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The author of some of the most quoted lines ever written in the English language, William Shakespeare was born in Stratford in 1564 and died here in 1616. Experiences linked to his life in this unmistakably Tudor town range from the touristy (medieval re-creations and Bard-themed tearooms) to the humbling (Shakespeare’s modest grave in Holy Trinity Church) and the sublime (taking in a play by the world-famous Royal Shakespeare Company).
You’ll find quite a few great restaurants on Church Street just a couple of minutes’ walk from Old Town and Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried. However, No. 9 Church Street is a firm favourite. Opened in 2010, this place’s restaurant serves excellent seasonal British cuisine. Chef Wayne Thompson has previously worked in the kitchens of The Savoy and Claridge’s in London, and under great figures such as Alain Ducasse and Bruno Loubet. On the dinner menu you can find dishes like loin of lamb with purple potatoes, asparagus and wild garlic pesto. There’s also a mixed grill of Cornish fish caught that day served with Jersey potatoes.
Loxley’s Restaurant and Wine Bar can boast a Diners Choice Award for 2015 based on quality feedback. It’s on the historic Sheep Street that leads down to the river where you’ll find the theatres – so it’s perfect for a pre-theatre meal. Based in what used to be a clothes shop, Loxley’s has an al fresco courtyard for summer dining or a welcoming log fire for the winter. As well as good food you can sample some fine champagne including Dom Perignon and Laurent Perrier. The food menu is full of seasonal produce with dishes such as rack of lamb served with truffle dauphinoise and a rosemary and redcurrant jus. There are also 14oz Chateaubriand steaks for two to share.
The Opposition Bistro is a favourite among theatre-goers. It’s a great spot for food that you’ll find on Sheep Street in central Stratford. They’ve got 20 years of experience serving up quality food here, and are the number three rated restaurant in the town. They’ve had a good write-up in the prestigious Harden’s Guide. It’s a fine historic Stratford building with a smart modern interior. Among the main courses to be sampled on the menu are salmon fishcakes on a bed of spinach with sorrel sauce or pork fillet with pork belly served with creamed potato and savoy cabbage. Another good option is the Cajun chicken with salsa and chips.
Shakespeare’s birthplace is a lovely two-story, half-timbered complex, its interior unaltered and reflecting the residential lifestyle of a lower middle-class family in the second half of the 16th century. The rooms have been carefully arranged with period furniture, one of them housing the First Folio edition of his works (1623). Look for the window on which many illustrious visitors have scratched their names, including Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and John Keats.
Admission includes the fascinating Shakespeare’s Treasures Exhibition, with its rotating displays of memorabilia; Shakespeare Aloud, a chance to watch his plays being brought to life by a troupe of professional actors; and a look at the Glover’s Workshop, with its displays of tools relating to the Bard’s earlier profession as a glove maker. Adjoining Shakespeare’s birthplace is the Shakespeare Centre, headquarters of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, with its library and study rooms.
On the banks of the River Avon, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is home to the Royal Shakespeare Company and consists of a unique “one-room” theater that allows actors and the audience to share the same space, just as they did in Shakespeare’s time.
In addition to hosting the works of the great Bard, the theater is home to a rooftop restaurant with stunning views over the River Avon, a riverside café and terrace, and a colonnade linking it to the Swan Theatre. It also has exhibition space with displays related to the RSC’s productions, and its 118-foot-high tower offers excellent views across the town and the surrounding area. Afterwards, explore the riverside walk stretching from Bancroft Gardens and the Gower Memorial (1888) to the Church of the Holy Trinity (excellent guided walking tours are available throughout the year).
Just a few minutes’ walk from the old city center and a fun break from its many Shakespeare-themed attractions, Stratford Butterfly Farm consists of a number of tropical greenhouses with countless free-flying butterflies. Other highlights include exotic birds (some of them also free-flying), as well as the fascinating Caterpillar Room, with its butterfly breeding programs. Other insects on display include stick insects, praying mantis, and giant millipedes, along with a variety of spider species including tarantulas; black widows; and the massive Goliath Birdeater, the world’s largest arachnid.