Dispatches from England Travelogue: Stratford-upon-Avon – Shakespeare Country

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It was William Shakespeare who wrote “parting is such sweet sorrow,” and that’s exactly how I felt when it was time to leave Stratford-upon-Avon, his birthplace and final resting spot, after a fun day spent there. And while the picturesque English town, located between London and Birmingham in Warwickshire, is full of literary history, it also has something for travelers with all sorts of interests.

My first surprise was all the shopping. Naturally, there are plenty of souvenir shops, containing everything from baby bibs with Shakespeare quotes to Union Jack umbrellas. But you’ll also find several large department stores and plenty of small, independent shops as well. Focus your time around Bards Walk and Henley Street, but you’ll find plenty of shops scattered all over the town.

Even if you’re not into history, the town itself is incredibly charming. We really enjoyed a long walk along the River Avon, which had wide paths, small dingys bobbing around in the water, and lots of benches to admire the view. You’ll also find street after street of Tudor homes. You’ll want your camera at the ready, because each time I looked one way, I was more impressed than I was with my previous view.

Theatre performances abound, even those aimed at children. Book in advance to catch a show, but also know that you may stumble upon impromptu sonnets and famous Shakespeare verses by actors at the various Shakespeare sites around town.

Naturally, for history lovers you can’t beat Stratford-upon-Avon. The life of Shakespeare dominates (you’ll find all the info you need about visiting the various Shakespeare properties here), but I think what I took away from my time here was more than just facts about this literary genius. I now have a much better understanding about what daily living was like during his lifetime.

So even if you don’t know your Hamlets from your Macbeths, it’s well worth a visit.

A few tips as you plan a trip:

  • You can park in the town centre (parking is plentiful, unlike in most historic British towns) and then walk to most of the attractions.
  • If it’s raining, I’d encourage you to buy a ticket on the bus tour that runs around town, so that you can maximize your sightseeing but avoid getting drenched.
  • Think about anything that you’ve always wondered about Shakespeare, or favorite lines or scenes from his plays. You’ll have many opportunities to ask questions of Shakespearean scholars and actors while you visit his home and other properties in town. I wish I had taken better advantage of these moments.
  • Consider staying overnight. I know it’s a popular place to go as a daytrip from London. But it is really difficult to see all the sites in one day, especially if you want to take time to shop or see a performance.
  • The town and the Shakespeare attractions are surprisingly family-friendly, even for those with young kids. I have lots of tips for visiting Stratford-upon-Avon with kids in this post.

I wondered out loud to my family if as a society we are a bit less smart than we were in Shakespeare’s time, given our difficulty in understanding his work, at least upon first read. But I certainly feel smarter for having visited Stratford-upon-Avon and more knowledgeable about the life and times of this gifted writer.

Disclosure: I was provided with a press pass which covered my entrance fee to the various Shakespeare properties.

Comments

  1. avatarGarden Of England Girl says

    “as a society are we a bit less smart than we used to be?”
    I don’t believe we are at all!!! His plays were never designed to be read. They were designed to be acted and watched! Apart from the differences between the cusp of modern English usage and today’s English, his plays are instantly understandable when watched.

    Go to the Globe in London if you haven’t been already. Probably the closest experience you can get to experiencing what it might have been like to watch them in Shakespeare’s time. It’s amazing!

  2. avatarCynthia says

    Having just returned from the UK, I have to say that Stratford-upon-Avon was a fabulous experience. (And not just due to seeing David Tennant perform live.) We actually extended our time there by a couple of days because we fell so in love with the town. I am a Shakespeare teacher by trade and so I expected to love that aspect of the place, but the town itself was magical and I cannot recommend highly enough taking a few days to have some beautiful and glorious down time in this village.

  3. avatar says

    I spent 5 days/4 nights in SAV in July 2012 just before the Olympics. Absolutely loved it. So peaceful and old-world charming, I will definitely be going back, especially to see more performances at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Highly recommend it!

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