A few weeks ago I took a day trip up to Stratford-upon-Avon, also known as Shakespeare’s hometown. Here I present a full Stratford-upon-Avon tourist guide for anyone looking to visit a place of both historical and literary interest in the heart of England. I’ve included tips on how to save money and everything you’ll need to know to get there and around to everything you want to see. If you have questions, just ask in the comments below!
- Where is Shakespeare’s hometown?
- What should you see in Stratford-upon-Avon?
- Final remarks
Where is Shakespeare’s hometown?
William Shakespeare was born, schooled, married and died in the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon. Stratford is located in the mid-English county of Warwickshire, nearby to the Cotswolds and 22 miles south of Birmingham.
How to get to Stratford-upon-Avon
Car: You can find Stratford-upon-Avon on the Stratford Road portion of the A46. There’s a park & ride (but no buses on Sunday), or plenty of car parks within the town centre.
Train: Get to Birmingham Moor Street, then head south on the 40 minute direct train to Stratford-upon-Avon station. Or take the 2 hour Chiltern Railways route from London’s Marylebone station, changing at Leamington Spa.
Bus: National Express run a 1h service from Birmingham Coach Station or a 2h40 service from London.
How to get around Stratford-upon-Avon
There is an expensive hop-on hop-off bus in Stratford, but the vast majority of the town’s sights can be reached on foot. For Mary Arden’s Farm take the 10 minute train north-west to Wilmcote station. If the 25 minute walk to the Anne Hathaway Cottage is a bit much or you’re running short on time, take a 5 minute bus to Hathaway Lane then walk the final 10 minutes.
What should you see in Stratford-upon-Avon?
The best Shakespeare sights in Stratford-upon-Avon
Top tip: If you want to visit multiple Shakespeare sights in Stratford, make sure you ask for the combination pass at your first destination on the following list. You’ll pay £25 for a year’s access to five attractions run by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust– Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place, Hall’s Croft, Mary Arden’s Farm and Anne Hathaway’s House. Until the end of 2017 you can get a coupon for 30% off.
This is where many tourists head first as the “must-see” of Shakespeare’s hometown. The building where William Shakespeare was born and grew up is located in the centre of Stratford on Henley Street. Its exhibition in the Shakespeare Centre walks through the history, literary significance and popular culture of Shakespeare’s works. My favourite part was just outside, with an enormous comic strip summing up the plots of all his plays.
After the exhibition you’ll make your way through the garden into Shakespeare’s house, including the room he was born in, which has all been set up as close as possible as it would have been at the time. Before the inevitable gift shop you should pause to watch the actors playing out scenes from Shakespeare’s plays in the garden.
Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm
Mary Arden was Shakespeare’s mother, and this was her family home until she married John Shakespeare in 1553. There’s a museum dedicated to that Shakespeare connection in the house where she lived, but much more than that. I preferred Mary Arden’s Farm to the main Shakespeare’s Birthplace and spent longer there than any of the other sites. It’s about a ten minute drive out of town and is a living Tudor farm.
That means all the actors in period costume around the site are actually running the farm as Shakespeare’s maternal family would have in the sixteenth century. The staff gather together at 1pm every day to eat a traditional Tudor dinner in the farmhouse. They’ll explain etiquette at the time and answer any questions while they eat. You can also try Tudor and farm food from the cafe on-site, visit the animals (a calf had been born just a few hours before I had arrived!), explore the 23 acres of meadows and orchard, and see a falconry display.
Shakespeare’s New Place
Shakespeare bought a house on Chapel Street in central Stratford where he lived for 19 years. Unfortunately, it later fell into the hands of Reverend Francis Gastrell who did not appreciate visitors knocking on his door to ask to see the mulberry tree that Shakespeare had planted. Following an ongoing dispute with the townsfolk and local council, he demolished the house in retaliation for his planning permission being denied. So don’t expect to actually see the house where he lived! Instead, staff at New Place will talk you through the history of the site including Reverend Gastrell’s quarrels with his neighbours, before you wander through the renovated gardens with modern art and sculptures. There’s an exhibition next door about Shakespeare’s life in Stratford.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
I didn’t get to see a performance at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre when I visited, but there’s nothing that will bring Shakespeare’s plays more alive than this. The Royal Shakespeare Company tours the country to perform but this is their home ground. You can tour the theatre which is located next to the River Avon, but check online in advance on the RSC website for performance tickets.
Other Shakespeare sights
Hall’s Croft is just round the corner from New Place, on Chestnut Walk. It’s a luxurious Tudor home that was owned by Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband Dr John Hall. There’s an exhibit on medicine he would have used at the time as well as the restored house itself with period furniture and landscaped garden.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582. Prior to that she lived in this cottage, which stayed in the Hathaway family for 13 generations. I ran out of time to visit this during my day in Stratford but it contains original furniture and a 9 acre estate.
Shakespeare’s Grave at Holy Trinity Church
Shakespeare was buried in Holy Trinity Church, where he had been baptised. The church is also Stratford’s oldest building, dating from 1210 and built on the site of a Saxon monastery. The church requests a contribution from tourists who wish to visit the grave. If you don’ot want to pay, it’s still worth a wander around the outside.
The schoolroom and guildhall on Chapel Street is where Shakespeare attended school and would have first experienced theatre. There are interactive exhibits within classic Tudor decor. You can visit the classroom where Shakespeare would have had his lessons, as well as other significant rooms within the medieval guildhall such as the council chamber where his father served as bailiff. It’s not included in the combo pass and costs £8 (save 10% by booking online, or see the combo ticket with the MAD Museum below).
Other sights in Stratford-upon-Avon
Despite the long list above, there is more to Stratford than just Shakespeare and you could spend several very pleasant days here.
Explore the River Avon
The River Avon runs right through the heart of Stratford. You can take a short walk along the banks from Waterside, past the Royal Shakespeare Theatre down to the Holy Trinity Church. Alternatively, hire a rowing boat to venture further downstream and get a lovely view of the banks from the water. When you’re done, return to Waterside in central Stratford and relax in the park among Shakespeare-themed statues with an ice cream and views of the canal boats.
Visit Stratford’s markets
Stratford began life as a market town and it keeps that tradition running today. There are several markets to choose between depending on what day you’re in Stratford and you can find everything from freshly grown fruits to leather goods to fudge to watches to jewellery.
- Charter Market – Friday, 9am to 4pm on Rother Street
- Farmers Market – 1st & 3rd Saturdays of the month, 9am to 2pm on Rother Street
- Antique Market – 2nd, 4th & 5th Saturdays of the month, 9am to 4pm on Rother Street
- Craft Market – Saturday, 9am to 4pm on Rother Street
- Upmarket – Sundays & bank holidays, 10am to 5pm at Waterside
For full, up to date details on all the markets in Stratford, visit the dedicated Stratford Markets website.
For something a bit different, visit the MAD Museum on Henley Street for a fascinating and unusual dive into mechanical art and design. They focus on combining the STEM subjects with creativity and you’ll find marble runs, countless buttons to press, building blocks and kinetic art. Great for kids big and small. It costs £7.80 but you can get 10% off with a voucher from the tourist information centre. Alternatively buy a combo ticket with Shakespeare’s Schoolroom for £10.
If you’re spending a full week in Stratford you might also enjoy the butterfly farm, Tudor World, Harvard House and several other theatres.
Stratford-upon-Avon is the best place in the world to learn about William Shakespeare’s life, family and plays – not to mention the Tudor times he lived through. If you visit Shakespeare’s hometown in one day you’ll get to see plenty, but to avoid rushing around I would recommend two or three days to immerse yourself.
I hope this Stratford-upon-Avon tourist guide has been helpful. If you have any questions about visiting Stratford or the Shakespeare sights just ask in the comments below!
What other great literary sites like Stratford are there in the UK? Please recommend them in a comment!