There are few towns in the UK that will, quite literally, allow you to walk in the footsteps of one of the most important literary figures of all time. But as the birthplace and hometown of the great William Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon does exactly that. The pavements may be different, but the fact that this incredibly beautiful town, with its ancient thatched cottages, winding river and Jacobean brickwork is so well preserved allows visitors to walk past, and through, the very buildings that he would have known and seen with his own eyes. Combining history with a strong modern day culture and arts scene, and easily accessible from many major cities, a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon will transport you to the 16th century, but with all the conveniences of modern life.
There are numerous stops on the Shakespeare trail, including New Place, which is a reconstruction of where the playwright died in 1616, his school house, and Mary Arden's farm, where his mother was born and which shows how a Tudor farm would have looked. That said, there's a few you should not miss:
Shakespeare's birthplace: As the name would suggest, it was here, in 1564, that the poet and playwright was born, grew up and where he spent the first five years of his marriage to Anne Hathaway. Today, it is a small museum shedding light on his early life.
Anne Hathaway's Cottage: The birthplace and home of Shakespeare's wife, this pretty 600-year-old thatched cottage is reputedly where he originally wooed her. Shakespeare may have famously left Anne his "second best bed" in his will, but this house displays her own furniture collection, including her own intricately carved four-poster bed.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre: Where better to see one of Shakespeare's plays performed than right on his doorstep? This 1000+ capacity theatre is owned by the world-famous Royal Shakespeare Company and frequently stages his best known works. The cast will more than likely feature a big name or two - among the well-known thespians that have performed with the RSC are David Tennant and Patrick Stewart.
Although the Shakespeare trail can easily take a full day, more if you're really enthusiastic, the town also has plenty more to offer visitors. Among the other attractions are the MAD Museum, a highly interactive mechanical arts museum which showcases all kinds of wacky gadgets, and the Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm, an indoor simulation of a tropical rainforest with waterfalls, free flying butterflies and birds.
Driving to Stratford-upon-Avon is simple, with the town located just 15 minutes off the M40, and close to the M42 and M6.
Direct trains run multiple times per day between London Marylebone station and Stratford-upon-Avon and take just over two and a half hours; there are also two trains from Birmingham every hour, a journey that takes roughly 45 minutes.