I like to read and I like to travel. I take books with me on every holiday, and when I read about interesting places, I jot those down on a must-visit list. You can imagine that this list is quite long, and one of the places I really want to go to is: Stratford-upon-Avon in England. This market town in Warwickshire is a popular tourist destination because it is the birthplace of English poet and playwright William Shakespeare. Almost 5 million visitors a year come here to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company perform in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and walk the same streets as the Bard of Avon himself.
If you’re looking for a long weekend away, steeped in culture and history, a break in Stratford-upon-Avon, homeland of William Shakespeare, is a real must. This beautiful market town, set in the rural Warwickshire countryside is an ever popular tourist destination, due to it’s 800 years of history, quaint Tudor architecture and thriving theatre scene.
Where can you encounter Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon?
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre was designed by English architect Elisabeth Scott, who won the architectural competition held to elicit designs for the new theatre. It was opened by Edward VIII in 1932 and can still be seen on the Avon riverside today. In 1959, Sir Peter Hall was appointed the artistic director of the theatre, and it was he who formed the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961. The Company also runs two smaller theatres: The Swan Theatre and The Other Place. The Swan Theatre is an Elizabethan theatre created in the 1980s which can hold up to 450 people. The Other Place is a black box theatre with 200 seats.
Henley Street is one of the oldest streets of the town, a major tourist and shopping precinct with many cafés and street entertainers. This is where you can find the house where William Shakespeare was born. A placard on the building reads:
The property remained in the ownership of Shakespeare’s direct descendants until 1670, when his granddaughter Elizabeth Barnard, died. As she had no children, Elizabeth left the estate to her relative Thomas Hart, Shakespeare’s great-nephew. The main house became a tenanted inn called the Maidenhead (later the Swan and Maidenhead) in 1601. Members of the Hart family continued living in the small adjoining cottage throughout the century.
Waterside and Southern Lane
This area of Stratford-upon-Avon runs alongside the River Avon and gives access to all areas of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. A guided tour leaves from the Swan Fountain every day, which will take you past the Shakespeare houses, Royal Shakespeare Theatres, William Shakespeare’s school and the Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare was baptised and is buried. You will also find The Dirty Duck waterside; a pub frequented by actors, theatre critics and theatregoers from the nearby Royal Shakespeare Company theatres.
Other Shakespeare sites
You can also visit New Place, the house where Shakespeare died. And don’t forget to stop by Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. She is Shakespeare’s first wife and this is where she lived before she got married. And last but not least: the King Edward VI School is thought to be the school that William Shakespeare attended.
By the way, if you haven’t decided on a date yet: go in the weekend closest to Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23rd. During those two days, the town celebrates with musical performances, drama and a parade through town.
5 insider tips
- Must see sights to visit are Shakespeare’s birthplace and his wife, Anne Hathaway’s cottage.
- Visit the Dirty Duck pub (opposite the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre) to spot the actors having a pint after their show.
- Avoid the hassle of parking in town by taking advantage of the park & ride service, situated off Bishopton Lane (near the roundabout with the A46 (T) and the A3400 Birmingham Road).
- If visiting on the second or fourth (and fifth when it occurs) of the month don’t miss a visit to the Craft and Antiques Market to pick up a unique find.
- Children will love a day out at the Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm, set alongside the river, although those with a fear of spiders should steer clear of ‘Arachnoland’!
Where should you stay when in Stratford-upon-Avon?
Theatre Lovers are sure to appreciate The Arden Hotel, situated opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. If you are looking to be immersed into history, then The White Swan Hotel is the right choice for you; a historic hotel with original features, open fires and wonderful antiques. Lovers of the outdoors will enjoy the breathtaking views of the Avon Valley in Shakespeare’s View. And lastly, if you are on a budget, consider staying at The Aiden Guest House, a charming Victorian town house.