Visiting Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
This post will help you to plan a trip to one of the most famous theatres in all of London. In addition to an overview with information about the venue, we will also include details about where it is, how to take their tour, and how to see a show at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
Perhaps one of the most famous theatres in the entire United Kingdom, the Globe Theatre is best known as home to William Shakespeare’s playing company. Although the original Globe Theatre was lost to fire, today a modern version sits on the south bank of the River Thames.
A tourist attraction for visitors from across the globe (no pun intended!), Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is now a huge complex holding a reconstructed original outdoor theatre, a winter theatre, a museum, and an education centre.
In the following sections, we will explain how to find the theatre and take a tour to learn about its history. Even if you decide not to take a tour, you can learn more about the venue by reading our theatre history section. We will also cover details about how to see a show at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
Where is the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
The original Globe Theatre was built in 1599 and stood very near the location of the modern-day version. The site of the original was not certainly known until 1989 when the foundations were discovered in a car park. However, the foundations lie underneath a listed building, so no excavations can take place. A plaque and information panel are in place near 67-70 Anchor Terrace on Park Street to commemorate this original location.
The modern-day theatre is located on the south bank of the River Thames. The nearest London Underground Station is London Bridge (Northern and Jubilee lines), but you could also access it by walking over the Millennium Bridge from St. Paul’s Cathedral. We recommend using this link for directions to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre from anywhere in the London region.
Whether or not you plan to see a show, you can still get a good look inside Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre by taking a guided tour. This service includes access to an exhibition detailing Shakespeare’s life in London and his accomplishments as an artist. As you walk through the venue, a guide will provide information about the history of the theatre and what the city was like when it became famous.
This tour is offered all year long, so you can take it just about anytime regardless of the weather. That being said, it’s worth noting that this is an open-air theatre, so weather might play a role in your enjoyment of the experience.
If you can’t manage to secure tickets until the day of your trip, you will have the option to simply walk up and ask about any available tour spots. Chances are that they will be able to accommodate you even if you can’t get tickets before arriving.
- Tickets: £17/Adults | £15.50/Seniors | £10/Kids
- Student Tickets: £13.50
- Availability: Daily (except for holidays)
- Schedule: Hourly from 10 am – 5 pm
- Duration: 1 ½ hours
- Purchase tickets or learn more
If you’re interested in taking this tour, keep in mind that it is included with the London Pass, the London City Pass, and the Explorer Pass. Visitors who are planning to do a lot of sightseeing may want to use one of these services to save a lot of money on this and many other activities in the city. Alternatively, you can also use Discount London to get your tickets for less.
No matter how old this venue gets, it’s still one of the best places in London to enjoy a theatrical performance. The Globe Theatre is an open-air playhouse, so most shows will take place between the months of April and October. At the start of each theatre season, a new schedule will be posted on their site.
You can learn more about the next available show by visiting their What’s On page. Although the guided tour is available throughout the year, other performances and activities will only be offered for a short time.
There are only 857 seats, so tickets can be difficult to obtain. Thankfully, there are 700 standing room tickets available for each show and they only cost £5 per person, so this doesn’t have to be an expensive activity. That said, at half the size of the original theatre, we recommend purchasing tickets well ahead of time to avoid missing out.
The Globe was constructed in 1599 and the first production here was likely either Henry V or Julius Caesar although no firm record exists. The theatre was owned by a number of Shareholders – and Shakespeare himself was just one of the people in this group.
It is estimated that Shakespeare’s ownership in the Globe eventually diminished to just 7% throughout the course of his career. Although today we heavily associate The Globe with Shakespeare, many other playwrights had work performed at this theatre. In fact, the first recorded performance of a play at the Globe Theatre was not a Shakespeare play at all, but Every Man out of His Humour by Johnson.
Although the exact dimensions of the original theatre are not known, the structure and design of the building have been researched heavily throughout the centuries and primary sources leave enough information that the construction of the Globe can be accurately estimated.
The Globe was a three-story open-air amphitheatre with a diameter of around 100ft (30m) and could hold upwards of 3,000 spectators. Although imagined as a circular shape (a “wooden O” as referenced in Shakespeare’s Play Henry V), it is likely that the theatre was a polygon of around 20 sides.
The base of the stage held a yard where – for a single penny – spectators could buy a ticket to become a ‘groundling’ who would stand on the dirt floor throughout the performance. This yard was surrounded by three levels of stadium-style seats, a more luxurious option for wealthier patrons.
Above the stage was a filing known as the “heavens” which was painted like the sky with clouds and stars. The heavens contained a trap door with which actors could descend and ascend when required. A trap door built into the stage also allowed for movement of actors on and off the stage.
During a performance of Henry VIII on the 29th of June 1613, a fire sparked by the firing of a theatrical cannon lit the wooden beams and thatching of the theatre alight. Although the theatre was destroyed, nobody was injured in the tragic event (aside from a single man whose breeches were on fire, but the flames were put out with a bottle of ale).
In 1970, American actor and director Sam Wanamaker founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust and the International Shakespeare Globe Centre with the idea that a faithful recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe should be built near its original position on the banks of the river. No easy task, Wanamaker fought detractors who believed a faithful reconstruction would not be possible, those who insisted that the new building would be a fire hazard, and those who said the recreation would not be a viable tourist attraction.
Despite the criticism, Wanamaker persevered and (with minor exceptions such as external staircases and fire sprinklers) a faithful reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was eventually designed and built, using exactly the same materials as the original. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was then opened to the public in 1997 – 4 years after Wanamaker died.
Performances here are staged to duplicate the original environment of the Globe. This means there are no spotlights, and where possible plays are staged in the daylight. There are also no microphones or speakers of any sort. All music accompaniment is performed live and the close proximity of the actors to the spectators makes performances appear more accessible and intimate. Although the outlay is the same, seating capacity in the modern Globe is 857 with 700 more standing – giving it around half the capacity of the original Theatre.
Built of English Oak like the original, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was constructed with absolutely no structural steel. The thatched roof of the new Globe was a subject of much debate as roof thatching had been outlawed after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Wanamaker fought long and hard to utilize the thatch and this is the first – and only – permitted thatched roof in London since 1666!
Today, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre stands around 230m (750ft) from the original Globe site. The design of the theatre is the same as the original with a stage surrounded by a circular yard (where ‘groundlings’ can still view performances!) and three tiers of raked seating. Because the theatre is circular, there is no roof over the centre of the structure, so plays are only staged during the summer.
Originally, women were not allowed on stage, and during Shakespeare’s lifetime, it would have been only men who performed his work. Occasionally the Globe harkens back to this era, putting on entire performances where all roles are played by men. However, both genders are on stage regularly throughout the seasons.
In addition to the recreated Globe Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe’s Trust now also houses the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – a 17th-century style indoor theatre. Although not an exact reconstruction of an original building, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse loosely resembles the nearby Blackfriars Theatre which had been built in 1566.
Much like Shakespeare’s Globe, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was built using period-accurate materials and building styles, and similarly, as well, the Playhouse uses beeswax candles to light the stage rather than modern day lighting fixtures. The Playhouse houses around 340 seats and hosts productions throughout the winter and spring months.