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England Destinations Europe Guide

Stratford-Upon-Avon | Exploring the Heart of Shakespeare Country

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A place of pilgrimage for fans of the Bard, Stratford-Upon-Avon is a village with one foot in the present and one in the past. Though it is home to a wondrous mix of architectural styles and eras of English history, the town never forgets the man who put it on the map. If you have even the slightest interest in Shakespeare, or simply want to visit an idyllic village in the English countryside, Stratford-Upon-Avon is sure to delight.

A place of pilgrimage for fans of the Bard, Stratford-Upon-Avon is a village with one foot in the present and one in the past. Though it is home to a wondrous mix of architectural styles and eras of English history, the town never forgets the man who put it on the map. If you have even the slightest interest in Shakespeare, or simply want to visit an idyllic village in the English countryside, Stratford-Upon-Avon is sure to delight.

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Historic Attractions

While there are plenty of things to do in Stratford-Upon-Avon, one towers above all: Shakespeare’s Birthplace. A modest dwelling on Henley Street, the Birthplace grounds contain a small museum, actors in the garden, and the home itself: a restored historic property complete with friendly guides. Make no mistake – this house is the reason Stratford is one of the top places to visit in England, and it’s not to be missed. Special events occur year round, so be sure to check online listings. 

Beyond the Birthplace itself, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust runs four other properties, including two more in Stratford: New Place and Hall’s Croft. Both are informative and interesting attractions in their own right. New Place tells the story of Shakespeare’s now-demolished home and town life in Stratford, while Hall’s Croft focuses on the time period’s fascinating medical history.

Other attractions of note include Shakespeare’s Schoolroom, where he first learned the basic tenets of English that would ultimately lead to his great works, and Shakespeare’s grave inside the historic Trinity Church. Once you’ve had your fill of history for the day, feel free to check out local favorites like Magic Alley, a fascinating magic shop, and Stratford Butterfly Farm, which offers a soothing, serene experience in a beautiful setting.

Photo by James Homans on Unsplash

Countryside Excursions

Those looking for a proper English country holiday could do far worse than Stratford-Upon-Avon. During the warmer months, Stratford-Upon-Avon is one of the best places to visit in the UK. The town is lush with beautiful flowers and vegetation, and there are plenty of walking paths to take it all in. Beautiful parks line the River Avon, where you can spend the afternoon boating, riding the nearby Ferris wheel, or watching swans as they swim by.

If you feel like walking a bit further astride, consider following the walkways and canals to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage or Mary Arden’s Farm. The former is the historic home of Shakespeare’s wife, and the latter the home of his mother. Both feature gorgeous gardens and greenery, and the farm hosts its fair share of animals, including many rare breeds of livestock. Each can easily fill a half day of your itinerary, but can be quicker visits if you so choose. Note that these locations can also be accessed by car or train.

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Theater Offerings

Of course, no one should leave the Bard’s hometown without attending at least one theatrical production. Though the town itself is quite small, it punches well above its weight in terms of theater offerings. The grandest of the bunch are the pair of theaters located within the Royal Shakespeare Company: the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan. Productions here are lavish and intricate, and are sure to wow you will both their technical and emotional prowess. Don’t let price dissuade you, either – ten pound rush tickets are available on select nights and will definitely deliver the bang your buck deserves.

Other theaters and productions in town range from large scale, open-air revelries to intimate experiences held in close-knit spaces. Such venues include The Bear Pit Theatre, The Attic, and The Other Place. Open air productions are often held in the riverside parks in the summer months and are free to the public – one of many reasons summer is a fantastic time to visit.

Food and Lodging

Given the size of their town, Stratford-Upon-Avon’s restaurants have a surprisingly wide variety of flavors to choose from. The top-rated Giggling Squid serves up delectable Thai cuisine, while El Greco provides traditional Greek offerings. Visitors with an appetite for history should consider the classic British pub fare served by The Old Thatch and Garrick Inn, respectively. Both pubs have roots in the 16th century, and are well worth a trip for the scenery alone, if not the food. 

Also of note? Mary Arden’s Farm, which serves produce grown on site in delicious, farm fresh meals. Tea at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is another delight, both for its spread and pastoral surroundings. Those looking for a quick bite regardless of the hour will be happy to note that coffee shops and fish bars are plentiful throughout town. 

There are a number of lodging options available to visitors, with most of them being quite affordable. Stratford-Upon-Avon’s hotels have some fine rooms available. The Mercure Shakespeare Hotel, Hotel Indigo, and the White Swan are great (and affordable) selections thanks to their charming mixture of history and modernity. In recent years, a large number of guest houses have popped up in Stratford, and are a decent alternative to the traditional hotel experience. Many of these guest houses provide breakfast and are close to the major attractions in town, though some are further out, should you prefer a quieter stay. 

Trivia

  • Shakespeare’s birthday is still celebrated in Stratford-Upon-Avon! Celebrations are held in late April (around the 23rd) and feature a parade, art exhibitions, and Shakespeare impersonators.
  • You won’t be able to visit Stratford’s first theater, which was built in 1769 for the inaugural Shakespeare Jubilee. It was washed away after the town experienced a surprisingly heavy downpour. 
  • Approximately three million people flock to this English countryside village each year. 
  • Stratford has always been a center of commerce, and that tradition continues to this day. Street markets are held every Friday and Saturday, and a Victorian Christmas market is held in the wintertime.
  • Stratford’s canals are part of a greater English canal system. If you have the time (and determination), you could theoretically travel from Stratford to London by boat!

Header photo by pixelsteve on Unsplash

Photo by marksalmon0 on Pixabay

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