Stratford-Upon-Avon, a.k.a Shakespeare’s birthplace and burial location is just under 2 hours northwest of London by car and perfectly perched along the River Avon. The historic town is visited by plenty of day-trippers, but also makes for an ideal base while exploring the countryside, which includes the medieval Warwick Castle and the idyllic Cotswolds villages.
For lovers of Shakespeare (like me!), visiting Stratford-Upon-Avon is a must. “I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it.”
But, even if you’re not Shakespeare’s biggest fan (read: can’t understand a word of his writing), fear not!
Stratford-Upon-Avon will make you absolutely love Shakespeare!
The town oozes with English charm. You’ll fall for the Tudor-style houses standing frozen in time along the main streets, High and Church. The compact town center is highly walkable, with shops, pubs, and restaurants lining the streets and Waterside.
There are even car-free zones like that of Henley Street, where pedestrians stroll, shop, and stop into cafes for tea, scones, and clotted cream.
There are historic houses and sights in and around the town, many of which are part of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Shakespeare’s Birthplace House situated at the heart of Henley Street, is where he was born and grew up! The Tudor-style house has been restored in the 16th-century style. There’s also an adjacent Shakespeare Museum, with exhibitions and treasures including what is thought to be William Shakespeare’s initialed W.S. gold signet ring, which was found on the grounds of Holy Trinity Church in the 1800s.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, the historic childhood home of Shakespeare’s wife (not the movie star!) and the place where they spent time getting acquainted with one another before marrying, is just about a mile from the town center in nearby Shottery.
The thatched-roof cottage has been restored with 16th-century family heirlooms and the gardens shaped the way they would’ve looked in Shakespeare’s time. Maybe I was just swept up in the romance of the cottage and how I could be standing on the same floorboards whereupon stood Shakespeare’s feet. My mind drifted to a young Will and his intended strolling through the gardens.
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” Ohhh, Will..er…I mean, what lovely writing, Mr. Shakespeare.
You can opt to take a Stratford Town Walk. Or meander through the equally romantic setting of Waterside. Take a boat cruise or hire a row boat. Picnic in Bancroft Gardens. Enjoy a bite to eat at an outdoor cafe.
Feed the swans.
Or simply take the opportunity to relax with a Pimm’s Cup…or two.
Casually 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. Perhaps it’s the old, mossy graveyard, with crumbling tombstones, shaded from the sun. Or it might be because this is the church of Shakespeare’s baptism and burial. I think it’s all of this, plus this history of the site, that makes this church a standout and a must-see.
The church dates back to the early 1200s and is built on the site of a former Saxon monastery. You won’t be able to help wonder whose hands have held the 14th-century brass knocker as you enter into the church.
The sanctuary houses the tomb of Shakespeare, his wife Anne, and his oldest daughter. The church is free to enter but does charge a nominal fee to view the famous playwright’s tomb.
When the day is done, plan to take in a show at the Royal Shakespeare Company or the more intimate Swan Theatre, both centrally located on Waterside. Tickets are available online and also at the box office. Tickets for most shows typically sell quickly so it’s best to book ahead of time or be flexible with performance dates and times. A variety of front of house and backstage tours are also offered during the day.
“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.”
Of course, you know all along that you’ll eventually have to end your time in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and alas, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” (You had to see that one coming!)
When to Go: Summer is the high season and the best time to stroll through the town and along Waterside. But, because of the summer crowds, plan to stay at least 1 night, if you can. You’ll love having the town to “yourself” after the day visitors have gone.
How to Get There: You can drive via the M40 or take the train from London or Birmingham to the Stratford-Upon-Avon station. Parking can be limited so check to see if your hotel has parking. For day visitors, paid parking lots are located just before the bridge heading into town. Driving will make it easier to explore the Cotswolds and surrounding countryside.
Where to Stay: I visited twice and once stayed in town at the Church Street Townhouse. The rooms were comfy and the inn was within a 5-minute walk to most places in town. The adjoining restaurant can get noisy so ask for an upstairs room if you’re sensitive to that. The restaurant and bar served delicious dinners.
What do you love about Stratford-Upon-Avon?
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