Stratford-upon-Avon doesn’t shy away from its famous connection. In fact, it embraces it so wholeheartedly, you’ll be left wondering if there is a single corner untouched by the man himself.
It was the birthplace of and home to William Shakespeare, and the old town revolves around that singular fact.
If you’re not a fan of the celebrated wordsmith, Stratford-upon-Avon is an easy miss – the nearby Cotswolds offer plenty of quaint English countryside minus the kitschy Tudor-style gimmicks – but for those who have read even one of his plays (willingly or otherwise), it’s definitely worth a visit.
Stratford-upon-Avon is an easy day trip to make from London.
By the Chiltern service from Marylebone station, the town is around two hours away. Stratford-upon-Avon station is then about a seven-minute walk away from the old town.
By car, the trip can take up to two-and-a-half hours when avoiding toll roads and there are plenty of paid and free car park options in the centre of town.
It’s easy to get lost in the beauty of this medieval town. Many of the buildings date back to the time of the Bard and their striking black and white striped facades are gorgeous on camera. But, you’ll need to get cracking if you’re to make the most of the day.
We’ll start by tracing over the life of Shakespeare, from his birth ’til his early death at just 52.
The pedestrianised Henley Street at the centre of town is the place to start, at the creatively-titled house, Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Here, you’ll find tributes to the playwright in the adjacent museum before entering his family home, kitted out with everything Shakespeare would’ve grown up with and stationed with costumed guides to answer your questions. Once outside, stroll through the gardens and request your favourite scene or sonnet from one of the impressive actors.
Then, wander on down to New Place, or the House That Isn’t There, on High Street. This was the house Shakespeare purchased after making a name for himself as a famous writer. He lived here with Anne Hathaway (not that one) and his two children until his death. As the original house is no longer standing, an immaculate contemporary garden filled with modern sculptures makes for a beautiful walk, while inside the property an interactive, informative museum can be completed in just half an hour.
From here, it’s an easy five minute walk over to Hall’s Croft – the home of Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna and her husband, John Hall. Less a look into the Bard’s life and more a history of medicine and class in 16th Century England, the museum and gardens are a fascinating and quick 45-minute addition to your day.
End your morning with a jaunt over to Holy Trinity Church, the burial place of William Shakespeare, Anne Hathaway and more prominent members of the town from his time. It’s free to enter but £3 to access the part of the church where they are buried – a worthy additional cost to read the epitaph and ledgers detailing his baptism and death.
Wander the churchyard on your way to lunch – we stopped by the Dirty Duck, a pub sat by the River Avon for a quick snack and a to-die-for berry G&T, but you could also check out the Arden Hotel or the rooftop restaurant at the Royal Shakespeare Company. All are less than 10 minutes away from the church.
Assuming it’s now around 2pm, you have three options.
You can embark on the 20-minute walk over to Anne Hathaway’s House, catch a train out to Mary Arden’s Farm or switch things up by hiring a boat on the River Avon.
Shakespeare enthusiasts will get the most out of Anne’s house, where two guides give impassioned speeches that bring the couple’s romantic history to life – you’ll even stand on the original stone flooring that the writer is almost guaranteed to have stood on at least once in his life. More impeccable gardens surround the property and you can add your knowledge to the crowd-sourced retelling of Romeo and Juliet.
Mary Arden’s Farm, meanwhile, is just that – a working farm. William Shakespeare’s mother grew up on the property and the immersive Tudor-style farm is the perfect hands-on history experience. Plus, there’s plenty of animals to pat, so the kids will love it too!
As for taking a boat out onto the river, Avon Boating offers both row and motor boats by the hour for you to take for a spin. Last sail is at 4pm.
Our personal recommendation is to try and fit both Anne Hathaway’s house and the trip on the river into your itinerary – you won’t regret it!
If you’ve driven to town, you’ll be able to fit in dinner and a show before returning to London. Train commuters will have to be careful – some days offer late returns to London which will make this possible, but others leave Stratford by 6pm.
Classic plays currently running at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre are Macbeth and Romeo & Juliet, but you’ll also find contemporary shows in other theatres throughout the town. Find what’s on before your trip here.
As for that dinner, there’s myriad options in town popular with both tourists and locals alike. From the upmarket Lambs Restaurant and 33 The Scullery to a classic pub feed at the Old Thatch or Rose and Crown, every tastebud is sure to be catered for. But be sure to reserve a table a day or two before your trip – they book out fast especially in the pre-show time slots!
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust offers a five-property ticket (Shakespeare’s Birthplace, New Place, Hall’s Croft, Anne Hathaway House and Mary Arden’s Farm) for £22 at the gate or £20.50 online. While you won’t get to all five houses in just one day, it’s still by far the best value option – you can even pass the tickets on to a friend or revisit the sites as they are valid for 12 months!
Other things to do in Stratford-upon Avon
For fans of theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company runs tours of their premises, while shopaholics will find boutique stores aplenty on Henley, Wood and Chapel Streets as well as around the old town generally.
Bug-lovers will go wild at the Butterfly Farm, Tudor World brings Shakespeare’s world to life in all it’s dorky glory and kids will love the MAD Museum, with its interactive mechanical art exhibits.
Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments below!