Famed for its ties to William Shakespeare and its romanticized Tudor architecture, Stratford-upon-Avon is a market town packed with history and heritage. Of all the things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace is the star attraction. The renowned poet and playwright lived in the town and you can walk in his footsteps at his childhood residence
When I was at Univesity I had spent three years living close to Stratford-Upon-Avon but had never really explored it. So, it was about time to put that right. We planned a full-day looking around this small town in Warwickshire slap bang in the middle of England.
Stratford is most famous, at least for visitors, as the home of William Shakespeare. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust oversees five properties associated with the playwright, including his birthplace, a garden and a museum at Shakespeare’s New Place.
The first place we decided to visit was Shakespeare’s birthplace which is found on Henley Street, the main street running through the town. It is actually right in the middle of the main shopping area of the town – which felt a little odd. If you are visiting in the summer, especially at the weekend then it is important to get there early to beat the crowds.
The house itself is small but there is a modern extension where you enter and exit (with the obligatory shop – which was actually very good). Before entering the house and gardens you get to pass through a small exhibition that tells you more about Elizabethan England in Shakespeare’s time and a bit about the man himself.
It is worth spending time in the exhibit and the garden outside – especially in the summer when it is a blaze of colour. A very typical English Garden.
William Shakespeare’s parents, John and Mary were wealthy enough to own the largest house on Henley Street.
John Shakespeare lived and worked in this house for fifty years. When he married Mary Arden she came to live with him and they had a total of eight children, William was the third to be born. In 1568 John became the Mayor of Stratford, which was the highest elective office in the town. On Sunday, dressed in his fine red robes, he would have been escorted to Holy Trinity church to attend mass. It was because of his father’s status as Mayor that William was privileged enough to have attended the local grammar school to begin his education.
John Shakespeare died in 1601 and as the eldest surviving child, William inherited the house. He leased part of the property and it became an inn called the Maidenhead (and later the Swan and Maidenhead). The inn remained until 1847. When Shakespeare died he left the house to his eldest daughter Susanna, and when she died she left it to her only child, Elizabeth.
Although she married twice Elizabeth had no children, so when she died the house fell to a descendant of Joan Hart, one of Shakespeare’s sisters. The house was owned by the Hart family until the late 18th century when it went up for sale and was purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1847.
There are several rooms open to the public in the house which have been restored to look as they would have done in Tudor times. It is likely that you will find a docent in some of the rooms who will be able to give you some insights into the Shakespeare family and life in the Tudor period. We took about an hour to explore the house itself.
Planning your visit to Shakespeare’s Birthplace
Address The Shakespeare Centre, Henley St, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire
By TrainTrains from London Marylebone with Chiltern Railways (chilternrailways.co.uk) take two hours, less if you change at Leamington Spa. It’s 40 minutes from Birmingham Moor Street/Snow Hill with London Midland (londonmidland.com).
By BusNational Express Coaches (nationalexpress.com) connect with cities such as London, Coventry and Bristol, but while cheaper, journeys are longer.
By carTransport links are not great so driving, sadly, could be the easiest way to arrive. But there are coach links and a railway station and you could always walk or cycle the 146-mile Shakespeare’s Way (shakespearesway.org) from Shakespeare’s Globe in London.
|Telephone:||T:+44 1789 204016|
|Hours:||Open: Monday – Sunday, 10am – 4pm (last entry 3.30pm). Holiday hours vary, check website for details.|
|Fees:||Adult (16+ & Seniors): £16|
Child (3-15): £12
Best time to visit Stratford-Upon-Avon
April 23: Shakespeare’s birth and death day, week of the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival stratfordliteraryfestival.co.uk and early in the RSC’s Summer Season, when the town is stuffed with actors, the river looks gorgeous and everyone is fresh after winter.
Other things to do in Stratford-Upon-Avon and around
1. SHAKESPEARE’S NEW PLACE
Shakespeare’s New Place was his family home from 1597 until he died in the house in 1616. The house was demolished in 1759, and a registered garden has been designed on the site where New Place once stood to commemorate the importance of the site and allow visitors to make their own personal connection with Shakespeare.
2. ANNE HATHAWAY’S COTTAGE
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage was originally a farmhouse. It was built in 1463 of cruck construction, when the building would have comprised of just three rooms. Anne, later Shakespeare’s wife, was born in the cottage in 1556.
3. ROYAL SHAKESPEARE THEATRE
The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre opened on our site next to the River Avon in 1879, after local brewer, Charles Flower donated the land and launched a campaign to build a theatre in the town of Shakespeare’s birth.
After the original theatre was destroyed by fire, the New Shakespeare Memorial Theatre opened its doors on an adjacent site in 1932, designed by Elisabeth Scott.
The Royal Shakespeare Company was founded in 1961 by Peter Hall, based in Stratford-upon-Avon and the theatre was renamed the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
4. CHARLECOTE PARK
The home of the Lucy family for over 700 years, the mellow brickwork and great chimneys of Charlecote seem to sum up the very essence of Tudor England. There are strong associations with both Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare, who knew the house well. The early Victorian interior contains many objects from Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey and, outside, the balustraded formal garden opens onto a deer park landscaped by ‘Capability’ Brown.
5. WARWICK CASTLE
Of the many castles still around in the UK, Warwick Castle is the closest to my heart. I spent four of my most formative years at the University of Warwick – which is actually closer to the city of Coventry, but still I spent a lot of time in the town of Warwick and the castle was a constant backdrop to many of my happier memories of my youth.
Where to stay
1. YOUTH HOSTEL ALVESTON
Although it is referred to by the Youth Hostel Association as the ‘Stratford-Upon-Avon’ hostel, it is actually in the village of Alveston, which is about 5 miles outside of Stratford. So, getting in and out of town will mean you will need a car, or alternatively take public transport or a taxi!
This is low-cost accommodation and also works for backpackers! We actually had a private ensuite room – which was tiny but comfortable – with a set of bunk beds. The property is beautiful with lovely grounds. There is an onsite restaurant or you can self-cater.
2. SHAKESPEARE’S VIEW B&B
Shakespeare’s View is a 5-star bed and breakfast in Stratford-upon-Avon, surrounded by pretty grounds and a fruit orchard. Each bright room has free WiFi and views of the surrounding countryside.
Guests can sample a locally sourced breakfast whilst admiring commanding views over the Avon Valley. Shakespeare’s View boasts a dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking its one acre of garden and orchards.
The pretty village of Snitterfield is a 5-minute walk away and includes a pub, local shop and golf course.
Free parking is available, with Stratford’s centre and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre just a 10-minute drive away.
3. MIDSUMMER HOUSE
Set in Stratford-upon-Avon in the Warwickshire region, with Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company nearby, Midsummer House offers accommodation with free WiFi and free private parking.
The bed and breakfast offers a à la carte or Full English/Irish breakfast.
Where to eat
Being a tourist hub there are plenty of places to eat in and around Stratford. Of course, these cater for the masses, but if you are like us, vegan, the options are more limited. We did discover a small cafe in the centre of Stratford, the Plantarium, that is completely vegan. So, no need to think! It is a quaint place and the food was amazing – we recommend it highly.