Celebrate Shakespeare's Birthday in London

Walk in the footsteps of the Bard in London at these iconic venues, and enjoy special events to mark his birthday.

The birthday of William Shakespeare is celebrated on 23 April, and there’s nowhere better to celebrate than London, where the great Bard spent much of his life. From "Macbeth" at the National Theatre (to 23 Jun) to "Sh*T-Faced Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice" at Leicester Square Theatre (25 Apr) there’s something for everybody this spring. You can also try walking in Shakespeare’s footsteps, and visiting some of the landmarks most closely associated with his life and works.

For more inspiration take a look at our list of places, twinned with events nearby.

Shakespeare's Globe, Bankside

Built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s playing company, in an area famous for bear-baiting and other entertainments, the original Globe was the London theatre most closely associated with the Bard. It was intended to rival The Rose – Bankside’s first theatre, which was built 12 years before. But it went up in flames during a 1613 performance of "Henry VIII", before being rebuilt, and then eventually pulled down in the mid-17th century. A reconstruction of the Globe opened nearby in 1997, and is still the main London home for Shakespeare’s plays. Like the original, it is open-air, and those craving the genuine Elizabethan experience can get standing tickets (£5) to any of the productions which, this spring, include "Hamlet" (from 8 May) and "As You Like It" (from 2 May). You can also take a backstage tour to learn more about the venue. 

Globe Theatre, London, UK

The Theatre, Shoreditch​

This was London’s first playhouse, built by James Burbage in 1576. An open-air timber structure, resembling the future Globe Theatre, it played host to many acting companies, mainly Shakespeare’s acting troupe after 1594. Although some spectators sat in the covered galleries, many stood throughout the performances in the main ‘yard’. The theatre was closed in 1597 and dismantled the following year, forcing Shakespeare’s troupe to find another venue. But in 2008, archaeologists found the foundation of a structure they believed to be remains of The Theatre, and you can visit the original site in New Inn Broadway. Shoreditch is also the starting point for one of this year’s Sonnet Walks (28 & 29 April), where you can hear Shakespeare’s texts brought alive by actors.

Banqueting House, Whitehall

Some Shakespeare performances took place in royal settings, notably in the Banqueting House at the Palace of Whitehall. This is where "Othello" premiered, as well as "King Lear" and "Measure for Measure". Originally made out of wood, it was rebuilt in extravagant style by Inigo Jones in 1619, and as the only surviving part of the original palace, it is well worth a visit. Plus, it’s near Westminster Abbey, where, this April, Mark Rylance leads a company of actors in a promenade performance to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday (26-28 April).

 Chapter House in Westminster Abbey, London, UK

Blackfriars Playhouse, Blackfriars

Housed at the old Blackfriars monastery site, this was the most important Jacobean London theatre. From 1609, it was the only indoor theatre of the Shakespeare company, or ‘King’s Men’. They used it during the winter when it was too cold to perform outdoors at the Globe, often entertaining members of the elite including Charles I’s wife Henrietta Maria. Following the English Revolution, the theatre was closed and, despite the King’s Men’s pleas, it was torn down in 1655. Today you can see where it stood on Playhouse Yard, a quiet backstreet leading to an obscured churchyard and a maze of alleys. Or, to get an idea of how the building might have looked, check out the beautiful Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe: an indoor Jacobean-style structure, loosely modelled on the Blackfriars theatre and lit by candles. You can hear a lecture here on Shakespeare and the Wandering Mind (10 May).

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London, UK

St Paul’s Cathedral

Shakespeare’s plays were sold here, and The Bard himself would probably have enjoyed browsing the area for poetry books. He would have regularly made the journey past St Paul’s Cathedral to have his plays registered at the Stationers’ Hall, headquarters of the bookselling trade. Or, he might have wandered east of the cathedral to have a drink at the Mermaid Tavern on Cheapside, the site of a drinking club that included some of the Elizabethan era’s leading literary figures. The tavern was destroyed in 1666 during the Great Fire, but you can have a stroll through the surrounding area. Nearby is the Museum of London, which hosts a talk about Shakespeare’s relationship with classical antiquity (8 May).

Tower of London

Ever since its founding in 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest, this castle has played a huge role in English history, serving as a royal palace, armoury, prison, execution chamber, zoo, barracks and jewel house. No wonder it has inspired several writers – not least Shakespeare himself. He famously evoked it in "Richard III", where it sets the scene for Richard’s seizure of the throne and the murder of the Princes in the Tower. You can catch Nicholas Hytner’s promenade staging of "Julius Caesar", Shakespeare’s political thriller, at the nearby Bridge Theatre until 15 April.

Tower of London, London, UK

St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Moorgate

For some time this was Shakespeare’s parish church, and it is thought that he worshipped here. It’s a rare survivor of the Great Fire of 1666 and, unusually, has two naves: one for the parishioners and one for the Benedictine nuns who lived there. In 1597, it was noted that, out of the parish’s notable residents, William Shakespeare failed to pay 5 shillings on taxable goods worth £5. The church is near the Barbican Centre, where you can catch Shakespeare’s "Pericles" (6-21 April) from the company Cheek by Jowl.

Hannah Nepil
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