It would be remiss of us to ignore the influence that literary great William Shakespeare has had on modern day tourism. To explore Shakespeare’s birthplace you have to visit Stratford-upon-Avon and its popularity its unflinching. Thanks to this great English poet, it is one of the most famous towns in the world, not just in England. Unfortunately, that means that during the summer months it’s full of tourists eagerly clutching guide books and taking photos of ye olde worlde buildings.
To be or not to be (sorry, couldn’t resist), if you do have a high queue tolerance then you should definitely make the pilgrimage to the most famous landmarks: the three theatres (The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, The Swan Theatre and The Other Place), Shakespeare’s Birthplace on Henley Street, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Gardens, the home of Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden, and Holy Trinity Church where he is buried.
But if you want to add in something a little different when you visit Stratford-upon-Avon, allow us to let you in on some fascinating facts about the Bard’s town…
8 alternative reasons to visit Stratford-upon-Avon
- If you like your towns to come with added star power then The Dirty Duck is the pub for you. It comes with a high celebrity count. Members of the RSC will usually head there after a performance and during rehearsals it is chockablock with thespians. Yet despite the continued presence of stage royalty, many locals still prefer to talk about the time that Kylie Minogue pulled a pint there!
- The Michaelmas funfair (known locally as The Mop) is a two day event that takes place in October. Historically the local children got the day off from school as the traffic made it hard for school buses to drive through the town – although that’s a pretty thinly veiled excuse for teachers just getting a day off isn’t it… The local mayor used to open the fair and was offered a free ride on anything that he or she wanted to go on. But the canny youths of the town soon cottoned on that if they followed the dignitary around then they too got a free ride, so the mayor was usually mobbed by lunchtime!
- The town has two grammar schools – one for the boys and one for the girls. The boys’ one is in the centre of town and any old boy will take great pleasure in boring you for hours about how Shakespeare went to their school and sat at their desk and learnt Latin in the same classroom as them and yadda yadda yadda. But the girls’ school in nearby Shottery has Shakespearean links too. Not only is it down the road from Anne Hathaway’s Cottage but legend has it that Shakespeare proposed to Anne in what is now the school’s music room. Everyone wants a claim to fame…
- The oldest pub in Stratford-upon-Avon is reportedly The Garrick Inn, which dates back to the 1400s. It has an impressive history (again the locals can fill you in) but rumour has it that many former drinkers return for a spiritual pint after dark – do you dare to share a tipple with someone from the other side…
- In the 18th century William Gastrell bought New Place. Some believe that this was where Shakespeare had lived and that Gastrell soon got fed up of visitors looking through the windows, so he demolished it. Others tell that previous owners had already demolished Shakespeare dwelling and that Gastrell tore down the mulberry tree in the grounds that Shakespeare has planted to reduce tourist pilgrimages. What actually happened? We will probably never know, but every great tourist destination needs a queriable legend, doesn’t it!
- Every year a Shakespearean parade makes its way through the town for Shakespeare’s birthday in April. It is wonderfully eccentric and fun. Local Stratfordians, along with VIPs and Shakespeare fans from the stage and screen dress up in Elizabethan garb and walk through the cobbled streets accompanied by musicians and schoolchildren.
- For those who finally get Shakespeare’d out, Stratford-upon-Avon is also home to the UK’s largest tropical butterfly farm. You can see colourful butterflies, creepy crawlies and even visit ‘Arachnoland’. See you there…?!
- You have to be eagle-eyed to notice them but Stratford-upon-Avon has been given lamp posts by councils from across the world and these now line the town’s streets. They have different designs and plaques on them and could well be used to create a fun treasure hunt for a bored child (or adult even). Hours of free fun!
So next time you head in search of some literary or thespian inspiration, spare a thought for the locals trying to make their way across town. Darn tourists!
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