Shakespeare's London Walking Tour, London

Shakespeare's London Walking Tour (Self Guided), London

Often called England's national poet or simply "the Bard", William Shakespeare is revered as one of, if not the greatest playwright this world has ever seen. The dramas, such as Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth are among the finest creations in the English language, translated into every major language and performed more often than those of any other author.

Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire in 1564, Shakespeare began a successful career in London as an actor and writer sometime around 1585. The Rose Theatre in the Southwark district is the place where his plays were staged for the first time. Later, the performances moved to the original Globe Theatre after it was built in 1599. Today one can visit the archaeological sites where both theatres once stood, while the reconstructed Globe Theatre – just a short distance away – makes it possible to travel back in time and view the show as one could in Shakespeare's era.

The Crosse Keys Inn was another place where Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain's Men gave regular performance. While in London, the writer worshiped at the Southwark Cathedral and St. Helen's Bishopsgate, both of which still stand today. To visit these and other prominent spots in London associated with the great Bard, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Shakespeare's London Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Shakespeare's London Walking Tour
Guide Location: England » London (See other walking tours in London)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.7 Km or 2.9 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Shakespeare's Globe
  • Rose Theatre (Shakespeare-era playhouse)
  • Globe Theatre (original site)
  • Southwark Cathedral
  • Boar's Head Inn
  • Crosse Keys Inn (Shakespeare-era site)
  • St. Helen's Bishopsgate
  • First Folio Monument
  • St. Olave Silver Street
  • St. Paul's Cathedral
  • Plaque to Richard Quiney's Letter
  • Blackfriars Gatehouse (Shakespeare's former property)
  • Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe
Shakespeare's Globe

1) Shakespeare's Globe (must see)

This magnificent theater is a faithful replica of Shakespeare's original Globe Playhouse, a structure made of wood and thatch with an open roof. The original Globe was built in 1599 but tragically burned down in 1613 due to a cannon fire mishap during a performance. It was in this historic venue that many of Shakespeare's most renowned works had their premieres. Sam Wanamaker, an American actor and director, dedicated years to tirelessly raise funds for the reconstruction project. Situated 200 yards from its original location, the Globe was rebuilt using authentic materials and techniques, a dream that was finally realized in 1997. In keeping with the authentic spirit of the time, the plays performed here adhere to their original concept, as well as featuring works by the Bard's contemporaries.

For those standing in the "Groundlings" section, sitting during the performance is not permitted; however, this area offers the best view of the stage and the most authentic viewing experience. Fortunately, for those who prefer to sit, the theater offers actual seats on its three levels. It's advisable to rent a cushion (or bring your own) to provide some comfort on the backless wooden benches, and remember to book the cushions when you purchase your tickets. Come rain or shine, warm or chilly weather, the show goes on, so ensure you're prepared for any conditions. Umbrellas are not permitted, but you have the option to bring a raincoat or purchase an affordable Globe rain poncho, which can also serve as a memorable souvenir.

The Globe Theatre's season runs from April to October. Additionally, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on the site, a 350-seat replica of an indoor Jacobean theater illuminated by candles, presents plays and concerts in a setting that is less exposed but equally atmospheric. Some of the benches in the Wanamaker Playhouse are backless, and there are designated standing areas in the theater's upper gallery.

Why You Should Visit:
This theater faithfully replicates the original, providing an unparalleled opportunity to immerse yourself in Shakespeare's world and witness a performance as it was intended. While true time travel remains a mystery, a visit to the Globe gets you remarkably close.

During the spring and summer months, you can enjoy fifty-minute tours of the Globe until 4pm (unless there's a matinee performance or another major event, in which case tours are offered until noon). Tours of the Wanamaker Playhouse are available on an occasional basis and must be arranged directly with the theater.
Rose Theatre (Shakespeare-era playhouse)

2) Rose Theatre (Shakespeare-era playhouse)

In 1587, Philip Henslowe established the Rose Theatre, the first purpose-built playhouse on Bankside. Leading actor Edward Alleyn and prominent playwright Christopher Marlowe were key figures in its foundation. Notably, Shakespeare's earliest works, including "Titus Andronicus," made their debut at this venue, though he later shifted his performances to the Globe, the Rose's primary competitor.

In 1989, the discovery of the Rose Theatre's remains beneath an office xomplex on Park Street played a crucial role in the reconstruction of the Globe. A passionate campaign to safeguard this historical site from developers gained support from London's theatrical luminaries, ensuring the preservation of the archaeological remains beneath the modern structure. Red lights delineate the theatre's outline, but most of the area remains submerged to protect it until sufficient funds are raised for a comprehensive excavation. The result is a hauntingly atmospheric experience.

Enthusiastic volunteers are on hand to showcase archaeological artifacts akin to those discovered at the site. Additionally, a small exhibition and a brief narrated video, shown hourly, render the location captivating for anyone intrigued by English theatre history. Furthermore, the space is employed for theatrical productions (please refer to the website for details and dress warmly if attending).
Globe Theatre (original site)

3) Globe Theatre (original site)

The original location where the Globe Theatre, which first opened its doors in 1599, once stood is now identified by a plaque and a series of informative panels. In its historical context, Park Street was known as Maiden Lane and was situated within The Liberty of the Clink, an area beyond the control of the City and the Surrey County Sheriff. At a certain point, this area came under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester, who chose to impose taxes rather than outright bans on theaters, animal baiting arenas, and even brothels that operated within it. It is believed that approximately 15 of Shakespeare's plays, including many of his most renowned works, had their initial or early performances at this very location.

On June 29, 1613, while a performance of "Henry VIII" was underway, the Globe Theatre was engulfed in flames. During the play, a theatrical cannon misfired, sparking a fire that consumed the wooden beams and thatched roof. According to one of the few surviving accounts of the incident, no one sustained injuries, except for a man whose burning trousers were extinguished with a bottle of ale. The theater was reconstructed in the subsequent year but was eventually demolished in 1644–45 to create space for residential buildings. Its contemporary reconstruction, known as Shakespeare's Globe, was inaugurated in 1997 with a production of "Henry V".
Southwark Cathedral

4) Southwark Cathedral

Known as "suth-uck" in pronunciation, this stands as London's oldest Gothic church, with certain sections tracing their origins back to the 12th century. Despite its historical significance, it remains somewhat tucked away from the usual tourist path, even though it houses notable memorials, including a late-13th-century wooden effigy of a knight. Additionally, it hosts a concert program featuring complimentary half-hour organ recitals at 1:20pm every Monday (except for August and December) and classical music performances at 3:15pm every Tuesday during the school year.

Originally established as a priory, Southwark later served as a palace church under Henry VIII until it was purchased by merchant parishioners in 1611. It achieved cathedral status in 1905, but endured significant damage during the London Blitz of 1941. Germany dropped an estimated 1,600 explosive bombs on this site during the war, and remnants of shrapnel damage are still visible on its exterior.

Be sure to seek out the vibrant 15th-century roof bosses (intricate ornamental wood carvings), as well as the brightly refurbished tomb of John Gower, who served as the poet laureate to Richard II and was a friend of Chaucer. Another notable feature is the Harvard Chapel, where John Harvard, a local butcher's son who later founded the American university, was baptized in 1607. In the south aisle, you'll find a memorial to Shakespeare, who worshipped here, and above it, there's a stained-glass window depicting characters from his plays. The churchyard has been transformed into a herb garden, and the charming Millennium Courtyard leads to the riverside.
Boar's Head Inn

5) Boar's Head Inn

The Boar's Head Inn, located on Eastcheap, is a prominent feature in Shakespeare's historical plays, notably "Henry IV, Part 1", where it serves as a favorite gathering spot for the fictional character Falstaff and his companions during the early 15th century. Although there is no historical evidence of the Boar's Head inn's existence during the play's era, Shakespeare was alluding to a real inn that was present in his own time. This establishment, in existence before 1537, met its demise during the Great Fire of London in 1666, but was swiftly rebuilt and operated until the late 18th century when it transitioned into retail use. The remnants of the building were eventually demolished in 1831, but the iconic boar's head sign was preserved and is now on display at the Shakespeare's Globe theatre.

The original inn's location now forms part of the approach to London Bridge on Cannon Street. In close proximity to the site, along modern-day Eastcheap, architect Robert Lewis Roumieu crafted a neo-Gothic structure in 1868. Having once served as a vinegar warehouse and currently housing office spaces, this building pays homage to the Boar's Head Inn through its design and external embellishments, which include a boar's head emerging from grass and portrait heads of Henry IV and Henry V. Architectural scholar Nicholas Pevsner once characterized it as "one of the maddest displays of gabled Gothic brick in London", while British architecture critic Ian Nairn likened it to "the scream you wake on at the end of a nightmare".
Crosse Keys Inn (Shakespeare-era site)

6) Crosse Keys Inn (Shakespeare-era site)

While numerous Elizabethan dramas found their stage in theaters such as the Globe or the Rose, a significant portion of the population attended plays at inns, which were structured around central courtyards. In these inns, rooms featured balconies overlooking the central area, and this architectural arrangement was no accident, as most travelers arrived via horse or horse-drawn carriages, entering the central courtyard. The layout also proved ideal for staging plays, as inn guests could watch the performances from their balconies and then retreat to their rooms. Acting troupes capitalized on this setup by erecting stages and offering standing tickets for the courtyard and premium tickets for the balconies. One such establishment, the Cross Keys Inn on Gracechurch Street, enjoyed the privilege of hosting performances between 1576 and 1594, as it was one of four inns granted permits by the City of London to do so. William Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain's Men regularly showcased their talents at this venue.

With the construction of more dedicated theaters, the practice of using inn courtyards for performances gradually declined. Furthermore, in 1594, the city council prohibited the use of inns for this purpose, citing the Crosse Keys theatre as a negative influence, leading to stringent regulations on theatrical activities. Nevertheless, the architectural designs of venues like the Globe and other Elizabethan theaters, featuring balconies encircling a central courtyard, were directly inspired by the inn architecture of the time.

In modern times, the Crosse Keys has transformed into a roomy pub distinguished by its lofty ceilings and a stained-glass cupola positioned above its expansive oval bar. Here, patrons can enjoy a diverse selection of real ales, craft beers, and freshly brewed coffee.
St. Helen's Bishopsgate

7) St. Helen's Bishopsgate

The late Gothic church of Saint Helen, situated east of Bishopsgate, has endured extensive damage during the IRA bombings in the 1990s. This intriguing structure, characterized by its undulating crenellations and Baroque bell turret, incorporates the original pre-Reformation Benedictine nunnery church and houses five grand tombs from before the Great Fire. Following the bombing, the church underwent several alterations, including raising the floor level, shifting the church screens, adding a new organ gallery, and reconfiguring the seating arrangement to emphasize the pulpit, aligning with its current evangelical orientation.

In addition to its unique architecture, Saint Helen's is renowned for once having William Shakespeare as one of its parishioners. This historical fact is supported by an entry in the tax records of the Ward of Bishopsgate dated 15 November 1597, which reported that out of 73 rateable residents in the parish, Shakespeare had neglected to pay 5 shillings on taxable goods valued at £5. Further evidence suggests that he resided in close proximity to Saint Helen's, likely within a group of buildings overlooking the churchyard. The Bard's stay in this area occurred between 1597 and 1598, coinciding with the time when he was writing "Romeo and Juliet".
First Folio Monument

8) First Folio Monument

Constructed in 1896, this pink granite monument, adorned with a Shakespearean bust, stands within the former churchyard of Saint Mary Aldermanbury on Love Lane. Its primary purpose is to honor the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, but it also serves as a tribute to Henry Condell and John Heminges, two associates of the Bard. These actors, who collaborated with Shakespeare at The Globe Theatre, played a crucial role in compiling and printing the First Folio after his passing in 1616. Both Condell and Heminges resided in the same parish and found their final resting place in its churchyard.

The First Folio contains all 36 plays commonly attributed to Shakespeare, with the exceptions of "Pericles, Prince of Tyre," "The Two Noble Kinsmen," "Edward III," and the lost plays "Cardenio" and "Love's Labour's Won." Of the approximately 750 copies originally printed, only 235 are known to exist today, many of which are housed in public archives or private collections. Notably, a copy sold at Christie's in New York in October 2001 fetched a hammer price of $6.16 million (then equivalent to £3.73 million), while in October 2020, a copy from Mills College sold at Christie's for a staggering $10 million, making it the most expensive literary work ever auctioned.
St. Olave Silver Street

9) St. Olave Silver Street

Before the outbreak of the Second World War, a handful of locations in the city still retained their status as authentic remnants of Shakespearean London. Among these places was the intersection of Silver and Muggle (or Monkwell) Streets in Cripplegate, although it has since nearly disappeared due to the extensive bombing during the Blitz.

Back in 1604, Shakespeare resided on Silver Street, taking lodging in the home of Christopher Mountjoy, a French Huguenot known for crafting decorative headpieces called "tires". It was within this house that he penned "Othello" and "King Lear". Regrettably, the building was consumed by the Great Fire, and the entire area underwent redevelopment after World War II. Silver Street, a brief thoroughfare, also featured St. Olave's Church, which stood nearly opposite the Bard's residence and likewise succumbed to the Great Fire's flames.

Today, within a small square along London Wall Street, a stone block bears a medieval carving of a skull and crossbones, marking the former graveyard of that church. This may well be the view that Shakespeare himself had while residing with the Mountjoy family.
St. Paul's Cathedral

10) St. Paul's Cathedral (must see)

For centuries, this iconic structure has symbolized London's enduring spirit of survival and rejuvenation, captivating visitors both inside and outside its grand walls. Sir Christopher Wren embarked on the design of the present-day cathedral in 1666, immediately following the destruction of the prior medieval building, founded in 1087, during the Great Fire. This historical context is evident in the inscription "resurgam" ("I shall rise again") on the pediment of the south entrance. Saint Paul's Cathedral once more became a symbol of the city's resilience during the Blitz, as local volunteers bravely fought to extinguish a fire on the dome (though despite their efforts, a significant portion of the building's eastern end and its high altar were lost). It has frequently served as the backdrop for momentous state events, including Winston Churchill's funeral and the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Construction commenced in 1675 and took 35 years to complete. Interestingly, this was Wren's third architectural proposal: the initial design was rejected for being too modern, while the second was deemed too modern and too influenced by Italian (Catholic) architecture. The "Great Model" of this second design, a 20-foot representation, can be seen in the crypt. In a compromise with the Anglican clergy, Wren included a traditional English spire but ultimately installed a neoclassical triple-layered dome, the second-largest cathedral dome globally after Saint Peter's in Rome.

The cathedral's interior showcases a remarkable example of English Baroque design. Ascend 257 steps up the meticulously engineered Geometric Staircase, a stone spiral marvel, to reach the Whispering Gallery, named so because a whisper against one wall can be heard clearly on the wall 112 feet away. Another 119 steps lead to the Stone Gallery, encircling the dome's exterior and offering panoramic views of London. For those with a head for heights, an additional 152 steps lead to the small Golden Gallery, an observation deck at the dome's zenith. At 278 feet above the cathedral floor, it presents even more breathtaking vistas.

Descending to ground level, in the south choir aisle, rests the grave of John Donne, the poet who served as dean of Saint Paul's from 1621 until his passing in 1631. His marble effigy stands as the cathedral's oldest surviving memorial and one of the few to endure the Great Fire. The intricately carved figures on the nearby choir stall are the creations of master carver Grinling Gibbons, who also adorned Wren's great organ. Behind the high altar lies the American Memorial Chapel, dedicated to the 28,000 American GIs stationed in the UK during the Second World War. Notable figures interred in the crypt include the Duke of Wellington, Admiral Lord Nelson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Henry Moore, and Wren himself. Aptly, the Latin epitaph above Wren's tomb reads, "Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you."

Saint Paul's serves as a prominent backdrop in many of Dickens' novels. In "Master Humphrey’s Clock", for instance, he portrays Master Humphrey ascending to the summit of the cathedral, then the tallest structure in London, to relish the sweeping panorama of the city. He writes, "Draw but a little circle above the clustering house tops, and you shall have within its space, everything with its opposite extreme and contradiction, close beside." Another Dickens work, "David Copperfield", takes Peggotty to the top of Saint Paul's to savor the impressive views over London, a practice that visitors continue to enjoy to this day.

The vicinity surrounding this iconic cathedral was intimately known to Dickens, and he frequently visited for various reasons, including attendance at significant public events such as the Duke of Wellington's funeral in 1852.

During Shakespeare's era, the vicinity around Saint Paul's was quite distinct from its present appearance. Beyond serving as the hub of religious, political, cultural, and social activity in the city, the Cathedral also played a pivotal role in London's book trade, significantly impacting the literary creations of that time. By the year 1600, Shakespeare had become the most widely published professional playwright, and the earliest versions of his plays, such as "Titus Andronicus", "Richard II", "Much Ado About Nothing", and "The Merchant of Venice", were all bought and sold in the vicinity of Saint Paul's Churchyard. It is highly probable that Shakespeare himself frequented the local bookstores in search of materials that could serve as source material for his own works. To a considerable extent, the atmosphere around Saint Paul's influenced the Bard's writing and played a significant role in its survival and reception.

Other than architecture and history buffs, nowadays Harry Potter fans also have their reason to visit Saint Paul's. The focal point of their interest lies is the spectacular spiral Geometric Staircase (also referred to as the Dean's Stair) that creates the illusion of floating out from the walls of the Cathedral's South West Bell Tower. Recognizable from "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", this winding staircase served as the pathway for students ascending the stone steps on their way to Professor Trelawney's Divination classes, which were held in a classroom situated atop one of Hogwarts' North Towers. Additionally, the same staircase was featured in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" as the Turris Magnus staircase. To catch a glimpse, you'll need to enter the Cathedral with a visitor ticket.

Why You Should Visit:
An architectural marvel and an iconic representation of London.
There's a wealth of exploration to be had, whether you venture above ground or into the crypt.

Entrance to this cathedral requires a fee. Opt for online ticket purchase to streamline your visit and save time.
Additionally, you have the option to purchase an audio tour at the entrance.
Plaque to Richard Quiney's Letter

11) Plaque to Richard Quiney's Letter

This plaque commemorates the sole surviving correspondence both to and from William Shakespeare. The original document is safeguarded as a cherished artifact by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford. Dating back to 1598, this letter was composed by Richard Quiney, a merchant and council official from Stratford-upon-Avon, who addressed it to his "dear and esteemed friend, Mr. William Shakespeare." In it, Quiney requested a loan of £30, equivalent to about £3,750 in today's currency.

Interestingly, Richard Quiney's son Thomas later married Shakespeare's younger daughter. Richard Quiney himself ventured to London on business, staying there for four months as he sought relief for the troubled town of Stratford, which was facing dire circumstances due to the latest Subsidy imposed by Parliament at the time.

It appears likely that Shakespeare never received the letter, as it was found among Quiney's papers in the Stratford corporation's archives when he passed away in 1602. However, historical records indicate that Shakespeare did attempt to assist with the matter, possibly through a personal meeting with Quiney. In any case, the story had a positive outcome, as Queen Elizabeth eventually agreed to provide relief for Stratford, and the Exchequer reimbursed Quiney for his expenses incurred during his stay in London.
Blackfriars Gatehouse (Shakespeare's former property)

12) Blackfriars Gatehouse (Shakespeare's former property)

The Blackfriars Gatehouse occupied roughly the same location as the current Cockpit pub in the City of London, just a short stroll from the Blackfriars Playhouse Theatre in Ireland Yard. This was where the King's Men company performed Shakespeare's plays, much like they did at The Globe during the same period. The theater itself was situated on the grounds of a Dominican monastery founded in 1275, nestled between the River Thames and Ludgate Hill; however, King Henry VIII dissolved the monastery in 1538.

According to historical records, William Shakespeare acquired the gatehouse on March 10, 1613, from Henry Walker, described as a "citizen and minstrel (musician)", for the sum of £140. He bequeathed this property to his daughter, Susanna.

The official deed of purchase for this property is still in existence and is currently housed in the London Metropolitan Archives. It contains one of only six "authenticated" examples of Shakespeare's signature. This holds particular significance because, despite Shakespeare's ownership of property in Stratford, it is the sole known property he possessed in London. Given its convenient proximity to the Blackfriars Playhouse and The Globe, it's plausible that the Bard may have considered making it his residence. However, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that he lived there during the three years leading up to his death in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1616.
Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe

13) Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe

Devoted to Saint Andrew the Apostle, this church stands in an elevated and commanding position on the northern side of Queen Victoria Street. Initially known as Saint Andrew juxta Baynard Castle, owing to its proximity to the former grand medieval fortress of the same name, the church adopted its current name in 1361 when the King's Great Wardrobe, which stored royal supplies and ceremonial attire, was relocated from the Tower to new premises nearby. Both the church and the Wardrobe met their demise in the Great Fire of London in 1666. However, following their destruction, Saint Andrew's was reconstructed on the original site between 1685 and 1693 under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren. Among the numerous City churches rebuilt by Wren, it was his final project and, at a cost of £7,060, primarily funded by revenue from the coal tax levied to support post-Fire reconstruction, it was his most economical undertaking.

One of Saint Andrew's notable claims to fame lies in its association with William Shakespeare. The playwright worked nearby at the Blackfriars Theatre for a minimum of 15 years and would have been familiar with the medieval church. Eventually, he purchased a residence in Ireland Yard, which also fell within Saint Andrew's parish boundaries. In honor of its most illustrious resident, the modern church now showcases a memorial to William Shakespeare in the western gallery, crafted from oak and limewood. Additionally, a corresponding memorial pays homage to one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, the renowned lutenist, vocalist, and composer John Dowland (1562-1626). In a somewhat fanciful depiction, Shakespeare and Dowland are depicted kneeling on a stage while cherubs hold back the final curtain. Beneath the window situated between the two figures, you will find the following inscription:

‘If music and sweet poetry agree,
As they must needs, the sister and the brother…
Dowland to thee is dear, whose heavenly touch
Upon the lute doth ravish human sense…’

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