Discover the best things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon, a historic market town and birthplace of William Shakespeare
Yeah, get ready for all the Shakespeare. The Bard was born here, so understandably much of this darling market town is given over to all things Will. But when it comes to the best things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon, is Shakespeare the only show in town? You can consider that a play on words if you so desire. And that. But enough nonsense. Shakespeare may dominate this pretty town in England, but there sure is more to Stratford-upon-Avon than seventeenth-century playwrights. Modern museums, peaceful boat trips and more, for a start, including some pretty darn delectable gin.
Best things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon
1. The Swan Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
What is it? The Royal Shakespeare Company has three theatres in Stratford. Performing arts centre The Other Place (temporarily closed) is in town, while two share a buzzy riverside location: the flagship Royal Shakespeare Theatre where you can catch many of the Bard’s famous works, and the more intimate Swan Theatre that regularly stages plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries and later writers.
Why go? All the world’s a stage, but there’s no better place to watch Shakespeare’s plays than his hometown. Come early for a pre-theatre meal in the third-floor rooftop restaurant with stunning views over the River Avon.
2. MAD museum
What is it? The mechanical art and design museum is the only permanent venue for this type of art in England. Sourced from artists and inventors all around the world, the interactive sculptures – or ‘kinetic art’ – include marble runs, 3D faces and flying mechanical birds.
Why go? It’s not often that science and technology marry so well with art and design, but this is where the left-hand and right-hand sides of the brain get to work together. Run by a local family, kids and big kids alike will enjoy the treasure trove of whirring gizmos on display.
3. Shakespeare’s Birthplace
What is it? Owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, this carefully restored timber-framed house is where Shakespeare was born and spent his childhood.
Why go? Discover the place that was the prologue to Shakespeare’s life. Check out rare artefacts from the Trust and take a trip back in time with the captivating costumed guides who will bring Shakespeare’s story to life.
4. Honey Blue
What is it? Located in the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon, Honey Blue is one of the town’s best-kept secrets for a quick bite or coffee boost.
Why go? Whilst visitors rave about the quality of their hot beverages (their hot chocolate comes topped with a giant toasted marshmallow on a stick), the café’s frappuccinos and milkshakes provide some stiff competition. Take the Oreo number: a hearty dollop of whipped cream decorated with a generous amount of biscuits and pretzels. And snacks? There are plenty of open sandwiches and pastries up for grabs.
5. Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm
What is it? The UK’s largest tropical butterfly attraction is an ideal rainy-day activity. Wander through exotic plants and gurgling waterfalls while hundreds of free-flying butterflies flutter around you.
Why go? Get up close to appreciate these dainty insects and learn about their lifecycle from caterpillar to chrysalis and beyond. For those into the less attractive members of the insect world, there’s a minibeast metropolis of centipedes, beetles, stick insects and a bird-eating tarantula. Shiver.
6. The canal basin
What is it? With its central location between the theatres and the main shopping area, the canal basin is the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon. There’s a pretty riverside garden and a boat for every occasion, from sightseeing trips to baguette and ice cream barges for lunch.
Why go? Take a short boat cruise along the river to see famous sites from a duck’s-eye view. If you want to row your own way, hire cute rowing boats by the hour – they’re each named after a different Shakespeare character.
7. Shakespeare’s Distillery
What is it? Established in 2015, Shakespeare’s Distillery is an artisan gin and rum distillery that began life in the home of its founder and head distiller before expanding to its location on the Drayton Manor Farm estate.
Why go? Like many a spot in the town, the distillery takes inspiration from the Bard himself, including characters from his plays and ingredients available during Tudor times. The small team offers a range of experiences for visitors to choose from, from a tour, tasting session and gin school to cocktail masterclasses and a 60-minute cruise along the River Avon.
8. Anne Hathaway’s cottage
What is it? If you arrive here expecting the home of a Hollywood actor, we’re sorry to inform you there’s been an awkward mix-up. It’s not that Anne Hathaway. Shakespeare buffs, however, won’t be disappointed with a visit to this picturesque 500-year-old cottage and the poignant love story behind it.
Why go? Forget Juliet, this is real-life ‘Shakespeare in Love’. Originally a farmhouse, this was the site where Wills courted Anne, who would later become Mrs Shakespeare. The pretty cottage has its original furniture and features, and the romantic gardens are the stuff sonnets are made of.
9. Countess of Evesham
What is it? Also known as Stratford’s ‘Orient Express’, this 70m restaurant cruiser drifts up and down the Avon along some of its prettiest stretches.
Why go? Dine on the river Avon in a totally unique setting, with fresh, traditional food on a menu that changes monthly with the seasons. Opt for lunch service for a peaceful afternoon floating away from the crowds or a three-course meal on the evening cruise.
10. Old Thatch Tavern
What is it? A historic landmark that doesn’t have anything to do with Shakespeare! The oldest pub in town is, however, conveniently placed in the heart of Stratford, close to many of the Shakespearean attractions.
Why go? This charming, family-run thatched tavern predates even Shakespeare himself, dating back to 1470. Stop off for a drink in the courtyard and refuel with traditional, seasonal pub grub featuring local produce.
11. Stratford Town Ghost Walk
What is it? From theatre ghosts to witches, learn about Stratford’s most haunted on this award-winning fantastical walk that runs every Saturday evening.
Why go? Each guide is a professional actor or entertainer, so you’re guaranteed a unique evening discovering Stratford’s supernatural stories of murder and misery. Not a fan of things that go bump in the night? Never fear. There’s also a town walk running every day of the year, covering medieval life with a touch of Shakespeare.
12. Glamping in Hobbit Huts
What is it? Upgrade your regular campsite for something a little different. Set in beautiful Warwickshire countryside, Stratford Caravans’ riverside park is home to several unique glamping pods: spacious beehives, cosy snugs and curved hobbit huts with little oval doors.
Why go? These quirky wooden pods are fully insulated, so you can pretend you’re in the Shire in Middle Earth and not just Warwickshire. A river taxi service can run you from the hut into town with picturesque views.
13. Holy Trinity Church
What is it? This pretty Parish church was the place Shakespeare was baptised and buried. You can visit the final resting place of Shakespeare, his wife and other close relatives who lie at the foot of the chancel steps.
Why go? If you’ve spent a trip following Shakespeare’s life, this humbling grave site is a fitting end. Rumour has it grave robbers may have stolen his skull, although respecting his wishes, the grave has never been dug up to confirm.
14. The Welcombe Hills
What is it? Surprisingly close to the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon, Welcombe Hills offer a respite for those who may have grown weary of the historical attractions.
Why go? Well, in theory. The nature reserve is believed to have been named after Mary, the daughter of William Compton, who is believed to have drowned here in 1592; her death is thought to have – in turn – inspired that of Shakespeare’s ‘Ophelia’ in Hamlet. Covering 60 acres of land, the reserve is a habitat for wildlife, including birds, butterflies and grazing cattle in the summer months, and makes the perfect locale for a picnic or woodland walk.
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