Racegoers can enjoy top class National Hunt meetings at Warwick, but if sport’s not your thing, you’ll find plenty of live music and theatre to keep you entertained too. Warwick has some great venues, and there’s even more choice slightly further afield in Leamington Spa.
Entertainment in Warwick
Fans of horse racing should try to coincide any visit to this part of the world with a meeting at the historic Warwick Racecourse. It's one of the oldest courses in the country, with the earliest records of racing at Warwick being traced back to the late 1600s, when the sport was brought to the town to help rebuild the area after the Great Fire of Warwick.
Parts of the original 19th-century grandstand still survive today, and the course has splendid views of nearby Warwick Castle. It used to have meetings all year round, both flat racing and National Hunt, but the decision was made a few years ago to focus efforts on jump racing only. It now has a programme of almost 20 fixtures during the jump season.
There are two local football clubs in easy reach of Warwick if you fancy taking in a match. Closest to our Warwick hotel is Racing Club Warwick, who take their name from the fact that their ground is just down the road from the town’s racecourse. Arguably, the club’s biggest claim to fame is that Leamington-born goalkeeper Ben Foster, who went on to play for England in the 2014 World Cup, started his career here. Racing Club enjoyed more than a decade playing in the Southern League after being promoted from the Midland Combination in the late 1980s.
Slightly further away is Leamington FC, a bigger club with a more illustrious history. Nicknamed ‘The Brakes’ because of their historic association with the Lockheed brake manufacturing company (later Automotive Products), they have twice played Football League clubs in the second of the FA Cup, losing to Southend and Torquay. Leamington have twice been champions of the Southern League and spent three seasons in what was then known as the Alliance Premier League, the top tier of non-league football.
Founded in 1986 as a forum for children and young people to explore their dramatic talents, the Playbox Theatre is still flourishing today. The illustrious Michael Bogdanov became the company patron, and it puts on regular performances ranging from gritty shows about contemporary life to new productions of traditional stories. Based at the venue known as The Dream Factory, it also hosts holiday projects, one-day workshops and special events such as the annual Starry Nights extravaganza, which features 200 local children.
The Bridge House Theatre was opened by no less than Dame Judi Dench in 2000. With a capacity of just over 300, the auditorium has a striking wood and brick decor, which is perfect for creating an intimate atmosphere. Located at Warwick School, the Bridge House stages a wide range of professional productions, together with local community events and performances by young acting talent from the area’s schools.
For big name touring productions, you’re likely to need to travel to nearby Leamington Spa to catch what’s on at the Royal Spa Centre. First opened in 1972 and designed by the architect Sir Frederick Gibberd, the venue has two performance spaces; the larger main theatre with a capacity of nearly 700 people and a smaller cinema and studio theatre, which can cater for audiences of almost 200.
As well as hosting comedy, drama, musicals, dance, variety shows and ballet, the Spa Centre even hosted the 2008 World Powerlifting Championships. Among the most famous performers to have appeared there are Ken Dodd, Jim Davidson, Derren Brown and Chris Addison.
There are also around nine shows per year staged by the Loft Theatre Company, also based in Leamington Spa. The company has been staging live theatre since 1922 and is a member of the Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain. Its main auditorium can seat 200 people, and the smaller Douglas Ford studio has seating for 50.
Although there is a lively music scene in Warwick, it’s pretty much restricted to pub venues. The best two places are probably the Punch Bowl, which puts on bands on Thursdays and Saturdays, and the Somerville Arms, which has a packed schedule of regular monthly events. Every type of music is catered for, from bluegrass nights featuring the resident act Julian Stanley and the Somerville Bluegrass Band, and acoustic Celtic folk music evenings to traditional folk music jam sessions, flamenco events, live acoustic 60s music, plus blues, soul, Americana and reggae.
Don’t be fooled by the name of Warwick University (which does have some decent gigs) – the campus is actually in Coventry around eight miles from our Warwick hotel. So, if you’re interested in seeing bigger touring bands, the closest place to go to is The Assembly in Leamington Spa. Originally known as the Bath Assembly Hall, the Art Deco building dates back to the 1920s. Having later become a ballroom and then a bingo hall, it was transformed into a music venue in 2008, with a capacity of 1,000 standing or 500 seated.
The venue puts on plenty of events geared towards the town's burgeoning student population, as well as tribute acts like the Antarctic Monkeys, and touring bands with an emphasis on nostalgia, such as Soul II Soul, Embrace and Chris Difford
Also in Leamington Spa is the Royal Spa Centre, which as well as putting on theatrical shows, also stages concerts. Some big name musicians have played there over the years, including Bob Dylan, Charlie Watts and Mike Skinner.