The birthplace of William Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon places a lot of emphasis on the bard himself. Take in a play at one of three theatres or walk in his footsteps from cradle to the grave where his bones still rest. Yet there’s another side to this picturesque market town. Whether you’re exploring the River Avon by paddleboard, scaring yourself rigid on a ghost tour, or raising a glass to the bard himself in its Shakespearean-influenced gin distillery, the only thing that remains is: what to see or not to see – that is the question?
With three performance spaces dotted around Stratford-upon-Avon, you’ll find the biggest in a scenic riverside location – the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It’s here you’ll see the bard’s works brought to life in flamboyant fashion. There’s also the intimate Swan Theatre, and finally in town, The Other Place, with its cosy bar, and small performance area. A theatre tour around the Royal Shakespeare Theatre gives you an insider’s peek at what the public don’t see, including its vast costume workshop. It ends in the tower, which at 32 metres above street level is the height of seven double decker buses. From here you can take in panoramic views of the town and the surrounding Warwickshire countryside.
Head into town to discover MAD, Britain’s only kinetic art museum. Think massive marble runs, giant 3D faces and flying mechanical birds. And best of all, you can play with nearly all of the exhibits. Across the River Avon, you’ll find the Stratford Butterfly Farm. Discover rare minibeasts, exotic butterflies and the world’s largest and most camouflaged caterpillars.
As darkness calls, its time for some spooky chills for those who dare take the Stratford Ghost Walk. Led by witches and ghosts, you’ll learn about the town’s most hallowed and haunted sites. And if all of this is a bit teeth-chattering for you, there’s a tamer daytime version around medieval life.
If you fancy experiencing a new perspective on sight-seeing altogether, then why not take to the river itself. You can hire a punt or take on a guided paddleboard tour. Alternatively, hit new heights and soar over the timbers of Stratford-upon-Avon by hot air balloon, which floats from the south west edge of the town. Or, raise a glass aboard a gin cruise. Learn about gin distilled in Stratford-upon-Avon, as well as the landmarks like The Holy Trinity Church and Royal Shakespeare Theatre. If you prefer to stay on dry ground, try a masterclass or tour at the multi-award-winning Shakespeare Distillery.
The boutique Hotel Indigo has wood panelled rooms and original features dating back to the 16th century, as well as cosy nooks and a fresh feel following multi-million restoration a few years ago.
For something a bit different, try glamping in the luxurious wooden pods at Wootton Park, a 20-minute drive from Stratford-upon-Avon.
Bluebell Cottage in the village of Shottery, just over a mile (1.8km) from Stratford-upon-Avon provides a taste of Tudor life with its black beams and white walls, situated just a three-minute walk from Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.
The Countess of Evesham is an opulent 70-metre restaurant cruiser which drifts up and down the River Avon, taking in some of its prettiest stretches. The evening service operates daily, as does a weekend lunch cruise, while a Monday-Friday lunch offering runs from early May through to late September. Its menu is based on what’s in season and is packed with local produce.
You can indulge in pre-theatre dinners, Sunday lunches and afternoon teas overlooking The River Avon at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s rooftop restaurant.
Or visit the oldest pub in Stratford, predating even Shakespeare, for proper pub grub and home-made cakes. The Grade II listed Old Thatched Tavern serves a range of homemade food from local producers, just a short walk from Shakespeare’s Birthplace.
Stratford-upon-Avon is located in the heart of England, with a number of road and rail connections.
Train services operate from Birmingham International to Stratford-upon-Avon via Birmingham Moor Street station, with the journey taking around one hour 40 minutes. Trains from London take around two hours 30 minutes. Megabus and National Express services also run from Birmingham to Stratford-upon-Avon, taking from one hour.
Once in Stratford-upon-Avon, it’s possible to walk around the town centre and its main attractions in as little as 15 minutes. Alternatively, bike hire is available – a great way to explore the town and the Stratford Greenway, a five-mile traffic-free route cycle path through the countryside.