Our guide to Stratford-upon-Avon

Once a quaint and unassuming market settlement, Stratford-upon-Avon is a picturesque town in its own right but was catapulted in to the limelight in the 16th century with the renown of one of its residents, William Shakespeare, and remains today one of England's most popular visitor destinations.

Stratford-upon-Avon is a charming market town straddling the banks of the river Avon. It was first developed as a trading centre for the farmers and fabric producers who worked the fertile pastoral lands surrounding the town and became a popular rest point for the stage coaches rattling through on journeys from London to the North of England. Today the town blends modern buildings with the beautiful facades of authentic Elizabethan timberwork structures as well as Victorian mock Tudor dwellings. The historic architecture combined with the array of colourful canal boats bobbing on the lazy waters of the Avon and the surrounding greens and parks makes Stratford a particularly picturesque town.

However, it is not Stratford-upon-Avon's beauty that pulls in more than 3 million visitors a year, but it's association with arguably the most famous Englishman ever to have lived and the ultimate master of the English language; William Shakespeare. The great bard was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 to humble middle class roots and although he left for London as a young man, where he developed his writing skills at the globe theatre, he returned, wealthy and well-known, to his beloved Stratford after his retirement in the early 1600s and remained there until his death some years later.

Today, situated at the centre of Shakespeare country, as the sign posts in the area will tell you, Stratford-upon-Avon is home to a wealth of Shakespeare related heritage sites ideal for anyone with a passing interest or an avid appetite for English language, literature and Shakespeare's works. In the centre of the town you will find Shakespeare's Birthplace Museum; consisting of a restored timberwork building and modern visitor centre, this is a comprehensive exhibition in to the life of Shakespeare and some of his best-known works. A short walk away you can visit the Holy Trinity Church, a charming 13th century sandstone structure, with pretty 14th century stained glass windows – it is here where you will find Shakespeare's final resting place.

The town however is home to an abundance of other Shakespeare related heritage sites including Nash's House and Halls Croft both of which were both once homes of Shakespeare's relations and which today house period carvings and original Elizabethan furnishings. On the outskirts of town you will find Anne Hathaway's Cottage and Mary Arden's House, properties which belonged to Shakespeare's wife and mother respectively and which have been magnificently preserved to offer further insight to the life and times of their famous relation.

If you are lucky enough to get tickets, you can experience one of Shakespeare's works produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company at one of Stratford's two theatres; the Royal Shakespeare Theatre or the Swan Theatre which has a traditional Elizabethan "in the round" stage.

If the town itself is not enough, Stratford-upon-Avon provides a pleasant touring base situated on the northern edge of the Cotswolds and close to other historic towns such as the charming medieval Warwick home to one of England's largest and most visited medieval fortresses at Warwick Castle. Stratford-upon-Avon will be a highlight of any tour of the historic towns of England and is an absolute "must" for any literary buffs.

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