If you are planning a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon your thoughts might immediately turn to William Shakespeare, who was born here in 1564. But, important though he is, there is much more to Stratford than Shakespeare. Whether your taste is for Tudor architecture, historic pubs, or parks and countryside, you will find plenty to occupy yourself on a short break in the city.
The Shakespeare Connection
Shakespeare is certainly ever-present in Stratford. You can see the places where he lived and studied, watch a play, and picnic beside statues of his most famous characters. A good place to start is at the three properties managed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – these are as much worth visiting for the houses and gardens as for the Shakespeare connection.
Read more about Discovering Shakespeare In Stratford-Upon-Avon.
If you love the theatre you will be spoilt for choice in Stratford. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, on Waterside, has a regular programme of Shakespeare’s plays. The theatre was refurbished in 2010 to create a three-sided stage of the type that Elizabethan audiences would have been familiar with. (At the time of writing – July 2021 – the Royal Shakespeare Company’s other two theatres, The Swan and The Other Place, are closed.)
There a number of other theatres to choose from in Stratford-upon-Avon. These include the Stratford Playhouse, with a wide range of performances for all tastes, and the smaller and more intimate Bear Pit Theatre.
Stratford Old Town And Tudor Architecture
There can be few towns in Britain with quite so many historic buildings, many of them timber-framed Tudor houses. You can enjoy the architecture as you walk around, or follow the Historic Spine. This is a walking route connecting a sequence of roads – Henley Street, High Street, Chapel Street, Church Street and Old Town. As you walk read about the history of the buildings on a series of pavement plaques.
The Guild Chapel was originally built for the Guild of the Holy Cross in 1269, but what you see today dates mainly from the late 1400s. The most impressive feature is its medieval wall paintings, including a large doom painting. These pictures were rediscovered in the 1950s, having been whitewashed over during the Reformation (the job of whitewashing was performed by none other than John Shakespeare, William’s father…)
The Chapel is open every day, and there is no entrance charge.
Shakespeare’s Schoolroom And Guildhall
Adjoining the chapel is Shakespeare’s Schoolroom And Guildhall, one of only twelve surviving medieval guild halls in England. By Shakespeare’s time the religious guilds had been dissolved, and the building was in use as a town hall. John Shakespeare would have spent much of his time here, in his role as Town Bailiff, and William himself would have attended the school in the upper rooms.
The Guildhall is a long half-timbered structure, an impressive building both inside and out. Today part of it is in use as alms houses, and part is still used by a school. Visitors can take a tour of the historic Guildhall and Schoolroom.
Tudor World is a living history museum on the medieval Sheep Street. It is located in the Shrieve’s House, the “oldest lived-in house in Stratford”. It traces its origins as far back as 1196, although the current house – accessed via a narrow cobbled passage – was rebuilt in 1595.
The museum itself is an exploration of everyday life in Tudor times, with an emphasis upon the weird and the macabre!
Historic Pubs And Restaurants
Unsurprisingly, you will find lots of historic pubs and restaurants in Stratford-upon-Avon. The Garrick Inn is a 16th century town house that has been an inn since 1718. It is named after David Garrick, the actor who staged a Shakespeare festival in Stratford in 1769, thus kickstarting literary tourism in the town.
The Garrick vies with the Old Thatch Tavern for the title of “oldest pub in Stratford”. Another notable hostelry is the riverside Black Swan, dating back to the 18th century. This has the distinction of being the only British pub to be licensed under two different names: the sign outside the inn says “Black Swan” on one side and “Dirty Duck” on the other!
All that history means that Stratford is bound to have a ghost or two. It is certainly the case that Tudor World claims to be the “most haunted building in England”, and when I was in the Garrick Inn a fellow diner told me we were sharing our space with a few spooks…
Riverside Walks, Parks And Boat Rides
Stratford stands upon the River Avon and it is also at one end of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal, connecting the town to Birmingham and beyond. There is a substantial amount of parkland around the river and the canal, with lots of opportunities for recreation and walks.
A good place to start is at the Bancroft Gardens, beside the river and the canal basin. From here follow the 2 mile River Walk, which takes in many of the town’s main sights. You will pass the end of the historic Stratford and Moreton Tramway, once used to haul coal to Moreton-in-Marsh and now being developed as a walking and cycling route. And you could cross the river on the old Chain Ferry, the last of its type in Britain.
Finally, there are lots of river cruises departing from Bancroft Gardens. Choose from a variety of short excursions, or hire your own boat for an hour or two.
Round About Stratford
Stratford-upon-Avon is surrounded by some lovely countryside, and is close to the Cotswolds (try Chipping Campden which is just 20 km away). Very near to Stratford are the Shakespeare Distillery, where artisan gins are created, and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (the latter is walking distance if you do not have a car).
Further afield Coventry (which was UK City of Culture for 2021) is 30 km away, and the historic Kenilworth Castle is 24 km. And there are several National Trust properties within easy reach, the nearest being Charlecote Park, a Tudor house with a landscaped deer park.
Practical Information For Your Visit To Stratford-Upon-Avon
- Stratford-upon-Avon is 146 km from London and 35 km from Birmingham.
- Trains from London Marylebone take around 2 hours, with one change. The journey time from Birmingham is 43 minutes.
- I stayed at the very comfortable and interesting Indigo Hotel, but there is a choice of accommodation in Stratford to suit all tastes and budgets.
This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.