15 Best things to do in Rugby (Warwickshire, England)

Rugby is a market town in Warwickshire in the West Midlands that has spawned a sport played by millions around the world.

The game of rugby is inextricably linked with the Rugby School, a prestigious public school that dates back to 1567. The first rules of rugby football were written in 1845 by students from three rugby schools. There is also a widespread legend that claims the sport was started by another student, William Webb Ellis, who decided to dribble during a football game in 1823. The town of rugby has begun to embrace its sporting history.

You can visit the school to learn about where the game was played for the first time, or stop by the shop where the Gilbert family made their first football.

Let’s explore the best activities in rugby:

1. Rugby School and Museum

Rugby School

On Saturdays throughout the year, you’ll have the rare opportunity to visit one of England’s seven original state schools.

Founded in 1567, Rugby is one of the oldest independent schools in the country, and its chapel, new quadrangle, gymnasium, temple reading room and Macready theatre were all designed by renowned Gothic Revival architect William Butterfield.

The school is the source of the founding myth of rugby football – student William Webb Ellis picked up the ball during a game in 1823. But there’s also real rugby history: three rugby school students created the game’s first written rules in 1845, so it’s still fair to claim the game was born here.

The small museum houses fascinating pieces from the school’s archives, such as the earliest photographs of a football game, dating back to 1851.

2. Rugby Art Gallery and Museum

Rugby Art Gallery and Museum

Opened in 2000, the Rugby Museum is housed in a purpose-built complex that also houses the Town Library and the World Rugby Hall of Fame. Don’t miss the artifacts found in the nearby Roman-English town of Tripontium.

There are coins, pottery and glassware, and sketches of excavations, while young people can wear Roman clothing.

You can also get a clear view of Victorian and Edwardian rugby life through carefully researched social history displays.

But the undoubted highlight is the Art Gallery, which houses more than 170 works by some of the biggest names in British art of the 20th century, such as Stanley Spencer, LS Lowry, Paula Rego and Graham Sutherland.

The sheer size of the collection means that only a fraction of it can be shown at a time in the annual exhibition.

3. Webb Ellis Rugby Museum

Webb Ellis Rugby Museum

Across from Rugby School is a fascinating piece of rugby history.

Boot and shoemaker James Gilbert moved to the store in 1842 as he expanded his business into football manufacturing.

Gilbert remains the leading rugby brand, and the store continues to handcraft balls in-store.

Opened in 1980, the museum’s displays trace the evolution of rugby, from crude pig bladders to the high-tech balls made today.

There are also accounts of the myth of the origins of rugby, as well as a timeline of rugby history to date.

4. Caldecott Park

Caldecott Park

Caldecott Park is a lovely urban green space on land purchased in 1903 from Thomas Caldecott, the last estate owner. It is located behind Parliament House and Benn Hall on the north side of the city centre and has been awarded the Green Flag every year since its rebirth a decade ago.

Come stroll through the immaculate lawns, formal flower beds and paths surrounded by old bandstands where concerts are held on summer weekends.

Check out the council website as there are also art and craft fairs during the warmer months.

The renovation provides the park with two new play areas, a multi-purpose sports area and a café.

Caldecott Park suffered losses from Dutch elm disease in the 1970s, but has been restored since the 1990s thanks to a replanting program.

5. St Andrew’s Church

St Andrew's Church

Much of what you’ll see at Rugby Parish Church comes from a 19th-century restoration by William Butterfield in 1877, two years after he worked at the rugby school.

Butterfield’s signature polychromatic works are found in the 19th-century northeastern tower and spire and richly decorated sanctuary.

Meanwhile, the square west tower is the main surviving element of the previous 14th-century church.

There are three stages and it has slit windows with castles above.

If you’re interested in the architecture of the building, the old medieval nave and north aisle became the north aisle when the larger 19th century church was built.

6. Rugby Market

rugby market

The town centre has been beautified with newly planted trees and flowers, along with fun little details like a series of oval brass plaques embedded in the sidewalks celebrating rugby’s famous figures.

On the edge of this pedestrian zone, with its gas lamps and tall Victorian townhouses, is the market.

There you’ll see the Jubilee Clock Tower built in 1887 to celebrate Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

Rugby has had a market since 1235 and is traded under the bell tower every Monday, Friday and Saturday from 08:30 to 16:00.

7. Rugby Theatre

Rugby Theatre

Above all, the Rugby Theatre is a highly regarded amateur performing arts venue with dedicated teams for big-budget musicals, contemporary plays, classic plays and farce.

It’s hard to believe that some of these pieces are not professional.

The venue also hosts visiting performers, which may be opera, drama, band or children’s dance, while celebrity speakers make regular appearances.

There are about 100 nights of live performances each year, but the Theatre Royal also doubles as a cinema showing independent films and new Hollywood releases.

8. Grand Central Walk

Great Central Walk

Rugby used to be on two railway lines, as the West Coast Main Line was linked to the Great Central Railway, which has a vast network in central and northern England.

The last passenger train left Rugby Central in 1969, 70 years after the line was built, and the railway is now a well-maintained walking route.

On the one hand, the Great Central Walk is convenient as the line goes right through the middle of Rugby.

On Hillmorton Road, you can visit the ruins of an old station, and every once in a while you’ll see the historic brick bridges built in the late Victorian era.

The trail is a nature reserve managed by the Rugby Borough Council.

Kestrels and warblers breed here in spring, and 24 species of butterflies, including common blues and marbled whites, are present in summer.

9. Newbold Quarry

    Newbold Quarry

Newbold Quarry Park is a peaceful open space just a mile from Rugby town centre, a nature reserve surrounding a flooded quarry.

After quarrying stopped in the 1920s, the pit was flooded with natural spring water.

The park has lime-rich soils that nourish alkali-friendly plant species, which in turn attract large numbers of butterflies in the summer.

The pool is surrounded by sycamore and ash woodland, providing habitat for songbirds such as warblers, tits and finches.

If you don’t mind slowing down in the spring, you might see sandpipers or great crested grebes in spring, while lesser grebes, pochards, and tufted ducks spend the winter in the pond.

In early fall, there are many blackberry bushes and dam trees in the park for free foraging.

10. Stanford Hall

    Stanford Hall

On the banks of the Avon, about a 15-minute drive east of Rugby, is a country house considered the pinnacle of the ephemeral William and Mary style of the late 17th century.

Stanford Hall is primarily an event venue, but is open to the public on limited days.

It’s an opportunity not to be missed: you’ll enter the ballroom with its beautifully frescoed ceiling and a portrait of King Stuart of England.

One room is decorated with late 17th century furniture such as a dining table and a set of Charles II chairs.

Stroll the 900-acre park and enjoy a meal at Stableyard Cafe, which serves light lunches and tea.

11. Swift Valley Nature Reserve

Swift Valley Nature Reserve

Not far from the town centre on the northern outskirts of Rugby is a well-preserved old village.

The Swift River Valley Nature Reserve is located on the Swift River and includes wet and dry woodland, swamps, pastures and hedges.

The Oxford Canal also has a charming abandoned channel with watercress and yellow water lilies growing along its muddy edges.

Once cultivated land, the reserve retains its ridge and furrow markings.

The land has long since been turned into pasture for cows, and in summer is overgrown with wildflowers such as goatee beards and meadow crane beaks.

The moist woodlands by the river have lovely willows and alders, while oaks farther away from the water are filled with bulbs such as snowdrops and early-spring blooming daffodils.

12. Draycote Water

Drecott Water

The largest body of water in Warwickshire is a few miles south of Rugby in a 650-acre reservoir built in the 1960s.

Head to Draycote Water for walks and bike rides along the shore, while on the South Shore is the Draycote Water Sailing Club.

It’s open for dinghy sailing and windsurfing 364 days a year.

You don’t need to be a member to attend classes or tastings.

The reservoir houses brown trout and rainbow trout for fly fishing and is a great spot for bird watching.

Over 100 different species, from red-necked grebes to barn owls.

It can be seen at Draycote Water in a typical year.

Next to the Sailing Club is the Leam Valley Golf Centre, which has rugby’s only driving range and a par 3 nine-hole course.

13. TOFT Studio

TOFT studio

On the east bank of Draycote Reservoir is the headquarters of luxury wool and knitwear company TOFT.

On an average day, you can visit the company’s lakeside grounds, where herds of alpacas graze and produce TOFT’s wool.

Of course, you can also browse the store and its selection of wools, patterns and project kits.

You can also check TOFT’s website for details on open days and workshops on knitting, crochet and amigurumi.

Every Thursday night, knitters and crocheters host a “party” to share tips and get free advice over a cup of coffee.

14. Elliott’s Field Shopping Park

Elliott's Field Shopping Park

If you need to do some shopping in Rugby, you can find convenient locations at Rugby Central and Clocktowers in the city centre, but there are plenty of shops to the north of this retail park on the River Avon.

Fashion brands like H&M, Marks & Spencer, Next and Topshop are here, along with Nike Factory Stores and restaurants like Nando’s.

Conveniently located, just next door to Avon South Bank is the Junction One retail park, home to food chains like Metro and KFC, as well as Cineworld multiplexes, Laura Ashley and Matalan.

Where to stay: Best hotels in England Rugby
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