Come for Shakespeare but stay for the pretty walks and idyllic riverside that make Stratford-upon-Avon the perfect place for a weekend break
This pretty Medieval town in the West Midlands region is well known as the birthplace and home of William Shakespeare, and Bard-pilgrims arrive throughout the year to see the many surviving places well known to the playwright and his family in the 16th-century. While much of the town is focused on bringing Shakespeare’s upbringing here to life, there is more to Stratford-upon-Avon than just the Bard – the sheer beauty of the place is enough to tempt anyone to sit down and write rhapsodies in rhyming couplet. A weekend break in Stratford-upon-Avon should combine the fascinating story of Shakespeare with some of the town’s more varied attractions and natural beauty.
Go punting on the Avon
Avon Boating has been sending visitors down this beautiful stretch of river since 1898 – it’s one of the most pleasant things to do in Stratford. You can hire one of its fleet of rowing boats, punts and self-drive motor boats from a boathouse on the banks. Just pack a picnic and float past the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, now only just recognisable as the round built by the Victorians, thanks to a series of renovations and expansions only recently completed. If you’d rather watch the scenery than pull an oar or two, then jump aboard one of a fleet of classic Edwardian passenger vessels. These leave regularly from Bancroft Gardens, and are also available for private hire.
Visit the Teddy Bear Museum
Little ones who have tired of Shakespeare’s life and times might be revived by a trip to this sweet collection of bears from around the world. You can meet the first television Paddington, Sooty, Pudsey Bear and the original Fozzie Bear – donated by the late Jim Henson. Naturally, you’ll find a gift shop fully populated with furry friends to take away with you.
Discover Shakespeare’s favourite spots
You can take an award-winning Ghost Walk around Stratford’s spookier streets with a costumed guide. He will lead you around ancient buildings and crannies, recounting tales of ghosts, murderers and witches – bringing the stories to life with dramatic character. If you’d rather walk by day, then take the mile trip to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, using the route up Scholars Lane. The village of Shottery is extremely pretty, and the cottage itself is a marvel – visitors can make like 18-year-old William Shakespeare and call on the thatched timber-framed, 15th century, farmhouse. It’s easy to imagine the young playwright standing by the stream that meanders nearby and dreaming up scenes from his plays – as well as words to woo Hathaway, eight years his senior.
See a world-class production in his home town
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre may not have existed during Shakespeare’s life, but it brings his literary legacy to life in a spectacular way. The building itself, built in the 1930s, from the outside lacks the beauty of the Globe in London. But inside, it is very impressive, with a huge stage that has recently been expanded to bring the Bard’s plays to life as they might have been in the early 17th century. The old proscenium arch has been replaced with a ‘thrust’ stage and galleried seating that sets the audience up as Shakespeare might have recognised – the back row is only 50ft from the stage, meaning everyone has a good view. The in-house restaurant has a fabulous dining room with a panoramic view of the river and pretty scenery – leave yourself time for an early supper here. Next door, at the Swan Theatre, you can see lesser-known Shakespeare plays in a more intimate venue.
Pay your respects at Shakespeare’s birthplace… and resting place
Of all of the Shakespeare-connected attractions in town, the house on Henley Street is the one you must not miss and a fascinating thing to do in Stratford-upon-Avon. It’s now home to an exhibition of his life and times, which you shouldn’t skip before entering the main home. But once you’re inside, you’ll find a glimpse into the young William’s home life, recreated as authentically as possible – there is even a glove-making workshop depicting his father’s John’s occupation as a glove-maker. Look out for the guides, decked out in period costume and always ready to quote the Bard. A very popular attraction, the house gets extremely busy. Plan your visit carefully and try phoning ahead to get advice on the day’s bookings.
From mewling infant to oblivion, the playwright’s exit was at the Holy Trinity Church – where he was baptised and buried. The Shakespeare family were all buried in the Chancel here, and it’s a contemplative place to come and pay your respects to the world’s most admired writer.
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.