History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
The old town of Stratford is synonymous in the minds of most travellers with the name of its most famous citizen, playwright William Shakespeare. Shakespeare was born in 1564 in a half-timbered house in Henley Street and died at his house of New Place in 1616.
In between those dates, he wrote an astonishing range of plays and poetry which has become among the most treasured literary collections in the English language. So prolific a writer was Shakespeare, and so enduring his works, that later authors have suggested that this poorly educated man from the provincial town of Stratford upon Avon could not have written all the works attributed to him.
The theory goes that it would take a much better-educated scholar, well versed in classical literature, to create the volume of writing that Shakespeare produced. The most popular theory is that Shakespeare's works were written by Sir Francis Bacon, one of the most well-educated scientists and prolific scholars of the Elizabethan age.
Whether there is any truth to the rumours we shall probably never know, but if you visit Stratford upon Avon you can examine the evidence for yourself at Shakespeare's Birthplace, and stroll the lanes and byways that the Bard of Avon himself walked, over 400 years ago.
An upstairs room in the old medieval Guildhall was used as a school in Shakespeare's day, and it was here in Shakespeare's Schoolroom that young William received his formal education.
Shakespeare is buried in Holy Trinity church, and visitors can view not only his grave but the parish registers that recorded his birth and his death. The church is worth viewing in its own right, containing as it does architectural features that date back to the early 13th century.
One of its most fascinating features are the 26 misericords in the choir stalls. These misericords, or 'mercy seats' are fancifully decorated with carvings of mermaids and mermen, unicorns, and scenes of daily life.
Here are a few of the major attractions in Stratford. See individual attraction pages for more details.
The Shakespeare Properties
Several attractions in Stratford are grouped together under the administrative umbrella of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. A joint entry ticket is thus available for all 5 properties, which comprise:
A rambling half-timbered house on Henley Street where, it is believed, Shakespeare was born and spent his childhood years. By the time the house was purchased by a charitable trust in 1847, it had fallen into great disrepair.
A careful program of refurbishment and restoration was carried out, and a modern visitor centre more lately added, so that today's visitor can get a good glimpse into what Shakespeare's early life would have been like.
Located close to Holy Trinity church is Hall's Croft, a 16th-century timber-framed house named after Dr John Hall, who married Shakespeare's daughter Susanna in 1607.
Susanna and her husband moved from Hall's Croft to New Place after Shakespeare died, and today the house contains exhibits on medical practices during the Tudor period and furnishings that would have been used during the Tudor and early Stuart period.
Shakespeare purchased his retirement home of New Place in 1597, though he did not move in until 1610. At that time it was the second-largest dwelling in Stratford, and the only one built of brick. Shakespeare died in 1616, but it is thought that his wife, Anne, lived at New Place until her death seven years later.
The site of Shakespeare's New Place is marked by a replica of an Elizabethan Knot Garden, though the house itself is long gone (see our article on New Place to read the intriguing story of why!)
Beside the foundations of New Place is Nash's House, a 17th century half-timbered building that is home to the local history museum. Nash's house was owned by Thomas Nash, who married Shakespeare's grand-daughter, Elizabeth Hall.
Near Stratford, and reachable on foot if you don't mind a bit of a walk, is the village of Shottery. Here you will find the small thatched house known as Anne Hathaway's Cottage, the home of Shakespeare's wife before their marriage.
Aside from its connection with Shakespeare, Anne Hathaway's Cottage is notable as an excellent example of a half-timbered Elizabethan yeoman's house and is well worth visiting in its own right.
Three miles outside Stratford to the north lies Wilmcote. Here you will find the thatched, half-timbered Mary Arden's House, where Shakespeare's mother was born and lived. Mary Arden was the eighth daughter of Robert Arden, a rich yeoman farmer. The house itself has been refurbished as it would have looked in Tudor times, and the site hosts a museum of rural life, with displays and events covering rural crafts over the past four centuries.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
If you enjoy the theatre you don't need me to tell you about the RSC. It is THE Shakespeare theatre, hosting performances of Shakespeare's works with a cast of some of the finest actors and actresses available. If you are considering attending a performance, be aware that tickets may go quickly. However, if you don't mind standing at the back of the theatre, you can often get standing room tickets on the day of the performance for a considerable discount.
Stratford can be very crowded in the summer months. If you do come in summer, try to arrive early in the day, before the tour buses descend upon the town. If you arrive by car you will find paid parking at several public car parks near the river. Be aware, though, that the centre of Stratford is a confusing array of one-way streets, which can make navigation difficult if you do not know the area. A good satnav helps!
Now the good news - the old core of Stratford is contained within a relatively small area, so it is easy to walk from one attraction to another. And if you are feeling energetic it is not hard to walk to Shottery to see Anne Hathaway's Cottage, as noted above.
If you are not feeling quite so chipper, there are regular open-top bus tours of the town, leaving from the tourist information centre, which will give you an overview of the major attractions without any exertion.
Address: Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England
Attraction Type: Town
Photo Credit: South Warwickshire Tourism, licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence
We've 'tagged' this attraction information to help you find related historic attractions and learn more about major time periods mentioned.
Historic Time Periods:
Find other attractions tagged with:
13th century (Time Period) - 16th century (Time Period) - 17th century (Time Period) - Decorated (Architecture) - Elizabethan (Architecture) - Medieval (Time Period) - Restoration (Historical Reference) - Shakespeare (Person) - Stuart (Time Period) - Tudor (Time Period) - William Shakespeare (Person) -
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Nash's House - 0.1 miles (Historic Building)
New Place - 0.2 miles (Historic Building)
Shakespeare's Schoolroom & Guildhall - 0.2 miles (Historic Building)
Hall's Croft - 0.2 miles (Historic Building)
Shakespeare's Birthplace - 0.2 miles (Historic Building)
Tudor World - 0.2 miles (Museum)
Stratford upon Avon, Holy Trinity Church - 0.4 miles (Historic Church)
Anne Hathaway's Cottage - 0.9 miles (Historic Building)
Nearest Accommodation to Stratford-upon-Avon: