4 Feb 20 / Stratford-Upon-Avon
24 Hours in Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon is a compact and picturesque medieval market town. The home of the sixteenth-century world-famous Bard, you can find plenty of Shakespeare connections but it’s not all Shakespeare and medieval tours; there are plenty of things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon. From cruises on the River Avon to an emporium of magic, the stunning market town is well worth a visit. We've offered here a variety of options for morning, afternoon and evening. Plus, if you want to stay for longer, we've included further recommendations so you can extend your stay.
Admire the architecture
Before the attractions open at 10am, talk a stroll around the historic Old Town. Full of original half-timbered black and white Tudor buildings, you can get some photos before the streets get too busy.
Some of the most attractive streets in the town are Sheep Street, Church Street (do see the alms houses built for the poor and still in use as low-cost housing for the elderly), the High Street, Wood Street and Henley Street.
Shakespeare's Birthplace is on Henley Street. The sixteenth-century house has been restored so you can see where the Bard lived until he was 23 years old. As well as being his childhood home, he spent the first five years of his marriage living here with his wife Anne Hathaway.
It has been a visitor attraction for over 250 years and guest book records show such distinguished visitors as Charles Dickens, John Keats, Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy. You get to meet costumed guides who help bring history to life as you explore the house and gardens. You can see the glover's workshop used by his father, plus exhibitions and live performances too.
After wandering the streets early in the morning, you may well want to explore some of the many independent shops. Shakespeare Bookshop is also on Henley Street, as is Timeless Tales – the Beatrix Potter gift shop – and the Nutcracker Christmas shop that is open all year-round. Curtis Brae (the teddy bear shop) is popular, and there are antique markets across the town including the Henley Street Antiques Centre.
In the Bell Court Shopping Centre, Magic Alley is a magic emporium and visitor attraction. This means you can buy a new wand or broomstick and then explore the multi-level Enchanted Manor, based on the Chronicles of Wizard's Thatch book series. Enjoy an 'Original Tudor Recipe Butter Beer' before you leave.
If shopping doesn't appeal, who not go on the guided Stratford Town Walk? The tour lasts around 2 hours and starts at 11am daily, plus an extra tour at 2pm on Saturdays. And if you prefer to be independent, the Official Historic Walking Guide allows you to find places of interest on your own.
Shakespeare's New Place
Shakespeare's New Place is on the site of the Bard's final home. He moved here in 1597 and stayed for most of his married life. And this was where he probably wrote some of his later plays such as The Tempest. He died in the house in 1616 but, unfortunately, the original house was demolished in 1759. The New Place was later designed to commemorate the importance of the site and to detail the footprint of Shakespeare's family home. It's an interactive museum and heritage landmark with an exhibition centre displaying rare and important artefacts relating to Shakespeare's life. Make sure to visit the historic garden, filled with interesting shapes and colourful flora.
Shakespeare's Schoolroom & Guildhall
After lunch, it's time to visit Shakespeare's Schoolroom & Guildhall. This is where William Shakespeare studied from age 7 to 14 years in the 1570s. You can sit in the very room where he would have been a pupil and see the council chamber where his father served as mayor. This attraction is great for families as you can try some Tudor homework and dress up too.
Time on the water
Between March and October, there are lots of ways to enjoy the River Avon. 40-minute river cruises allow you to relax and take in the views or you could choose a lunch cruise if you have more time. If you feel energetic you can hire a rowing boat or punt by the hour. But if you prefer to rest, you don't have to miss out as you can hire a waterman. Other options include canoes and motorboats so everyone can get out on the water.
If you prefer, you can take a stroll by the water and consider taking the chain ferry across the Avon. It has been in operation since 1937 and is one of the last of its kind in Britain. A hand crank turns a chain mechanism to propel it across the river. And a journey on the ferry is only 50p.
Stratford Butterfly Farm
On the other side of the river from the town lies Stratford Butterfly Farm – the largest tropical butterfly display in the UK. It's a large walk-through greenhouse with waterfalls, ponds and a wide variety of tropical plants. Plus, there are over 1,000 free-flying butterflies.
You could skip the river activities and head straight to the theatre. A visit to Stratford-upon-Avon wouldn’t be complete without seeing a production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. There are matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays which usually start at 1.30 pm. Tickets for these performances can be less than in the evening and it's worth knowing about First Time Friday tickets for only £10 too.
If you would like to get behind the scenes, go to The Other Place – the Royal Shakespeare Company's studio theatre, rehearsal space and costume store. There are a choice of theatre tours which include first-hand accounts from directors and actors, a chance to see how costumes and props used in rehearsals can influence the performance plus a look into the RSC's costume hire storage with a chance to handle some interesting pieces. There are tower tours too to reach the viewing platform at 36 metres for excellent views of Stratford-upon-Avon and beyond.
You are in the Bard's home town so you need to see a play performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. (There is nothing stopping you seeing a matinee and evening performance.) The RSC is comprised of three theatres in Stratford-upon-Avon: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the Swan Theatre, which both share a building on Waterside, and The Other Place, which is a short walk away on Southern Lane. There are performances all year round. The renovated Royal Shakespeare Theatre has space for over 1,000 to watch and yet no seat is further away from the stage than 15 metres (49 ft).
If it's a Saturday night and you missed out on theatre tickets, you could go on the Stratford Ghost Walk. From 7.30pm for 1.5 hours you can learn all about the ghosts, witches and urban stories about murders and disappearances in the town. The Guides are professional actors so you will be entertained along the way.
When you are ready to relax in an armchair with a bottle of well-chosen wine (don't worry, there are sommeliers on hand to help you make your selection), do head to the Bar at Hotel du Vin. Or sit out in the courtyard and see the sun go down.
IF YOU CAN STAY LONGER
If you can extend your time in Stratford-upon-Avon, do consider getting the Full Story Ticket as it gives 12 months unlimited access to the Shakespeare family homes. As well as Shakespeare's Birthplace and Shakespeare's New Place (noted above), you can also visit Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Mary Arden's Farm and Hall's Croft.
Anne Hathaway's Cottage is in the nearby village of Shottery. Built in 1463, this was the childhood home of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, who was born here in 1556. It is where the Bard courted his older wife-to-be and it has original furniture including the finely carved, oak Hathaway bed. This thatched farmhouse also has beautiful cottage gardens and a Sculpture Trail plus an orchard and woodlands.
Mary Arden's Farm is in Wilmcote. She was Shakespeare's mother, and this was her childhood home. It is a gabled and oak-timbered red brick farmhouse, built around 1570 and occupied as a working farm until as recently as the 1960s. Costumed actors allow you to 'meet the Tudors' as they go about farming life from working on the garden to preparing bread in the kitchen. The farm is home to rare heritage breeds of farm animals such as red-haired Tamworth pigs, Cotswold sheep and Gloucester Old Spot pigs. And there is a collection of birds of prey including buzzards, falcons and owls.
The village of Wilmcote was on the edge of the Forest of Arden, thus the family name. The forest was the setting and inspiration of the romantic comedy As You Like It. It is likely that Shakespeare's childhood experience of his grandparent's farm and the surrounding countryside informed many of the country scenes and rustic characters in his plays.
And Hall’s Croft was the home of Shakespeare's eldest daughter, Susanna, and her physician husband, John Hall (hence the name of the house). Their elegant family home allows you an insight into how a wealthy family lived in the late Tudor and early Jacobean period.
Dr Hall was famous in his own right for discovering and prescribing a herbal cure for scurvy, about 100 years before British Naval Physicians began prescribing limes for the vitamin C deficiency disease. Dr Hall's consulting room at Hall's Croft has an exhibition of artefacts, notes and medical tools. Do also take time to breathe in the aromas in the fragrant walled medicinal herb garden.
If you have further time you could visit the MAD (Mechanical Art & Design) Museum. Great for families, it's interactive with lots of Kinetic Art and Automata from around the world. Enjoy robots, marble runs, 3D faces and quirky, intricate moving contraptions. And the gift shop is rather brilliant too.
WHERE TO STAY
With so many things to see and do in Stratford-upon-Avon, you’re best to make an overnight stay of it. A lovely traditional boutique hotel in the city centre, Hotel du Vin Stratford-upon-Avon has 46 rooms and suites. The heritage building is full of character so check the offers and come and relax in a signature du Vin roll-top bath.
Bistro du Vin Stratford-upon-Avon has a French-influenced menu laced with British flair. Stop for lunch or dinner and remember to slow down to enjoy afternoon tea too. After a busy day sightseeing, or an evening at the theatre, the Hotel du Vin Bar has a fantastic cocktail list. And when the weather is fine, there is al fresco dining available in a stunning landscaped courtyard.
Written by Laura Porter - Travel writer for Hotel du Vin and Malmaison