrones’ episode being played out among the ruins.
Recent studies show that the castle was completed around 1200, by the archbishop of Lund (in what is now Sweden). Whoever controlled the island resided at Hammershus and collected taxes from all over Bornholm. Consequently, common people had little affection for the castle.
There are also theories that Hammershus was used as a base by an order affiliated with the Knights Templar before it continued its medieval crusade to what is now Estonia. This has never been confirmed, however. By taking time to delve deeper into the site, you will soon discover some exciting tales, including some highly dramatic ones. Hammershus played a key role in the dramatic events of 1658, when a group of Bornholm insurgents seized control of the island from the Swedish occupying forces after one of their number, Villum Clausen, shot and killed the then lord lieutenant of the island, Johan Printzensköld.
This story is definitely worth exploring. Because, along with the Soviet occupation of Bornholm after World War II, it helps explain why local residents have a unique sense of local patriotism. If Rønne is on your itinerary, try finding the two large paving stones in Storegade not far from the harbour. They mark the spot where commander Printzensköld fell.
If you are travelling as a group, hiring a guide will help you get the most out of your visit to Hammershus. A guide can recount all the details, anecdotes and stories from the history of the site. Most Danish visitors have heard of Leonora Christina (daughter of Denmark’s King Christian IV), who was imprisoned with her husband, Corfitz Ulfeldt, in the main tower of Hammershus, charged with high treason. But few know the details of their dramatic escape when they crawled out of the window and rappelled down the walls on intertwined bedsheets, however. A guide can give you all the details, and the tourist offices can put you in touch with one.
Hammershus can be visited in all weathers. Naturally it is most stunning in sunny weather, but the old castle ruins become particularly mystifying and dramatic when the island is being battered by gale-force northerly winds, because it gives you an excellent sense of how difficult life would have been for soldiers and residents of medieval Hammershus. Or experience the ruins shrouded in the quietness of fog, when the big tree in the middle of the castle yard resembles an enchanted setting from a fantasy film.
There are many things you can discover as you explore Hammershus. For example, walking there from Hammerhavnen harbour can be a holiday highlight, as in clear weather there are spectacular views of both the Lion Heads rock formation at the foot of Hammershus towards south-east Sweden’s Scania province 40 kilometres in the distance. The trail to the ruins leads south through the vegetation around Hammerhavnen harbour. Along the way, enjoy discovering some of the 300 plant species that have been recorded around Hammershus. Some are quite rare, and 50 or so were originally planted as herbs in the medieval period when the castle was inhabited. Another activity is trying to find the cross hewn by soldiers into a flat boulder in the castle yard in commemoration of someone’s accidental death in the 1600s. Hint: it is near the entrance to the Butter Cellar (smørkælderen).
Brohuset – the new, architecturally stunning visitors’ centre – presents an exhibition about the castle and houses the Solveig restaurant. The restaurant is operated by the founders of the Michelin-starred Kadeau restaurant found on another part of the island. Solveig’s open sandwiches are excellent, but the menu also includes hot dishes and child-friendly entrées. And because all the prices are reasonable, you can satisfy your hunger within your budget. As you savour a delicious meal, take in the views of Hammershus through the large panoramic windows that were only available to the privileged few until quite recently. An alternative to Restaurant Solveig is the small kiosk on the Hammerhavnen waterfront: delicious sandwiches are a hallmark of the venue. If ice cream is what your heart desires, Sandvig Is Kalas, housed in a former ice-storage house near Sandvig Harbour, is only a short drive away. Sandvig Is Kalas will help you choose the ice cream of your dreams, made with some of Bornholm’s finest ingredients.