William Shakespeare is one of England’s most famous sons. Learning more about the man who had such a significant impact on the English language and literature is one of the top things to do in Stratford-Upon-Avon, his birthplace and home.
Of course, this beautiful town has lots more to offer. There are lots of fantastic experiences to enjoy on a long weekend in Stratford-Upon-Avon. From leisurely boat trips along the river Avon and visiting a butterfly farm to enjoying a drink at the pub that actors from the RSC frequent and having fun on a quirky gin and rum distillery tour.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Stratford-Upon-Avon!
Planning tips to visit Stratford-upon-Avon
Best places to stay in Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon is an interesting and exciting town that will take at least a weekend to explore fully, so finding a room for a night or two is an excellent idea. There are plenty of great options at all price points. You’ll also be impressed by the environmentally friendly, green accommodation in Stratford-Upon-Avon.
BUDGET: YHA Stratford-Upon-Avon is an elegant hostel in the village of Alveston, just four miles from the centre of town in the serene Warwickshire countryside. Choose from private rooms, dormitories, or the camping ground with luxurious bell tents.
The public spaces are clean, well-lit and colourful and you can cook for yourself in the well-equipped kitchen or book a hearty breakfast and tasty three-course dinner. The YHA’s green credentials are continually improving, and the Stratford hostel is one of the most environmentally friendly in the area.
>> FIND THE LATEST DEALS AT YHA STRATFORD-UPON-AVON
LUXURY: Hotel Indigo Stratford-Upon-Avon is a newly restored 4* boutique that combines modern luxury with rustic charm. The rooms, both private and public, are gorgeous. You’ll find rich teal velvet, blonde wood, ancient beams, and roll-top Victorian baths.
Thankfully, I changed the dates of my hotel booking to be able to eat at The Woodsman restaurant located onsite to experience the divine, sustainable food in a relaxed and friendly environment.
>> FIND THE LATEST DEALS AT HOTEL INDIGO STRATFORD-UPON-AVON
How to reach Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon is a historic town on the river Avon in Warwickshire. It is 90 miles from London, 22 miles from Birmingham and 8 miles from Warwick.
The town is easy to reach via the M1, M5, M40 or M45 and then the A422 and A429. There is a Park and Ride on the outskirts that costs just £1 a day after 9 am and several much more expensive multi-storey car parks in the centre.
Alternatively, you can take the Shakespeare Express, a Pullman steam train that runs between Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon with an outbound-only stop at Henley-in-Arden. There are two services a day, and you’ll have five hours to spend in Stratford.
If you need more flexibility with travel times, regular trains and buses stop at Stratford-upon-Avon throughout the day. There are direct trains from London, Birmingham, Warwick and Leamington Spa to Stratford-Upon-Avon. To check train and coach times for your trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon, use the Trainline website.
Map + How to get around Stratford-upon-Avon
If you’re spending a weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon, the town’s compact and walkable nature means it is possible to ditch the car.
For a self-guided walking tour, there are audios available that can be downloaded onto your phone and will act as an informative companion throughout your stay.
Most of Stratford-upon-Avon’s main attractions are located close to the centre. However, a few sites on the outskirts can easily be reached using the well-connected bus service, an Uber, or local taxis.
The red Hop On Hop Off buses are familiar in many parts of the UK. The Stratford-upon-Avon bus with an informative audio tour is a brilliant sightseeing option.
My best tip for saving money on the best things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon is to invest in an Explorer’s Pass. This one, two or three-day downloadable pass covers nine attractions. It will save you a significant amount on admission prices when purchased separately. However, ensure you pre-book your visit where needed and keep in mind some places close during the winter months.
Best Things To Do in Stratford-upon-Avon
Visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace
Shakespeare’s Birthplace is a logical first stop on a Bard-inspired weekend in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has beautifully preserved this historic building since they bought it for £3,000 in 1847.
The Birthplace was William Shakespeare’s childhood home. It belonged to his father, John Shakespeare and mother, Mary Arden. The house is also where the struggling playwright lived with his wife, Anne Hathaway, and their young children. When his father died, William inherited his family home and leased part of it to his sister, and another part became an Inn.
A visit to Shakespeare’s birthplace is a step back in time. There’s a glover’s workshop (John Shakespeare’s trade, a fascinating video guide that can be streamed directly to your mobile phone, and compelling artefacts from the 16th century. The ‘Famous Beyond Words’ Exhibition also explains Shakespeare’s extraordinary career as a writer and how his words continue to impact our lives and how we speak.
>> BOOK ONLINE FOR SHAKESPEARE’S BIRTHPLACE TICKET
Visit Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall
The next step on your journey through Shakespeare’s life should be his education. A visit to Shakespeare’s Schoolroom is a brilliantly immersive experience led by a schoolteacher time-travelling from the 1570s, Master Thomas Jenkins.
This is one of the best things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon for children, though adults will enjoy it too! You can try on authentic Tudor clothes, learn to write with a quill and hear about Shakespeare’s school days in the actual room where he wrote his first pieces of theatre.
The Guildhall (the school’s location) was built in the 15th century as a council building, and it is a stunning piece of ancient architecture. Once Shakespeare completed his education and started to write earnestly, the hall was one of the first places his plays were performed.
One of the highlights of visiting the Guildhall is the 600-year-old medieval paintings in the Priest’s Chapel. Unfortunately, only small parts of most of them have survived, but in 2016, conservationists working to restore the wooden beams discovered a hidden masterpiece of John the Baptist. Miraculously, it is almost pristine and is as important a piece of art as the Bayeux Tapestry.
>> BOOK ONLINE FOR SHAKESPEARE’S SCHOOLROOM & GUILDHALL TICKET
See Shakespeare’s New Place
New Place was Shakespeare’s family home from 1597 until 1616. It was where he wrote many of his most accomplished works, and it was there that he died. The house, once one of the largest dwellings in the area, was knocked down in the 18th century, and to mark the importance of the site, it has been replaced by colourful gardens and artworks that reflect his time living at New Place.
Please be aware that Shakespeare’s New Place closes in the winter months.
Explore the Royal Shakespeare Company
Take an RSC tour
The first theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, was built in 1879 after a local brewer, Charles Flower, donated the land. However, after it sadly burnt down, it was replaced by the New Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1932.
The Royal Shakespeare Company was created by Peter Hall in 1961 and made the theatre, renamed the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, their home.
A tour of the RSC theatre takes an hour and will be led by a knowledgeable guide. They run daily and allow you to explore the building, learn about the people who have shaped the RSC and experience the thrill of being backstage. The costume workshop is a particular highlight that anyone who loves craft or fashion will love.
On a tour, you will also hear about the environmentally friendly evolution of the latest RSC play, The Tempest. Anyone on a sustainable getaway in Stratford-upon-Avon will be inspired by the company’s efforts to adhere to the Green Book, a set of guidelines that make theatre and theatres more sustainable.
Views from the Tower
The RSC Tower dominates the Stratford-upon-Avon skyline, and it’s a great place for panoramic views of the town, the Avon and the rolling hills in the distance. You’ll be accompanied by a guide from the RSC, who will happily answer any questions about the landscape before you.
The tower is 36 metres high and was created to replicate the water tower that used to sit next to the original 19th-century theatre. So, if you’re not good at climbing stairs, don’t worry; a lift will take you effortlessly to the top.
On the way down the stairs, you can see photos of previous performances and an exhibition of costumes and props. If you need it, the lift is available for your return to the ground floor.
Watch a performance
Until March 4th 2023, you can see The Tempest, a turbulent story of survival, the damage we can do to each other and the environment and ultimately, forgiveness. Into the spring and summer, its political thriller, Julius Caesar, or a play about the untimely death of Shakespeare’s son Hamnet.
The new thrust stage at the RSC in Stratford projects into the middle of the auditorium and allows the audience of 1,018 seats to experience theatre in a non-traditional and immersive way. Find out what’s on at RSC Stratford-Upon-Avon.
Visit Holy Trinity Church
Walking down the avenue of ancient lime trees toward Holy Trinity Church, the sense of history and peace is overwhelming. Evidence suggests that a place of worship has been here since before AD 845, and the current limestone church was founded in 1210; it is Stratford-upon-Avon’s oldest building.
Originally, the church would have been a colourful and vivid celebration of Christ. However, during the Reformation of the 1500s, a more austere look will have been imposed. It is thought that John Shakespeare, William’s father, was involved in the transformation, and his sympathetic whitewashing of the ‘offensive’ artwork (rather than obliterating it) allowed the paintings to survive.
Holy Trinity was an important part of Shakespeare’s life. He was baptised and interred within its walls, and his own family was christened, married, and buried here in poor Hamnet’s case.
If a visit to Holy Trinity Church is on your list of things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon, check the opening times carefully as they change throughout the week.
See Hall’s Croft
Hall’s Croft was built in 1614, and it was the exquisite home of Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna and her husband John Hall, a doctor. The walled garden is full of beautifully scented flowers and herbs that a Jacobean physician will have used to treat his patients.
Throughout the years, Hall’s Croft was owned by wealthy members of Stratford society, and part of it was a schoolhouse for a while. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust now owns it. Sadly, this beautiful timbered building is closed for the foreseeable future, but you can see it from the road.
Visit Stratford Butterfly Farm
If you’re looking for unusual things to do, Stratford-upon-Avon delivers. The Butterfly Farm is a fantastic holiday attraction for the whole family. A visit here is an immersive and educational experience. Walk amongst hundreds of these beautiful creatures and learn about the different species and their transformation from caterpillar form.
As well as butterflies, you can meet mini-beasts, tropical fish and rescued Iguanas, Prudence and Bennie.
The Butterfly Farm is also an excellent location for people on a sustainable getaway to Stratford-upon-Avon. Stratford Butterfly Farm was iofficially opened by botanist and naturalist David Bellamy OBE in July 1985, and they have since worked with wildlife experts Chris Packham and David Attenborough on much-loved nature programmes.
The farm has been working tirelessly with community and conservation projects around the world. In 1991, the founders set up Fallen Stones Butterfly Farm in Belize whose mission is to sustain local employemnt and incentivsing protection of the natural environment. It’s an inspirational place for anyone who loves the natural world.
Walks + Cruises on River Avon
Taking a boat trip is a wonderfully relaxing way to rest your legs after a morning exploring Stratford-upon-Avon on foot. From May to October, you can take river cruises along the Avon on electric boats or hire a craft you can pilot yourself (this looked like lots of fun!)
Alternatively, if you want to stretch your legs, there’s a lovely two-mile loop along the Avon’s banks, starting and ending at Bancroft Park. It’s a waymarked path that is simple to navigate.
Whichever mode of transport you choose, the sound of the local swans and gently flowing water will be your soundtrack. You’ll also see historic buildings, from the RSC Theatre and 18th-century terrace houses to Cox’s Timber Yard and the Boat Club.
Look out for the Gower Memorial too; it’s a fantastic statue of Shakespeare surrounded by some of his most famous characters.
Visit Tudor World
Tudor World is an award-winning museum that depicts everyday life in Tudor times. It’s lots of fun and is run by a husband-and-wife and their cast of enthusiastic actors and historians. The team has put their heart and soul into creating interactive experiences and avoiding most museums’ usual ‘don’t touch’ policy.
There are smells to sniff, stocks to be trapped in and a four-poster bed to recover upon. You can also try your hand with a quill pen and participate in a witch trial. Kids will love Tudor World, and parents will appreciate the effort that has gone into making learning a joy.
There is also a darker side to Tudor World that is strictly for brave souls over the age of 14. You will have noticed that the atmosphere in Tudor World is a little chilly; there’s a good reason that the building has earned the reputation for being one of the most haunted in England.
To get your paranormal fix, why not take a terrifying ghost tour in this historic building? They start once the lights have gone out, and you’ll be led by scarily costumed tour guides holding lantern light and telling creepy stories of the ghosts that might be nearby or who you could bump into on the streets of Stratford.
Market shopping in Stratford-Upon-Avon
When travelling, it’s important to support local businesses and artisans. During a weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon, this is delightfully easy to do. The town has had a Royal Charter for markets since 1196, and there are still several fabulous markets to discover.
Rother Street Market sells street food, vintage treasures and local crafts. It takes place on a Friday, and a local Farmers’ Market is held on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month.
This ‘posh market’ sells high-quality products such as handmade gifts, homemade sweets, chocolates, cakes, designer jewellery and all kinds of art and crafts. It takes place every Sunday and on Bank Holiday Mondays.
There are occasional street performers to keep you entertained and costumed characters the kids will love. This is an elegant part of town and a lovely place to spend the morning.
No sustainable getaway to Stratford-upon-Avon is complete without a trip to The Farm. It’s a family-run farm shop that is a 12-minute drive away from the town. The Farm is packed with sustainable and wholesome food and well-being shopping opportunities. There’s also an awesome café where the coffee and healthy food is simply delicious, and they do not use any single-use plastics.
Take a tour of Shakespeare’s Distillery
Shakespeare’s Distillery is an alcoholic spirit company focusing on its sustainability and green credentials as well as creating a delicious product. They work with the Climate Project to consistently achieve carbon-neutral status, maintain high levels of energy efficiency and prevent waste.
A tour of Shakespeare’s Distillery is fun, entertaining, and educational. They are led by experienced and passionate hosts who will make you laugh as they impart their extensive knowledge.
You’ll learn about the fascinating history of gin and rum, discover the intricacies of the distillation process and how the stills, named Portia and Ophelia, work hard to make delicious spirits such as Stratford Dry Gin and Jester Rum.
Then it will be time for the really fun bit. Your guide will give you tasting tips while sampling three of their finest artisan gins – my favourite was the Elderflower & Quince Gin. This tasty drop is a long way from Mother’s Ruin!
The tours are suitable for all the family, and you’ll enjoy a tasting and 10% off shop prices. Children will receive soft drinks during the tasting session and drivers get a miniature to take away.
>> BOOK ONLINE FOR SHAKESPEARE DISTILLERY TOUR
Visit Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is another historic gem owned by the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust. It was the childhood home of the Bard’s wife, Anne Hathaway and is where William will have come to woo her.
The cottage is over 500 years old and is remarkably well-preserved. Inside are original furniture pieces and the stories of thirteen generations of one family. Outside, there’s a gorgeous cottage garden and a sculpture trail celebrating Shakespeare’s most famous plays.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t visit Anne Hathaway’s Cottage as it is closed to the public for winter, and will reopen in March. I was able to see the cottage from the outside, and it is a charming and well-kept building.
Visit Mary Arden’s Cottage
Mary Arden was Shakespeare’s mother, and this is the farm that she grew up on with her seven sisters. A trip here will introduce you to the authentic sights, aromas and sounds of a Tudor Farm. You’ll meet the farm workers, see falconry demonstrations, and participate in countryside crafts.
Robert Arden built the farm in 1514, and many of the 16th-century buildings remain. Shakespeare’s Birth Place Trust owns the farm, and it is currently only open to outdoor learning for local primary schools. However, you can see the Mary Arden’s farm cottage from the road.
Unique places to eat and drink in Stratford-upon-Avon
After an enjoyable day exploring all the things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon, a mouth-watering meal or refreshing drink is a fantastic way to unwind, or even a pitstop for lunch to rest your feet.
If you’re in Stratford for the weekend, make sure you book ahead for dinner as it gets busy.
Dine in The Woodsman
The Woodsman is located at the Hotel Indigo on Chapel Street, but it is owned independently. This is a unique place to dine, a mix of modern luxury and old-fashioned cosiness with the wood-fired oven and charcoal grill being a focal point of the room to watch the talented chefs create their dishes.
The menu is outstanding, and I love the focus on sustainability and using seasonal British ingredients. Much of the food you’ll eat at The Woodsman is ‘wild’ and has been sourced from Cornish fisheries, and direct from English or Scottish farms. I was delighted to experience the divine cuisine at The Woodsman.
>> READ TRIPADVISOR REVIEWS
Lunch in Boat House
The Boat House is a sophisticated bistro with an up-close view of the river Avon. It has a friendly atmosphere and natural yet modern décor and serves sumptuous meat dishes with a twist and indulgent desserts. They also have a well-stocked wine list to pair with your scrumptious well-presented dishes.
Sustainability is at the heart of the Boat House Restaurant from sourcing local and ethical produce, low-energy equipment, split waste recycling system, carbon-neutral drinks, and carefully chosen suppliers that avoid single-use plastic. Love this!
Sitting on the dining balcony of this beautifully restored 18th-century boathouse is a relaxing way to end an afternoon on the Stratford tourist trail.
>> READ TRIPADVISOR REVIEWS
Drink in the Old Thatch Tavern
The Old Thatch Tavern dates back to 1470, and it is the oldest pub in Stratford-upon-Avon. It’s also the only thatched building left, hence the name! The tavern is quintessentially cosy, with log fires and low beams, the perfect place to snuggle up in and enjoy a pint. If you’re hungry, the carvery is excellent.
>> READ TRIPADVISOR REVIEWS
Drink in the Dirty Duck
The Dirty Duck, a grade II listed building with lots of character, has been a pub since 1738. Many years ago, it was called The Black Swan; the licence and sign still bare the original name.
It’s a chain pub that welcomes all, from families, couples with dogs and, frequently, the actors currently residing at the RSC. The Dirty Duck has a fantastic riverside terrace, a homely feel and a traditional and international menu of dishes.
>> READ TRIPADVISOR REVIEWS
Eat cake in the Plantarium Cafe
The Plantarium Café is a plant-based eatery that serves gorgeous gooey cakes, flavoured coffees, and yummy lunch dishes. The spinach and ‘no chorizo’ toasties are to die for, and I was amazed at the large selection of freshly made vegan cakes. It was seriously hard to choose between these freshly baked sweet wedges!