Shakespeare landmarks to visit in London (and beyond)
Most of Shakespeare’s most famous plays take place beyond the borders of his homeland: Italy, France, Bohemia, Denmark. But Shakespeare left many traces of his life in the country where he built his career, even if he didn’t depict it very often.
If you’re traveling in and around London today, take a tour of famous Shakespearean spots —with some less well-known stops along the way.
The Globe (Bankside)
Where else can we start? This replica of the theatre Shakespeare partly owned was built by an American, Sam Wanamaker, in 1997. You can take guided and audio tours to learn more about the history of the playhouse and about the theatrical scene in London in Shakespeare’s day.
Because the riverbank was extended in the 19th century, the theatre’s current location is actually a few yards away from the original site of the Globe, which is marked by a plaque. Just go west on Park Street, just behind the Globe, to find it.
Also see: The Rose. Right between the new Globe and the old Globe, you’ll pass it on Park Street as you walk from one to the other. The Rose was also a playhouse in Shakespeare’s day—it’s where they perform in Shakespeare in Love—and unlike the Globe, you can actually take a look at the remnants of the foundation of the playhouse. There’s a great exhibit about the archaeological dig that took place at the site and the interesting things they found there.
The George Inn (Borough High Street)
If you need a drink or a snack after wandering Bankside, head to The George Inn, the only remaining “galleried” inn in London. This means that you can still see the little balconies that look down onto a central courtyard, where back in Shakespeare’s day, troupes of players would perform while people watched, pint in hand, from those galleries.
Not only does this give you an image of what people mean when they talk about innyards, The George was around in Shakespeare’s day and the rumour is that he and the other theatre folk occasionally drank there.
Also see: The White Hart. If you head north up Borough High Street, you’ll find a little plaque in an alleyway commemorating the location of a pub called The White Hart, which is specifically referenced by name in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part Two. Yes, it’s obscure, but it’s one of Shakespeare’s only plays to go into detail about London landmarks, so it gives us a nice idea of the kinds of places he was seeing and thinking about when he first came to London.
This massive church would have been well-known to anyone living and working in Bankside. And it was definitely known to Shakespeare: his brother Edmund, who was also an actor, is buried here. It’s also the resting place of other famous theatre folk from the period, including Shakespeare’s protégé John Fletcher and impresario Philip Henslowe.
Also see: Blackfriars. From the Cathedral, it’s a short walk across the river towards Blackfriars Station to an unassuming spot called Playhouse Yard, which marks the location of the Blackfriars Playhouse. This was Shakespeare’s second theatre, the indoor playhouse for which famous late plays like The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale were probably written. The Globe now has a reconstructed indoor playhouse of its own, but you can look at the original location here.
The Theatre (Shoreditch)
If you walk from Bankside to Shoreditch, you’ll be following in the footsteps of Shakespeare and his business partner and leading man, Richard Burbage. The Burbage family lived in Shoreditch, and for a time so did Shakespeare, so you can trace their daily commute to work on foot (or on the bus or tube, of course). This wasn’t always such a long trip: early in Shakespeare’s career, he wrote and performed in a playhouse called The Theatre. You can find a plaque commemorating it on Curtain Road, where soon you’ll also be able to find an exhibition dedicated to the Curtain Playhouse.
Also see: St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch. This was the ‘Actor’s Church’ of its day, and on the second floor, hidden away in the stairway, you can find a beautiful sign commemorating the theatrical professionals from Shakespeare’s day, including Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert, who were buried there.
The Cockpit Pub (St. Paul’s)
Near Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the Cockpit Pub is built near what used to be called Priory Gatehouse, which was the site of a house Shakespeare bought near the end of his life. Now, you can grab a drink in this quirky Georgian-era pub, which has a plaque outside commemorating Shakespeare.
Also see: St. Giles Cripplegate. This church, just north of St. Paul’s Cathedral, is best known being the burial place of the poet John Milton. However, one of its key benefactors in the 1600s was the actor Edward Alleyn (again, you might remember the version of him from Shakespeare in Love). Alleyn and his father-in-law Philip Henslowe were the proprietors of the Rose, along with some other playhouses, and Alleyn was one of the most famous actors of his day. He was also probably the most successful, since he left such a generous bequest to the church, they still wanted to celebrate him in 1991, when a new stained glass window honouring him was installed.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace (Stratford-upon-Avon)
If you fancy venturing outside of London, you can’t do better than Stratford-upon-Avon, where the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust operates several properties known collectively as Shakespeare’s Birthplace. They include, as you can probably guess, the house he was born in, but also the fancy home called New Place that he bought with the money he made in London, and his wife Anne Hathaway’s family home.
Also see: Holy Trinity Church. This is where Shakespeare is buried beneath a monument inscribed with a poem warning visitors against disturbing his remains. It’s also where he was baptized and married. His wife, Anne, is buried next to him.