10 Things to Love About Stratford-upon-Avon

To Be or Not to Be in Stratford-upon-Avon?

Without reservation, the answer is To Be, for Stratford-upon-Avon is not only the birthplace of Shakespeare—the greatest playwright of all time—but a beautiful medieval market town with lots to see and do.

Here are 10 of the best.

1. Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Described as “a Mecca for all lovers of literature”, this restored 16th-century half-timbered house on Henley Street is where William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and spent his formative years.

Considered a substantial dwelling for the time, it was divided into two parts: living accommodations and a separate area for Shakespeare’s father to conduct his business as glove maker and wool dealer.

Shakespeare's Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon
Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon

Over the centuries, changes were made to the original façade, and so in 1847, with the aid of luminaries like Charles Dickens, the house was purchased and restored to its original 16th-century appearance.

Shakespeare's birthplace as it appeared in 1847 in the Illustrated London News
Shakespeare’s birthplace as it appeared in 1847 in the Illustrated London News

At the back of the house, the walled garden has been specially planted with flowers and herbs known to be from Shakespeare’s time.

Rearview of Shakespeare's Birthplace. Credit Michele Walz Erikson
Rearview of Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Credit Michele Walz Erikson
Shakespeare's Birthplace (Gardens). Credit Tony Hisgett
Shakespeare’s Birthplace (Gardens). Credit Tony Hisgett
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.William Shakespeare
The view towards Henley Street from the upper floor of William Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford Upon Avon. Credit Ozeye
The view towards Henley Street from the upper floor of William Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford Upon Avon. Credit Ozeye

2. Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

About one mile west of Stratford-upon-Avon sits a beautiful 12-roomed farmhouse where Anne Hathaway, the wife of William Shakespeare, spend her childhood.

Known as Hewlands Farm in the 16th century, it had more than 90 acres of land and is about three times the size of a typical cottage.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage. Credit Tony Hisgett
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Credit Tony Hisgett
The kitchen in Anne Hathaway's Cottage. Credit Baz Richardson
The kitchen in Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Credit Baz Richardson

3. Mary Arden’s Farm

Owned by Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Shakespeare, née Arden (c. 1537 – 1608), this working farmhouse in the village of Wilmcote, about three miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, gives visitors a good idea of what 16th-century farm living was really like.

Included in the rare animal breeds kept at the farm are Mangalitza and Tamworth pigs, Cotswold sheep, Long Horn cattle, Baggot and Golden Guernsey goats, geese, and even a Hooded Vulture.

Mary Arden's Farm, Wilmote. Credit Elliott Brown, flickr
Mary Arden’s Farm, Wilmote. Credit Elliott Brown, flickr
Mary Arden's Farm courtyard, Wilmote. Credit Nathan Reading, flickr
Mary Arden’s Farm courtyard, Wilmote. Credit Nathan Reading, flickr

4. Hall’s Croft

Housing a collection of 16th- and 17th-century paintings and furniture, Hall’s Croft was once the home of William Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna Hall, and her husband Dr John Hall.

The impressive walled garden contains plants that Dr Hall may have used in his obscure medical practices—about which there are further exhibits inside the house.

Stratford-upon-Avon. Hall's Croft - Shakespeare's daughter's house. Baz Richardson
Stratford-upon-Avon. Hall’s Croft – Shakespeare’s daughter’s house. Baz Richardson
Hall's Croft, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit Michelle Walz Eriksson
Hall’s Croft, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit Michelle Walz Eriksson

5. Holy Trinity Church

Known as the place of baptism (1564) and burial (1616) of William Shakespeare, Holy Trinity Church is Stratford-upon-Avon’s oldest building, dating from 1210.

Buried next to him are his wife Anne Hathaway and eldest daughter Susanna.

Just one month before Shakespeare’s death, his son-in-law was found guilty of fathering an illegitimate son by a woman who died in childbirth. The shame of such an incident would have brought great distress to the family and may have hastened William Shakespeare’s demise.

Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit Palickap
Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit Palickap
Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit Poliphilo
Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit Poliphilo
William Shakespeare's grave, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon. Credit David Jones
William Shakespeare’s grave, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon. Credit David Jones

In modern English, the inscription reads:

Good friend for Jesus sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

6. Nash’s House and New Place

Converted into a museum that traces the history of Stratford-upon-Avon from the earliest known records, Nash’s House on Chapel Street sits next to the ruins and gardens of Shakespeare’s last residence, known as New Place.

Shakespeare died at New Place in 1616, leaving the house to his daughter, Susanna, who moved in with her husband Dr John Hall.

Nash's House, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit summonedbyfells
Nash’s House, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit summonedbyfells
Shakespeare's final home, called 'New Place'
Shakespeare’s final home, called ‘New Place’

7. Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Home to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), the recently redeveloped theatre complex sits on the banks of the River Avon and is dedicated to the life and works of William Shakespeare.

Going back to its roots, the “one-room” theatre brings actors and audience closer together, with a stage that reaches out into an audience on three sides—creating a more personal, traditional Shakespearean theatre experience.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit MylesMc
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit MylesMc
Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

The redeveloped theatre takes design inspiration from the first Victorian memorial theatre complex, with the observation tower providing the same commanding views of the River Avon and environs.

The first Shakespeare Memorial theatre complex, pictured in the 1890s
The first Shakespeare Memorial theatre complex, pictured in the 1890s

8. Walking the beautiful Tudor-lined streets

The name Stratford derives from a combination of the Old English strǣt, meaning “street”, and ford, where a road forded the river Avon.

As you walk Stratford-upon-Avon’s streets, you are immersed in the timber-framed Tudor architecture of Shakespeare’s era.

Stratford-upon-Avon High Street. summonedbyfells
Stratford-upon-Avon High Street. summonedbyfells

Until around the late 19th century, sheep from the nearby Cotswold Hills were brought to slaughter in Sheep Street.

Sheep Street, Stratfrd-upon-Avon. Credit Baz Richardson
Sheep Street, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit Baz Richardson

One of the oldest buildings in Stratford-upon-Avon, a resident of Shrieves House on Sheep Street (below) is said to have been the inspiration for the character Sir John Falstaff—appearing in three of Shakespeare’s plays.

Military and political leader Oliver Cromwell, who beheaded King Charles I of England, is thought to have stayed here in 1651.

Shrieves House. Credit Tony Hisgett
Shrieves House. Credit Tony Hisgett
Shrieves House. Credit Elliott Brown
Shrieves House. Credit Elliott Brown

Just off Sheep Street is Shrieves walk, a very quaint walkway with several small independent stores, including a Vintage Clothing shop.

With its many al fresco cafés and street entertainers, Henley Street is a pedestrian tourist and shopping precinct.

Henley Street, Stratford Upon Avon. Credit Gambitek
Henley Street, Stratford Upon Avon. Credit Gambitek
The Nutcracker Christmas gift shop, Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit Palickap
The Nutcracker Christmas gift shop, Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit Palickap

9. Sightseeing Tours

From “hop-on hop-off” open top buses, to relaxing canal and river cruises, there are lots of ways to see and experience Stratford-upon-Avon’s many delights.

Open Top Bus Tour. Credit Martin Arrand, flickr
Open Top Bus Tour. Credit Martin Arrand, flickr

Centrally located between the main shopping streets and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is Stratford Canal Basin, a bustling mooring center for Canal and River tours.

Whether you prefer a leisurely 45-minute cruise or lunch, dinner, or cream tea aboard the “Countess of Evesham” luxury restaurant cruiser, you’ll find it here, along with a large selection of snack and ice-cream vendors.

Stratford-upon-Avon canal basin. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Stratford-upon-Avon canal basin. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. Credit Roger Kidd
Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. Credit Roger Kidd
River Cruises, Stratford-upon-Avon
River Cruises, Stratford-upon-Avon

10. Pubs, Restaurants, and Hotels

Whether you prefer cozy pubs with a fireplace or the opulence of a Victorian mansion, Stratford-upon-Avon has a wealth of options for accommodations and dining.

Garrick Inn is reputedly the oldest pub in town. Although the precise date of construction is not known, it is considered to be built in the late 16th century, with parts dating back to the 1300s.

Garrick Inn and Harvard House. Credit Tony Hisgett
Garrick Inn and Harvard House. Credit Tony Hisgett
The Windmill Inn, Church Street, Stratford-upon-Avon
The Windmill Inn, Church Street, Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon. The Shakespeare Hotel. Credit summonedbyfells
Stratford-upon-Avon. The Shakespeare Hotel. Credit summonedbyfells
Stratford-upon-Avon, Falcon Hotel. Credit Palickap
Stratford-upon-Avon, Falcon Hotel. Credit Palickap
Falcon Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon
Falcon Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon
Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit Heather Cowper
Menzies Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon. Credit Heather Cowper
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew Stratford. A place of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. Alas, can it be time to leave already?
Stataue of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Stratford-upon-Avon, by Lord Ronald Gower
Statue of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Stratford-upon-Avon, by Lord Ronald Gower

To many, Colin Firth IS Mr Darcy

Seen as a promising, upcoming British actor in the 1980s and labeled as one of the “Brit Pack”—British actors who achieved success in Hollywood, Colin Firth’s career skyrocketed after he appeared in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Many believe he truly IS Mr Darcy …

Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy is widely regarded as one of the most iconic performances in the history of period dramas. Firth’s interpretation of the enigmatic and brooding Mr. Darcy has left an indelible mark on both fans of the original novel and newcomers to Austen’s world, solidifying his status as a quintessential leading man in the realm of British period dramas.

Capturing the Essence of Mr. Darcy

Colin Firth brought a unique blend of charisma, sophistication, and vulnerability to the character of Mr. Darcy. In the early scenes of Pride and Prejudice, Firth perfectly encapsulates Darcy’s aloofness and reserve, making the character seem distant and proud. However, as the narrative unfolds, Firth skillfully reveals the layers beneath Darcy’s exterior, gradually exposing the character’s depth and inner conflict.

One of the most memorable scenes is Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth Bennet, played by Jennifer Ehle. Firth’s portrayal during this pivotal moment is a masterclass in conveying complex emotions. The intensity of his feelings, veiled by societal norms and personal pride, is palpable as he struggles to articulate his emotions. Firth’s performance makes the audience empathize with Darcy’s internal turmoil, adding a layer of complexity to the character that goes beyond the pages of Austen’s novel.

Darcy’s first proposal.

The Infamous Wet Shirt Scene

No discussion of Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice would be complete without mentioning the now-legendary “wet shirt” scene. This moment, in which Darcy takes a plunge into a lake on his estate, became an instant cultural phenomenon. Firth’s chiseled jawline and brooding expression, combined with the soaked white shirt clinging to his form, created an iconic image that has since become synonymous with romantic heroism.

The wet shirt scene not only showcased Firth’s physical appeal but also underscored the vulnerability and authenticity he brought to the character. It was a departure from the traditional stoicism associated with period drama heroes, allowing audiences to see a more human side of Mr. Darcy.

Impact on Pop Culture

Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice has transcended the boundaries of the small screen, becoming a cultural touchstone. The character has been parodied, referenced, and reimagined in various forms of media, with Firth’s performance serving as the definitive template for future portrayals of Darcy in popular culture.

Firth’s legacy as Mr. Darcy is so enduring that he even reprised the role in the 2001 film Bridget Jones’s Diary, a modern-day adaptation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This self-aware nod to his iconic character further solidified Firth’s place in the hearts of fans worldwide.

Watch Pride and Prejudice (Restored) on Prime Video.

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Trivia

When Helen Fielding, author of “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, created the character Mark Darcy, she had both Mr. Darcy from this production and the actor Colin Firth in mind. Colin Firth played Mark Darcy in the “Bridget Jones’s Diary” movie.

Hard to believe today, but Colin Firth initially declined the role of Mr. Darcy.

The china used for tea by the Bennett family is Royal Crown Derby Royal Antoinette.

The original plan for the Lake Scene, as written by Andrew Davies (House of Cards, Bridget Jones’s Diary), was for Colin Firth to be completely naked. But both Colin and the BBC were too prudish to entertain the idea.

Lyme Park in Cheshire, England, was the location used for the exterior of Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate.

Lyme Park, Disley, Cheshire. Credit highlights6
Lyme Park, Disley, Cheshire. Credit highlights6

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