A Shakespeare Lover’s Guide to Stratford-upon-Avon

Image © Jonathan Gledhill via Flickr

Whether you loved or loathed studying Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at school, it’s undeniable that William Shakespeare is a legend of literature. Writing plays and sonnets that contemplate love and loss, war and more, his contribution to British culture and language – he invented over 1700 words! – his legacy is still celebrated over 400 years after his death. He’s even got his own commemorative day and guess what… it’s today!

Talk Like Shakespeare Day is an annual excuse to whack out your favourite phrases from William’s oeuvre, whether you’re a romantic who wants to pine for your Romeo, or a deep thinker who contemplates if something is “to be, or not to be?” You could even go one step further by celebrating with a visit to Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon in Warwickshire where Shakespeare was born, bred, and eventually died in 1616. So, if taking a tour of the Bard’s birthplace tickles your fancy, cast your eyes over our handy guide which sums up some of the best places for a Shakespeare lover to visit in Stratford.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

The Shakespeare Centre, Henley Street, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6QW

See where the literary legacy began by starting off your tour of Stratford at Shakespeare’s Birthplace. One of the town’s most popular attractions, this large property on Henley street was where little Willy was born and bred, by his parents John and Mary, the former of whom was a respectable glover by trade (his workshop is one of the most fascinating rooms of the house) and later became Stratford’s mayor in 1568! Peruse the Famous Behind Words exhibition which will introduce you to the incredible story of William Shakespeare (and even features a copy of Shakespeare’s first folio!) before exploring the many rooms of his childhood home, enjoying performances of his work by resident actors in the floral gardens.

Image credit: Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust

Mary Arden’s Farm

Station Road, Wilmcote, Warwickshire, CV37 9UN

While he may have gone on to present his plays in glamorous theatres in London, and write plotlines about the European aristocracy, William Shakespeare’s family history is firmly rooted in farming. Discover more about the Bard’s background by visiting Mary Arden’s Farm, the childhood home of his mother. Here you will be transported back to Tudor Warwickshire and be able to experience the sights and smells of a 16th Century farm. Head over to meet the many breeds of sheep, cows, goats, horses, as well as Bill and Ben the donkeys, and make sure you visit in Spring if you want to see some brand-new additions to the farmyard family - Mangalitza piglets! There are also plenty of other daily activities that bring the farm to life, including the chance to experience a working Tudor kitchen, to lend a hand in goose herding, to learn some Tudor table manners in a sit-down dinner performance!

Image credit: jgg35 via Flickr

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

22 Cottage Lane, Shottery, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 9HH

Though often mistaken with the famous American actress (who we’re very excited is going to be starring in a Princess Diaries 3), the original Anne Hathaway wasn’t a glamourous film-star from the States, but the wife of Shakespeare who was born and raised in the West Midlands. You can visit her childhood home in Stratford which was originally called Hewlands but is now commonly referred to as Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Originally a farmhouse built in 1463, this 500-year-old was where Hathaway was born to a family of sheep farmers, who continued to live in the property for thirteen generations after Anne moved out to live with her beloved Bard. Head over to find out about all the stories that this picturesque cottage holds, and to explore the property’s nine acres of cottage gardens, woodlands and orchards which would have once been home to the family’s livestock.

Image credit: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Shakespeare’s New Place

22 Chapel Street, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6EP

Despite his fame and renown, Shakespeare didn’t move to the big city, but lived in his hometown till the day he died. At Shakespeare’s New Place, you will be able to see the site where he lived for nineteen years with his family until he passed away in 1616, and where he allegedly wrote some of his later plays including The Tempest. The house itself has since been demolished, but you can still enjoy the commemorative garden that has been planted to celebrate the significance of the site, as well as commissioned artworks and displays that allude to moments from Shakespeare’s plays. You can even check out the exhibition All is True top ten, which confirms and dispels some of the claims made by Kenneth Branagh’s film telling the story of the Bard’s final years, All is True.

Image credit: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Hall’s Croft

Old Town, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6BG

If you fancy jumping forward in time, why not head to Hall’s Croft, the home of the next generation of the Shakespeare family. Before becoming a school building in the 1800s, this timbered Jacobean house was the residence of the Bard’s daughter Susanna and her husband, the renowned physician John Hall. Visitors can enjoy meandering Hall’s Crofts gardens and discovering the fragrant medicinal herbs that John Hall would have used in his remedies, before heading inside to see some the stunning paintings and furniture that adorn the interior of this 17th century property. Inside there is also a brand-new exhibition Method in the Madness,which explores what medicine was like in the time of John Hall. Don’t miss taking a peep at a syringe from the 1500s or testing out the “handling collection” which includes an amputation saw. We’re pretty sure it will make you feel grateful for our current medical practices…

Image credit: Brian Gibens via Flickr

Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Waterside, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6BB

After a day of exploring all of the historical Shakespearean sites that Stratford has to offer, what better way to finish than by enjoying the work of the Bard by catching a show at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Overlooking the stunning River Avon, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is a Grade II listed building which boasts many art deco features that were part of the original 1932 Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. Home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, the theatre’s stage is frequently graced with performances of William’s plays - they are currently showing beloved romantic comedy As You Like It- as well as modern works from other playwrights. Fun fact! The Royal Shakespeare Company are responsible for the production of modern musical classic Matilda, and it premiered on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s stage back in 2010. We wonder what the Bard would have thought of Tim Minchin’s witty wordplay… Even if you can’t stay in Stratford late enough to catch a performance, it’s still worth heading to the theatre in the day time as they offer a range of tours which will give you backstage access, and an insight into how the company take Shakespeare’s plays from page to stage. You can even take a walk up to the top of the theatre’s very own tower, which will give you a panoramic view over the town that was home to one of the greatest figures in English literature.