The route is currently served by car ferry shipping line Scandlines and a smaller passenger shipping line known as Sundbusserne ("The Sound Buses"). Scandlines' ferries operate more than 70 daily departures from each port, every 15 minutes for most of the day, and every 12 minutes during the peak summer weeks with an additional ferry. As the distance between Denmark and Sweden here only is around 2.5 nautical miles (approx. 4 km), the crossing time is just 20 minutes. While Sundbusserne, currently (as of January 2015) departs every hour with their only "bus".
Scandlines uses four ferries, MF Tycho Brahe, MS Aurora, MF Hamlet and MF Mercandia IV. The M/F Mercandia VIII is available and used during the annual maintenance of the other ferries and during the July peak weeks. The three first mentioned ferries are sister ships and were tailored for this short route. They use dual command bridges and lack natural prows and sterns (nor starboard and port side) and hence never need to turn. Aurora, Hamlet and Tycho Brahe are also built rather low (above sea level) and very wide. The Mercandia IV and Mercandia VIII sister ships were not built especially for this particular route, being vessels of the so-called Superflex type, and have a single bridge. As the bridge is located in the middle of the ship, they also don't need to turn around to change east/west travel direction. Although Mercandia IV and Mercandia VIII look very different from the other three ferries, all five ferries fit within the same category, which allows fastest possible return time.
The crossing takes 20 minutes and the vessels only need 10 minutes in port so the same ferry regularly departs from both ends of the route inside every hour.
Sundbusserne currently (as of February 2015) uses only the Pernille, a passenger boat for around 200 passengers. A smaller bar is located at its prow and astern two decks are available for passengers. All Scandlines' vessels have cafeterias, bars, shops and Aurora also has an additional a la carte restaurant. This isn't intended for travelers, but more for local residents and others who makes one or more immediate return journeys (passengers do not need to leave the ships in port). Double or even triple return voyages are not uncommon. Locally this has spawned a new word (a verb) - to "tura" (Swedish) or to "ture" (Danish), which simply means "making at least one return trip for fun".
In each city, the ferry terminals are directly connected to the main railway stations. Trains to Copenhagen depart every 20 minutes and arrive after 35 minutes. Two different local train lines depart from Elsinore station. Both lines end in Hillerød, but one of them takes an indirect path, first along the North Zealand coast. From Gilleleje, the tracks turns to the south and pass through Gribskov, one of Denmark's largest forests. The short route takes 20 minutes to Hillerød, the long route 80 minutes.
In Helsingborg, the ferry terminal is connected to an underground railway station. The entire building is known as "Knutpunkten", "The Junction". The total amount of passengers from trains and ferries makes it one of the most busy stations in Sweden. Around 50.000 passengers (including them in cars and lorries) uses "Knutpunkten" every day. Helsingborg is located on the Swedish West Coast Main Line ("Västkustbanan"), but the first 25 km north of "The Junction" station (until Ängelholm), only consist of a single track railway, which have some very sharp bends and a steep elevation in the northern part of the city. The interregional Øresund trains departs to Gothenburg, through Landskrona, Lund and Malmö across the Øresund Bridge to Copenhagen. Hence it is possible to make a full journey around the Øresund by the use of trains and the HH Ferry route. Local Pågatåg also departs from "The Junction", in four directions.
An important date for the Øresund crossing was 13 July 1952, as passports were no longer needed for travel between the Scandinavian countries and Finland.
Where land is seen across the water, mankind has been able to cross such waters since prehistorical times. There is proof of traveling across the northern part of Øresund from earliest possible historical times, or since the Christianisation of the Vikings (In Denmark from around 985 according to the larger Jellinge Stone). The oldest known historical text about travels across Øresund derives from the German history writer Adam of Bremen, who around 1070 wrote "From Zealand to Scania are many well used crossings, of which the shortest leads to Helsingborg."
Danish and Kalmar Union King, Eric of Pomerania introduced the Sound Dues in 1429. This charge were to be paid to Denmark by every ship that passed through Øresund. They were at the time mainly enforced as a disadvantage to the Hansa, but soon became an important source of income for Denmark for the following hundreds of years. Elsinore became a flourishing and famous town. William Shakespeare unfolded his famous play Hamlet (written 1599-1601; first printed in 1602) at Elsinore and Kronborg Palace. At the end of medieval times, Kronborg was a fortress (completely rebuilt during the early Renaissance) and until 1658 the Danes had a complete view across the narrow northern part of Øresund. It was not only from Kronborg they could watch ships, but also from the tower in Helsingborg, known as Kærnen. The Sound Dues were to last until 1857 - with exception for Swedish ships between 1658 and 1720 - when international complaints initiated economic and political agreements.
Fishers and ships that crossed the Øresund were not passing through, and were hence not affected by the Sound Dues. Before 1658, ships could pay their commission both sides of the narrow strait which constitutes the Northern part of Øresund. After the Swedish conquest of Scania, the ships which were bound to pay the charges needed to anchor just south of Kronborg Castle, as Sweden had never been allowed to take any dues. The sheltered location just south of Kronborg, where ships anchored in order to pay the Sound Dues, are the ferry berth of Helsingør today.
King Frederick I decided in 1524 that Elsinore would exempt from paying Royal taxes, on the condition that "his people" should be shipped across the route for free. This was a heavy burden on the people of Elsinore during wartime.
In 1630 the ferry route was established and a "ferry team" was created. The size of the ferry crews and the fares were regulated by law. Contrary to other ferries within the Kingdom of Denmark, the "Helsingør færgelaug" (Elsinore ferry team) received all rights to sail the route as a vague monopoly. The ferry team was also awarded a part of the Sound Dues for ships that also used the ferries for parts of their cargo.
In 1836 a shipping line began to use the paddle steamer "Maria" on the route. This wasn't well liked by "Helsingør færgelaug", who complained in defence of their 200-year-old privileges. The ferry men won in court. From 1840 "Helsingør færgelaug" received a legal monopoly on the route. But times were about to change with the industrial revolution.
The "Helsingør færgelaug" continued until 1882, when Christian IX formally abolished the monopoly. However, in practice the monopoly was abandoned already by 1874, as Denmark's largest shipping line at the time had begun to operate on the route.
From 1874 the monopoly instead went to "Det Forenede Dampskibs-Selskab" (The United Steamship Company), which probably is more known as DFDS. Fourteen years later, in 1888, private ownership was abandoned, as "De Danske Statsbaner" the Danish national railways or DSB took over the service. Although the monopoly was formally abandoned already in 1874, DFDS never attempted to compete with nationally owned DSB. As a railway company, DSB surely was thinking of a train ferry line already from scratch. However between 1888 and 1892 they only operated the ship Masnedsund, which apart from pedestrian passengers only transported mail. But four years later, in 1892, did DSB open its train ferry route (open also for pedestrian passengers). No less than three paddle-streamers for trains were taken in use, Kronprinsesse Louise (in 1892), Thyra (in 1893), Kronprins Frederik (in 1898) was in operation before the end of the 19th century. And the first ship to use a propeller, Helsingborg (in 1902) was of course also a train ferry. The ferry crossing became a part of the "classical" train line between Copenhagen and Oslo and later also night trains to Stockholm.
The route was from its beginning a totally Danish matter (though some cars of the trains could belong to Norwegian NSB), first by 1931 did the Swedish counterpart to DSB, Statens Järnvägar or SJ involved. This was done through a deal which got the label "Midtsunds-trafikoverenskomst" (in Danish). DSB and SJ should from this year split all revenues and spending between them equally. The running of the HH ferry route was however still managed by DSB.
During the First World War the southern Øresund was mined by Denmark, Sweden and the German Empire at the request of the latter but the northern and central parts of Øresund were not affected by this and the traffic could continue.
During the Second World War, Denmark, despite their neutrality, become occupied by Germany on 9 April 1940, known as "Besættelsen" in Denmark. In the beginning of this occupation the Germans expected the Danish society to keep working as usual. The ferries continued to sail, but with reduced number of departures.
It was first in 1955 that any Swedish shipping line got interested in competing with DSB on the route. It was the bus company Linjebuss AB which from then also became a shipping line. The new ferries become known as LB
From 13 July 1952, passports were no longer needed for traveling between Sweden and Denmark. This was soon extended also to Norway in 1954 and eventually also whithin entire Scandinavian countries and Finland. And from the mid 1950s a golden era began as cars had become more common, people could afford holidays (and Copenhagen Airport has since passenger aviation began been the main airport also for southern Sweden). But also pedestrian passengers became more and more common.
DSB had the same year as LB started to compete put the new M/F Helsingør on the route and later followed her sistership M/F Hälsingborg. Both had dual railway tracks on board, located laterally along the center of the ships. To the left and the right were space for a few cars, lorries couldn't be shipped together with trains however. But a strange solution for the cafeteria and toilets, below car-deck, made these ferries notably unpopular. However M/F Hälsingborg and M/F Helsingør became the first ferries on the route which didn't need to turn.
LB challenged DSB with a rather different concept, M/S Betula was despite she was 26 years old, when she became first challenger on the route ever in 1955. Betula had a natural prow and stern, and hence needed to turn twice on the way from Helsingør to Helsinborg, if the cars, lorries and buses shouldn't need to drive off the ferry backwards. LB would continue with that concept as long as they sailed the route. In Helsingborg the vehicles drove on board through the stern, and then drive off through the opened prow in Helsingør. The earliest LB ferries had the cafeterias well above the car deck which was the difference between watching the sea or perhaps feeling a bit claustrophobic.
Helsingør Town wasn't to happy about the Swedish privately owned LB, the main trouble was the increased traffic that drove to the LB ferries. While the DSB terminal was built together with Helsingør's main train station, LB had to (by time) build two smaller terminals on the opposite pier. Which also was on the small road to Kronborg Palace. The LB terminals also caused ever increasing traffic through central Helsingør and was generally disliked by Helsingør's local politicians. But the town simply had to accept the competition from LB.
Just three years after LB established their line, in 1958, did Sundbusserne, small ships or "Sound Buses" (which couldn't carry cars, lorries or trains), began to operate on the route. Sundbusserne made the route "all-Scandinavian" as they sailed under Norwegian flag, LB under Swedish ones and DSB under Danish ones.
From around 1960 a kind of "golden era" began at the route. Both shipping lines ordered more and larger ferries. LB put M/S Primula in operation this year By 1973 LB had replaced their first two ferries with four new ones M/S Carola 1964, M/S Betula (the second) 1968, rebuilt in 1985, M/S Regula 1971, rebuilt 1985 and M/S Ursula 1973, rebuilt 1985. Betula (II), Regula and Ursula were sisterships, while Carola externally was a sistership to M/S Dana Scarlett, a ferry that mostly operated on the route between Landskrona and Copenhagen, 25–40 km further south.
Also DSB ordered new ferries, larger, more pleasant for passengers and which could take lorries and train simultaneously. However they kept M/F Helsingør and M/F Hälsingborg as well. The four sister ships M/F Najaden, M/F Kronborg, M/F Kärnan and M/F Holger Danske.
By the middle of the 1970s LB departed every 20th minute from each port, with their four ferries, DSB every 15th minute with their six ferries, and so did the Sundbusserne. On top of that an older ship called Marina sailed every hour from Helsingborg to Snekkersten just a few kilometeres south of Helsingør's port. In all 12 departures from Helsingborg every hour during day time and early evenings.
LB operated also two other ferry routes, SL ferries operated at the central part of Øresund, between Landskrona and the northern Copenhargen port, Tuborg (owned by the Tuborg brewery) as well as a route from Helsingborg through Copenhagen Tuborg and Travemünde, Schleswig-Holstein, Federal Republic of Germany (The latter line was only used from either Helsingborg or Copenhagen, Tuborg to Western Germany, not between Helsingborg and Copenhagen). The three sister shipping lines were labeled as the LB/SL/TL ferries, where SL meant "Skandinavisk Linjetrafik" (Scandinavian Line Traffic) and TL meant "Trave Line".
The 1973 Energy crisis and higher oil prices affected the Øresund crossing routes, from huge profits the privately owned shipping lines got financial difficulties.
TL or Trave Line was the first to be closed down, this was in 1976. And LB's headquarters in Stockholm decided to move the SL ferries, which had sailed between Landskrona and Copenhagen Tuborg every hour or 90th minute since 1954 (crossing time was 70 minutes), to Malmö in an attempt to increase their profits ended already after 8 months only.
In October 1980 LB's headquarters in Stockholm decided to move the SL ferries from Landskrona to Malmö, but they still sailed to Copenhagen Tuborg Danish side. This made the crossing time 20–25 minutes longer (much due to the flat island Saltholm and its surrounding shallow waters), and the already existing route between Limhamn (a borough in southern Malmö with a port of its own) and Dragør (just south of Kastrup Airport) had a crossing time of just 50 minutes. And already 8 months the SL ferries closed down. The move to Malmö was an obvious mistake.
In the following year, 1981, LB merged with the shipping line which from 1960 had begun to operate in the southern part of Øresund between Dragør and Limhamn, Dampskibsselskabet Øresund A/S and the new shipping line name became Scandinavian Ferry Lines or simply SFL, which now operated the HH route as well as the Dragør - Limhamn route.
All goods trains were removed from the route in November 1986, as two large goods train ferries began to operate between Helsingborg harhour's western port (Swedish: Västhamnen) and the North port (Danish: Nordhavn) in Copenhagen. The huge goods train ferries were sister ships, the Danish M/F Trekroner, and the Swedish M/S Öresund were operated by DAN-link until the opening of the Øresund Bridge in July 2000. But the passenger train line Copenhagen - Oslo continued to be using the DSB ferries across the HH route until the bridge opened 1 July 2000. Ironically, the so-called Linx trains between the Danish and Norwegian Capitals went into bankruptcy a year later.
In 1984 Helsingborg City Council and the Swedish government decided to replace the city's two railway stations with one. The single track from north was split up underground and connected to the railway from the south. It was also decided to move DSB's ferry terminal to SFL's. The new combined railway station and ferry terminal got the name "Knutpunkten", or "the Junction". Also in Elsinore SFL's two smaller ferry terminals would be demolished, located at the Kronborg pier, the SFL (and LB before them) terminals had caused a major traffic problem in the Danish town. All ferries from Elsinore should just like in Helsingborg leave from one single terminal. And also Elsinore station and ferry terminal was enlarged. The port wasn't expanded for more ferries, but the area just south of Helsingør port is usually calm enough to handle larger ships. Hence a space for two ferries was constructed on the outer side of the southern pier.
Towards the end of "the old order", DSB finally replaced the "U-boats" M/F Helsingør and M/F Hälsingborg, which both had cafeterias below car deck, with ferries that had sailed on the Great Belt. They were M/F Dronning Ingrid and M/F Dronning Margarethe II.
In 1991, when the new ferry terminals were inaugurated, the operators, DSB (the Danish National Railways) in cooperation with its Swedish counterpart SJ, and privately owned SFL began to cooperate. This meant the end of competition on the route. Also the names of the operators changed from DSB and SFL to Scandlines. The Sundbusserne still existed, but could only carry pedestrian passengers.
The remodeled ferry terminals couldn't handle both SFL's former four ferries together with DSB's former six ones, instead three longer and wider ferries were ordered. The first delivered was M/F Tycho Brahe (1991) thereafter M/S Aurora (1992) but the third sister ferry was delayed, as the Danish and Swedish governments had signed the deal to build the Øresund Bridge. In order to maintain the capacity, two larger former DSB ferries from Great Belt complemented the Scandline fleet temporarily. M/F Hamlet arrived in the mid 1990s.
Sundbusserne was sold in the autumn of 2006, the buyers were another Norwegian shipping line, Eitzen Holdings, and by May 2007 was the name shifted to Ace link. In 2008, a large investment in two notably bigger passenger ships failed though, and early in 2010 went ACE-link in bankruptcy. But soon a new shipping line "Sundbusserne af 2010" (The Sound Buses of 2010) was founded and has since used the original shipping line's boat Pernille.
After complaints of high prices, Denmark enforced a new law in 1996. According to this law half of the terminal in Elsinore was expropriated in order to re-establish a second competing shipping line on the route. Hence could HH Ferries begin to compete with Scandlines. In Helsingborg they already had found a location for a new terminal. This was at a distance from the city centre, a remote and far from optimal location for pedestrians. However, for cars and lorries the location didn't cause any problem. HH Ferries opened in 1996 using two so called superflex ferries, M/F Mercandia IV and M/F Mercandia VIII.
However, after a larger cooperation bought Scandlines and through the purchase of the owners of HH ferries, suddenly both Scandlines and HH Ferries became two parts of one and the same cooperational group and the supreme management soon afterwards decided to close HH Ferries again. As of January 2015 Scandlines remains as the single operator of cars and lorries at the route.
In 2015, HH ferried 7.4 million passengers, 1.4 million cars, 390,000 lorries and 20,000 busses. Two of the four ferries are scheduled to be converted to full electric propulsion with 4 MWh batteries each, being recharged from land by a robot when docked.
After Scandlines as new owners of HH-Ferries closed the latter shipping line, prices went up. For less frequent drivers and their passengers, the single and return prices with Scandlines are almost exactly the same as on the Øresund Bridge (summer 2015). The driving distance, if using the fixed connection, is notably longer though. For people living close to the HH route, return tickets prices equals the single ticket (half the price) - but the return travel must begin prior to midnight. Lorry and bus companies usually have special deals with Scandlines.Helsingør Færgelaug, ("Elsinore Ferry Team"), 1630-1882
Paddle steamer "Maria", 1836-1840
LB, Linjebuss International, 1955-1981
Sundbusserne 1958-2007, 2010-
Scandinavian Ferry Lines, SFL 1981-91
HH Ferries 1996-2013