Many towns and cities can lay claim to be proud of something. For Stratford upon Avon it’s history and heritage relating to a single person has made it a location for popular tourism for people all over the world. Even if you do not know the connection already you will have heard of the person. William Shakespeare was born in Stratford upon Avon in 1564, and from his birthplace to the church where he is buried, you cannot escape references to him throughout the town.
To no surprise, there are many places to visit about Shakespeare through the Shakespeare Birthplace trust, but beyond Shakespeare what else is there to do Stratford upon Avon? When I arrived at my guesthouse I was greeted by the owner, a Frenchman called Pascal, who made me feel welcome and he enthusiastically told me about what there was to do and highlighted it all on a map for me. Here is what I discovered to be the top five things to do in Stratford upon Avon:
1. See a play at the Royal Shakespeare Company
A number of plays are performed during the winter and summer seasons at the RSC meaning you can always see contemporary versions of Shakespeare’s work. I was fortunate to see As You Like It that was running from February till August. At the RSC there are two theatres both of Elizabethan style, Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Swan Theatre. Where I was in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre tickets for the main performances range from £16 (with part restricted view) up to £59.50.
The closer you sit to the stage, the greater chance there is of you being involved in the performance one way or another. Audience participation was a part of the performance in Shakespeare’s plays during his time in London. Combining this with an Elizabethan style theatre brings a more authentic Shakespearean experience to a modern audience. As You Like It is a romantic comedy and encapsulated the spirit of audience participation.
2. Backstage tour of the Royal Shakespeare Company
As well as seeing a Shakespearean play close up on stage, there is also the opportunity to get close up backstage as well. For as little as £9, you are shown the intimate dressing room used all by actors backstage, the corridor with all the rails of clothes for each performance, control room and storage cupboard for all the props. The tour provides a better understanding of the work that happens to make what is seen on stage look seamless. It was my first tour of this kind and when you factor in that with your backstage ticket you can go up the RSC tower for an extra £1 it becomes a worthwhile experience.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
The home of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway is a good twenty-minute walk from Stratford upon Avon. The walk is pleasant as long as there is nice weather. Originally a farmhouse, the cottage was built in 1463 with the kitchen and parlour still remaining from the original construction. Over nine acres can be explored in this romantic setting. Close to the cottage is a path through woodland, suitable setting for a peaceful walk.
Back in Stratford upon Avon, a few minutes walk from the RSC is the Stratford upon Avon Butterfly Farm. Visitors can walk in a tropical environment with hundreds of butterflies feeding and flying around. With the humid conditions, there is an area to hang coats and jackets before heading inside. In addition to this what I liked most was the leafcutter ant colonies on display. Like me, if you enjoy watching thousands of ants busy at work collecting leaves this will be an added bonus to the butterflies.
Stratford Town Walk
For just £6, you can go on a two-hour walking tour around Stratford. Your tour guide will tell you all sorts of facts and stories about the towns beloved Shakespeare. The enthusiasm of the tour guide kept me interested throughout the walk and they are more than happy to answer any questions. The walk begins by the Swan Fountain, moving to the River Avon past the RSC, to Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried and finishes at Shakespeare’s Birthplace. With your ticket, you’ll even be given discount vouchers to use in various places across the town.
With the town not being very big, a long weekend trip is plenty of time to explore. I wasn’t too interested in seeing the plays of William Shakespeare however after visiting Stratford upon Avon I have been inspired to see more and explore the Globe Theatre in London. The town embraces the popularity it has because of Shakespeare and as such, it is difficult to explore places without any reference to him.
This is by no means a reason to not visit Stratford, in fact, it is the opposite. Embracing the life and legacy of William Shakespeare is part of the experience of visiting. Going for a walk along the River Avon and visiting the Butterfly Farm are examples of freeing yourself from Shakespeare and are just as enjoyable. These five things to do in Stratford upon Avon are certain to make any trip to the town worthwhile.
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