With so many things to do in Stratford-Upon-Avon, this charming town is a great way to expand your United Kingdom trip into the English countryside.
The town’s timber-framed Tudor-style houses and peaceful riverside capture the spirit of what the town must have been like back in the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s also the birthplace and burial location of the famous playwright William Shakespeare.
This history and allure make Stratford-Upon-Avon one of the most popular places to visit in England.
So, in this guide, you’ll find what you need to plan your excursion, including what to do in Stratford-Upon Avon, how to get here from London, and where to stay should you plan to base yourself in the area.
15 Favorite Things to Do in Stratford-Upon-Avon
Stratford-Upon-Avon is about 100 miles northwest of London and perfectly perched along the River Avon. (Thus, the town’s name!)
This closeness to London means a day in Stratford-Upon-Avon is more than possible. But, it also makes for an ideal base while exploring the nearby countryside, including the picture-perfect Cotswolds villages and the fascinating medieval Warwick Castle.
Summer is the high season, with many visitors day-tripping from London. If you have the time in your UK itinerary, plan to stay at least 1 night. It’ll feel like you have the town to yourself after the day visitors have gone by the afternoon.
How to Get from London to Stratford-Upon-Avon
If you’re planning to spend just 1 day in Stratford-Upon-Avon, you’ll likely want to consider a train or a day tour to keep things simple.
Chiltern Railways runs daily trains from London’s Marleybone Station to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Not all trains are direct and making a connection usually saves some money without adding travel time. However, don’t choose connections through Birmingham Moor Street, as this route tends to price out much higher than the others.
There are also several options for day tours to Stratford-Upon-Avon that depart from London. If you want to devote the day to exploring Stratford-Upon-Avon, and in particular its historic Shakespeare sights, then choose a day tour that focuses on the town.
Day tours like this one, which includes other destinations in addition to Stratford-Upon-Avon spend less time in each place to see more in a single day.
If you’re planning to stay at least 1 night in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the transportation you choose depends on what you plan to do.
Buses run several times a day between London Victoria Coach Station and Stratford-Upon-Avon. Prices are less expensive than the train but because the one-way trip can take closer to 3 hours, it’s less ideal for a day trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon.
If you’d like to base yourself in Stratford-Upon-Avon and explore the surrounding area, including the Cotswolds, you’ll need to rent a car.
You can drive via the M40 from London. The ride will take about 2 hours depending on traffic. Just be sure to check with your hotel because parking in Stratford-Upon-Avon is tight.
There are plenty of rental car offices in London, so it’s easy to pick up a rental car on the morning you’d like to drive to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Just be sure to compare car rental prices so you can see a range of car types and prices for the best deal.
I’ve visited Stratford-Upon-Avon twice and used the town as a base for one of those trips. (On the other trip, I stayed in the Cotswolds.) I stayed at The Townhouse located in the heart of town on Church Street, no more than a 5-10 minute walk to most places in town.
The boutique hotel has been recently refurbished and the attached restaurant is a town favorite, especially for a pre-theater dinner. If you’re sensitive to noise, you may want to request an upstairs room to be further away from the restaurant.
One thing to note, the hotel is in a 400-year-old building that does not have air conditioning. Fans are provided and lower-level rooms are likely to be cooler in the summer months.
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What to Do in Stratford-Upon-Avon
“I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it.” And, luckily, there are plenty of great things to do in Stratford-Upon-Avon no matter how long you plan to spend in town.
1. Visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace.
There are 5 historic Shakespeare Birthplace Trust properties in and around the town. Shakespeare’s Birthplace house is situated at the heart of Henley Street and it’s where he was born and grew up! It’s also where he lived with Anne, his wife, for the first few years of their marriage.
The Tudor-style house has been restored in the 16th-century style and with many precious artifacts from the era. Local experts dressed in Tudor style clothing are there to explain the history and give a context of what life might have been like for Shakespeare as he grew up in Stratford-Upon-Avon in the 1560s and 1570s.
If you’re not familiar with this time period or Shakespeare’s life, this makes a great starting point for your visit to Stratford-Upon-Avon.
If you’re planning to see all 5 Shakespeare Birthplace Trust sites, you’ll save money with the Full Story ticket. It’s a combination ticket that bundles the price into one and also can save time in the busier summer months when lines to enter the properties are longer.
ProTip: Even if you’re planning just to visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, it’s cheaper to buy the Full Story ticket than to purchase individual entry to those 2 sites separately.
2. Learn about the life of Shakespeare’s wife at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is the historic family home of Shakespeare’s wife (not the movie star!) and the place where William Shakespeare and Anne spent time getting acquainted with one another before marrying.
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”
Actually, there’s speculation about just how in love they really were with one another rather than simply needing to get married because Anne had become pregnant.
This thatched-roof cottage dates back to the mid-1400s and has been restored with 16th-century family heirlooms and the gardens shaped how they would’ve looked in Shakespeare’s time. For its age, the cottage is remarkably preserved.
The cottage and its gardens are just about a mile from the town center in nearby Shottery and a 25-minute walk from the center of Stratford-Upon-Avon. If you have a rental car, you can also make the few minutes drive. If you’d rather not walk or don’t have a car, the hop-on-hop-off bus makes a stop at the cottage.
Even though you don’t need a hop-on-hop-off bus to get around the compact town of Stratford-Upon-Avon itself, this is a convenient workaround to avoid the walk. It can also get you to Mary Arden’s Farm. More on that below.
If you purchased a Full Story ticket to see all the Shakespeare Trust sites, Anne Hathway’s cottage and gardens admission are included. And even if you’re short on time and can’t see all 5 Shakespeare Trust properties, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage should be one you prioritize over some of the others.
3. See a play at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.”
What visit to the birthplace of Shakespeare would be complete without some theater! Whether you want to see matinee or evening performance, plan to take in a show at the Royal Shakespeare Company or the more intimate Swan Theatre. Both theaters put on Shakespeare’s plays but also present productions that were written by other playwrights as well.
The theaters are centrally located along the water. Tickets are available online and also at the box office. Keep in mind, though, tickets for most shows typically sell quickly so it’s best to book ahead of time or be flexible with performance dates and times.
If you’d like to learn more about the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, there are a variety of front of house and backstage tours offered during the day.
ProTip: If you plan to see an evening performance, it makes sense to stay in town for the night. While it’s possible to catch a train back to London, it can be a tight transition from the end of the performance to the train station to make the train in time.
4. Pay your respects at Holy Trinity Church.
Make your way along Waterside, the River Avon gently flowing on your left, to Holy Trinity Church.
Maybe it’s the way the church is partially hidden among the trees. Or perhaps it’s the old, mossy graveyard, with the crumbling tombstones, shaded from the sun. This church is a standout example of a classic village church.
Holy Trinity Church is also the place where Shakespeare was baptized and buried. His wife, Anne, and his oldest daughter are also laid to rest inside the sanctuary.
The church dates back to the early 1200s and is built on the site of a former Saxon monastery. The 14th-century brass knocker on the door as you enter the church feels like opening a portal to the past.
The church is free to enter but does ask for a voluntary donation of £4 to maintain the church and the cemetery outside. The church is open 7 days a week, all day Monday-Saturday and after 12:30 p.m. on Sundays.
5. Walk Stratford-Upon-Avon’s beautiful riverside.
The town’s namesake is because it sits along the pretty River Avon. Stroll along the promenade and enjoy the green space. You can even picnic in the Bancroft gardens along the banks of the canal.
No matter what, you’re sure to see the town’s famous swans. The swans will especially love you if you have some bread or even a piece of lettuce saved from a sandwich to share with them.
If you stay in Stratford-Upon-Avon for the night, the Waterside promenade is clear from all the day’s visitors and quite romantic!
6. Paddle out onto the River Avon.
If the river is calling to you, why not rent a rowboat and paddle into the picturesque scene yourself! There are hourly rentals at the Swan’s Nest Boathouse from Spring to Fall as weather and water conditions allow.
You can rent a boat when you arrive or make a reservation online for just £7 per adult per hour. It’s a peaceful way to see Stratford-Upon-Avon from the water and the rental company even provides a map and information about the sights.
ProTip: If you’d prefer not to row yourself, you can hire one of their boatmen or opt to take a guided boat tour instead.
7. Enjoy a delicious meal at a restaurant or a pub.
Stratford-Upon-Avon is such a walkable town and when the weather is nice, it’s part of the experience to enjoy a meal at an outdoor cafe or simply relax with a Pimm’s Cup…or two…at one of the famous pubs in town.
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre has a rooftop restaurant with fantastic views. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner but is also a great spot for a coffee or to have afternoon tea with a view.
The Dirty Duck a.k.a the Black Swan is a classic pub along the riverside, serving fish and chips and other traditional English pub grub. When the weather warms up, sit outside on the patio and watch the swans as you sip on something refreshing.
8. Discover Tudor farm life at Mary Arden’s Farm.
Mary Arden was Shakespeare’s mother and this was the farm where she grew up with her parents and siblings. The house was built in the early 1500s by Shakespeare’s grandfather. However, the house you see today has undergone many renovations and changes.
Still, it gives a sense of what Tudor farm life would have been like, animals and all. During your visit, you’ll also have the chance to see birds of prey, craft demonstrations, and historic re-enactments by the staff. Just note, Mary Arden’s Farm is closed in the winter. It reopens typically in Mid-March until early November. Entry is included with a Full Story ticket.
ProTip: If you don’t have a rental car, the Hop-on-Hop-Off bus makes a stop at Mary Arden’s Farm, which is located just outside of Stratford-Upon-Avon in the village of Wilmcote.
9. Celebrate Shakespeare’s legacy at New Place.
New Place is where Shakespeare’s home as an adult once stood. When he wasn’t in London, he and his family lived in the house that was here from 1597 until his death in 1616. Unfortunately, the house was torn down in the 1750s.
However, a commemorative garden now marks the site and displays exhibitions that show where the original house once stood, artwork, and interactive activities. Entry is included with a Full Story ticket.
10. Attend school where Shakespeare did.
It’s probably the nerdy teacher in me, but I love to go back in time to see what school life was like! At Shakespeare’s School and Guild Hall, you can sit in the actual classroom where Shakespeare studied as a boy in the 1570s.
The visit is interactive so you get to take part in a Tudor-style school lesson, test out your quill and ink skills, and even dress up as the students of the day would have been.
The Guild Hall is where important town meetings were held, including when Shakespeare’s father was Mayor. The walls are the highlight, which show fabulous medieval paintings.
11. Learn about Shakespeare’s daughter at Hall’s Croft.
This is the home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband, John Hall. The house was built in 1613 and has walled gardens on the grounds. John Hall was a doctor who believed in the power of herbs and plants as remedies and, today, the garden reflects this still today.
The visit to the house and gardens is included in the Full Story ticket and will take about an hour to complete. What stands out about these Shakespeare Trust properties is how well they’ve been preserved and how the guides and restorations help you feel like you’ve stepped back into the past.
12. Stir up some of Stratford-Upon-Avon’s ghostly spirits.
Unfortunately, it’s not likely you’ll encounter the ghost of William Shakespeare himself. However, Stratford-Upon-Avon is thought to have one of the most haunted buildings in all of England.
The tour takes place inside the Tudor World Museum building at night. The building dates back to the 1200s and has experienced everything from the plague to fires. A guide takes you through the rooms by lantern only and talks about the paranormal activity that’s been seen or reported.
This is definitely something only for the brave of heart!
13. Stroll along the Car-Free Henley Street.
On the same street as Shakespeare’s Birthplace house, you’ll find a pedestrian area of town lined with shops and cafes. Take time to stroll, shop, and stop into a cafe for tea, scones, and clotted cream.
(No matter where you visit in the U.K, experiencing a traditional afternoon tea is a must-do!)
ProTip: If you’d like a more organized walk through town, the Stratford Town Walk is well-reviewed and provides history about the town and Shakespeare. No reservations are needed.
14. Visit medieval Warwick Castle.
Warwick Castle is just a 15-minute drive from Stratford-Upon-Avon. The castle began as a wooden fortress built by William the Conqueror in 1068 and was built upon and fortified with stone in the 12th-century. The Castle served as the home for the Earls of Warwick until the 1970s, however, it appears as if some of the former Earls and their families still linger…
Today, visitors can tour some of the castle’s rooms, walk along the defensive ramparts, and even tour the dungeon. The castle also has medieval-themed shows including birds of prey demonstrations, archery, and how the catapult was used in defense.
It’s a family-friendly, fun, and interesting castle to visit while you’re in the Stratford-Upon-Avon area.
15. Drive through the Cotswolds Villages.
The idyllic Cotswold villages are what you imagine when you think of the English countryside. Honey-colored limestone cottages lining small village roads that are surrounded by open green expanses where herds of sheep graze.
Villages like Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden, the Slaughters, and Bibury are all within easy driving range from Stratford-Upon-Avon. Along the way, you’ll wind down country lanes and through villages with shops, cafes, and walking paths into the hillsides.
Visit manor houses with English gardens and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Blenheim Palace, as well as the 15th century Sudeley Castle.
If you’re planning a trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon and have a couple of days in the area, plan to visit the Cotswolds villages. They’re a must!
Of course, all good things come to an end and your time in Stratford-Upon-Avon is no different.
Alas, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” 😉
Fall in love with Stratford-Upon-Avon’s English charm, the town’s history, and its Shakespearian past. At just 2 hours from London, this town, as well as the sights in the surrounding countryside, compliments your U.K. itinerary for an unforgettable trip.
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