15 Places You Can Visit to Celebrate the Life and Work of William Shakespeare
This year marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Though it’s been 400 years since the Bard stopped writing plays, inventing words, and punning up a storm, the Bard of Avon’s legacy is still as strong as ever. Shakespeare fans have no shortage of places from his life and work to make a pilgrimage to; if you need a starting place for your travels, here are 15 suggestions.
1. SHAKESPEARE’S BIRTHPLACE
Shakespeare was born and grew up in this house on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in addition to spending the first five years of his marriage to Anne Hathaway (no, not that one) there. Actors perform Shakespeare live here, and costumed guides tell stories from his family life.
2. SHAKESPEARE’S SCHOOLROOM AND GUILDHALL
Shakespeare attended the King Edward VI School, aka K.E.S., from approximately 1571 to 1578, from the ages of 7 to 14. The school is still in operation, with the Guildhall open to the public since 2016. Visitors can explore the classroom where Shakespeare studied and take part in a Tudor-era lesson.
3. SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE
The actual Globe Theatre where Shakespeare’s plays were performed during his lifetime has been out of commission since, oh, the 1600s. In 1997, a recreation of the Globe—called Shakespeare’s Globe—opened in London, just a few hundred yards from the original site. Theatre is performed here, Shakespeare and otherwise, and there are educational events for “families, individuals, schoolchildren, scholars, Shakespeare lovers and Shakespeare skeptics.”
4. HAMPTON COURT PALACE
Whereas the original Globe is dead and gone, another venue where Shakespeare’s plays were performed during his lifetime is still standing: the Great Hall in Hampton Court Palace, where Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men, set up shop for a stretch of time in the early 1600s. Aside from the Great Hall, visitors to Hampton Court Palace can see the Cumberland Art Gallery, the famous Hampton Court Maze, and the 450-year-old Chapel Royal.
5. JULIET’S BALCONY
Legend has it that a particular balcony in Verona is the very place where Romeo and Juliet had their famous tête-à-tête in Shakespeare’s most enduring romance. The house where the balcony is located used to be owned by the “Capello” family, and it’s the similarity of that name to “Capulet” that has made the balcony one of Verona’s most popular tourist attractions. There’s a bronze statue of Juliet in the courtyard outside, and people rub her right breast for luck, in addition to leaving love notes in the surrounding walls and doorways.
6. ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY
Since 1875, the Royal Shakespeare Company—then begun as the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Ltd.—has been helping to keep the legacy of Willy S. alive. The company performs Shakespeare and non-Shakespeare plays alike year-round in the Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres, both in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon.
If you want to get your Shakespeare on without venturing to the UK, another option is Washington, D.C.’s Folger Shakespeare Library, home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection. Visitors can take advantage of multiple tours, including tours of the library’s famous reading rooms every Saturday.
8. KRONBORG CASTLE
Situated an hour north of Copenhagen is Kronborg Castle, which you may know by another name: Elsinore, a.k.a. the royal castle that was home to Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius, and all their dead Danish friends. There’s some dispute as to whether Shakespeare ever visited Kronborg Castle, but we do know he set Hamlet there. A Shakespeare festival takes place there every summer, and there’s a daily tour titled “In Hamlet’s Footsteps.”
9. CHARLECOTE PARK
Charlecote Park, on the banks of the River Avon, is said to be the site of one of Shakespeare’s youthful indiscretions: poaching deer. He was caught, legend has it, and brought before local magistrate Sir Thomas Lucy. Lucy is said to have been satirized in The Merry Wives of Windsor as the vain Justice Shallow, though academics by no means agree on that point. Deer still roam in Charlecote Park, which is a favored spot for picnics and birdwatching.
10. SMALLHYTHE PLACE
Smallhythe Place in Kent is of interest not just to Shakespeare fans, but to those interested in costumery as well. The house was once inhabited by Dame Alice Ellen Terry (1847-1928), one of the leading Shakespearean actresses of her time. Smallhythe Place is now host to 250 costumes worn by Tracy, which have been subject to meticulous conservation efforts.
11. THE PAINTED ROOM
Though “easy to miss, or dismiss,” Oxford’s Painted Room hides a little slice of Shakespearean history behind an unassuming facade. The Painted Room, so called for its Elizabethan wall paintings, is part of what used to be the Crown Tavern, owned by one John Davenant. A friend of Davenant’s, Shakespeare would stay in the Crown when traveling between London and Stratford-upon-Avon. He was also friendly with Davenant’s wife, Jane; one of the many rumors surrounding Shakespeare is that he was the father of one of Jane’s sons. The Painted Room is a part of local Shakespeare celebrations and can be visited year-round.
12. MACBETH TRAIL
The so-called “Macbeth Trail” (less a “trail” than a variety of locations spread throughout Scotland, so don’t try to walk it) gives Shakespeare enthusiasts a chance to visit some of the places critical to the life of the ambitious, murderous Macbeth—both the Shakespeare character and the actual historical figure on which he’s based. (There are some differences.) Among the locations are the grounds of Inverness Castle, where Macbeth lived; the heath surrounding the town of Forres, where Macbeth had his encounter with the three witches; and Macbeth’s Stone, which is said to mark the spot where the real Macbeth was executed by Malcolm Canmore in 1057.
13. SHAKESPEARE CLIFF
King Lear fans can visit Dover’s so-called “Shakespeare Cliff,” which is said to have inspired the scene in which the blind Earl of Gloucester is tricked into thinking he survived jumping from a miraculous height. Shakespeare’s description of the cliff matches the real-life version, and Shakespeare and his company visited Dover around the time he was probably writing Lear. Less touristy than other Shakespeare attractions, Shakespeare Cliff is a good spot for fishing or taking a stroll.
14. THE WILLOW GLOBE
If a trip to London to see Shakespeare’s Globe isn’t your speed, just outside of Llandrindod Wells, Wales is the Willow Globe, a scaled-down outdoor version of the Globe made of trees. Per its website, “The Willow has been carefully woven into an organic and spiritual theater, starkly sculptural in spring, which is almost completely absorbed by its lush, green surroundings in summer months.” A variety of events take place there from April through September, among them educational events and community and professional productions of Shakespeare plays.
15. THE LONDON STONE
The London Stone is one of England’s odder tourist attractions, due to the fact that no one really knows why it’s supposed to be a big deal. There are many theories about the stone’s importance, one laid out by Shakespeare himself, who included it in Henry VI, Part 2 as a sort of prop that rebel leader Jack Cade used to declare himself Lord of the City. Nowadays, you can visit the Stone at the Museum of London, where it’s taking a long-term vacation during renovations to its usual home on Cannon Street, where it typically sits behind a metal grille looking like nothing so much as … a moderately-sized stone. In London.