What’s not to like about Stratford upon Avon, to me it’s a small town with a big personality. I lived there for a number of years and it’s a town very dear to my heart.
Stratford upon Avon is a fun packed town particularly at weekends and bank holiday when there are street entertainers, street markets, horse racing and various annual events. For what’s on see the Simonseeks Things to Do booking page.
You can see the main tourist sights on one of the open top tourist buses, but I think you’ll experience much more of the essence of Stratford by walking, it’s an easy walk – here’s my suggested route.
The Shakespeare Centre and Shakespeare’s Birthplace
Start the walk in Henley Street at Shakespeare’s Birthplace. The Birthplace is in fact two houses, the main house, which was the family home, and the workshop where Shakespeare’s father made and sold gloves. The Birthplace trust maintains the building and gardens in perfect order and visits are well organised. For ticket prices see Fact File below.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace to the Bancroft Gardens and River Avon
Exit Shakespeare’s Birthplace and turn left, heading towards the traffic roundabout and the centre of the town, cross into Bridge Street and go past WH Smith and Boots chemist. At the end of the road cross over to the Bancroft gardens, you’ll see colourful canal boats in the canal basin. The Bancroft was originally an area of land where locals grazed their animals. The Canal Basin was completed in 1816 and formed the terminus of the Stratford-to-Birmingham canal. Stroll to the river and you’ll see Stratford’s famous mute swans as well as various types of river craft from rowing boats to pleasure boats, canal boats and canoes. Cross the river via the old stone foot bridge, turn right and follow the riverside pathway.
There are also two possible diversions before turning right:
1. Turn left into the Boathouse, now a Thai restaurant but also a good place to hire rowing boats. Behind the Boathouse you’ll see the Swans Nest Hotel, very pretty and great location.
2. Continue straight ahead you’ll come to the Butterfly farm (www.butterflyfarm.co.uk), which has a fascinating collection, children especially will love it. See the website for opening times and ticket prices.
Continuing the riverside walk it’s around a mile to the next foot bridge, a comfortable walk with great views of the River Avon, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Holy Trinity Church.
Chain ferry and the Dirty Duck / Black Swan
About halfway between the two bridges there’s a chain ferry to cross the river. The chain ferry is the last in England and for 50p will take you across to the Dirty Duck pub/restaurant (also known as the Black Swan). The Dirty Duck is a 15th Century inn and a Stratford institution, the bar is wallpapered with photos of actors who’ve played at the Shakespeare Theatre over the years. There’s a pretty garden at the back but the best seat in the house, especially on a warm summer’s evening, is on the terrace overlooking the river. Sadly, the pub has lost a bit of its character since becoming part of a chain of pubs/hotels but is still a great location to stop at for a drink (or two!).
Holy Trinity Church
If you’re not yet ready for refreshments, continue wandering along the river, past the weir (you might be lucky and see a canal boat navigating through) and Lucy’s Mill apartments on the opposite bank. The Lucy’s Mill apartments are possibly the most expensive apartments in Stratford, it’s all about location. Cross the river at the foot bridge and turn right into Mill Lane, keep walking and you’ll arrive at the Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare’s grave can be seen. The church is open and free of charge, although there is a small charge to visit Shakespeare’s grave. It’s a quiet place with an attractive churchyard full of ancient tombstones.
From the church, walk beneath the avenue of lime trees and you’ll find yourself in the most charming part of Stratford, known as Old Town, there’s a little park and well maintained terraced houses, it’s peaceful and lovely. You now have a choice, walk straight ahead to detour to Hall’s Croft which was the home of Shakespeare’s eldest daughter who was married to a doctor. Entry is included with the ticket for Shakespeare’s Birthplace (see below). Alternatively, turn right and walk along Southern Lane and Waterside towards the Shakespeare Theatre. You’ll pass the Courtyard Theatre, part of the RSC, an intimate theatre with lots of atmosphere. Walking past the Dirty Duck on your left you’ll reach the Arden Hotel, recommended by the Royal Shakespeare Company it has recently been given a multi-million pound makeover and is in an enviable location right across the street from the Shakespeare Theatre.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Swan Theatre
The main Shakespeare theatre has now reopened after a major refurbishment/ redevelopment project costing nearly £113 million. It has a new auditorium designed to bring the audience closer to the stage, there’s a 36 meter tower and two restaurants, the rooftop restaurant and the riverside cafe which has outdoor seating for warm days. Visits to the tower cost £2.50 for adults and £1.25 for under 18s. One hour guided theatre tours are available priced at £6.50 for adults and £3 for under 18s. The theatre has a long history; it was originally known as the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, opened in 1879 but burnt down in 1926. A new theatre opened on the site in 1982 and the Swan Theatre added in the 1980s. See www.rsc.org.uk for more information about the theatre and what’s on.
Nash’s House, New Place and Harvard House
Continue past the theatre and turn left into Chapel Lane. At the end of Chapel Lane you’ll see a pretty black and white timber framed building called Nash’s House which is now a museum. Next to Nash’s House is New Place, now a memorial garden but it was originally the site of Shakespeare’s home for 19 years and where he died in 1616. Visits to Nash’s House/New Place are included in the price of the ticket for Shakespeare’s birthplace (see below). Turn right at the end of Chapel Lane into Chapel Street and you’ll see the 16th Century Falcon Hotel opposite. Keep walking past the Shakespeare Hotel and the next street on the right is Sheep Street, which was always known for its upmarket ladies dress shops but now also has a good mix of restaurants - try The Oppo which serves good food in a 16th Century building with beamed ceilings and wooden floors, they do a 2-course pre-theatre/lunch menu for £11.50 per person. Instead of turning into Sheep Street continue walking along High Street, cross the road and you’ll come to another pair of black and white Tudor buildings. The first is the Garrick Inn, the oldest pub in Stratford (part of the same chain as the Dirty Duck pub - their chips are some of the best I’ve tasted!). Next to the Garrick Inn is Harvard House, which was the home of Katherine Rogers, mother of John Harvard the founder of Harvard University, it is now owned by the University and used to house the Museum for British Pewter but unfortunately hasn’t been open to the public for the last couple of years.
Finally, walk to the end of High Street and you’ll be back at the traffic Island and the start of Henley Street where you began the walk.
That’s the end of the walk but there’s a lot more to Stratford. If you have time, don’t miss seeing one of the RSC’s productions. There’s the racecourse, which also hosts a Saturday morning car boot sale, get there early for the bargains. You could visit Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in nearby Shottery, which was the home of Shakespeare’s wife before her marriage and Mary Arden’s farm about 3 miles away in Wilmcote, the home of Shakespeare’s mother. Back in the town the Antique Centre in Ely Street is a treasure trove of quirky items from Whimsy characters to brass collectables, to brightly coloured retro telephones and Clarice Cliff pottery. There are many cafes and restaurants, masses of green space and the River Avon for boat trips, plus trendy independently owned shops and a large range of accommodation from top quality hotels to homely guest houses. Stratford is a town to entertain you and all in a small manageable package.
Nash’s House and New Place
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Mary Arden’s Farm
Ticket price for Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Hall’s Croft and Nash’s House/New Place
Adult £12.50, Child £8.00, Concessions £11.50, Family £33.50
Ticket price for all 5 houses:
Adult £19.50, Child £12.00, Concessions £17.50, Family £50
The Swan’s Nest Hotel (Bridge Foot) – close to the river and gardens
The Arden Hotel – very stylish and directly opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
The Falcon Hotel (Chapel Street) – Tudor building, 5 star hotel in the centre of town
Church Street Townhouse – latest addition to Stratford’s hotels, very stylish with popular restaurants
For a cheaper alternative Stratford has a large selection of B&Bs
See links below.
Restaurants and cafes
There are so many, but I’ve had good food at the following:
- Hathaway Tea Rooms & Bakery (High Street) – for snacks or lunch, housed in a building dating back to 1610 - http://www.hathawaytearooms.com/
- The Oppo (Sheep Street) – lunch or dinner, casual, walled courtyard garden http://www.theoppo.co.uk/default.php
- The Garrick Inn (High Street) – lunch or dinner, casual http://www.garrick-inn-stratford-upon-avon.co.uk/
- Carluccios (Riverside) – lunch or dinner, casual http://www.carluccios.com/caffes/stratford-upon-avon
- One I haven’t tried yet but intend to is Church Street Townhouse (Church Street) http://www.churchstreettownhouse.com/