The birthplace of the Bard, Stratford Upon Avon is a mecca for Shakespeare enthusiasts. Tourists descend on this city in hordes during the summer months, and everywhere I went there were lots of people.
The city doesn’t have much to offer besides its Shakespearean past, though. Outside the historic area, it’s just another English city. However, inside is another story. They’ve gone out their way to preserve and capitalize on the Bard and the city’s historic past.
There are numerous sites dedicated to the playwright – you can see his home, birthplace, theater, and final resting place. The Royal Shakespeare Company puts on numerous plays from the spring until the fall. This year, they are doing Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, Midsummer’s Night Dream, and The Merchant of Venice. The large theater they normally perform in is closed for renovation until 2009, but they are performing at the smaller Courtyard Theater down the street.
Outside of town, you can see Anne Hathaway’s cottage, birthplace of the Bard’s wife.
A good walking tour begins at the information center and meanders down the street along the Avon River. There you pass both Shakespeare theaters and a few nice houses before coming upon William Shakespeare’s burial site at Trinity Church. Also on that street is the Shakespearience, a museum that uses holograms to tell the Bard’s story. Trinity Church, where he is buried, has well-worn gravestones dating back many centuries in the surrounding courtyard. It is quite interesting to walk around and try to decipher the dates. The church itself is pretty basic, however, and not that spectacular.
From there, you can turn around and walk up towards Hall’s Croft (his daughter’s house) and see the remembrance garden dedicated to soldiers from World War II. Then, it’s a slight turn left and then a straight shot past a museum, his house, the town center, and then finally his birthplace.
It’s a great way to see Shakespeare’s life in reverse order, or you can walk it from his birth to death. The walk will take you through all the major tourist sites, the town center, and around a few streets by the church that are a bit out of the way from all the crowds. In fact, Stratford was pretty nice and relaxing when you got away from the chaos of the town center. You could just walk slowly and stare at all the homes without dodging crowds and cars.
Stratford center, despite the bustle, was surprisingly well-preserved. All around were buildings dating back to Tudor times, and, walking around, it was easy to imagine the Bard and his fellow countrymen walking through the streets.
High Street was the real highlight of the city for me. This street has house after house in the Tudor style, many dating as far back as Henry VIII’s time. Peering in, you can still see the original woodwork and low ceilings. For this history geek, it was fascinating.
Stratford is just a regular city, but around the center and in the nearby streets lies history – and lots of it. For any Shakespeare lover, Stratford is a must on your trip to England. However, if you want to see a show, make sure you book early as tickets are usually sold out, and getting a ticket the day of requires lots of luck.
If you don’t like William Shakespeare, however, then the city isn’t worth going to. There are far nicer places in England to spend your time if you have no interest in the Bard.