The name Helsingør is derived from the word hals meaning "neck" or "narrow strait", referring to the narrowest point of the
Øresund (Øre Sound) between what is now Helsingør and Helsingborg, Sweden.
The people were mentioned as Helsinger (which may mean "the people of the strait") for the first time in King Valdemar the Victorious's Liber Census Daniæ from 1231 (not to be confused with the Helsings of Hälsingland in Sweden).
Placenames show that the Helsinger may have had their main fort at Helsingborg and a fortified landing place at Helsingør, to control the ferry route across the strait.
Helsingør as it is known today was founded in the 1420s by the Danish king Eric of Pomerania. He established the Sound Dues in 1429, meaning all foreign ships passing through the strait had to pay a toll, which constituted up to two-thirds of Denmark's state income. With this income Eric of Pomerania built the castle Krogen. The castle was expanded in the 1580s and renamed Kronborg. All ships had to stop in Helsingør to get their cargo taxed and pay a toll to the Danish Crown, but it also generated a significant trade for the town. In 1672 Helsingør had grown into the third biggest town in Denmark.Johan Isaksson Pontanus (Rerum Danicarum Historica, 1631) attributes a long and partially fictitious history to Helsingør.
The oldest known fortified building of Helsingør is Flynderborg, an early medieval fortress situated on a hill just south of the medieval city.
Around 1200, the first church, Saint Olaf's Church, was built.
A number of convents once surrounded the church, but now all that remains is the church building, today the cathedral of the Diocese of Helsingør. The oldest parts of the cathedral of Helsingør date back to the 13th century and tell us that the fishing village, as Helsingør was then, had grown to a town of importance.
In World War II, Helsingør was among the most important transport points for the rescue of Denmark's Jewish population during the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler had ordered that all Danish Jews were to be arrested and deported to the concentration camps on Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year which fell on 2 October 1943. When Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a diplomatic attaché of Nazi Germany to Denmark, received word of the order on 28 September 1943, he shared it with political and Jewish community leaders. Using the name Elsinore Sewing Club (Danish: Helsingør Syklub) as a cover for messages, the Danish population formed an underground railroad of sorts, moving Jews away from the closely watched Copenhagen docks to spots further away, especially Helsingør, just two miles across the Øresund from Helsingborg in neutral Sweden. Hundreds of civilians hid their fellow Danish citizens--Jews--in their houses, farm lofts and churches until they could board them onto Danish fishing boats, personal pleasure boats and ferry boats. Over the course of three nights, Danes had smuggled over 7,200 Jews and 680 non-Jews (gentile family members of Jews or political activists) across the Øresund, to safety in Helsingborg and Malmö in Sweden.
The car ferry line between Helsingør and Helsingborg, Scania, Sweden is the busiest in the world with more than 70 departures in each direction every day. The route is known as the HH Ferry route and has been sailed by several shipping lines throughout history. The car ferry terminal is connected to the town's main railway station. From the station, trains depart to Copenhagen every 20 minutes. Trains also depart to Hillerød and Gilleleje. There are another six stations or train stops within the city and connected suburbs. Apart from Helsingør Station and Ferry Terminal also Snekkersten station, Espergærde station, Mordrup station and the train stops at the line to Gilleleje, Grønnehave, Marienlyst and Højstrup.
The E47 motorway towards Copenhagen begins just outside the city limits. The town and surrounding areas also have a network of local and regional buses.
For a century the Helsingør Værft or Elsinore shipyard was a prominent landmark, which covered the whole area between the town and Kronborg Castle. It was founded in 1882. At its height in 1957, it had 3,600 employees. The last ship left the shipyard in 1983 and it closed the same year following substantial losses.
The Wiibroe brewery, founded in 1840, was the second brewery in Denmark to ship bottled beer, just three years after Carlsberg. The last beer was brewed at Wiibroe in Helsingør in 1998. Carlsberg continues to brew beer under the Wiibroe Årgangsøl label.
In the centre of the harbour basin stands the polished steel sculpture Han (He) by artist duo Elmgreen and Dragset, commissioned by the City of Helsingør in 2012. It was inaugurated by then Minister of culture, Uffe Elbæk, in June 2012. It is seen as the counterpart (and even little brother) to Edvard Eriksen's world-famous The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, and has caused both praise and protests among locals.
Jørn Utzon lived in Helsingør in his youth because his father was an engineer at Helsingør Værft. Utzon designed The Kingo Houses (1956-60) and The Hammershøj Care Centre (1962) in the city. The project was completed by Birger Schmidt (1966) after Utzon moved to Sydney to work on the Sydney Opera House.
In David Brin's novel The Postman, the first chapter features an apparition that appears to protagonist Gordon Krantz. It is described as an "Elsinorian figure" and greets Gordon with "Alas, poor Gordon!", both allusions to Hamlet.
Surrealist artist René Magritte has a painting named after the city, depicting a castle, which might be modelled on Elsinore Castle.
^early records of Helsingør and Flynderborg ("possibly already mentioned by Saxo"): J. D. Qvist, Annaler for nordisk oldkyndighed, Kongelige Nordiske oldskriftselskab, 1836, p. 306Archived 26 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine