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Top 10 places in the UK for Shakespeare lovers

Guest - Tuesday March 29, 2016 8:00

web_shutterstock_25750953_-Shakespeare-staue,-Stratford-upon-Avon

Join Albion on their journey through Britain as they explore the top ten places to visit if you are a Shakespeare lover. Planning a trip to the UK to visit more National Trust properties or English country homes? Learn more about our tour partner Albion’s trips offered throughout 2016 and 2017. Make sure you pack your Royal Oak membership before your travels to receive unlimited access!

By Melodie Robson, Heritage Product Manager

2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, one of the world’s greatest playwrights.  Now is a great time to visit the places associated with his life and work, many of which are marking the occasion with special exhibitions and events. We’ve picked 10 of our favorite places.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe, London

A must-see for any Shakespeare fan, this modern recreation of Shakespeare’s famous theater is built very close to the site of the original Globe which stood in 1599.  This is your chance to watch a play just like someone in Shakespeare’s day might have done. For a truly authentic experience this means standing up among the crowd in the ‘yard’ in front of the stage. You are so close to the actors on the stage that you might be moved to heckle them, as the rowdy audiences of Shakespeare’s time might have done. As well as performances, the Globe experience also allows you to tour backstage or even visit a fascinating exhibition about Shakespeare’s life and the history of London. The Globe theater complex has a spectacular position on London’s Bankside, overlooking the River Thames. It is near to bars and cafes, as well as having its own restaurant on site, making it a lovely place to spend a sunny afternoon, even if the view of London’s skyline has changed considerably since Shakespeare’s time!

Photo courtesy of By C. G. P. Grey - C. G. P. Grey's Photography, CC BY 2.0

Photo courtesy of By C. G. P. Grey – C. G. P. Grey’s Photography, CC BY 2.0

British Library, London

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom with some amazing artifacts available for the public to view. As you might expect, Shakespeare is featured heavily in the library’s collection, with the First Folio being a particular treasure. The First Folio is the first collected edition of William Shakespeare’s plays, collated by two of his theater colleagues from the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and published seven years after his death, in 1623. Folio editions were large and expensive books, so-called to indicate the way the paper was folded within, and were seen as high-status items at the time. The Library’s display copy is one of the most widely seen First Folios in the world. The British Library owns five of the surviving 233 copies in existence.  A visit to the British Library unearths many other treasures of literary history as well, including Beowulf, the Lindisfarne Gospels , Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales,  Jane Austen’s History of England, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, making it a treasure trove for book lovers everywhere.

The George Inn, London

The George Inn, London

The George Inn, London

If you would like to experience having a drink in a pub that harks back to Shakespeare’s time then the George Inn is a great place to visit. This traditional English tavern can be dated to the late 16th century and is the last remaining original coaching inn in London. It is believed that both Shakespeare himself and, centuries later, Charles Dickens were visitors. Less than five minutes walk from the Globe theater, it is easy to imagine the bard stopping off at the George to celebrate another theatrical success with his friends.  The pub has everything you would expect from a historic drinking establishment: oak beams, latticed windows, slightly uneven floors and roaring log fires. You can also sit outside and admire the exterior of this lovely building. The pub also serves tasty food and is always very busy with both tourists and locals alike.  The George is looked after by the National Trust, so you are helping to support its work while enjoying your pint!

Oxford open air theater

There is evidence that Shakespeare knew and visited the university town of Oxford during his lifetime, including documentary evidence that The King’s Men, Shakespeare’s company of actors, performed plays in Oxford in 1610.  Oxford was also a popular place to rest on journeys between London and the Midlands, and it is strongly believed that Shakespeare was friends with a local innkeeper John Davenant, and may have stayed at Davenant’s tavern in Oxford on his travels.

This year Oxford will be holding a range of events to celebrate Shakespeare’s anniversary and association with the area. There will be a major exhibition at the Bodleian Library and a series of open air Shakespeare play performances and musical events. Enjoying open-air theater is an essential part of any summer’s day in Oxford and is a tradition amongst its residents. With easy transport routes from London, Oxford is easy to get to for a day or short break. Why not head to this fascinating historic city and experience watching a play under the stars?

Compton Verney House Exterior, John Cleary Photography

Compton Verney House Exterior, John Cleary Photography

Compton Verney

Situated at the gateway to ‘Shakespeare Country’, housed in a beautiful restored Georgian mansion and surrounded by 120 acres of Capability Brown landscaped parkland, Compton Verney is one of the UK’s best independent art galleries. The gallery features a wonderful restaurant and is a great place to spend a day out.

In addition to a permanent collection containing several portraits relevant to Shakespeare’s age, this year between March 19 and June 19 Compton Verney is holding a special Shakespeare anniversary exhibition, Shakespeare in Art. This major new exhibition focuses on pivotal Shakespeare plays and explores how they have motivated artists across the ages. In addition to paintings, the exhibition also features photography, projection and a sound score which promises to be a unique way of examining Shakespeare’s work.

Shakespeare's Birthplace, courtesy of Albion

Shakespeare’s Birthplace, courtesy of Albion

Stratford on Avon

Shakespeare was born and brought up in Stratford upon Avon, in the heart of the Midlands, and while he spent much of his adult life in London, he owned property in Stratford as an adult and kept close links to the town. You can discover much about Shakespeare’s world from visiting the fascinating houses in the town, wherever you go in Stratford you are never far away from Shakespeare! Shakespeare’s Birthplace was the house he was born and brought up in, while Hall’s Croft is the elegant Jacobean home where his daughter Susanna and her husband lived.

If you visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace between March 19 to June 5 this year, you can also experience a pop-up Pub! This property used to be an inn and you can see the Swan and Maidenhead pub return to life while meeting innkeepers, discovering Tudor brewing techniques and participating in some singing and dancing! You can even book a place on an evening ‘Shakes-beer tour’. Both properties are within easy walking distance of one another, in the center of town, while on the outskirts of Stratford you can also visit Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, to see where young William courted his future bride.

On a more sombre note, at nearby Holy Trinity Church on the banks of the River Avon, you can visit the church where Shakespeare was baptised, worshipped and was later buried.

Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall Stratford

If you visit Stratford in April this year you can be among the first to visit the recently restored Guildhall and see the room where William Shakespeare was educated and inspired to act and write. The opening of his schoolroom will allow visitors to learn how pupils in Shakespeare’s time were taught while the Guildhall itself tells the fascinating civic history of the town. Built in 1420, this beautiful timber-framed house is a rare example of a late medieval provincial Guildhall. Inside are a series of very rare wall paintings from the medieval period.

By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK - RST Stage

By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK – RST Stage

Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford

Also in Stratford, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is the iconic theater owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company. No visit to Stratford is complete without visiting the RSC,  and catching a play in this wonderful auditorium is an opportunity not to miss. The theater opened in 1932, and after its recent renovation in 2010, allows the audience to feel really close to the performers in this “one-room” theater. In celebration of Shakespeare’s anniversary year, the theater is staging a series of his plays, both his most famous works and some which are less regularly performed. In addition to the main theater, the RSC also has the smaller Swan Theatre and Other Space in Stratford which allows it to stage more experimental works and workshops.

Even if you don’t catch a performance here, the theater is still well worth a visit. You can take a backstage tour, or venture up to the top of the 32 metre- (apprx. 105 ft) high tower to experience some wonderful views of Stratford. The theater has a Rooftop Restaurant and bar serving delicious food. Downstairs you can also visit the Riverside Café for more relaxed dining. My favorite thing to do in Stratford is to eat outside the café, sitting on the riverbank. Just watch out for those greedy ducks!

Courtesy of the National Trust

Courtesy of the National Trust

Charlecote Park

It was Nicholas Rowe, Britain’s Poet Laureate and famous dramatist, who in the 16th century claimed that Shakespeare had been caught poaching deer at Charlecote Park. Even if this claim is spurious, it is a good excuse to visit National Trust- owned Charlecote, as it is a truly wonderful place to spend some time.

Home to the Lucy family for over 900 years, this Tudor Manor House just outside Stratford on Avon might have been modified by subsequent generations, but the general exterior still remains Elizabethan.

Queen Elizabeth I herself stayed at Charlecote and the interior of the house is as lavish as you would expect for a house graced by royalty, with richly colored wallpaper, fine paintings, decorated plaster ceilings and wood paneling. The Tudor Great Hall is particularly impressive with its barrel-vaulted ceiling. There are magnificent pieces of furniture and fine works of art, including a contemporary painting of Queen Elizabeth I. If you are feeling energetic, Charlecote Park also has extensive grounds which offer great walks around the estate.

Image courtesy of Albion

Image courtesy of Albion

Kenilworth Castle

There has been a castle in the Midlands town of Kenilworth since the Norman Conquest, and it enjoyed a long and prosperous history until severe damage in the English Civil War left it mostly in ruins. Rather than being forgotten, Kenilworth Castle has remained a much-loved landmark which has attracted countless visitors through the years, many drawn to the castle by its most famous story, which also offers us another link to Shakespeare. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, owned Kenilworth Castle in the 16th century and spent a fortune improving the house and gardens. Dudley had a very close relationship with Queen Elizabeth I, and was rumored to want to marry her, while she made him a favorite courtier and visited his castle several times. In 1575 she and her entourage were lavishly entertained for three whole weeks with pageants, music, dancing, fireworks, hunting and feasting. Dudley almost bankrupted himself in providing the most impressive spectacular for the Queen that England had ever seen, but the anticipated marriage never happened.

An 11 year old William Shakespeare was rumored to be among the large crowd of locals that gathered to watch these festivities, and they appear to have made an impression on him as they later were said to be an inspiration for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The story of Elizabeth’s visit also influenced Sir Walter Scott in the early 19th century to write his famous novel Kenilworth.

Today you can walk through a recreation of Dudley’s Elizabethan Garden, originally built for the Queen. This beautiful garden spills over with colourful and fragrant planting as well as regal marble fountains and an ornate aviary. Recent castle improvements mean that you can now explore the full height of Dudley’s tower, travelling 18 metres skywards. You can see the queen’s private staircase and the long gallery where she could have private time with her attendants.  While visiting the castle, do take time to walk into the old village nearby to enjoy refreshments in a traditional tea shop, or see the houses where potatoes were first grown in this country when they were brought over from America!

Would you like to visit Shakespeare’s places in his anniversary year? Albion are running a tour departing May 15 that follows In the Footsteps of Shakespeare.  The last few places are still available! Don’t forget to pack your Royal Oak membership card for your journey.

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topics: Travel