I am a medievalist in the process of completing a PhD (involving medieval medicine). I travel as much as possible at home (UK) and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences!
Published April 22nd 2012
Stratford-Upon-Avon is best known as Shakespeare's birthplace and the home of the world-class Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). In addition to offering the best of Shakespearean theatre, Stratford is a great city for walking and exploring. It is easily accessible from London (~2 hours drive) and all the major sights can be visited in a few hours time, thus making it perfect for day or weekend trips.
Most visitors come to Stratford for a performance by the RSC. A theatre tour is a great way to spend time before the show begins. The RSC theatre offers a selection of tours, but a behind-the-scenes tour is both highly interesting and interactive.
When I attended the behind-the-scenes tour, a performance of Julius Caesar had just finished. We were allowed to stand on the stage, which was still sticky with stage blood, and to say a few lines to the towering auditorium. We also toured the backstage and control areas, but the stories from the guide, who had been at the theatre for 25 years, were the most entertaining aspect of the tour.
She was full of show-stopping stories of plays gone wrong, actors who went missing mid-performance, out-of-control audience members, and malfunctioning equipment. In particular, our tour guide informed us that there was a 'blood fountain' formerly used to convey battle in the Julius Caesar production, which malfunctioned one evening and sprayed an unsuspecting front row with stage blood. It had to be promptly removed from the show and blood-red rose petals were deemed to be the safest alternative for future performances.
Shakespeare's birth-home, as well as his wife's cottage (Anne Hathaway) are open for tours. Shakespeare's home is ideally located in Stratford's main tourist area, while the cottage is about a mile's walk from the city centre. All necessary information about tours is available at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Holy Trinity Church, or Shakespeare's Church, was the site of Shakespeare's baptism and burial. It is also the burial site of his wife. In addition to those famous connections, the church is architecturally beautiful with large stained glass windows and unique masonry.
There are two typically English restaurants worth visiting on your trip to Stratford. Pasty Presto is right next to Shakespeare's birthplace on Henley Street. The restaurant serves traditional cornish pasties and unique choices, such as thai chicken or spicy chickpea and potato. There is also a selection of coffees and home-made cakes and pastries.
The Judith Shakespeare Tea Room is a must visit for those who love the tradition of English cream tea. The tea room is located in the former residence of Shakespeare's daughter and offers a delicious choice of pastries, scones, and all the tea-time favourites.
The home of Shakespeare, world-famous theatre, traditional English fare, lots of green space and a charming river, this striking and amiable city is a favourite choice for those looking for a truly English experience.