From the Bard to the butterflies, Stratford-upon-Avon is the perfect weekend break destination for those seeking prose and pub life in equal measure
The birthplace of the world’s most famous and admired playwright is possibly just as pretty as it was when he walked the streets, frequented the taverns and wrote his words inspired by the people and pastures around him. It’s an extremely popular place to visit – especially during school holidays, but plan your visit well and you’ll enjoy a magical insight into Shakespeare’s life and times, as well as an enjoyable excursion into beautiful British countryside. As Celia of As You Like It puts it, “I like this place, and willingly could waste my time in it”.
When to visit Stratford-upon-avon
Every year, Shakespeare’s birthday is celebrated on the weekend nearest to 23 April – the playwright is said to have been born (and have passed away) on St George’s Day. This is a buzzy time to spend a weekend break in Stratford-upon-Avon. The town marks the occasion with concerts, folk dancing, street processions and special theatrical performances. It’s a lovely festive occasion and a perfect time to catch Bard-fever at its most heightened. Shortly afterwards, the summer season begins. Next to the Swan Theatre, Bancroft Gardens hosts a line-up of alternative performance – be that stand-up comedy, interactive children’s entertainment or more contemporary concerts. It runs from May to October, and is well worth planning your visit around a performance you fancy seeing.
Festivals aside, there isn’t really a bad time to visit Stratford-upon-Avon. While the scenery is extremely pretty here, many of the big draws are indoors – even a rainy day cannot spoil the magic of visiting Shakespeare’s birthplace or seeing one of his performances on stage. That means Stratford-upon-Avon is a great weekend break destination at any time of the year.
How to get to Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford railway station is a 10-minute walk from the town centre and if you’re coming from London, you are well served. Chiltern Railways runs direct trains leaving about every three hours from Marylebone Station. The trip will take around two hours each way. It is easy to get here by road, but if you’re up for a challenge then why not take Shakespeare’s Way? This is a 146 mile walking trail linking Stratford-upon-Avon with Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London. The walk takes at least eight days, but there are many appealing sights and taverns along the way – the route passes through London, Oxford and the Cotswolds. See shakespearesway.org to plan your route.
What are the best attractions and places to visit in Stratford-upon-Avon?
If it’s the life and works of Shakespeare that you’re here to explore, then you are well served with attractions. From his birthplace on Henley Street, where rooms have been restored to their original usage (there is even a glove workshop for his glove-making father John Shakespeare), to his final resting place at the Holy Trinity Church, Shakespeare’s homes and haunts have been preserved for posterity. In early 2016, the schoolroom where William Shakespeare was educated opened to the public for the first time. A £1.8million restoration project has seen the Grade I-listed 15th-century building returned to its original state – a humble beamed classroom where the Bard spent his formative years.
Follow a young Shakespeare’s footsteps a mile out of town to a village called Shottery – the farmhouse cottage of Anne Hathaway and her family is preserved here in something close to its original form. It’s a lovely walk through charming countryside, and it’s easy to imagine the playwright coming to woo his future wife here.
If you’ve had your fill of Shakespeare and company, then there are many more places to visit in Stratford-upon-Avon. Stratford Butterfly Farm is a delight for all of the family – a large greenhouse holds a huge community of breeding butterflies, as well as less dazzling species such as beetles and stick insects. For the braver visitor, the Mini-Beast Metropolis offers encounters with tarantulas and scorpions. Friendlier faces can be found at the Teddy Bear Museum across the river – a quaint collection of famous teds, from Sooty to Paddington. It’s a nice pit-stop for kids, who will definitely find a future friend in the gift shop.
Where are the best places to eat and drink in?
The Garrick Inn is the oldest pub in Stratford-upon-Avon – and is known to have been a haunt of the Bard. Like most of the drinking establishments here, the pub makes the most of the connection – they brew their own ‘Shakesbeer’ in homage. The Shakespeare Hotel does a generous afternoon tea, with biscuits shaped like the Bard. The Opposition (or the “Oppo” as the visiting luvvies have it) is a cosy bistro on Sheep Street, a stone’s throw from the Royal Shakespeare Company, with brick and timber walls and a roaring fire. Its pre-theatre menu is fast and fabulous, coming in at £15 a head – cheaper than many of the institutions taking advantage of the tourist trade with cheeky pricing. If you’re going to see a performance at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre – or even if you’re not – it’s worth booking into the restaurant there. Its windows offer a panoramic view of the River Avon, and you can watch punters paddle past as you dine.
So if you fancy seeing a production in Shakespeare’s home town or a trip along the river Avon, then why not take a look at our hotels in Stratford Upon Avon and start planning your weekend getaway today.