In the West Midlands, the rural county of Warwickshire skirts around the Birmingham and Coventry conurbation to form a big hook of thinly populated countryside.
This is a place of castles, medieval towns and marvellous country estates.
Warwickshire has given us one of history’s most revered wordsmiths and playwrights, William Shakespeare, and his birthplace Stratford-upon-Avon is rightly a hotspot.
But you mustn’t rule out Warwick for its astonishing castle, or Leamington Spa for its elegant Regency townscape.
And if you’re a really committed tourist you can stay for a few days until you’ve seen every grand manor house and adorable town. Trust us, it could take a while!
Lets explore the best places to visit in Warwickshire:
Even four hundred years after his death, William Shakespeare is still the dominant personality in Stratford.
Many houses look almost exactly as they would have done when he was growing up in this town.
You can pay homage at Shakespeare’s birthplace and drop by the home of his wife, Anne Hathaway, both weathered timber-framed buildings.
And if that isn’t enough you can even see Mary Arden’s farm, the home of Shakespeare’s mother, and Hall’s Croft, where his daughter Susanna lived.
The presence of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre makes Stratford one of England’s cultural Meccas, a destination to watch first-rate productions of Shakespeare’s many works.
Like Stratford, the county town is one of those places in England you simply have to see.
This has much to do with Warwick Castle, which is so complete it’s almost overwhelming.
This fortress -turned-stately home is the last word in 14th-century military architecture, and its romantic tales and legends are expertly retold inside.
The town is also a joy, suffused with history and all the better to explore because of its browsable independent shops.
After the castle see half-timbered Lord Leycester Hospital, the Collegiate Church of St Mary where the Earls of Warwick are buried, and the amazing Mill Garden, which looks like a scene from a pre-Raphaelite painting.
3. Leamington Spa
The springs at Leamington Spa were harnessed by the Romans but then lay hidden to all until they were rediscovered in 1784. And in the years that followed Leamington Spa exploded out of almost nothing, becoming one of England’s most prestigious hydrotherapy resorts.
The sudden growth endowed the town with some of the most graceful Regency architecture you could hope to see.
The Parade is the main artery, while Lansdowne Crescent is a circus of stuccoed townhouses with wrought iron porches.
The Royal Pump Rooms have preserved restored the baths, and will give you insights about the spa in its heyday.
There can’t be many towns able to brag about giving birth to a sport, but Rugby is one.
When William Webb Ellis picked up the ball during a football match at Rugby School in 1823, he created a style of play that would become Rugby.
Or so the story goes! If you’re a fan of the sport you’ll have a few experiences to tick off, like a visit to the museum at the prestigious Rugby School, and the Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum, which is housed in the shop where the boot maker James Gilbert stitched the first rugby balls in 1842.
This presentable town is home to Kenilworth Castle, which has 900 years of riveting history to tell.
The ruins are colossal, and bring home just how ambitious the castle-cum-palace would have been in medieval and Tudor times.
And it may make you giddy to consider the amount of historical events that have happened at this very building, like Edward II’s removal from the throne, or Robert Dudley’s courtship of Elizabeth I in 1575. For another piece of aristocratic grandeur Stoneleigh Abbey is a former monastery that became a neoclassical stately home and is wrapped in almost 300 hectares of panoramic grounds.
This small town in the west of the county doesn’t resemble many places in England: The high street, which spans almost the entirety of the town is a strip a mile in length and flanked by a continuous succession of historic buildings from a range of eras.
The Heritage Centre can explain the background on this singular place, while the timber-framed Guildhall dates to the 1400s and recently underwent a restoration.
You can poke around the two medieval churches or wander off along the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal.
At Lowsonford there’s a sculpture by the water designed by Sir Anthony Gormley, the same man responsible for the iconic Angel of the North in Tyne and Wear.
Founded as Alaunia in the 1st Century by the Romans, Alcester is on the Roman Road, Icknield Way that runs diagonally from Gloucestershire up to South Yorkshire.
Bring the little guys to the Alcester Roman Heritage Centre to find out a bit more about these ancient origins and dress up as legionaries.
The showpiece in the Alcester area is undoubtedly Coughton Court, a wondrous Tudor country house.
In 1605 several conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot rode to Coughton Couty to seek refuge after their plans were discovered.
The failed Throckmorton Plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I was also hatched right here in 1583.
An understated market town, Coleshill is without blockbuster attractions but does possess a very pretty high street.
There are a few Tudor-era timber houses along here, as well as old coaching inns that are still in use as hotels or pubs.
Allow some time to explore the Church of St Peter and St Paul, which is magnificent for a parish church.
The spire climbs to 51 metres and inside are compelling fittings like a Norman font from the 1100s and recumbent medieval tomb effigies of knights.
There’s no lack of inspiration for local days out, as Drayton Manor theme park is a minutes away, while Hoar Park is a neat shopping development set in converted barns from the 1600s.
The county’s largest settlement is a workaday town with a large shopping precinct in the centre.
Those of a literary bent will be happy to learn that Nuneaton was the birthplace of the Victorian writer George Eliot, and she drew a lot of inspiration from Nuneaton and local towns and estates.
On set weekends of the year, Arbury Hall, her birthplace, welcomes visitors to conduct them around the house and grounds, but if you’re not around at these times there’s always the Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery.
You have a whole gallery here devoted to Eliot’s relationship with Nuneaton.
This village a brief drive north of Warwick is a dispersed community of large houses home to some relatively famous people.
But the most exciting properties here are the historic ones, and these are open to visitors as National Trust attractions.
Baddlesey Clinton is a breathtaking manor house protected by a moat that you have to cross on an old bridge.
What’s fascinating about this one is that it sheltered Catholic priests who were being persecuted after the Reformation.
Check out the priest holes, secret passages that led underground in case the house was searched.
Packwood House is just as fine and goes back to the 1500s.
The richly furnished interiors at this property have fine tapestries, while the Yew Garden in the grounds was plotted in the 1600s and has a hidden religious theme.