Visitors to the U.K. flock to Warwickshire to see Stratford-upon-Avon, the town where Shakespeare grew up, but this rural county in England's West Midlands region is more than just the birthplace of the Bard. Home to a beautifully preserved past, Warwickshire packs an extraordinary amount of historical culture within its borders, making it the perfect stop-off for history buffs, too. From regency towns to tumble-down castles and sweeping countryside, here are the top places to visit in Warwickshire.
By far the most popular spot for visitors to Warwickshire, Stratford-upon-Avon is the birthplace of William Shakespeare. A tour of the house where Shakespeare was born will be high on the list of things to do, but you would be remiss not to step inside the less-visited Anne Hathaway’s cottage; it was here where the famous playwright once courted his wife-to-be.
Stratford’s well-preserved streets make the entire town feel like a trip back in time. Take a walk down the picturesque river to the canal basin, or wander over to the Holy Trinity Church to see Shakespeare’s burial place. The waterside Swan Theatre has been home to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon since the 1800s—booking a ticket to see a play is a must-do in the home of Elizabethan theatre.
Royal Leamington Spa
Royal Leamington Spa rose to prominence in the 1800s as a spa town after the spring waters were declared to have healing properties. In recent years, the town has been named one of the happiest places to live in the U.K., and it's easy to see why.
With sweeping white-painted boulevards, stunning architecture that nods to its illustrious past, and fewer crowds than larger regency cities like Bath, Leamington Spa makes for a perfect day trip. Visit Jephson Gardens, a Victorian formal park, before getting caffeinated at The Aviary Café, a tea room and former birdhouse. Leamington Spa is also a great location for foodies, with local favorites such as Tartine and Warwick Street Kitchen making for a surprisingly impressive dining-out scene.
The county seat of Warwickshire is a tiny town dominated by its well-known castle. Although the restoration of the castle is somewhat gimmicky, with comically over-the-top actors and costumed knights wandering around the grounds, Warwick Castle remains a fun day out, particularly for families. You can climb the ramparts, see a working trebuchet in action, or even stay overnight at the Knight’s Village. Check the events schedule ahead of your visit; the castle regularly plays host to food festivals, outdoor bars, spooky Halloween-themed activities, and ice skating at Christmas.
While visitors might be tempted to spend all of their time at this historical attraction, there are plenty of other things to see and do here. Wander down winding medieval streets and marvel at the timber-framed houses hosting a range of quirky independent shops (be sure to order a cuppa at Thomas Oken Tea Rooms, located in a 500-year-old cottage). The Lord Leycester Hospital is a fascinating medieval site, and unusual churches perched above walkways throughout Warwick make for an interesting photo opportunity. Visit on a Saturday to see the town center come alive with a bustling market that has been a local tradition for over half a century.
One for the sporting fans, Rugby is home to one of the U.K.’s most popular sports. In 1823 schoolboy Webb Ellis picked up a football (the equivalent of a U.S. soccer ball) and ran with it, forming the origin of today’s games of rugby and American football.
Although Rugby is too small to warrant a particularly lengthy stay, dedicated rugby enthusiasts might like to visit the town to see sporting memorabilia at the Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum. You can spot the statue of the schoolboy himself running with a ball beneath his arm outside Rugby School, where the famous first game took place.
If you’re looking for a more authentic historical experience, then Kenilworth Castle is a gorgeous toned-down alternative to its glitzy Warwick counterpart. The haunting ruins of a medieval fortress and Elizabethan palace, Kenilworth Castle is located in a small town just a stone’s throw from Leamington. Queen Elizabeth I bequeathed it to her favorite suitor and possible lover Robert Dudley—legend has it that the pair conducted their trysts here. Explore the skeletal remains of 900 years of history as you wander around the former Great Hall and Norman Keep, and take a stroll through the beautifully restored castle gardens.
The former abbey that gives Coombe Country Park its name may have been converted into a hotel, but the historic house’s sprawling grounds are still open to the public. With 500 acres of parkland and trails to explore, play areas for families, and a tranquil lake to stroll around, Coombe Abbey Country Park is a great place relax. For thrill-seekers, there is even a Go Ape treetop obstacle course featuring heart-stopping zip lines and dizzying ropewalks. If you want to splash out, you can also book a stay in the historic country house, or try a traditional afternoon tea at Coombe Abbey’s Garden Room Restaurant.
If ancient history is more your thing, consider taking a trip to Lunt Roman Fort, an archaeological site close to the bordering city of Coventry. The timber fort has been meticulously recreated to mimic how it might have looked when Roman forces first constructed the barracks, which were intended to quash the Boudican rebellion around AD 60. Reimagine Roman Britain as you marvel at ancient defenses and see where soldiers would have once trained their horses.
If you’re staying in Stratford and want to stretch your legs, then Charlecote Park is the perfect place for a stroll around the ancient countryside. Set in the grounds of a Victorian country house, Charlecote is a vast deer park, home also to birds and sheep. (Legend has it that William Shakespeare was once prosecuted for poaching here.) Although the house is still a family home, you can explore a few rooms open to the public, or warm up with tea and cake in the Wood Yard café.
Stately home enthusiasts will be spoiled for choice in Warwickshire. However, Coughton Court has a particularly fascinating history, as participants in the famous Gunpowder Plot stored ammunitions here when scheming to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.
Nowadays, you can immerse yourself in hundreds of years of history with a visit to the charming Tudor manor house and grounds. Among a number of historical artifacts stored here, you'll find the chemise supposedly worn by Mary Queen of Scots during her execution and needlework by one of Henry VIII’s wives.