A port city on the Sound, Helsingborg is on Sweden’s Lund Peninsula across the water from its Danish counterpart Helsingør. Denmark is almost close enough to touch and Helsingborg was controlled by the Danes up to the Treaty of Roskilde in the 17th century.
Kärnan is a medieval castle tower, harking back to when the Danes and Swedes were at war, while Sankta Maria Kyrka is a fine Gothic church loaded with decoration from the middle ages. As with any self-respecting city, Helsingborg has a fabulous open-air museum, Fredriksdal and many acres of lush parkland. Some of which is occupied by Sofiero, a former royal residence. In this clean, well-looked-after coastal city you’ll have the pleasure of seaside promenades and bathing on warmer days.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Helsingborg:
The County of Skåne has been condensed into 36 hectares at this rambling outdoor museum for a complete introduction to Scandinavian culture and history.
The subjects covered are wide-ranging and laced with botanical plantations from across the county: There’s an arable farm, herb gardens, kitchen gardens, a rose garden with hundreds of varieties and a great deal more.
There’s also loads of built heritage from the 18th and 19th centuries that has been moved here piece by piece, hosting little museums and workshops.
All this is around a stately home from 1787 bordered by French and English parks: And in these grounds is the Fredriksdal Theatre, opened in 1932 and billed as one of Europe’s most beautiful outdoor theatres.
An enduring symbol for Helsingborg, this tower on high ground behind the centre of the city is one of the last pieces left of the city’s castle.
It was built by the Danes in the 1300s and during the stormy 17th century was in a tug of war between the two states.
After it definitively landed in Swedish hands in 1679 the castle was demolished as it was difficult to defend, leaving only this 34-metre keep.
The tower then became an important seamark for ships navigating the Sound.
There’s an audio-guide included in entry and you can ascend the tower’s 146 steps to look across the water to Helsingør.
This indoor zoo is quite unlike any animal attraction you’ll have seen before.
You’ll walk through synthesised tropical environments inhabited by the likes of meerkats, lemurs and pygmy marmosets (the world’s smallest monkey), which are free to go where they choose.
If you sign up for special experience you can interact with lemurs and feed them, or handle a snake or crocodile, supervised by qualified zoo staff.
Tropikariet also has nocturnal zones housing bats, terrariums with leaf-cutter ants and sharks in its aquarium.
After this animal adventure you can wrap your visit up at the cafe and gift shop.
There are regular buses out to this plush royal house and gardens five kilometres north of the city.
This Neo-Renaissance palace was built in stages in the 1860s and 1870s by Crown Prince Oscar of Sweden and his wife Sopia of Nassau.
The way the castle and grounds look today is down to Gustaf VI Adolf and Crown Princess Margaret, who received the palace as a wedding gift in 1905. They refurbished the building, but also planted the glorious rhododendron bushes, which are a signature of the gardens.
There are just shy of 500 different varieties in here, along with contemporary art installations.
The palace itself has a restaurant and cafe, and is sometimes used for exhibitions.
5. Sankta Maria Kyrka
Begun in the Romanesque style in the 12th century, this church in the centre of Helsingborg was one of the largest in Denmark by the 14th century.
The Romanesque design was reworked into Gothic in the 1500s, when the brick facade and crow-stepped gables were completed.
There are a lot of engrossing historic elements inside, like the baptismal font, carved from grey Gotland limestone in the 1300s.
The altar cabinet is a real marvel and is from around the same time, with images from the life of Mary and Jesus on its doors.
During December these change to show scenes from the nativity.
This is a concept that is almost unique to Helsingborg.
“Tura” is a basically a cruise on a Sandlines ferry across the Sound to Helsingør.
But passengers doing a Tura won’t disembark at the Danish city and instead will remain on board for the round trip.
As the crossing only takes around 20 minutes, a Tura is a chance to sit down at the ship’s restaurant and take in the sea views at leisure.
People book well in advance at more popular periods like Christmas and the height of summer, and at these times the beer or champagne flows liberally.
7. Dunkers Kulturhus
In a white building that takes design cues from Renaissance castles, this cultural centre is many things rolled into one.
The Kulturhus opened in 1997 with the intention of fostering creativity and culture in the city.
If you’re just popping by there’s a permanent exhibition about the history of Helsingborg, and the city’s tourist office is also here.
There are also temporary exhibitions curated for all manner of topics, but mainly anchored in art and photography.
The Kulturhus also has a theatre, concert hall, a restaurant and art studios for Helsingborg’s next generation of creators.
8. Ramlösa Brunnspark
For a walk in an elegant environment you can come to this former health resort at the southern limits of the city.
You may know the name Ramlösa from the mineral water brand, and this park is the site of the original spring.
In the 18th and 19th century, nobility, industrialists and royalty flocked to the resort to drink the waters renowned for their high iron content.
You can try it for yourself, and see how the iron has dyed the sandstone around the main well red.
Dispersed around the woodland are the beautiful 19th-century spa facilities, counting villas, the hospital and bathing house, now all private residences now.
Helsingborg’s city hall is a working municipal building so you can’t ordinarily go inside.
The only exceptions are for weddings on weekends, and if you do get the chance to see the interior the stained-glass panels in the city council hall are delightful.
For everyone else it’s a sight to take in from the street, and one of Helsingborg’s big landmarks.
The building went up during the 1890s, following a design competition won by Alfred Hellerström who was just 26 years old at the time.
It’s a brick Neo-Gothic building capped by a 65-metre bell tower.
Outside are two stone memorials, one Norwegian and one Danish, thanking Helsingborg for its efforts to take in refugees fleeing the Germans during the Second World War.
10. Raus Kyrka
A few minutes down from Helsingborg is one of Skåne’s best preserved medieval churches and the oldest in the Helsingborg area.
It was built in the middle of the 12th century and extended a couple of times over the next 400 years.
The nave is from the 1300s and has cross vaults that are painted with bible motifs and foliate patterns.
On the church’s western stairway there’s a medieval stone head believed to have been a gargoyle to ward off evil spirits.
Make time for the altar, which was carved from oak in 1624 and has boards with Latin inscriptions, while there’s a medieval rood cross and a statue of Mary from the 15th century.
11. Norra Hamnen
Just west of the city centre, Helsingborg’s harbour was built in 1891 and its opening was attended by King Oscar II. It was a key shipping port up to the 1960s when the container terminal at Sydhamnen rendered it obsolete.
From the 1980s plans were put in place to revitalise the waterfront, and H99 here in the build up to the millenium was a housing fair showcasing cutting-edge residential developments that line the waterfront today.
In summer, Norra Hamnen is somewhere to wander by the sea, admiring the carpet of yachts in the marina and kicking back at a cafe table for a few minutes.
In 1961 when the southern parts of Kullagatan were closed off to traffic it became Sweden’s first pedestrian street.
The scheme was based on the Lijnbaan in Rotterdam, and was such a success that the remainder of the street was soon made car-free.
Kullagatan has been Helsingborg’s main trading street since medieval times, and all the top chain stores like H&M are along here.
There are also plenty of cafes for the Swedish custom of fika (coffee and cake), and a few independent shops mixed in with the big names.
For sightseeing the most photogenic part is at Södra Storgatan on the southern end, where you can take lunch with a view of Sankta Maria Kyrka.
When the sun comes out in summer this green stretch of foreshore north of the harbour is packed with families.
Helsingborg has a few sandy beaches, but at Gröningen you can have all the fun and relaxation of the seaside, substituting sand for a lush green lawn.
There’s a promenade by the water that is lined with pop-up cafes and ice cream stands.
And on the water is a wooden walkway, with stairways leading down to the sea if you’re up for a swim.
You can park yourself on a deckchair free of charge, and littler kids can climb on the pirate ship playground.
14. Museum of Failure
Although the name sounds blunt, this new technology museum in Helsingborg takes a philosophical approach to failure, as part of the road to innovation.
It displays a selection of products that, for different reasons, couldn’t make the grade.
Some, like the Nokia N-gage, Betamax and Google Glass were famous flops, and these are among more obscure and amusing exhibits like a Donald Trump board game and Harley-Davidson perfume.
The museum also puts on special evenings with all sorts of activities, like tasting discontinued beer or listening to a concert of rejected music.
15. Pålsjö Skog
On Helsingborg’s northern edge is more than 70 hectares of calm beech and oak woodland.
Many of the trees in the forest are more than a century old and you can find some that date back 250 years.
The best time to walk these trails is spring, when the meadows and forest floor are white with wood anemones.
The forest is on high ground, so there are excellent vistas of the Sound, and on the course of one of the streams running down to the coast is a mill that has been at this spot since the 17th century.
The park also has a 17th-century castle remodelled at the end of the 19th century and under private ownership.