My Kind of Place: Stratford-upon-Avon, England

On the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death this weekend, we tour the Bard’s hometown.

Why Stratford-upon-Avon?

In an alternative reality, Stratford-upon-Avon would be almost entirely anonymous; another Lutterworth, Atherstone or Uttoxeter to add to the rich pantheon of perfectly pleasant but basically ignorable Midlands market towns.

But in 1564, a baby boy called William was born to John and Mary Shakespeare, and Stratford’s place in the great story of time was altered forever. No one comes to Stratford because it’s a half-decent market town between Birmingham and London with a few Tudor houses – they come because the greatest-ever English language writer was born there.

The Shakespeare trail is the bedrock of Stratford, and all but the most deeply dedicated Shakespeare scholars are likely to learn something.

It’s 400 years since the Bard died on April 23, but his legacy lives stronger than ever – not least in a theatre scene that would be the envy of any major city in the world, let alone a town of comparable size.

A comfortable bed

Right next to the Royal Shakespeare Company HQ, The Arden Hotel prides itself on hand-picked furniture and little extras such as free apples and plants in the room. The result is stylishly modern, with just enough antiques dotted around to keep things interesting. Rates start at £129 (Dh674) a night.

Most visitors stay in B&Bs, though, and there are a string of them to the west of the city centre – especially along Grove Road. The Adelphi Guesthouse is a reliable option with plenty of character for from £90 (Dh470).

For a just-out-of-town treat, Billesley Manor was supposedly where Shakespeare wrote As You Like It. It's now a country spa retreat, with immaculately maintained gardens, an indoor pool and a maze-like warren of rooms. Chaise longues, spa bath tubs and palatial patterned wallpaper add to the old-world decadence. Double rooms cost from £112.50 (Dh588) per night.

Find your feet

For Stratford at its prettiest, start where the canal meets the River Avon, with a monument to Shakespeare surrounded by some of his characters in the park. Then head up towards what is, perhaps dubiously, dubbed Shakespeare’s Birthplace (www.shakespeare.org.uk) on Henley Street. It includes a mini-museum that has a copy of the First Folio of his works, some items from the era and a fair bit of biographical detail. The section on phrases Shakespeare introduced, such as “truth will out”, “a sorry sight” and “snail-paced”, is most interesting.

The £17.50 (Dh92) pass also includes entry to two other houses with Shakespeare links – Harvard House and Hall's Croft. Tudor World looks tacky – it's heavy on the waxworks – but it makes a decent fist of explaining Shakespeare's era. And that ranges from Spain's attempted invasion of England to the weird costumes that plague doctors thought would stop them contracting the disease.

Finish off at the Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare and his wife are buried under a slightly gaudy and amateurish-looking monument erected by his friends.

Meet the locals

While the scrums of visitors huddle in the town centre, it’s often remarkably peaceful by the banks of the River Avon – particularly if you head a few hundred metres away from the centre. The narrowboaters and indisputably majestic swans will keep you company.

Book a table

Eating hours can be weird here – a lot of people are cramming something down pre-theatre. Lambs (www.lambsrestaurant.co.uk) has atmospheric 16th-century wooden beams, and offers a three-course set menu for £19 (Dh100). Save room for the pear and almond tart.

The Church Street Townhouse is more contemporary, and does a good job with seafood – the £17 (Dh88) grilled sea bass with purple sprouting and brown shrimp butter is a good example.

Shopper’s paradise

Stratford’s shopping options are surprisingly bland. Still, if you want department stores, then Bridge Street has Marks & Spencer, BHS and Debenhams among a sea of generic high-street names.

For Shakey trinketry, books, biographies, play DVDs and audio recordings, the shop at Shakespeare’s Birthplace has a strong selection.

Stock up on delectable treats and gifts at Roly’s Fudge Pantry, on High Street.

What to avoid

This is not a place for lie-ins. The experience at Shakespeare’s Birthplace (and other key sites) is very different at 9am before all the tour buses and day-trippers rock up. Get the big stuff done early before the crowds descend, and the day will be several times more peaceful and enjoyable.

Don’t miss

Stratford has a surprising amount of fringe theatre, but the big boy is the Royal Shakespeare Company, which has two theatres in its riverside complex and a reputation for attracting Britain's finest actors. The menu is understandably Shakespeare-heavy, but it's not all Bard. Current productions include an inventive and frequently funny Don Quixote, plus a daring take on Doctor Faustus. Tickets cost from £16 (Dh84).

Getting there

Emirates flies direct from Dubai to Birmingham for Dh3,870, including taxes. Stratford is 43 kilometres south of Birmingham airport, and the drive takes about 30 minutes.