Cox’s Yard pub features a riverside patio and frequent entertainment // © 2010 Kelly Rosenfeld
The Dirty Duck is a waterside establishment where many of the actors hang out // © 2010 Kelly Rosenfeld
William Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway are buried inside the Holy Trinity Church // © 2010 Kelly Rosenfeld
The River Avon flows through the middle of the scenic town // © 2010 Kelly Rosenfeld
Bensons restaurant, located in the heart of town, is a favorite place for high tea // © 2010 Kelly Rosenfeld
Though it’s been a year and a half since I spent a summer studying Shakespeare in England, I still remember my time in the small town of Stratford-upon-Avon as one of my fondest travel experiences. When I first found out that I would be spending two weeks in Shakespeare’s hometown, I imagined it as a sleepy roadblock on my way to London. I couldn’t have been more surprised to discover all it had to offer or to realize how much I would enjoy this riverside town that can be explored entirely on foot. From the obvious draw of the Royal Shakespeare Company to surprise adventures at the local pub, here are my favorite attractions in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The Royal Shakespeare Company
Even if you aren’t the Bard’s greatest admirer, no trip to Stratford would be complete without a visit to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). Some of the finest actors in the world regularly perform here, and the experience of seeing Shakespeare performed in this atmosphere is unlike any other theater experience. Adding to the appeal is the newly renovated theater, a project that took place from 2007 to 2011 and resulted in improved indoor and outdoor spaces. In addition to the classics, the theater also regularly puts on more contemporary productions in order to appeal to a wider range of audiences, and also hosts behind-the-scenes tours of the theater. Spring is an ideal time to visit as the World Shakespeare Festival launches on April 23 of this year, featuring special events, exhibitions, productions, education and more throughout England.
The Dirty Duck
Alternately known as the Black Swan, the Dirty Duck is a waterside establishment that offers a traditional English pub atmosphere — but with a few surprises. Only a two-minute walk from the RSC’s Swan Theater, the Dirty Duck is the place to be when the show is over, even if you didn’t actually attend it. After most performances, many RSC actors can be found here enjoying a post-show drink (or two or three), and are often willing to chat with fans. Needless to say, the place fills up quickly after shows, but it’s worth dealing with the crowd to have an evening drink along the river and enjoy the company of theater folk, especially if you’ve just seen them on stage.
Holy Trinity Church
For Shakespeare lovers, Holy Trinity Church is a must-see attraction. This ancient church and its surrounding courtyard are not only beautiful, but William Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway are buried inside. As a student studying the Bard, I felt obliged to visit the monument in the church that serves as his grave site, which features records of his baptism and burial, both of which took place inside Holy Trinity Church. The grave also houses a memorial to Shakespeare that was built during Anne Hathaway’s lifetime, and is thus said to be a good approximation of his appearance in life. The tranquil church and courtyard are worth a look even if you’re not interested in visiting Shakespeare’s grave. True fans can also visit five houses in and around Stratford that are connected to Shakespeare, including those where he and his family lived.
The River Avon flows through the middle of the scenic town, giving Stratford-upon-Avon its name. The river provides a great place for relaxing, taking a stroll, enjoying views of the picturesque town, taking pictures and even watching the swans that often float along the water. A variety of activities take place year-round on the river as well, from a boat race in the summer to river cruises and boats for private hire. Another way to enjoy the river is from Cox’s Yard pub, which features a family room with games, a riverside patio and frequent entertainment. Evenings can be spent here enjoying a variety of live entertainment, or just taking in the peaceful ambience provided by the close proximity to the river.
It would be a shame to visit England without taking part in afternoon tea. Bensons restaurant, located in the heart of town, quickly became my favorite place to enjoy this tradition. Bensons serves a huge array of teas, meals and pastries that can be enjoyed in its friendly front dining room, a more private and exotically decorated back room or outside on the patio, when the weather allows. The afternoon tea option includes a personal pot of tea and a freshly baked scone served with clotted cream and strawberry preserves. Between the delicious baked goods and the charming atmosphere, this is a great place to pass any afternoon.