A weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon: travel guide, attractions and things to do

Everything you need to know for a visit to the birthplace of William Shakespeare

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Swan Theatre on the River Avon in Stratford-upon-Avon
Shakespeare’s Birthplace and statue in Stratford-upon-Avon
(Image credit: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy Stock Photo)

Why you should visit

In what is a “feat of transformation” worthy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the past 20 years or so the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon has “morphed” from a “cunning tourist trap” selling all things Shakespeare into “somewhere you’d actually like to go for a long weekend”, said Sophie Campbell on Condé Nast Traveller. The birthplace of “the Great Man”, there are many “key” William Shakespeare sites to visit here – “not to mention the actual plays, of course”, courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Is Shakespeare the “only show in town?”, asked Time Out. “You can consider that a play on words if you so desire.” The Bard may “dominate” this pretty town, but there “sure is more” to Stratford-upon-Avon than 17th-century playwrights. Modern museums, peaceful boat trips and more, for a start, including some “pretty darn delectable gin”.

Whether you are “a lover of all things literary”, a “culture vulture”, or just “adore immersing yourself in history”, there is no denying that Stratford-upon-Avon “ticks all the boxes”, said Bolthole Retreats. With “winding streets” opening up to “courtyard boutiques” and the River Avon providing a “picturesque backdrop” and a “variety of activities”, this “cultural hub” is a “feast for the senses” all year round.

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Holy Trinity Church is where Shakespeare is buried

Holy Trinity Church is where Shakespeare is buried
(Image credit: Ian Dagnall/Alamy Stock Photo)

Shakespeare attractions

Many first-time visitors will be going to the Warwickshire town to discover more about Shakespeare – so let’s start off by picking out the attractions best associated with The Bard.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

The home where he spent his childhood and the early years of his marriage to Anne Hathaway is the “perfect starting point” for exploring Shakespeare’s “works, life and times”, said the Shakespeare’s England website. Experience the “humble beginnings of the ordinary boy” from Stratford-upon-Avon who went on to do “extraordinary things”.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre

A trip “wouldn’t be complete” without a visit to the world famous Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), said BirminghamLive. Performances take place throughout the year at its riverside home, but if you don’t want to take in a show, “why not go on a tour, see the views from the tower, take a selfie in front of the iconic riverside building or have lunch in the rooftop restaurant?”.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

“Forget Juliet”, this is “real-life Shakespeare in Love”, said Time Out. Originally a farmhouse, this was the site where “Wills courted Anne”, who would later become “Mrs Shakespeare”. The pretty cottage “has its original furniture and features, and the romantic gardens are the stuff sonnets are made of”.

Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall

Dating from the early 15th century, the Guildhall is where a young Shakespeare went to school and “where he was allegedly first introduced to the world of theatre”, said Foder’s. It now serves as a heritage centre where visitors can see “newly discovered medieval wall paintings, including two of the oldest surviving Tudor roses in England”.

Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity is the church where Shakespeare was baptised in 1564 and was buried in 1616. “If you’ve spent a trip following Shakespeare’s life, this humbling grave site is a fitting end,” said Time Out. “Rumour has it grave robbers may have stolen his skull, although respecting his wishes, the grave has never been dug up to confirm.”

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Swan Theatre on the River Avon in Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Swan Theatre on the River Avon
(Image credit: Robert Harding/Alamy Stock Photo)

Things to see and do in Stratford-upon-Avon

Theatres

RSC’s newly-refurbished Swan Theatre reopened in April with the world stage premiere of Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet. An intimate venue, it seats 426 people. The Other Place, another great theatre to watch a performance or grab a bite to eat, showcases new plays and writers, alongside music, poetry and family events.

River Avon

One of the “nicest things” to do in Stratford-upon-Avon is to “mosey away” a few hours in the sunshine, watching the “colourful boats going up and down the River Avon”, said BirminghamLive. “If the mood takes you, you could hop on a boat or restaurant cruiser for a tour along the river.”

Stratford Literary Festival

Taking place from 2-7 May, the Stratford Literary Festival celebrates its 16th year in 2023. This festival has “blossomed” into an “annual shindig” that attracts “big-name authors, poets and illustrators”, said Condé Nast Traveller. This year’s confirmed names include Judi Dench, Maggie O’Farrell, Alexander Armstrong and Pam Ayres.

The MAD Museum

Make the exhibits in the Mechanical Art & Design (MAD) Museum “come alive” by pushing buttons and pedals “to your heart’s content”, said Foder’s. “Witty, beautiful, and intricate automata and examples of kinetic art will clank, whir, and rattle away.”

Magic Alley

“Much-loved” Magic Alley, a magical attraction and emporium at Bell Court Shopping Centre is a “real hidden gem”, said BirminghamLive. It’s famous for selling “potions, spells, vintage toys and games, steampunk figurines, candles, incense and puzzles”.

Shakespaw Cat Cafe

Spend 90 minutes enjoying breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea surrounded by loads of moggies. The cats at Shakespaw Cat Cafe are “all named after Shakespeare characters”, said Griffblog. When interacting with them there are “strict rules in place”, for example, “you’re not allowed to pick them up or disturb them if they’re sleeping”. As well as the many rescue cats, there are three permanent residents here – Bottom, Hamlet and Horatia.

The Guild Chapel and Hotel Indigo on Chapel Street in Stratford-upon-Avon

The Guild Chapel and Hotel Indigo on Chapel Street
(Image credit: Richard Banks/Alamy Stock Photo)

Best hotels in Stratford-upon-Avon

Hotel du Vin was given a 9/10 expert rating in The Telegraph. This 18th-century red-brick townhouse “fuses old and new elements” with its original façade and “sympathetic modern extension behind”. “Chic” but “unceremonious public spaces”, the hotel’s alfresco seating area and “stylishly moody” bedrooms combine with “unfussy” bistro food to “create a relaxing hotel”. Hotels to get 8/10 ratings include The Welcombe Hotel, a “Victorian country mansion” which sits within a “scenic” 157-acre estate on the outskirts of the town, and The Arden Hotel, which will leave theatre lovers “star-struck” by its location opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatres.

If you’re looking for a hotel that’s “hip”, “very stylish” and has “superb interior design”, then head to the four-star boutique Hotel Indigo, said Luxury Hotel Guru. Just a five-minute walk from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the hotel has a “great location” in the centre of this “picturesque” town. “Highly elegant” and “historic”, Ettington Park Hotel is the most “unique and authentic” luxury hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon. This four-star Gothic mansion is set within “40 acres of lush parkland” about 15 minutes outside of the town.

Lambs restaurant on Sheep Street in Stratford-upon-Avon

Lambs restaurant on Sheep Street in Stratford-upon-Avon
(Image credit: Nick Hatton/Alamy Stock Photo)

Best restaurants and pubs in Stratford-upon-Avon

Salt is the only restaurant in Stratford-upon-Avon to currently have a Michelin star. Located on Church Street in the heart of town, this is a “lovely little restaurant”, said the Michelin Guide. The team here “might sport a laid-back look”, but they “know their stuff” and each creative dish is served with “a full explanation” of its make up. “Tuck in and you’ll discover a hidden depth of flavour and complexity which shows the true skills of the chef and his team.”

The Michelin Guide also recommends Lambs, a restaurant with a “classic bistro menu” located on Sheep Street, and The Woodsman, which is situated at Hotel Indigo and has menus “revolving around game cooked over an open fire”.

Another “top restaurant” to eat on Sheep Street is Loxley’s Restaurant and Wine Bar, said The Culture Trip. “Perfect” for a pre-theatre meal, Loxley’s has an “al fresco courtyard for summer dining” or a “welcoming log fire for the winter”. Other places you should visit include El Greco, which serves up Greek cuisine “with a few Italian and Spanish influences thrown in”, and The Countess of Evesham, which gives guests the chance to “dine aboard a 70-foot long river cruiser while you head along the Avon through Stratford, past the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre and onto the village of Luddington”.

According to The Good Pub Guide, there are six pubs in Stratford-upon-Avon that are “worth a visit”. Pubs on the list include The Dirty Duck, which has “well kept ales”; The Garrick, an “ancient pub with fine timbered frontage”; and the Old Thatch Tavern, a “cosy and welcoming” 15th century thatched pub. The One Elm, The White Swan, and the Windmill complete the list.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the River Avon in Stratford upon Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre
(Image credit: Paul Weston/Alamy Stock Photo)

Transport: how to get to Stratford-upon-Avon

According to Trainline.com, direct trains to Stratford-upon-Avon station from London Marylebone run via Leamington Spa on the Chiltern Main Line, and there are two trains an hour from Birmingham. Stratford-upon-Avon Parkway, to the north of the town, mainly serves longer distance passengers and commuters who no longer have to travel into the centre to catch a train.

If you’re travelling by car, Stratford-upon-Avon is less than an hour’s drive from Birmingham, an hour-and-a-half from Bristol and two-hours-and-a-quarter from central London.

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