“To go, or not to go”: that is the question:
Stratford-upon-Avon is located on the banks of the River Avon and around 100 miles (160km) north-west of London. You don’t need to be a huge fan of William Shakespeare to visit here, as it is such a beautiful town in its own right, and full of so much history.
However, if you are a fan, it certainly helps.
Go for a stroll
The best way to explore Stratford-upon-Avon is most certainly on foot, it is incredibly easy to stroll around and a really friendly town.
You’ll need your camera to hand continually, as it is so picturesque. Half-timbered buildings, quaint shops, the River Avon and some beautiful statues.
Take me to the river
Gary and I instantly headed to the river, wherever we are I always seem to be drawn to water. The day visitors were just starting to arrive, and the River Avon was beginning to limber up for the sunny day ahead.
Canal boats, rowing boats, pleasure trips you name it, the choice was yours. There is even a little chain ferry to take you across the river for 50p, which is the first ferry from 1937.
What you must see in Bancroft Gardens is the Shakespeare Memorial by Lord Ronald Gower. Surrounding William Shakespeare is four eye-catching bronze statues that depict the literary characters of Falstaff, Hamlet, Lady Macbeth & Prince Hal.
I was particularly drawn to Falstaff, he had a twinkle in his eye.
The man himself
William Shakespeare, the famous playwright, was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, and evidence of his life here weaves its way through so many of the ancient streets and lanes.
Shakespeare birthplace and his childhood home is a fantastically restored 16th-century half-timbered building along Henley Street. Now a grade I listed property and a museum dedicated to Shakespeare; however, it was in this house that he grew up in with his siblings and also where he shared the first five years of his married life to Anne Hathaway.
Shakespeare is believed to have been educated at King Edward VI Grammar School in town, which is along Church Street from the ages of seven to fourteen years. There are records that the school was established as early as the 13th-century. Adjacent to the school and the Guildhall is the Guild Chapel.
Shakespeare and his family owned a few properties around the town, New Place, where Shakespeare lived later in his life and died in 1616, is now an attractive garden. A later owner of the property had it demolished in 1759.
Standing next to where New Place was, is Nash’s House, built around 1600 and home of Thomas Nash who was the first husband of William’s granddaughter Elizabeth.
Both Nash’s House and the site of New Place were acquired in 1876 by Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust.
Another building in town associated with Shakespeare is Hall’s Croft, which was owned by William’s daughter and her husband Dr John Hall, a physician. Located along Old Town, this is another wonderfully kept example of Jacobean House, it was built in 1613.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is slightly out of town in a village called Shottery. Anne Hathaway was Shakespeare’s wife, and she lived in the cottage from birth in 1556 until they married in 1582. The cottage is lovely and is over 500 years old, the planting is incredible and so in keeping.
Holy Trinity Church
Shakespeare’s life ended where it started really, in Holy Trinity Church. William was baptised on 26th April 1564 and is buried in the same church after his death on 23rd April 1616 aged 52, next to his wife.
When you have a wander around you’ll see a funerary monument dedicated to William Shakespeare.
The Royal Shakespeare Company as you would expect is based in Stratford-upon-Avon. It has regular performances in London and often tours the UK, so if you’re unable to pick up a production here, then keep a lookout locally.
The RSC has three theatres in Stratford-upon-Avon, the main one is the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and sits pride of place along the River Avon. This theatre was opened on Shakespeare’s birthday 23rd April 1932, in 2007 it was closed for a multimillion pound refurbishment & reopened in 2010.
Nestled at the end of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is the Swan Theatre, occupying what was once the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and also continually holds performances.
Just a short stroll from here is The Other Place, as 200-seat studio theatre, this also had a recent refurbishment and opened on 21st March 2016, in time for the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.
Wherefore art thou?
For once, forgetting to pre-plan worked out, our luck was in, not only did we pay a ‘Standby’ price of £25 for a stalls ticket of £62.50, the performance was of Romeo & Juliet.
One of Stratford-upon-Avon’s most historic streets is Sheep Street, many of the buildings along here are from 15th & 16th-century.
Sheep Street, aptly named as this was where sheep were brought from the nearby Cotswolds for trading. We’ve come across a few Sheep Streets on this road trip.
Shrieve’s House is one of the oldest still lived in houses in the town, during the 16th century it was an Inn and which was run by William Rogers. It is believed he was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s character Falstaff.
Go with the flow
If you fancy a bit more of a sedate way to tour the local countryside, there’s always a canal boat. We’ve made a few canal boat trips, and they are great fun for young and old.
The waterway and locks that lead into the canal basin at the River Avon are the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal.
The canal was built between 1793 and 1816, it starts at Birmingham 25.5 miles (41.0 km) north of Stratford-upon-Avon and winds through the countryside. Surely there’s no better way to arrive in town than mooring up for the evening and enjoying a waterside pub.
Mixing with the locals
We’d read that the Garrick Inn was reputedly to be the oldest pub in town, so for research purposes, of course, we had to check it out.
It’s full of wooden beams, nooks and crannies and a great little snug bar at the front.
It’s been an inn since 1718 in its current Elizabethan style, however, the building dates back a couple of centuries further and is known to have been an Inn during the medieval period.
We got chatting to some fascinating, friendly locals, who despite knowing we were just passing through, welcomed us into their local haunt with open arms. One of them gave us a great restaurant recommendation.
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Where we ate
Well, this follows on nicely from above, as we headed down Sheep Street and called into the Vintner Restaurant. Another incredible building, constructed in 1490 & restored in 1910, it is still privately owned after 500 years.
Our meal here was lovely, the ingredients are locally sourced and a mixture of different cooking styles.
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