Stratford-upon-Avon is an historic town on the river Avon in the English county of Warwickshire, best known as the home town of the great English playwright and poet, William Shakespeare. Today, it is a major theatre-going destination as the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. As such, it represents one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.
Stratford-upon-Avon has its origins in the Saxon culture of medieval England (the name "straet-ford" indicates that it was a river crossing). For many centuries it was little more than a small market town on the road to London; even today, it has only 24,000 permanent residents. Though it has developed some industrial capacity, Stratford is now known mostly for its association with Shakespeare. The town benefits tremendously from the resulting tourism and cultural activity, and has gone to great lengths to preserve those buildings that have survived since Shakespeare's time. As a result the centre of town is quaint and attractive, drawing many thousands of tourists each year to its cultural and historical amenities.
To get to Stratford-upon-Avon from London, take the M40 motorway and get off at Junction 15. Distance 102 miles (164 km), journey time approximately 2 hours. See also the town's Park and Ride website.
Stratford-upon-Avon train station is located around half a mile west of the town centre. The town is easily accessible by foot from the station. There are regular services to Birmingham Snow Hill station (around an hour), Warwick (around 30 minutes) and London Marylebone (around two and a half hours). If travelling from London, you might need to change at Leamington Spa station. Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom.
Cycling is a great way to see Stratford and the surrounding area. The Stratford Greenway is 5 miles of traffic free cycle track just on the edge of town.
- Stratford Bike Hire, Seven Meadows Road (head for Stratford Greenway), ☎ . 9:30-5PM. Cycle Hire and Cafe located in refurbished Railway Carriages on Seven Meadows Road at the start of the Stratford Greenway.
Stratford upon Avon is a small compact town and it is very easy to walk to all the shops and attractions. The daily guided Stratford Town Walk passes the major attractions, including a visit to Holy Trinity Church. This is a good way of understanding the layout of the town. There is also an open top bus tour taking in some of the town centre. It then travels out of town in the local countryside to see Anne Hathaway's Cottage in Shottery and Mary Arden's House in Wilmcote.
For anyone unable to walk, you can hire a mobility scooter from Shopmobility, located on the ground floor of the Bridgefoot multi-storey car park.
- Shakespeare's Birthplace. Henley St. A 'can't miss' for tourists. Probably the location of Shakespeare's birth, and definitely the home of his early years. Restored with 16th-century decor and many authentic items. Also includes gardens in the immediate area.
- Ann Hathaway's Cottage. Romantic cottage located in the hamlet of Shottery, approximately a mile from the town centre. Hathaway, later Shakespeare's wife, lived here as a girl until her marriage with the playwright (meaning that their courtship occurred here). Restored with many family heirlooms on display, and surrounded with scenic gardens.
- Holy Trinity Church. Site of the burial of William Shakespeare, and therefore a place of pilgrimage for his admirers. The church itself is beautiful in its own right, but the playwright's tomb (and those of his immediate family) ensures that it is well worth the effort to visit. Be aware that the church is not a "tourist attraction"; services and other functions take precidence over other considerations. Entry is free, but those viewing the grave are asked to make a donation of £2 for adults.
- The Falstaff Experience. Sheep Street set in the award-winning 500 year-old half-timbered property, it is simply the most unique and haunted building in the world according to Fiona Broome. The largest museum in Stratford, Falstaff's now encorporates Tudor World, the only museum dedicated solely to the Tudor era. With authentic recreations, it is an unusual and atmospheric experience. In the evening their popular spooky lantern-lit ghost tours take place of this famously haunted building. Most Haunted filmed here in 2004 and there have been 100s of paranormal investigations of the property since. A must see is Falstaffs - the original haunted museum in Stratford!
- Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
- The Wyrd Museum and Henley Street Theatre, Henley Street, ☎ . Formerly the Museum of Witchcraft and Wizardology, the Creaky Cauldron has undergone a dramatic and scary transformation to become Bombay Manor, home to the Wyrd Museum and the Henley Street Theatre as well as the extremely creepy Bombay family and is now Stratford's premier scare attraction! If you think you're brave enough, come in the evening for a select soiree hosted by Canon Ezekiel Bombay and his family where you will need to keep your wits about you as you start to question your senses (and even your sanity) as the Bombay family's dreadful secrets begin to unfold before your eyes.....
- Stratford-Upon-Avon Butterfly Farm. Whatever the weather stroll through the wonderful world of an exotic rainforest: a lush landscape of tropical blossom surrounding splashing waterfalls and fish-filled pools. Enjoy the unique pleasure of watching hundreds of the world's most spectacular and colourful butterflies flying all around. You can see them feeding and flying in a wonderful tropical environment. See their amazing lifecycles in the Caterpillar Room. Observe the fascinating and strange in Insect City, where Stick Insects, Beetles, Leaf-cutting ants and many more remarkable creatures are to be found. For the bolder, get close to the deadly and dangerous in perfect safety in Arachnoland; home of the worlds largest spider, a scorpion colony and other spinners of webs and dealers of death. Afterwards take a look at the many gifts available in the Papillon Gift shop.
- Mechanical Art and Design (MAD) Museum. The MAD museum is a collection of machines incorporating gears, chains, pulleys and whirligig paraphernalia. The exhibits fall into three areas: kinetic art, automata, and steampunk. Superbly engaging for all ages, the museum offers an extravaganza of visual entertainment with lots of rolling balls and plenty of clanking and rattling thrown in for good measure! There are both large and small exhibits inside and outside, the MAD garden offers wind and water powered features and sculptures to really blow you away!
- Stratford-on-Avon Armouries. Stratford Armouries is a somewhat miscellaneous collection of exhibits with a military theme.
- Hire a rowing boat and take a trip up and down the river.
- Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Watch a performance at the prestigious theatre. Be warned, tickets are in demand.
- Ghost Hunts and Terrifying Tales, The Creaky Cauldron, Henley Street, ☎ . From candlelit ghost tours and terrifying tales told by a master storyteller to full overnight ghost hunts; and from paranormal investigations to the scariest of fully immersuve theatrical experiences - Black Leter Days at the Creaky cauldron has something for everyone... if you think you're brave enough! Events every Thursday, Friday and Saturday throughout the year - prebooking essential on +44 1789 290969 due to popularity.
- The Royal Shakespeare Company do Shakespeare plays for families with no swearing or adult content in town in the courtyard theatre.
- Tudor World, 40 Sheep Street, ☎ . 10.30. Tudor World, where the sights and sounds of Tudor England come to life. Set in a genuine Tudor building, with documented Shakespeare connections. £4.95.
Walks and tours
- Stratford Town Walk. For those interested in a guide-led program there is a public guided sightseeing walk every day of the year, with the award winning [Stratford Town Walk]. If possible, join the walk early on in your visit, as it is a great introduction to the town and all things Shakespeare. You are given a ticket with discount vouchers to use in town at a range of shops, restaurants, pubs and attractions. The walk starts on Waterside by the Swan fountain, opposite Sheep Street and takes about 2 hours. There is no need to book. On arrival in Stratford, visit the Tourist Information Centre to find out the walk times. Some additional options that a visitor might not be able to fulfill without the aid of a tour company include:
- Terrifying Tales with the Master of the Macabre. Every Thursday night at 8.30, 9.30 and 10.30PM (other days and times by arrangement!). Join Canon Ezekiel Bombay for the most terrifying hour of ghost stores and tales told by candlelight in England's most haunted museum according to the owner, established in 2005. Prebooking essential on +44 1789 290969 due to popularity!
- Stratford Town Ghost Walk / Ghost Cruise. Offers both an evening cruise along the river Avon, to hear ghostly stories with magic and mind reading (1.5 hours, bar on board) and an entertaining evening ghost walk to hear about ghosts, witches, murder and mayhem with a little magic. Guides are members of Equity the professional Entertainers Association and Magicians. Reservations recommended.
- The Falstaff Experience. Sheep Street Awarded silver as the Best Visitor Attraction in Warwickshire 2008 and set in the beautiful 500 year-old half-timbered Shrieve's House barn, Falstaffs is "simply the most unique and haunted building in the world" according to Fiona Broome. Shakespeare is documented to have regularly visited the property, as he was close friends with the family that resided here in the 16th century. Indeed the theatre in the courtyard of this ancient building has just be revived and the Earl of Oxford's Men (a troupe of Shakespearian actors in full Elizabethan regalia) perform in this lavish setting to enthralled audiences. The largest museum in Stratford, Falstaff's has a labyrinth of historical setting and waxwork figures as well as nightly lantern-lit ghost tours. Most Haunted filmed here in 2004 and there have been 100s of paranormal investigations of the property. Recently came second in the FrightNights competition of all the most haunted building in Britain. Falstaffs is the largest museum in Stratford and a 'must see'.
- Building Belief Cognitive Hypnotherapy for Relaxation, ☎ . Insightful guidance to your own inner resources for well being.
- Wildmoor Spa & Health Club, ☎ . Alcester Road. Spend a day relaxing at the UK's Day Spa of the Year 2007.
Almost needless to say, Stratford is one of the best places to stock up on your Shakespeare memorabilia and paraphernalia. Many town centre shops do a brisk trade in general English souvenirs as well.
On most summer Sundays there is a craft-market on the Waterside. The produce isn't particularly local though.
- The One Elm - Just off the High Street. Great food all day & lovely back courtyard.
- Check-out the Fish & Chip Shop, across the road from the RSC, down by the river. The food here is as good as the more expensive restaurants, though obviously there is a more limited range.
- The Black Swan (The Dirty Duck), Waterside CV37 6BA (across the street from the RSC), ☎ , fax: . M-Sa: 11AM - 11PM, Su: noon - 10:30PM. A visitor's favorite pub, this is where the actors from the RSC like to grab drinks after a performance. For post-performance nights, be sure to make a reservation. Try the rhubarb pie. £14-18.
- Baraset Barn - About 2 miles out of Stratford in Alveston, a very nice gastropub.
- Sorrento Restaurant, 7-8 Ely St, ☎ . A taste of Italy, this is just off the High St. It is a local's place to eat, consistent in good fresh home cooked food. A family run restaurant always happy and helpful.
- Deli Cafe, 13-14 Meer St, CV37 6QB, ☎ . Fast & friendly cafe serving traditional English caf food for low prices given that it is smack bang in the centre of a tourist trap. Incredibly busy at lunch-time, but somehow they manage to serve quickly then too. Chicken, leek & ham pie strongly recommended.
- Kingfisher. Absolutely delicious fish and chips
- The One Elm. Pub. A trendy place to eat and drink. Great atmosphere and very near to Shakespeare's Birthplace
- Dirty Duck / Black Swan - The best pub to visit if you're a tourist - from one direction the sign says Dirty Duck, from the other, Black Swan. Classic English pub looking out onto the river, with seating inside and outside.
- 1 Ettington Chase, Banbury Road, Ettington (about 7 miles southeast from Stratford), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. from £67. Check-in: 2pm, check-out: 11am.
- Virginia Lodge - A very nice B+B about 5 minutes' walk to Stratford town centre.
- The YHA Hostel in Alveston - A very nice YHA hostel, about 2 miles out of Stratford in Alveston.
Warwick - One of Britain's most famous and best preserved castles.